Of all the Indian Jones films, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is for me the most obnoxious, with its racist stereotyping and unproblematic referencing of nineteenth century imperialist cliches about white men saving childlike dark-skinned folk from the clutches of a demonic native death cult. But its essential premises aren’t that far removed from our own times.
In his great essay Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell once observed ironically that the whole purpose of the white man in Asia was not to be laughed at by the natives, but as Indiana Jones demonstrates, the white man also likes to be revered and celebrated as a liberator not only by the natives, but by his own people and the world.
Today that is still the case. Anyone listening to media coverage of the IS/Kurd/Yazidi crisis would be entirely forgiven for believing that foreign policy is entirely directed by people like Liam Fox, Lindsey Graham, John McCain or Hilary Clinton, that is to say well-intentioned, good-hearted men and women who do nothing but shed tears over the world’s pain and think only of the best way to save lives and prevent the next genocide and rid the world of evil.
After more than a decade of failed ‘humanitarian’ interventions that wonderful glow of altruism has yet to fade. Everytime the next genocide comes along requiring immediate humanitarian intervention, these failures are ignored or dismissed, because the latest crisis is always different to the one that came before. Mention Iraq in 2011 when NATO was getting ready to bomb Libya, and they said that ‘we’ had to bomb to prevent a massacre in Benghazi.
Mention the huge death toll in the Libyan war, the militias, the social and political fragmentation and the resultant chaos and infighting taking place there when the US, Britain and France were getting ready to bomb Syria, and you were an accomplice of Assad who worshipped dictators, because Syria was different.
And now fresh from his Portuguese holiday, chilled out and sporting a tan, David Cameron has come out with his hat and whip to enter the fray, and tell us that it’s different once again. Looking up from rows of fish and a swimming pool, he is once again preparing to bomb the country that Britain has bombed so often, in order to eliminate the savage and barbaric jihadist group Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
What has motivated Lord Snooty to launch this crusade?
‘Stability. Security. The peace of mind that comes from being able to get a decent job and provide for your family, in a country that you feel has a good future ahead of it and that treats people fairly.In a nutshell, that is what people in Britain want – and what the Government I lead is dedicated to building.’
Of course you are David. But all this is not enough, because the nation needs ‘true security’ , His Lordship insists, which consists of using all the nation’s resources ‘aid, diplomacy, our military prowess – to help bring about a more stable world’ because ‘Today, when every nation is so immediately interconnected, we cannot turn a blind eye and assume that there will not be a cost for us if we do.’
Of course there are crises to which Britain does turn a blind eye, whether in Gaza, Bahrain, in the burning alive of pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine, the massacre of 700 Uzbeks by the Uzbekistan dictatorship in 2005, or the killing of 800 Egyptians by the Egyptian military on a single day in Cairo last year, to name but a few.
It’s one of the curious paradoxes of the British interventionist drive, that the countries where Britain hasn’t turned a blind eye are often the ones that are the furthest from ‘true security’, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. That isn’t a contradiction that interests Cameron, however, because ‘ The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now.’
Yes, the eternal imperative of NOW is with us once again, and what kind of fool would suggest that IS is fundamentally an Iraqi problem that cannot be solved by the same countries that helped propel Iraq into a vortex of violence and sectarian strife that gave rise to it; or that IS is an indirect consequence of the incredible destruction inflicted on Iraqi society by a previous intervention that was supposedly just as pressing and just as urgent, not to mention a ‘regime change’ project in Syria in which IS was until recently fighting for the same objective as the countries that now propose to fight it?
Say that kind of thing and you sound like a spoilsport or a party pooper or Neville Chamberlain, because ‘ if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.’
Does this sound like something you’ve heard before? It should. Because if the wars of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re always fighting them over there to stop them fighting us over here, even when those who are fighting us over here say that they’re doing it because we’re fighting over there.
But don’t be confused, and don’t let that sense of deja vu fool you, because IS is different, and a threat that ‘cannot simply be removed by airstrikes alone’ but by a ‘ tough, intelligent and patient long-term approach that can defeat the terrorist threat at source.’
This ‘approach’ includes withdrawing passports from naturalised British citizens accused of terror offences, and also ‘an intelligent political response’ because ‘terrorist organisations thrive where there is political instability and weak or dysfunctional political institutions. So we must support the building blocks of democracy – the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the rights of minorities, free media and association and a proper place in society for the army.
Well we saw that during the occupation and afterwards, when the US and Britain backed the sectarian Maliki government. And we’re seeing it in ‘countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Turkey’ which Cameron lists as potential allies against the ‘extremist forces’ of IS, even though many of them were instrumental in funding the jihadist fighters in Syria from which these ‘extremist forces’ eventually sprang.
So all in all this pretty shallow stuff, but only to be expected from a man whose understanding of the Middle East is compiled of other people’s soundbites and appears to be dictated entirely by what the United States wants.
But never mind, let the bombs fall where they may, along with our ‘humanitarian response’ to the Yazidi crisis. Because if they don’t ‘we would be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member. This is a clear danger to Europe and to our security.’
And so we are engaged in a ‘generational struggle’ against IS and its ‘poisonous ideology’ – but not the foreign policies that also produced it. In other words, an endless war on top of all the others which, as our valiant PM points out with a last resounding flourish, ‘is a daunting challenge. But it is not an invincible one, as long as we are now ready and able to summon up the political will to defend our own values and way of life with the same determination, courage and tenacity as we have faced danger before in our history.’
Indiana Jones couldn’t have put it better. And no sooner has His Lordship committed the country to a generational struggle and another chapter in the forever war than he’s off on another holiday again, in an exemplary demonstration of the determination, courage and tenacity which has enabled us to achieve so many great things in recent years.