Terror Out of Nothing

war_on_terror_sam

September 11th of 2001 was a day of utmost tragedy. On a seemingly normal morning, two commercial airliners crashed into the United States of America’s World Trade Center, killing nearly three thousand Americans (CNN, 2015). A third plane made its way to the US’ Pentagon, yet failed to reach its target due to the bravery of its passengers. On that day, the world mourned for America. 9/11 was, understandably, an atrocity which must be rectified. Fortunately, the group responsible for these terroristic attacks quickly made themselves known: The extremist, Islamist organization al-Qaeda declared their victory through all channels available to them, inciting outrage throughout all corners of the United States.

Al-Qaeda’s action was a direct attack at of one of the globe’s most powerful states. An act which would bring about monstrous consequences to the Middle East. Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the US launched an immediate campaign of retaliation; seeking to purge any and all sorts of terrorist groups—be they independent, state-sponsored, or otherwise—in the name of justice. The methods employed to do so, of course, were militaristic.

Drone strikes, assaults on terrorist compounds, abductions of suspected terrorists, and many more exploits were undertaken. At times, these maneuvers resulted in civilian casualties, yet the US continued their—now dubbed—“War on Terror” with supreme fervor, rarely pausing on their vengeful path.

Throughout the War on Terror, an estimated 1.3 million Middle-Eastern civilians have been vanquished by the hands of the US military (Lazare, 2015). To compare this plethora of deaths, to the total lost on 9/11, points to a rather disturbing detail concerning the US’ crusade. The number of Americans who have died at the hands of terrorists are minuscule, when compared to the defenseless who have died from US conduct. Terrorists pose less of a threat to the lives of innocents than the US actually does, especially when considering that the likelihood of dying from acts of terror are less than the fatality rates of mundane things such as falling (Pinker, 2010).

Terrorism presents minimal threat to both US citizens, to US survivability. And it would be naive to think that US politicians, strategists, kindred executives are unaware of this particular factoid. Hence a question needs to be raised, “Why would the US pour billions upon billions of Dollars, not to mention the lives of its soldiers, on fighting something which could not possibly endanger it?” There are numerous answers to this question, ranging from a desire to seek justice at all costs, to simply wanting to showcase US military might. However, the writer disagrees with these propositions, and chooses a supposition rarely mentioned: That the US’ War on Terror is a military campaign, designed to strengthen its grip throughout the globe with the full consent of its own people.

To accuse that the US is itself manipulating the minds of its own people, for the sake of bolstering US power is perhaps a reckless deed. Therefore further elucidation is required to justify such a claim, as supported by publicly-accessible data, alongside the judgments of analysts who spent countless hours scrutinizing the War on Terror. Hopefully, the evidence gathered by the writer can be perceived as worthy, and supportive of his hypothesis in the eyes of the reader.

Let us begin by reviewing certain US actions in recent memory, specifically those that antagonize singular items. During and after the Cold War, all sympathies for Communism was tarnished. The US invaded states which it claimed harbored Communist sentiment, funded rebellions against suspect governments, did all it could to shatter the governments of its targets. Despite the unsettling reality that a number of these targets were in actuality democratic, supportive of human-rights, accommodating to labor unions, essentially reflective of American “values.”

However, US citizens were largely unaware of the details regarding the containment of Communist influence. US media did not accurately portray how many civilian casualties were caused by anti-Communist policies, and how gruesome some of these deaths were. Communists were painted as the enemy, the villains who craved for a world without accepted morals. Although nothing could be as black-and-white as such a depiction.

Thereafter was the “War on Drugs,” a campaign which sought the eradication of illegal narcotics; an endeavor which unfortunately increased the flow of suchlike drugs between Mexico and the US; enriching Mexican cartels, debilitating the Mexican government, allowing power to be gripped by the country’s underworld. Though the likely irreparable damages spawned by US are numerous and are almost exclusively suffered by Mexico, mainstream US media proceeded to generate tales of why the crusade was an absolute necessity (Chomsky, 2011).

We can see a unifying theme in the aforementioned US policies and the exploits they spawn: demonizations of specific targets via mainstream mass media. Yet what is the purpose of these campaigns? The efforts do seek and succeed at catching the eyes of the many, but this is not their primary purpose. Rather, the goal of the US media crusades is to attain justification in the eyes of the public, for questionable US actions. But why does the US look for this approval from their citizens in the first place? Because it needs to maintain the image of being a full-fledged democratic state in its own lands, and on the international stage.

The enemy of the US has to also be the enemy of its people. Should the US assault targets that its citizens do not approve of, then its credibility of being a democracy would be  directly harmed. Such an event would not bode well for the US, as its government’s authority would be doubted by its masses, with its claims and deeds called into question by its allies and rivals. Moreover, it would lose the ability to act as a supposed representative of democracy, spiraling its reputation—a necessity to conduct itself in the way it does—downward. Thus the requirement for the consent of US taxpayers.

