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‘Lines Drawn on an Empty Map’: Iraq’s Borders and the Legend of the Artificial State (Part 1)


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[Lawrence Map, 1918. “Lawrence of Arabia, The Life, The Legend,” Imperial War Museum, London, 2005/UK National Archives. From the BBC.][Lawrence Map, 1918. “Lawrence of Arabia, The Life, The Legend,” Imperial War Museum, London, 2005/UK National Archives. From the BBC.]

It may be that no modern nation-state has been called “artificial” more times than Iraq. While most scholars are quick to admit that all nation-states are artificial, in the sense that they are created by humans, Iraq, it would seem, is more artificial than most. The story invariably begins with the post-World War I peace settlements, during which the borders of Iraq, along with those of the other Arab Mashriq states, were purportedly created, more or less out of thin air, by Europeans. As David Fromkin writes, in his widely read A Peace to End All Peace:

It was an era in which Middle Eastern countries and frontiers were fabricated in Europe. Iraq and what we now call Jordan, for example, were British inventions, lines drawn on an empty map by British politicians after the First World War, while the boundaries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq were established by a British civil servant in 1922.[1]

It is a narrative we are all familiar with, since it has been repeated by scholars, journalists, and political commentators of all stripes for close to a century now. I have repeated it myself on a number of occasions.

The “artificial state” narrative was also invoked by the Islamic State (IS)—formerly known as ISIS—when the group released a video called “The End of Sykes-Picot” in the summer of 2014. It proclaimed that the dissolution of the Syria-Iraq border spelled the end of the nation-state system imposed on the region by the colonial powers after World War I, and promised that “This is not the first border we will break.” Speaking from a mosque in Mosul in July, the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi explained: “This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy.”

A flurry of media commentary ensued, and Sykes-Picot maps popped up across the Internet as supporting evidence, or at least supporting decoration, for a range of opinions on the IS pronouncement. The dominant response, even among staunch opponents of IS, seemed to be that the group was indeed undoing the infamous 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France divvying up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire, and that this was the logical demise of artificial borders created by the colonial powers a hundred years ago. A Reuters article, entitled “Sykes-Picot Drew Lines in the Middle East’s Sand that Blood is Washing Away,” explained that the agreement had been “an inherently imperial project, which paid scant regard to geography, terrain or ethnicity.” Public intellectuals from the far right to the far left agreed; even before the IS advance, Noam Chomsky was quoted as saying that “the Sykes-Picot agreement is falling apart, which is an interesting phenomenon . . . But, the Sykes-Picot agreement was just an imperial imposition that has no legitimacy; there is no reason for any of these borders—except the interests of the imperial powers.” There were a few dissenting opinions, most of which questioned whether the Iraq-Syria border was really dissolving. For example, Steven Simon wrote in the August issue of Foreign Affairs: “Thus far, the parade of horrors emanating from Syria has not included the demise of the Sykes-Picot borders . . . In short, despite the regional pandemonium, Sykes-Picot seems to be alive and well.”

More rare were critiques of the Sykes-Picot narrative itself or the broader artificial state narrative of which it is one strand. There were some notable exceptions, including a brilliant piece by Daniel Neep arguing that the fascination of pundits everywhere with how a better map of the region might be created is “no more than a fantasy concocted from a phantasm, an illusion distilled from the fragments of a half-remembered dream.”[2]But for the most part, the fragments of the half-remembered dream held sway. Indeed, few even bothered questioning the claim that the border IS was challenging had in fact been created by the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. This near-consensus was striking not only because more accurate information was available for anyone who chose to search for it, but also because it was available right at the top of most of the commentaries themselves, in the form of the Sykes-Picot maps soberly displayed above article after article, as if those images actually served to illustrate the claims at hand. That the Sykes-Picot map does not look very much like the present-day map of the region rarely seemed to warrant explanation. In fact, it can be argued fairly easily that the boundaries of the region IS currently controls look more like Sykes-Picot than does the internationally recognized border between Iraq and Syria. I will return to this point.

What I am interested in, as a historian of Iraq, is not just what might constitute a more accurate historical narrative of Iraq’s formation—though that will be part of what follows—but also how we might think about this peculiar disconnect between the images provided and the story being told about them. It suggests that the artificial state narrative may never be very troubled by historians duly correcting the historical record. Rather, the narrative itself may need more rigorous examination. Where does it come from, what is its history, and how does it relate to the history of colonialism, nationalism, war, and occupation in Iraq over the past century? What kind of work has this narrative done historically, and what does it do today?

The discourse of Iraq as an artificial state—an irrational amalgam of heterogeneous peoples—emerged in the 1920s, as I will show in Part 2 of this article. It was originally a colonial narrative, invoked to argue that Iraq was not yet coherent enough to govern itself, contrary to the claims of Iraqi nationalists, and that it must therefore be governed by Britain. That it later also became a nationalist narrative—especially an Arab nationalist narrative—may help to explain its persistence. In the wake of the US invasions of 1991 and 2003, it was dusted off and trotted out in particularly virulent ways by the pro-war camp and their later apologists. After all, what harm had been done in destroying a country that had never authentically existed in the first place?

[Cover of the January/February 2008 issue of The Atlantic]

Jeffrey Goldberg, for example, made this argument in a widely quoted 2008 article in The Atlantic, titled “After Iraq.” The cover of the issue displayed the predictable ethnosectarian fantasy of a remapped Middle East (see the above image). In a follow-up piece published during the IS advance last summer, subtitled “Why should we fight the inevitable breakup of Iraq?,” Goldberg professed sympathy for the Sykes-Picot map, but asserted that its weakness had been that it was too “progressive” for the Middle East, which just “isn’t the sort of place” where “modern, multicultural, and multi-confessional states” can be established. These arguments are suggestive of how the recent proliferation of Sykes-Picot maps might bear some relation not only to the advance of IS but also to a revived sense of imperial power at this particular juncture. That is, we might read the maps less as historical explanations than as invitations, imagination-sparking supplements to the equally rapid proliferation of proposed re-mappings.

The Sykes-Picot Map

[Sykes-Picot Agreement Map signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, 8 May 1916. 
Image from UK National Archives MPK1/426, FO 371/2777 (folio 398). Image from Wikipedia.]

