After 9/11: our own low, dishonest decade

Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_15 Sep. 05 09.03 Early in The 9/11 Wars, a magisterial history of the last decade, Jason Burke describes a battle in an Iraqi town called Majar al-Kabir, held in June 2003, soon after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. The battle was described by press headlines in the UK as the heroic “last stand” of humanitarian-minded British soldiers against a mob of vicious Iraqi insurgents. Abruptly one morning, a British patrol in the town had found itself attacked from all sides. While they were fighting their way out, another contingent of six British soldiers entrusted with “reconstruction” found themselves trapped in a police station in another part of Majar al-Kabir. Following a short siege, when a local elder tried to negotiate safe passage for the British, angry Iraqis stormed the building. Pleading for their lives, the outnumbered British soldiers held up pictures of their wives and children, but were murdered none the less.

“I believe what I was doing was for the purpose of good,” one of the executed soldiers had written in a letter to his mother to be opened in the event of his death. The soldier couldn't be faulted for claiming virtue for his side. Post 9/11, politicians and commentators in the west had, as Burke writes, insisted that “the violence suddenly sweeping two, even three, continents was the product of a single, unitary conflict pitting good against evil, the west against Islam, the modern against retrograde.” The sheikhs of al-Qaida had their vision of Islam's extensive sovereignty. But as Burke points out, George Bush and Tony Blair, too, like the militant extremists, “both understood and projected the conflict as part of a cosmic contest – to propagate a series of universal principles”.

From the western perspective at the time, in which Iraq was supposed to blaze the trail for freedom and democracy across the Middle East, “the violence at Majar al-Kabir appeared to defy explanation”.

More here.