How the US acquires its people’s consent isn’t difficult. The political thinker Noam Chomsky wrote in intricate detail how much control the US government wields over US mass media channels. Reports, testimonials, expert analyses, no matter how provable or unprovable they might be, will be featured on television programs, front pages, news reports and are repeated endlessly as long as they fall in line with the then-operative US policy. Essentially, the US masses are bombarded with messages of what is “right” and “wrong” from sources perceived to be trustworthy. Due to the plethora of channels available to the US government and their credible status, the US’ citizens are more often than not complacent to stick with the biased rhetoric of US executives. After all, the most popular and sensible of the conduits—CNN, TIME, NBC, et cetera—see no problems with sticking to the stories designated by US officials. Relaying official statements gather more viewers, readers, and listeners than questioning them. As a consequence, the few and little that deviate from the path are buried beneath the prestige of mass media giants (Chomsky, 2002).

We have understood why the US requires and obtains the consent of its citizens. However, such reasons and endeavors would be utterly pointless should the US fail to benefit itself from public approval. Thus here we ask one more question, “What does the US gain from manipulating its own?” To answer this line of inquiry, we must examine with further thoroughness the actions it has taken in the Middle East.

Let us take a closer look at the US-led invasion of Iraq. The US’ primary justification for such an aggression is once more to purge state-sponsored terror (Muzaffar, 2008). The ouster of Saddam Hussein was at first justified by unfounded claims that he was planning or is already constructing weapons of mass destruction and would allow terrorist groups to utilize these armaments; when this was left unproven, US media concentrated primarily on the human-rights abuses conducted under Hussein. However, it is no secret that the country that the the US had battered is enjoying a hefty surplus of oil. A resource unquestionably desired by any industrialist nation, including the US. However, to point our fingers at oil alone would be somewhat hasty. There are other rationales at play.

Iraq was a threat to US interests. That is, the state of Iraq itself, and not the idea of WMDs or the possibility of it aiding terrorist groups. Iraq was once capable of challenging the authority of one of the US’ closest allies, Israel. Israel is perhaps the few capable of wielding regional hegemony over the Middle East. Furthermore, it has proven itself to be cooperative to US interests, whilst pre-invasion Iraq was beginning to reject US demands. Iraq and Israel meanwhile, were involved in a hostile relationship; wherein both have declared their mutual dislike yet have not escalated to armed conflict. With these facts glaringly visible, what should the US do to protect its stake in the Middle East? Obviously, invade Iraq.

Invading Iraq was a deliberate act of aggression. It was done not with the intent of protecting American lives, but that of US-Israeli interests in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was once crowned as one of the most progressive—that is, in line with American values—Middle Eastern leaders in modern history. An honor granted despite his horrific human-rights record. Yet when he showed an uncooperative attitude towards US commands he instantaneously found himself a villain in the eyes of US citizens. For that sudden shift in attitude he has the US media to thank, as they broadcasted various “expert opinions” claiming that Hussein was building WMDs, exhibited his once—already known to the US government yet—well-hidden massacres, abductions, and crimes (ABC, 2006). A leader and a state that are of service to the US will be heaped with praises no matter the truth, but should they disobey they will suffer the wrath of the US government and the outcries of its people.

Palestinian freedom fighters—patent enemies of Israel—the government of Syria, even Africa’s Sudan are not unimpeded by similar US treatment. Palestinians who dared to oppose the Israeli regime, the latter of which has casually murdered the former’s unarmed peoples, were labeled as terrorists. Syria’s government—a key ally of the US’ rival, Russia—continues to be challenged by the US-supported Free Syrian Army—a critically destabilizing action that insults the notion of sovereignty—in the name of war against state-terror. Sudan’s internal conflict was oversimplified to be another black-and-white issue on US media, so that the US could easily alienate whichever sides did not support its wants and needs. Here we could see a disconcerting pattern of US policy: Give us what we want, or we will make you the enemy of  not only our citizens, but of anyone who tunes in to our newsreels.

What can we learn from the paragraphs above? The US’ portrayal of the complex situations across the globe is tainted with extreme bias. It creates demons out of nothing, from people who fight for their right to live without estrangement, from governments that seeks sovereignty without the involvement of the US, from groups that pose little to no danger to American lives, so long as they do not fulfill the demands of America. The enemy is rarely an actual monster. Usually it is whatever state, organization, object, or ideology, that could jeopardize whichever US interest is presently significant.