As historical explanation, the Sykes-Picot map does have some flaws. There are numerous versions of it, some considerably more misleading than others, especially with their creative use of colors and patterns to make the thing look as much as possible like the current map of the region. Nevertheless, the original 1916 version, signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, is commonly used today (see the above image). The red-shaded area in the lower right of the map was to be under direct British rule. I will call this red area “Iraq,” since that is what it was called at the time, by Arabic and Turkish speakers as well as by some European officials and geographers. It included most of the Ottoman provinces of Basra and Baghdad but not the Ottoman province of Mosul or the desert region now called Anbar in western Iraq. In Sykes-Picot, it also included a significant area not in present-day Iraq, a long slice of the eastern Arabian Peninsula encompassing present-day Kuwait and the coast of present-day Saudi Arabia down to Qatar (not fully displayed on the 1916 map).

The area under direct French control in the Sykes-Picot plan, displayed in solid blue shading, consisted of a large part of southern Anatolia in present-day Turkey plus the Mediterranean coast down to Palestine. Nobody knows what to call this entity, since it is hard to match up with the map of any state today or any notion of a geographical region in 1916. The simplest solution, and the one adopted by most commentaries on Sykes-Picot, is to ignore it.

The central area of the map, the “A” and “B” territories, was to be an “independent Arab state” or “confederation of Arab states,” with the northern (“A”) region envisioned as a French “sphere of influence” and the southern (“B”) region as a British “sphere of influence.” This aspect of Sykes-Picot has been much debated, and was intended to be ambiguous at the time, or at least to be left open to future discussion. The public British stance was that the A and B territories were meant to be a single “independent” Arab state, which is how Britain claimed that Sykes-Picot did not contradict the Husayn-McMahon correspondence. But the agreement left open the possibility that they could be two independent Arab states. As for the meaning of French and British “influence,” this was also left famously vague, but it included, at least, economic concessions for each European state within its respective sphere.

[Map of Iraq. Image from the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.]

The only border of present-day Iraq (see the map above) that can possibly be called a Sykes-Picot line is the southern-most section of its border with Syria, traversing the desert region from Jordan up to the Euphrates river near al-Qa`im—though, as we have seen, this was not the border of Iraq in Sykes-Picot but the boundary between the A and B regions of the “independent Arab state.” Moreover, as I will explain in Part 2 of this article, this border was not actually established by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, in spite of the correspondence; in fact, the actions of local nationalists had a lot to do with it. The remaining, longer, section of the Iraq-Syria border, from al-Qa`im to Turkey, does not exist in any form in Sykes-Picot.

In important ways, then, the area currently under IS control looks more like the Sykes-Picot vision than does the map of Iraq and Syria. The most important, of course, is the IS conquest of the city of Mosul and the surrounding region, the most densely populated area under the group’s control. This is true regardless of how one understands the A and B territories of Sykes-Picot, since the agreement did not place Mosul within either Iraq or the “B” zone of British influence. It unambiguously placed it inside the French-influenced “A” territory, joining it with present-day northern Syria, much as IS claims it has done. At the time the group released its “End of Sykes-Picot” video last summer, it had also asserted control over a swath of present-day Iraq that was to be included in the “B” territory of the Arab state, much of it desert, though only a tiny part of Sykes-Picot Iraq, as can be seen in both the more and less expansive versions of the IS map.

Over the years, scholars have been less likely than journalists and political commentators to make patently false Sykes-Picot assertions. Some say that Iraq’s borders were created not by the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 but at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Or maybe it was the San Remo Agreement of 1920. Or it could have been the Cairo Conference of 1921. Or there is always that London civil servant in 1922. But most of these accounts end up in the same place, i.e., that Iraq’s borders were “drawn” by Europeans sometime in the years around World War I. Reeva Simon writes:

An obvious example of an artificially created state, Iraq came into existence at the end of World War I at the behest of the British . . . They drew the new lines at the conference in Cairo in 1921 that created the country of Iraq out of the former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul.[3]

It is of course true that, as the years go by, the lines being drawn by Europeans—and by everyone else—do tend to get closer to the borders of present-day Iraq. But there is no originary moment in which Iraq’s borders were “drawn”; if there had been, we probably would not need all these competing narratives in the first place. As it is, we can always imagine that there is some map, somewhere, that says what we are all saying it says.

A likely reason the Sykes-Picot narrative continues to be more popular than these others, despite its obvious visual drawbacks, is that it assigns the most agency to Europeans in the process of Iraqi nation-formation. The San Remo and Cairo conferences were both, in critical ways, responses of the colonial powers to changes on the ground, and in particular to demands for Syrian and Iraqi independence, expressed in popular uprisings and armed insurgencies across wide swaths of both territories in 1919 and 1920. In fact, one very interesting way the Sykes-Picot narrative has worked, and which helps to erase the local interventions that shaped the later maps, is that all of these later maps are sometimes called “amendments” to Sykes-Picot,[4] as if one can just keep amending a secret agreement that was never legally binding in the first place, even in Europe, let alone in the Middle East. So by this rather circular logic, every new map of Iraq is said to be an amendment of Sykes-Picot, and then we can keep saying that Sykes-Picot established Iraq’s map.

A Possible Objection

To anticipate a possible objection: many proponents of the artificial state narrative might readily concede that there was no originary moment, and that Sykes-Picot in particular looks very little like the current map of Iraq. But they might respond that this is missing the point. The point, they might argue, is that Europeans drew the borders, and they drew them arbitrarily—that is to say, on an “empty map”—without consulting the local population and without regard for any other existing reality in the region.[5] If the map was empty, and the borders arbitrary, then who cares where they ended up?

I have two responses. First, the actual location of Iraq’s current borders sometimes matters quite a bit to the perpetuation of the artificial state narrative, and the narrative can’t have it both ways. For example, “Iraq” is very often defined by its current borders precisely in order to erase Iraq of any earlier history, thus resetting the clock to begin with the arrival of European empire. Here is an example of this familiar argument, from a widely used textbook on the history of the modern Middle East by Malcolm Yapp:

It is even more anachronistic to write of the history of Iraq in the nineteenth century than to write of that of Syria. Although the term “Iraq” was an old one, it did not correspond to the area of the modern state and was not used to designate any of the Ottoman administrative districts of the area.[6]

So now we know two things the term “Iraq” did not mean before World War I, but we still know nothing about what it did mean, let alone about the ways in which it may or may not have shaped the later history of Iraq. How was the term “Iraq” understood, we might wonder, and how did this understanding change, territorially or otherwise, from the Ottoman period to the era in which Iraq became a modern state? Why would it be anachronistic to speak of something in the nineteenth century that, as Yapp himself tells us, was spoken of in the nineteenth century? And what does it mean to say that that thing, whatever it was, did not correspond to the area of the modern state? After all, what historians are usually interested in is how things change from time A to time B. Usually we do not simply dismiss historical change as some kind of normative failure of something to stay the same.

