Years ago, a young man was interviewed by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) at my office. He was flagged for his “anti-Canadian” views for opposing Ottawa’s involvement in Afghanistan. He had left Canada as an ardent supporter of Western intervention, but returned a security “threat” for his opposition.
Extended family and friends killed or injured as “collateral damage” was the game changer. Intended or unintended, the dead are no less dead because we meant well, he observed. His story of radicalization is not unique.
“With respect, you cannot continue to behave as if innocent deaths like those in my family are irrelevant,” wrote Faisal bin Ali Jabar in a letter addressed to then president Barack Obama in 2014. Jabar, who lost two relatives in a 2012 drone strike in Yemen, hit the target when he concluded, “you will defeat your own counterterrorism aims.”
"This bombing of one of the poorest, most unstable and war-ravaged countries in the world, is yet more proof that the US counterterrorism strategy is short-sighted, based on questionable assumptions, and risks escalating conflicts and increasing instability both at home and abroad."
The logic applies to all bombings where civilians inevitably pay a steep price, often with their lives. These sentiments echo across the Muslim world where too often bombs drop more frequently than rain.
Of course, the consequences of Western actions will not stay “there.” In fact, the reverberations from the “collateral damage” are and will continue to be felt “here” in the West. Indeed, numerous studies have confirmed that death and destruction in the Muslim world is a major recruiting tool.
Court transcripts from the infamous Toronto 18 case, for instance, show that almost all of the youth charged with “plotting” terrorist attacks in Ontario in 2006 were shaken to the core by the suffering they saw.
As the Star’s Michelle Shephard reported last year in a 10-year follow up story on some of the convicted: “They opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rallying not against the West’s rights and freedoms but because they believed those rights weren’t applied equally to Muslims.”
As clear as this cause and effect calculus is, too many in positions of power just don’t get it. Or perhaps they don’t want to.
Indeed, last week the U.S. dropped the GBU 43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), dubbed the “mother of all bombs,” on Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. In doing so the Trump administration had to drop the “mother of all lies” as well. The bomb, sold as a precise munition that can be surgically placed on the doorsteps of the bad guys, and only the bad guys, is far from this.
Laser- or satellite-guided bombs and weapons systems may hit their intended targets for the most part. But technical glitches and human error often mean civilians and allies also pay dearly.
The sheer size and damage range is another factor. Weighing 21,600 pounds, the MOAB is the largest non-nuclear ordnance, which can kill and damage buildings within a 2.7-km radius. It causes deafness within a 3.2-km area and God only knows what else. Such a device is far from precise.
Media reports claim 96 Daesh fighters were killed but U.S. officials are mum and have not allowed anyone into the area.
How can something with such a broad point of impact be so precisely targeted when the area hit was home to thousands of non-combatants? How can officials be so sure that the bomb avoided children orphaned by previous attacks by the good guys or by Daesh and the Taliban? Will we ever learn the real human and long-term cost?
This bombing of one of the poorest, most unstable and war-ravaged countries in the world, is yet more proof that the US counterterrorism strategy is short-sighted, based on questionable assumptions, and risks escalating conflicts and increasing instability both at home and abroad.
Sadly, a generation of Canadians and Americans have also only known the parallel world view of “us” versus “them.” This dichotomous outlook only serves to radicalize many in both camps by dehumanizing the other and fuelling perpetual war. Extreme violence whether by state or non-state actors begets only more violence and fuels the vicious cycle.
Rather than stopping the next lone attacker in the homeland, these bombing runs will motivate many more. Instead of weakening the enemy, it will bring together sworn enemies against a common bigger enemy.
As former U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote: “It is precisely because we have chosen to fight ‘them’ over there that we will have to fight ‘them’ over here. If we roam the world looking for dragons to slay, some will follow us home.”