In the case of the War on Terror, we have understood that it is not at all about fighting terrorism, but of building a regional hegemony controlled by a US ally. Terrorists are still less likely to kill an American than car crashes or unhealthy foods. Campaigning against it seems to be a massive waste of resources. But should the campaign be approved of by ordinary Americans alongside its allies, and if it makes happen certain goals of US policy that are obscured to the public’s eyes, then it will be launched.

Mainstream US mass media actively collaborates with the US government. It does not hunt for objectivity, it tells the stories the state wants it to. It gathers more viewers, listeners, and readers as violence sells. It heralded to be the voices of the ostracized, and active opposers of tyranny. Capital and credibility are handed to it voluntarily by the public. The media directly benefits from cooperating with the state, as its businesses thrive by following the latter’s instructions.

The state of the world is never entirely black-and-white. But it is convenient to say that the events of Earth aren’t gray, to paint one side as good and the other as evil, for justification could easily be gained from doing so. This is what the US and its media channels do on a daily basis. They conjure up harrowing tales that inspire fear and anger amongst the ordinary, for the cold purpose of getting permission to do whatever they want.

Should one seek to understand what is truly happening on our planet, then he or she must give heed to the few outcasts that dare to question the claims of the giants. Otherwise, they would fall prey to the tall tales of the US, see the world as it wants them to see it, and consequentially act in accordance with the prejudiced pictures subtly forced into their minds.

Reference

ABC News. (2006). List of Saddam’s Crimes Is Long. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/
IraqCoverage/story?id=2761722&page=1

Chomsky, N. (2011). How the World Works. California: Soft Skull Press.

Chomsky, N. & Herman, E. (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.
New York City: Pantheon Books.

CNN Library. (2015). September 11th Fast Facts. CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/
september-11-anniversary-fast-facts/

Lazare, S. (2015). Body Count Report Reveals At Least 1.3 Million Lives Lost to US-Led War on Terror. Common
Dreams. Retrieved from http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/03/26/body-count-report-reveals-
least-13-million-lives-lost-us-led-war-terror

Pinker, S. (2011).  The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. New York City: Viking Press.

Muzaffar, C. (2008). The Global War on Terror – and the Prawn Behind the Stone. Vienna: International Progress
Organization.

Salam, R. (2011). Costs and Benefits of the War on Terrorism. National Review. Retrieved from http://
http://www.nationalreview.com/agenda/266649/costs-and-benefits-war-terrorism-reihan-salam

Advertisements

These are Schools, not Factories

lead_large

When I was a toddler, I loved science. Each and everyday I would come up to my mother and ask her to read books to me, not fairytales nor fables, but entries from encyclopedias and magazines the likes of National Geographic. My mother recalled those days with both joy and horror. As she was glad that her son was deeply interested in academics, yet dreaded having to stay up until midnight just to dictate endless articles until I would fall asleep. With the addition of the endless questions that would undoubtably come up the next morning.

Of course, as I grew older I learned to read by myself. And in these days as well, my love for science never wavered. Especially in the field of biology. My days were filled with paragraphs upon paragraphs that involved mammals, reptiles, plants, and the ever-popular subject with children, dinosaurs. I didn’t loathe reading, much to the surprise of my childhood classmates and teachers. Instead I welcomed all opportunities to do so. When I was punished for being disruptive or tardy and sent to the library for detention, I would scour the shelves to look for anything interesting, and actually hated the prospect of getting sent back to the classrooms and playgrounds.

Yet my passion for the natural sciences waned over the years. Partly because of  personal laziness, but also due to the approach my educators applied when it came to teaching. I won’t deny the fact that I wasn’t a model student. When I was still enamored by science, any other subject I considered to be unimportant. Language, art, history classes those I lumped in the same category I regularly dismissed, resulting in quite unsatisfactory grades. But then I threw biology, chemistry, physics, all the fields that once enraptured me into the same grouping of what I deemed to be “boring.” The first part of my academic underperformance can easily be blamed on my personal failings, but the latter, not so much.

To expand the scope of this article beyond my life story, we will begin discussing the failings of the Indonesian educational system. Why this expansion is necessary is because Indonesia’s approach to education led students akin to myself to be disinterested in topics they were previously captivated by. And we need to find out how these instances of sudden disinterest came to be, should we wish for the youth of Indonesia to perform better academically not just on the national, but also international level.

The reasoning behind the abrupt apathy to academics, as implied in the above paragraph, is related primarily to how the system itself regards Indonesian pupils. After years of spending time within the system, and speaking to those who hold little praise for Indonesia’s education—including school teachers and university lecturers—it’s rather simple to determine the system’s failings: It doesn’t allow for subjects to be intriguing, it actively hinders either creative or critical thinking, and rote memorization grants better grades than comprehension, giving the system the image of being akin to a factory. Explanations are indeed in order, as these claims are fairly harsh.