[1893 map of Ottoman Iraq. Image via Wikipedia Commons.]

The above image, an Ottoman map from 1893, shows the three administrative provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. Stretching across the first two of these is the label al-`Iraq al-`Arabi (Arab Iraq). So Yapp is correct that nineteenth-century Ottomans did not use the term “Iraq” to designate any one of their administrative districts; rather, they used it to designate a geographical region extending at least roughly across two of those districts. This is the same region, we might recall, that we identified as Iraq on the Sykes-Picot map. Indeed, the earliest Sykes-Picot boundaries were drawn on English versions of the Ottoman map, displaying many of the geographical labels not even as English translations but rather as direct transliterations of the Ottoman terms. The image below, for example, shows a detail of the original 1916 Sykes-Picot map (the full version of which is displayed earlier in this article), with the transliterated label “Irak Arabi.” There was a good reason for this, namely that at the time of the Sykes-Picot correspondence in 1916, British troops had already occupied Basra and were battling the Ottoman army for control of Baghdad. As they conquered each region, the occupation forces retained much of the Ottoman bureaucratic structure—including many of its administrative borders and geographical nomenclature—for the purpose of governing and taxing the people of the occupied territories.

[Detail from Sykes-Picot Agreement Map shown above.]

As far as Iraq is concerned, then, the Sykes-Picot map was derived directly from the Ottoman map, even though the Iraq on neither of those maps corresponds to various Iraqs on later maps, nor is the Iraq on either map designated as an independent state. So why is it, it seems fair to ask, that a non-correspondence of borders from one time period to the next is sufficient reason for cutting off Ottoman Iraq from the later history of Iraq, while the very same non-correspondence is not a sufficient reason to cut off Sykes-Picot from that history?[7]

My second response to the imagined objection—that if Europeans drew arbitrary borders on an empty map, then it does not really matter where those borders ended up on the ground, so that Sykes-Picot works as well as San Remo works as well as the Cairo Conference to make the point—is that we need to look more carefully at this whole concept of an “empty map.” Timothy Mitchell has argued that a central logic of Western modernity is the production of an absolute distinction between reality and representation, “the thing and its philosophy,” the place and its map. The plan, the design, the map all seek to “make everything into a mere representation of something more real beyond itself, something original outside…The real outside was never quite reached. It was only ever represented.” The distinction between representation and reality is thus “the method by which our effect of an original ‘reality’ is achieved.”[8]

The logic of the artificial state narrative depends, I think, on this radical distinction between maps and the real world. The narrative criticizes the maps, but leaves the real world out there—rather murky perhaps, but whole and unto itself, chugging along in some non-map-affected time of its own. On the one hand, the narrative does attribute real historical agency to the European act of line drawing, which, it is certainly implied, really did transform the region by “fabricating” its modern states. On the other hand, the problem with this process, the narrative also implies, was that the maps were “empty,” that is, they had no relation to the underlying reality of the region in question. This being the case, it follows that there could be better and truer lines, existing somewhere in that non-empty and cordoned-off reality, perhaps yet to be discovered but in any case somehow more real than the lines on the maps we actually have.

Ethnosectarian Visions

This belief in the unchanging existence of better and truer lines may help explain the excitement around the “discovery” in 2005 of a “long-lost” map, shown below, that was drawn by T.E. Lawrence (as in Lawrence of Arabia) in 1918. A widely quoted Lawrence biographer proclaimed that the map “could have saved the world a lot of time, trouble and treasure,” providing the region “with a far better starting point than the crude imperial carve-up” of Sykes and Picot. NPR further explained: “For historians, Lawrence’s map is an exercise in what ifs: He included a separate state for the Kurds, similar to that demanded by Iraq’s Kurds today. Lawrence groups together the people in present-day Syria, Jordan and parts of Saudi Arabia into another state based on tribal patterns and commercial routes.” BBC agreed that Lawrence’s map indicated “separate governments” for the “predominantly Kurdish and Arab areas in what is now Iraq . . . But Lawrence’s suggestions came across opposition by the British administration in Mesopotamia.”

[Lawrence Map, 1918. Image from “Lawrence of Arabia, The Life, The Legend,” 
Imperial War Museum, London, 2005/UK National Archives, via BBC]

The first point about these responses to Lawrence’s map is, again, the remarkable lack of correspondence between the image provided and the claims being made about it. It is not explained why we should read the two vertically aligned question marks north of Iraq as saying “a Kurdish state.” The claim is puzzling not only because Lawrence presumably knew how to spell, but also because the northern border of Iraq on his map—which is the Sykes-Picot boundary between the A and B territories—cuts right through the middle of Iraqi Kurdistan, incorporating Sulaymaniyah within the Iraqi state. The empty area with the two question marks on Lawrence’s map is not Kurdistan but the region around and including the city of Mosul.

Clearly, the reason Lawrence’s map is so popular today is that it seems to at least gesture at an effort to align state boundaries with ethnic ones, through the two states, if that is what they are, that he labels “ARABS.” And if that was the logic, then what indeed could Lawrence have used to label Mosul besides a question mark? Lawrence would have known very well that this part of Mosul was not a homogeneous or even a majority Kurdish region but an extraordinarily diverse one, home to significant numbers of Arabs (mostly Sunni, some Shi`i), Kurds (Sunni, Yazidi, and Shi`i), Turkmen (Sunni and Shi`i), Assyrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, and Jews, among others. Of course, anybody even vaguely paying attention to recent events should have some sense of this by now, too.

What these recent events should be teaching us is that following the artificial state narrative to its logical conclusion leads to one place, and that place is not peace in the Middle East but rather the violence of ethnosectarian cleansing. This is part of what IS is doing, in its effort to dismantle the “artificial” borders. Yet rather than compelling the rest of the world to rethink the logic of the artificial state narrative—which is, I repeat, the logic of ethnosectarian cleansing—the violence of IS is being marshaled as yet more evidence of that narrative’s purported truth.

When Iraq was created after World War I, the notion that states should strive for ethnic homogeneity was a new one and far from universally accepted.[9] Some nation-states were indeed formed on variations of this principle during the twentieth century, often through massive forced population transfers and sometimes through more lethal methods. The results were not homogeneous states (that seems to have been impossible everywhere) but rather states with clearly dominant ethnosectarian majorities. It hardly needs stating that, whatever else might be said of this outcome, it did not tend to improve the position of the remaining minorities. In any case, these kinds of projects have fallen out of fashion, at least in international human rights discourse and law; the official UN term for the mild versions (including population transfer) is “ethnic cleansing” and for the more extreme ones “genocide.” The narrative of Iraq as an artificial state, in its dominant manifestation today, draws on the fantasy of ethnosectarian homogeneity as the foundation of stable statehood while refusing to acknowledge the inevitable implications of that fantasy, especially in a region as heterogeneous as Iraq.

Iraqi Border Formation

As for Lawrence’s map, one thing it does tell us is that the British were perfectly aware in 1918—two years after Sykes-Picot—that no new borders had been established in this region, even though by then many lines had been drawn on many maps. British political actors involved in Middle East questions indeed loved drawing lines on maps; for some, such line drawing was a veritable pastime, if not obsession. But the maps they used were never empty, which after all would have made it a rather boring exercise. They took many things into account: mountains, deserts, rivers, and ports; known and suspected oil deposits; population densities; existing Ottoman borders, both international and provincial; previous treaty agreements and current diplomatic relations and balances of power; military strategies, gains, and losses, especially given the active wars over several of the borders through the late 1920s; and perceived local desires, demands, and conflicts as well as perceived ethnicities, languages, and religious sects.

Thus, from 1914 to 1932 there were many different and competing maps of Iraq drawn in Europe—to say nothing of those drawn in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Hijaz, Najd, Kuwait, and Iran. At the time, it was understood by all concerned that these maps were simply proposals and counter-proposals. Only in December 1922, after the latest border treaty between Iraq and Najd had been signed, did the lines being drawn in most of those places (with the significant exception of Turkey) start to look something like the outline of present-day Iraq. This was the result not of the whims of a civil servant in London but rather of the slow and arduous process of resolving competing claims to territory, often through war and always through the use of power. The inclusion of the Ottoman province of Mosul within Iraq, and thus the fixing of the Iraq-Turkey border, was not determined until 1926. It took another six years for Iraq and Syria to agree on their northern border. Border conflicts plagued Iraq’s relations with Iran through the 1930s and beyond. No Iraqi government recognized any border with Kuwait until 1991, when it was forced to do so after the US bombing. In short, Iraq’s borders were formed in much the same way that nation-state borders everywhere have been formed. A lot of work and a lot of violence went into their construction, and a lot of work and a lot of violence would go into their re-construction.

[This article is the first in a two-part series. Click here to read Part 2]

[For extremely helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, I thank Beth Baron, Samira Haj, Dina Rizk Khoury, and Omnia El Shakry.]


[1] David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, rev. ed. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009),  9.

[2] See also James Gelvin, “Don’t Blame Sykes-Picot,” OUPBlog, February 7, 2015,

[3] Reeva S. Simon, “The Imposition of Nationalism on a Non-Nation State: The Case of Iraq During the Interwar Period, 1921-1941,” in Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East, ed. James Jankowski and Israel Gershoni (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 87.

[4] For example, see Michael Williams, “Sykes-Picot Drew Lines in the Middle East’s Sand that Blood is Washing Away,” Reuters, October 24, 2014,

[5] Indeed, the artificial state narrative does not necessarily rely on an originary moment; for a recent example, see Guiditta Fontana, “Ethno-Religious Heterogeneity and the British Creation of Iraq in 1919-23,” Middle Eastern Studies 46, no. 1 (2010),

[6] M.E. Yapp, The Making of the Modern Middle East 1792-1923 (New York: Longmann Group, 1987), 137-38.

[7] I am actually being generous here. In fact, Ottoman (“Arab”) Iraq looks more like modern Iraq than does Sykes-Picot Iraq, due especially to the long stretch of the Arabian coast included in the latter, which is not fully displayed on the 1916 map. (There is another Iraq on many nineteenth-century Ottoman maps, al-`Iraq al-`Ajami, or Persian Iraq; this Iraq likewise appears on some early Sykes-Picot maps, as “Irak Ajemi.”)

[8] Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 172-73.

[9] For two somewhat different accounts of the history of this concept, see Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Sarah Shields, Fezzes in the River: Identity Politics and European Diplomacy in the Middle East on the Eve of World War II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

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Chelsea writes on 5 years in confinement in new Guardian op-ed

May 27, 2015 by Chelsea E. Manning

“The years since I was jailed for releasing the ‘war diaries’ have been a rollercoaster.”

It can be difficult, sometimes, to make sense of all the things that have happened to me in the last five years.

“In the years before these documents were collected, the public likely never had such a complete record of the chaotic nature of modern warfare”, writes Chelsea E Manning.

Today marks five years since I was ordered into military confinement while deployed to Iraq in 2010. I find it difficult to believe, at times, just how long I have been in prison. Throughout this time, there have been so many ups and downs – it often feels like a physical and emotional roller coaster.

It all began in the first few weeks of 2010, when I made the life-changing decision to release to the public a repository of classified (and unclassified but “sensitive” ) documents that provided a simultaneously horrific and beautiful outlook on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. After spending months preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in 2008, switching to Iraq in 2009 and actually staying in Iraq from 2009-10, I quickly and fully recognized the importance of these documents to the world at large.

I felt that the Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries” (as they have been dubbed) were vital to the public’s understanding of the two interconnected counter-insurgency conflicts from a real-time and on-the-ground perspective. In the years before these documents were collected, the public likely never had such a complete record of the chaotic nature of modern warfare. Once you come to realize that the co-ordinates in these records represent real places, that the dates are our recent history and that the numbers represent actual human lives – with all of the love, hope, dreams, hate, fear and nightmares with which we all live – then you cannot help but be reminded just how important it is for us to understand and, hopefully, prevent such tragedies in the future.