Now why would I say that Indonesia’s educational system prevents the many fields of study from becoming intriguing? In other words, causing students to not want to dig deeper into the subjects they’re currently learning and simply sticking to the explanations they’re given without doubt. From the experiences I’ve underwent, as well as those that have been describe to me by friends and family, and unpleasant image begins to draw itself.

When Indonesian pupils enter their classrooms, they are not expected to inquire. Lessons are written on whiteboards or at times projected, the letters on textbooks are recited and sometimes sprinkled with minor elucidations should the students be lucky enough to be granted an active teacher. Yet all the while, these schoolboys and schoolgirls sit, listen, and take notes without—as the educators instruct—making a sound.

At times, the students are permitted to ask about the current topic of discussion. But not to further the lesson by inciting more in-depth explanations nor debates within the classroom, or god-forbid point out the errors found in the teacher’s or textbook’s  accounts. Rather the questions serve more as requests from the students for the teacher to reiterate his or her words, should the students in question fail to grasp the concepts laid out before them. There are no other functions observable in querying educators. In fact, in certain schools—whose names I will avoid mentioning for fear of defamation charges—these pleas of help are sufficient grounds for reprimands. Since the students who voiced them are often perceived as either “slow” or “disturbances to the classroom.”

At this point, we can discern a clear problem: Students cannot truly learn, in the sense of completely understanding their lessons, without asking questions. How is a pupil supposed to comprehend topics as complicated as a human being’s right to live, when the explanation amounts to nothing more than “because they’re allowed to.” Replies which eliminate any possibility for detailed discussion, and a sudden halting of a student’s desire to further explore complex subjects. Altering the concept of learning into no more than memorization, which I will speak of later on in the text.

We, the students, educators, and national curriculum should always encourage questions, discussions and debates in the classroom. For each of these acts promote curiosity in the minds of students. Compelling them to read, watch, and listen to whatever content that could expand their comprehension on the countless subjects in academics. Furthermore, this spurring of curiosity could induce a thirst for creativity and critical thinking.

The concept of introducing creativity and critical thinking into academics is more commonly found in the Western world. And perhaps their dominance in Western academic culture is why they are rather under-appreciated in Eastern countries the likes of Indonesia. Yet under-appreciation does not make these approaches to learning any less significant. In actuality, perhaps these methods are more necessary than at any other point in Indonesia’s academic history.

One of the most common complaints I encounter from my university lecturers, is that a great number of freshmen are unable to write essays. Sure they might be able to explain theories, cases, and so on, but for some reason providing basic explanations is the most that many of them can do. I do not believe that their failure to conjure up worthwhile essays—ones that introduce concepts, criticize theories, and so on—is because they lack the capacity to write. Rather, their shortcomings originate mainly from how assignments are given and how these works should be completed during their school years. From the elementary to the high-school levels.

Both the school-works and home-works of Indonesian schools are quite dull. In the sense that they ask simply for answers that could be found from text-books, without urging the students to formulate their own opinions. While such a method could work for certain cases, when even the writing of essays require pupils to not stray from the material provided by the school, nor research the contributions of other scholars on the topic at hand, an issue arises. The students are trained to follow whatever texts and lectures they are given, and are urged to subdue their own ability and willingness to think creatively and critically. Reducing them into overtly similar products, rolled off the production lines of factories disguised as academic institutions. An obvious deviation from the fundamental purpose of schools.

Indonesian students are forced to be memorizers, not learners, but sponges of information; unquestioning, unthinking humans, who are constantly in pursuit of better grades instead of greater understanding. How could Indonesians then, as a people, ever hope to achieve a greater stature in the international level of academia, when schools actively discourage students from actually thinking? Is it any wonder then, that the wealthiest of Indonesians choose to send their children to schools in foreign lands, and that their offsprings are viewed as cleverer than the Indonesians who chose to learn in their homeland? There is no mystery here. The wealthy have simply realized that for their children to fulfill their academic potential, Indonesian schools need to be avoided.

For all the reasons I’ve listed above, and the explanations that accompany them, I hope that I have managed to adequately illustrate why Indonesia’s approach to education needs to be revised. How to do so, can be done merely by avoiding the pitfalls that have been listen in the previous paragraphs. Failure to heed this call for reform would result in more and more generations of apathetic students. Who attend their classes for the sake of grades. Who, when challenged to think, will struggle as they have been stripped of that right by the educational system. For Indonesian schools do not seek to produce the brightest pupils. They are rather akin to factories, breeding humans who are forged to see and understand the world in an overtly similar, unquestioning manner.

Indonesia is a nation blessed with countless bright minds, yet we have failed them by not providing the proper tools with which they could hone their cognitive abilities.