A few months later, after spending months poring over at least a few thousand classified US diplomatic cables, I moved to also have these documents released to the public in the “cablegate” archive. After reading so many of these documents – detailing an exhaustive list of public interest issues, from the conduct of the “global war on terrorism” to the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries – I felt that they, too, belonged in the public domain.

In 2010, I was considerably less mature than I am now, and the potential consequences and outcomes of my actions seemed vague and very surreal to me. I certainly expected the worst possible outcome, but I lacked a strong sense of what “the worst” would entail. I did expect to be demonized and targeted, to have every moment of my life re-examined and analyzed for every possible personal flaw and blemish, and to have them used against me in the court of public opinion or against transgender people as a whole.

When the military ordered me into confinement, I was escorted (by two of the friendliest guys in my unit) to Kuwait, first by helicopter to Baghdad and finally by cargo plane. It was not until I arrived at the prison camp in Kuwait that I actually felt like I was a prisoner. Over the succeeding days, it only got worse as the public and the media began to seek and learn more about what happened to me. After living in a communal setting for about a week, I was transferred to what amounted to a “cage” in a large tent.

After a few weeks of living in the cage and tent – not knowing what my charges were, having very limited access to my attorney and having absolutely no idea of the media firestorm that was beginning to swirl in the world outside – I became extremely depressed. I was terrified that I was not going to be treated in the dignified way that I had expected. I also began to fear that I was forever going to be living in a hot, desert cage, living as and being treated as a male, disappearing from the world into a secret prison and never facing a public trial.

It didn’t help that a few of the Navy guards delivering meals would tell me that I was was waiting for interrogation on a brig on a US cruiser off the coast of the horn of Africa, or being sent to the prison camps of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with. After getting caught, I was placed on suicide watch in Kuwait.

After being transferred back to the US, I was confined at the now-closed military brig at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. This time was the most difficult for me overall, and felt like the longest. I was not allowed to have any items in my cell – no toothbrushes, soap, toilet paper, books, paper and on a few occasions even my glasses – unless I was given permission to use them under close supervision. When I was finished, I had to return these items. At night, I had to surrender my clothing and, despite recommendations by several psychiatrists that I was not deemed suicidal), wear a “suicide prevention” smock – a single-piece, padded, tear-proof garment.

Eventually, after public outcry regarding the conditions of my confinement at Quantico and the resignation of PJ Crowley, the former press secretary of the Department of State, I was transferred to medium custody and the general population at an Army prison. It was a high point in my incarcerated life: after nearly a year of constantly being watched by guards with clipboards and having my movements controlled by groups of three-to-six guards while in hand irons and chains and limited contact with other humans, I was finally able to walk around and have normal conversations with human beings again.

The government pressed forward with charges of “aiding the enemy” – a treasonable offense under the US constitution – and various charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Over nearly two years of hearings, I witnessed firsthand just how much the the government was willing to invest in my prosecution: the stacks of money spent; the gallons of fuel burned; the reams of paper printed; and the lengthy rolls of personnel, lawyers and experts.

For over 100 days, I watched the lawyers who prosecuted my case present me as a “traitor” and “enemy of state” in court and then become friendly people giving greetings and making chit-chat out of court. It became clear to me that they were basically just decent people doing their jobs. I am convinced that they did not believe the treason arguments they made against me – and was, even as they spoke them.

The verdict and sentencing at the end of my court-martial was difficult to predict. The defense team seriously worried about the aiding the enemy charge and the very wide range for a sentence, which was anything between “time served” and life without parole. After the judge announced my 35-year sentence, I had to console my attorneys who, after years of hard work and effort, looked worn out and dejected. It was a low-point for all of us.

After years of hiding and holding off because of the trial, I finally announced my intent to change my name and transition to living as woman on 22 August 2013 – the day following my sentencing – a personal high point for me, despite my other circumstances. However, the military initially declined my request to receive the medically-mandated treatment for my diagnosed gender dysphoria, which is to live as a woman and receiving a regular regiment of estrogen and androgen blockers. Just like during my time at Quantico and during my court-martial, I was subjected to a laborious and time consuming legal process. Finally, just under four months ago – but nearly a year and a half after my initial request – I began my hormone treatment. I am still fighting for the right to grow out my hair to the military’s standard for women, but being able to transition remains one of the highest points for me in my entire life.

It can be hard, sometimes, to make sense of all the things that have happened to me in the last five years (let alone my entire life). The things that seem consistent and clear to me are the support that I receive from my friends, my family and the millions of people all over the world. Through every struggle that I have been confronted with, and have been subjected to – solitary confinement, long legal battles and physically transitioning to the woman I have always been – I manage not only to survive, but to grow, learn, mature and thrive as a better, more confident person.

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Hollywood shoots Arabs: The movie



‘American Sniper’ replays the age-old racist roles.


Khaled A Beydoun

Khaled A Beydoun is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Barry University Dwayne O Andreas School of Law. He is a native of Detroit.



Abed Ayoub

Abed Ayoub is the legal director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, DC, and is a native of Detroit.

Art and propaganda share an intimate relationship. Particularly today in the US, where the wartime film stands as a sacred genre – intimately depicting everyday Joes plucked from mundane middle America, then planted within the perils of a foreign battleground where they become larger-than-life heroes.

The newest edition of this genre, “American Sniper”, centres on Iraq. The Clint Eastwood-directed picture contains every essential hallmark of the wartime film genre; the lionised soldier protagonist, the good versus evil paradigm, and the accompanying illustration of the latter as unyieldingly wretched, menacing, and bent on the destruction of everything pure and civilised.

“American Sniper” does not disappoint, and delivers these damaging binaries bolstered with the banal tropes of Iraqis and Muslims that attracted viewers in droves. So much that the film set a box office record its opening weekend, which is set to continue as the movie stretches into its second week.

Debating art

Film is art – and creative expression should not be legally restricted. However, art has the potential to incite, particularly when the villains in a box-office hit are flatly constructed, maliciously misrepresented, and positioned as the irredeemable opponents of America and its gun-toting hero.


In “American Sniper”, Iraqis are nothing more than fodder and foes, whom Chris Kyle is hell bent on gunning down to carry forward a parasitic patriotism that a robust segment of the US is not only drawn to, but also committed to perpetuating.

Every single Iraqi in the film is presumed guilty. And thus, deserving of the twisted justice Kyle is more than willing to dish out, over and again.

While the familiar misrepresentations on the screen are damaging, the racist backlash inspired by “American Sniper” evidences that the film is equipping hatemongers with even more ammunition.

And the targets are Arabs and Muslims, “ragheads” and anybody resembling the Iraqi caricatures in “American Sniper”.

“American Sniper” is far more than merely a character study. The main protagonist, Chris Kyle, is an American everyman, who thoroughly embodies the utter disdain for Muslims which is endemic – and intensifying – in the US today. Further, Kyle views his tour in Iraq as an opportunity to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks, reducing patriotism into a blood vendetta against a populace utterly disconnected and disassociated from that attack.

Caricature study?

These ideas, and the worldview from which they emanate, are not Kyle’s view alone. Rather, through the film positioning of Kyle as an archetype, Kyle represents a grand perspective held by a substantial segment of the US. Moreover, these views are not being relayed through a tragic figure or a nihilist.

But a hero, donned in military fatigues, a baseball cap, and played by Hollywood A-lister and heartthrob Bradley Cooper – who views his indiscriminate mowing down of 255 “despicably evil savages” as both a political and spiritual crusade.

Through Kyle’s distorted gaze, the viewer similarly sees Iraqis as targets. Whether a veiled mother, young boy, or the fictitious rival Mustafa – the black-clad, brooding embodiment of evil that is committed to the demise of Kyle, and everything he represents.

Through Kyle’s distorted gaze, the viewer similarly sees Iraqis as targets. Whether a veiled mother, young boy, or the fictitious rival Mustafa – the black-clad, brooding embodiment of evil that is committed to the demise of Kyle, and everything he represents.

Both art and propaganda, “American Sniper” carries forward the tradition of the wartime film genre. But, within the context of considerable anti-Arab and Muslim bigotry in the US, the film is reminiscent of another critically heralded yet racist wartime epic, DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which, paralleling the binary in “American Sniper”, lionised Klansmen by way of deplorable depictions of black Americans. Subsequently, it calls its viewers to take arms against the villains.

Like scores of films before it, “American Sniper” conflates Iraqis with Arabs and Muslims, “al-Qaeda” and “jihadists”.

For Kyle, and Eastwood, the distinctions are irrelevant. Redeploying age-old Orientalist images, the film’s Iraqis are thinly constructed foes of the democratic and divine – who must be methodically gunned down for both God and country. A belief, in the US today, that is far more fact than fiction.

Following the release of the film the, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) issued a community advisory and warned of a “significant rise in violent hate rhetoric targeting the Arab and Muslim-American communities”.

The advisory was issued in response to the significant number of violent messages targeting Arab and Muslim Americans following the release of the film “American Sniper”. Many of the threats were made over social media.

Box-office backlash

The threats advocate for the murder of Arab and Muslim Americans, one going as far as posting: “Great f**king movie and now I really want to kill some f**king ragheads.” In another threat, since deleted, Twitter user Dex Harmon wrote: “American Sniper makes me wanna go shoot some f**kin Arabs,” which was followed by emojis of three handguns.

Hate speech and threats such as these should not be ignored. Instead, they must serve as a warning sign. Hate speech and rhetoric will only continue to add to the culture of violence, which will lead to more incidents and more attacks. Particularly within an already rife context of anti-Arab hatred and Islamophobia.

Statistics gathered by ADC, as well as by the Southern Poverty Law Center, show that there was a 50 percent increase in the number of reported hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim in the US. The increase is correlated with the start of the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, which is surely to intensify with the domestic and global backlash against Arabs and Muslims following the Charlie Hebdo attack.

For as long as the negative imagery and permissible hatred against Arabs and Muslims exists, members of the respective communities will continue to live in a state of constant fear that they may be the next victim of a hate crime. The precedent is there, and history has shown us that as the rhetoric worsens, the culture of collateral indictment and the prospect of violence increase.

“American Sniper” is art. But it is also ammunition. The right of creative expression should be tempered by responsibility. Otherwise, “American Sniper” is only performing what propelled its central figure into the limelight – indiscriminately targeting Arabs and Muslims for simply being.

Which, we hope, isn’t the film’s aim.


Source: Al Jazeera


Killing Ragheads for Jesus

Posted on Jan 25, 2015

By Chris Hedges


“American Sniper” lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a “Christian” nation to exterminate the “lesser breeds” of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression. Many Americans, especially white Americans trapped in a stagnant economy and a dysfunctional political system, yearn for the supposed moral renewal and rigid, militarized control the movie venerates. These passions, if realized, will extinguish what is left of our now-anemic open society.

The movie opens with a father and his young son hunting a deer. The boy shoots the animal, drops his rifle and runs to see his kill.

“Get back here,” his father yells. “You don’t ever leave your rifle in the dirt.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy answers.

“That was a helluva shot, son,” the father says. “You got a gift. You gonna make a fine hunter some day.”

read full article here

Isil’s reign of terror rooted in the political culture of Iraq and Syria

Isil’s extreme cruelty and filmic savagery has shocked the world, but it is not very different from what leaders of Iraq and Syria – and to some extent their colonial predecessors – have been doing to local people for decades


Isil’s ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Isil’s ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

By Richard Spencer, Dohuk, northern Iraq

7:00PM BST 04 Oct 2014

The beheading of Alan Henning was not Isil’s first, as we all know full well, nor will it be the last. But by ignoring pleas for mercy from across the Muslim world, the group set any doubt to rest as to the nature of its need for video horror violence.

That violence is in part religious – a public insistence that its own ultra-aggressive interpretation of Islam is more “authentic” than the wishy-washy versions of Muslim politicians, scholars and ordinary people who want to live peacefully and get on with the modern world.

It demands recognition that Islam can be spread by the sword in the 21st century, just as much as it was in the 7th.

The violence is also rooted in the political culture of Iraq and Syria, the countries from which Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has sprung.

The extreme cruelty with which Isil’s “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his predecessors have avenged themselves on Westerners has revealed a culture of violence to an international public. But it is not very different from what these countries’ leaders – and to some extent their colonial predecessors – have been doing to local people for décades.

Most importantly and specifically, the violence reflects a need to show a continuous momentum. Success, however horrific, breeds success; if you depend on apparently psychopathic behaviour to press your advance, you need to recruit more psychopaths, and to show it works.

A United Nations report last week showed the importance of this sense of momentum. The headlines were full of the admirable words of Human Rights reportage: it talked of “gross abuses of human rights that have been perpetrated by Isil and associated armed groups, with an apparent systematic and widespread character”.

What that doesn’t capture is the constant movement and repetition of Isil’s actions, the reiteration of its overwhelming purpose. The greater the violence, the more the idea that this is a zero-sum game, a question put to Sunni Muslims of whether they want to be winners or losers, is rubbed home.

In June, The Sunday Telegraph reported how an Isil pickup truck killing party swept through Turkmen Shia villages in northern Iraq, killing scores of people at random – old men gunned down outside their homes, women shot dead as they fled. Any sign of trying to hide was doubly punished.

That is, by now, the well-recognised modus operandi of the group, showing their followers that they have the strength and ruthlessness to lead.

But as with everything Isil does, there was a twist.

Six weeks after the Telegraph interviewed survivors in a half-built mosque where they had taken refuge in a town nearby, Isil came back.

The jihadists set off a car bomb near the building site, killing 12 of those inside, including Abdulwahid Reza Kahir, the patriarch of one of the families.

An old man in a turban and farmer’s robe, already mourning the random killings of his son, cousins, nephews, including a 15-year-old: there was no precisely definable military or political purpose to his death, other than to show that, for jihadists, anything is possible.

There will be no end to the harrying of the enemy, an idea that is writ through the history of conquest.

It is easy to say that the national psychosis which gave rise to Isil was triggered by the American and British invasion of 2003. There is of course some truth in that: al-Baghdadi’s inspiration is Isil’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who also ordered the filming of decapitations of western hostages, sawing off the head of the American Nicholas Berg himself.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Reuters)
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Reuters)

Zarqawi was already a local al-Qaeda leader, but his particular brand of filmic savagery, mostly inflicted on Iraqi Shia, flourished in the lawlessness and increasing sectarianism of the country in the wake of the invasion. It is a platitude that the absence of order allows deranged men to prosper.

The defeat of Saddam Hussein also fed into the widespread Middle Eastern perception that Sunni Islam is under particular threat in the Arab world, is suffering an Arab equivalent of what the Chinese call “a century of humiliation”: colonial rule, the existence of the state of Israel and its repeated defeat of its (Sunni) Palestinian enemies, the economic catastrophes represented by Egypt and Yemen.

For those with ethnic or sectarian inferiority complexes – in this case both – there is a primal appeal in seeing your foe kneel before you and die.

However, the idea that politics is not just occasionally violent, but requires of its essence demonstrative violence, long predates 2003.

The modern Iraqi state is founded upon it. When the royal family, imposed by the British Empire in its dying days, was overthrown by a coup in 1958, the prime minister was not only shot dead with the king.

His corpse was dragged through the streets of Baghdad, publicly hanged and then burned.

The fate of the coup leader, Abdul Karim Qasem, when he was in turn overthrown five years later, is even more reminiscent of Isil’s approach to the media. He was shot on live television, and the state network’s camera rested on his bloodied corpse for the rest of the day, army officers occasionally intruding to insert a knife to prove his death for the viewer.

The lawlessness, in other words, is not just a product of the absence of a state, but written into the state. In Syria next door, ordinary people routinely tell stories of similarly pointless horrors, that served some political purpose while having little apparent rationality, from long before the civil war.

One Christian friend describes watching, as a child, her nine-year-old playmate next door being lined up against a wall and executed, after the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982.

Another describes how a secret school truant smoking session in a Damascus cemetery was broken up by police who wrongly thought the teenagers were drug dealers. One boy disappeared, arriving home without his finger nails a few days later.

These are just stories plucked at random.

In war, everything escalates. The same regime that did these “small”, local crimes then began mutilating corpses of teenagers who opposed it. In 2011 one 13-year-old boy was sent home without his penis. From then on, anything was possible, impunity was written into the code of conduct. Impunity’s apotheosis was the attack by a regime militia on the town of Baniyas, where among the 400 victims, many of them children with their throats cut, was a pregnant woman whose body had been cut out so her foetus could be killed too.

Like Isil, the militia’s leader boasted publicly for the camera of what he was about to do.

These victims were, in the nature of the war, Sunni. The need to see your enemy kneel and die in a pool of blood is common to both extremes.

Can the West do anything to stop this? It should only try with humility. It is all too easy to find pictures on the Internet of Western soldiers – French, Italian, even British – posing for pictures with the heads of their colonial victims in the all-too-recent past.

There is no start point to the cycle of violence.

We do, however, have the experience of putting back together what is psychologically broken, as Syria and Iraq undoubtedly are. Whether that can be done from the air, or even in the halls of the United Nations, is another matter.



Israel Spin – Mark Regrev

The November 2012 cease fire has been abandoned after 3 Israeli teenagers were killed and a revenge attack on a Palestinian teenager escalated into rocket attacks.
Abandoning the cease fire comes at a time as Israel seeks to continue its strangle hold control as the single energy producer for the region. Egypt, the wold’s largest Arab populace is almost completely reliant on Israel for energy. This may be seen by Hamas as a reason for not using an Egyptian intermediary in continued peace talks with Israel and as a method to stop further Israeli control in the energy sector of the Arab nations.

Mark Regrev is the Israeli Prime Ministers spokesperson…he is speaking here with Australian Television 14th July 2014.
His well practised spin is like a sing song prayer, hypnotising the watcher like some vaudeville character.


thedigitalfolklore | juillet 14, 2014 à 5:55   | Catégories: URL:


Mess O’Potamia – 2014 Edition

jon stewart

Two years after U.S. troops left Iraq, militant extremists sweep through the country, seizing American military equipment along the way.

TRNN Replay: Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan


CAMILO MEJIA, CHAIR, IVAW: My name is Camilo Mejia. I’m an Iraq War veteran and resister, and I chair the board of directors at Iraq Veterans Against the War. And I want to take this opportunity to say to the members that it’s been a true honor to be here with you and to meet many of you for the first time. Thank you all for coming. Thanks everyone for being here. This has been an immense success. We could not be happier than we are. I would like to start my remarks by saying that if you are a Vietnam veteran, a member of VVAW, and especially if you attended the first Winter Soldier investigation, please stand. Thank you. There’s a long history of resistance in our military, but it is because of your leadership and your strength and your resistance that we stand here today. Without your example, we would be pushing forward through darkness. It is with the torch that you passed on to us that we lead the way against an endless, illegitimate occupation that’s tearing apart our military and our country. Today is the last day of Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan, but today also marks the birth of a new generation of Winter Soldiers. George Orwell once wrote, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes an act of rebellion.” We live today in times of universal deceit. But throughout the past four days, we have witnessed firsthand accounts that challenge that universal deceit. Iraq Veterans Against the War has become a source of stress to the military brass and to the government. We have members who have been interrogated by the FBI. We have members sitting in this room who have been incarcerated for being conscientious objectors. We have been incarcerated for standing up to and saying no to command rape and sexual discrimination. We have members in Iraq Veterans Against the War who have been prosecuted for being publicly critical of our government’s failed war policies. We have become a dangerous group of people not because of our military training, but because we have dared to challenge the official story, because of members of the military, we have dared to share our experiences, because we have dared to think for ourselves, because we have dared to analyze and be critical, because we have dared to follow our conscience, because we have dared to go beyond patriotism to embrace humanity. The servicemembers and veterans who have shared our experiences with you and with the entire world are committing an act of resistance by being here. We resist the notion of free speech and democracy when the voices of those who have been the most affected by the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are being silenced by the government and by the corporate media. We refuse the notion of nation building in Iraq when our levies are breaking at home and our people are drowning, and when our own bridges are falling down. We resist and reject the official government rhetoric of “support our troops” when we have a whole new military generation returning home to no care for posttraumatic stress disorder, to homelessness, to disturbingly high levels of suicide, homicide, and domestic violence. We have heard heartbreaking testimony. We who have been there have seen the horror in the eyes of children whose doors we kicked down at three in the morning. We have learned that to treat other people with humanity, we have to treat our own people with humanity. We cannot win the hearts and minds of any country until we win the hearts and minds of our own people, until we eradicate homophobia within our ranks, until we treat our own people as equals regardless of their gender or the color of their skin. You have heard our three points of unity: immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces, full benefits to all military personnel, and reparations to the people of Iraq so they can rebuild their country on their own terms. We at IVAW are not going to rest until we achieve these three goals. As IVAW’s longtime friend and adviser Stan Goff once said, we are still soldiers, which is not their soldiers anymore. We are your new Winter Soldiers. Thank you.

Stop the crocodile tears. We didn’t care about Syria

By Dan Hodges World Last updated:  January 23rd, 2014

1219 Comments Comment on this article

A Syrian woman cries holding her injured son in a taxi as they arrive at a hospital in northern city of Aleppo

A Syrian woman cries holding her injured son in a taxi as they arrive at a hospital in northern city of Aleppo. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Can we please stop the crocodile tears over Syria? If there’s one thing more nauseating than the Assad torture factories, it’s the synthetic outrage and faux horror that has greeted their discovery.

Last year the world had an opportunity to send a signal to the Assad regime. Actually, the world had the opportunity to send a signal to itself.

Faced with evidence the Syrian government had been using chemical weapons on its own citizens – effectively choking its own children to death in their beds – we had the chance to take a stand. Not a chance to halt the slaughter overnight, or topple the Assad regime. But to put down a marker that said “You are on notice. We will not simply walk by on the other side. Remember, though the mills of justice grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.”

But we chose not to send that signal, or put down any markers. Instead we thought it would be best if we just put our heads down, and scurried on past.

Of course, it didn’t happen quite like that. We had a debate first. A very thorough debate.

During that debate a number of very sophisticated arguments and questions were put forward by those opposed to military intervention. “If we do go in, what would our exit strategy be?” people asked. And as we now know, as they were doing so, somewhere in the bowels of one of Assad’s human meat-processing plants another victim was having a coil of steel wire slipped around their throat.

“What will the targets be?” was another perceptive question. And as it was asked, the steel wire was being pulled taught.

“We need more time. We need more proof” the wise men and women who stood square against the rush to war argued. And as the words left their lips another of Assad’s victims closed their eyes for the final time.

More on Syria

Assad’s torture camps expose Ban Ki-moon’s naivety
Syria’s horrors are unimaginable – and beyond our control
Turkey’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been heroic

We have no way of knowing what impact, if any, targeted military intervention would have had on Assad’s thinking. It could have cowed him. It could have made him lash out.

But we know for certain what message our failure to act sent. It told him “They don’t care”. They don’t care if you gas your children. They don’t care if you oppress your people. And they certainly don’t care if you snatch some of your opponents off the streets, throw them in some putrid dungeon and “disappear them”.

And Assad is right. We didn’t care. Oh, we professed to care. “There will be those who believe Thursday’s vote in the House of Commons means that Britain cannot make a difference to the innocent civilians of Syria who are suffering such a humanitarian catastrophe,” wrote Ed Miliband the day after he voted down the government’s plans for a military strike. “I don’t agree.” And everybody nodded sagely in agreement. “Oh yes, there’s lots we can still do,” we told ourselves.

But the truth is there wasn’t. And it didn’t really bother us. We preferred to do nothing. We preferred to protect “our boys”. We preferred to protect the Middle East from further Western “adventurism”. Wwe preferred to protect our consciences from another Iraq.

Fine. But please, let’s not now pile hypocrisy on top of our grotesque abdication of responsibility. No more hand-wringing. No further calls for “something to be done”. Nothing is going to be done. Because we don’t actually want it to be done. Yes, we want the horrors of Syria to disappear. We want Assad to disappear. But we want someone else to make them disappear for us, so we can go back to congratulating ourselves about how we stood tall for peace.

Yesterday I saw some people calling for Assad to be tried for war crimes. I also saw John Kerry again insisting Assad steps down and leaves Syria. I may be wrong about this, but it seems unlikely Assad is going to be going anywhere unless he has some pretty solid guarantees about immunity from future prosecution.

In the meantime he’s already in possession of some other important guarantees. Such as if he doesn’t voluntarily deliver himself up to justice, we’re not going to go in and get him. If he doesn’t voluntarily leave Syria, we’re not going to go in and make him. When his henchmen slip a wire cable around the throat of another victim we’ll say how terrible it is. And then we’ll stand back and let them pull the noose tight.

We had the chance to take a stand against Assad last year. His chemical weapons. His torture chambers. We turned our back on it. So please, no more crocodile tears. The steel noose will be in use again tonight. Let’s not demean ourselves further by pretending that really matters to us.

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