Since the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, the world's leaders and media have predictably reminding the world that the attacks' perpetrator – ISIS – has declared war to the death against humanity.
ISIS would not deny this. Indeed, making this point was the reason it carried out the Paris attacks, which killed 129 people.
ISIS, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, emerged out of the US-instigated religious sectarian war in Iraq and the increasingly religious-sectarian civil war in Syria. The group distinguishes itself from other Salafi jihadi groups with an uncompromisingly genocidal stance against non-Muslims, non-Sunni Muslims, non-Salafi Sunnis and rival Salafi currents – in other words, everyone but themselves.
In June last year, ISIS rebranded itself “the Islamic State” to emphasise that its ambitions were global, not regional.
As former Australian PM Tony Abbott was fond of demonstrating – with his frequent warnings that ISIS (or “the death cult”) was “coming for us” – the spectre of such a violently deranged global terrorist outfit provides a useful justification for governments to increase state powers at the expense of civil liberties, wage war in far-off oil-rich regions and promote racism against Muslim communities and refugees.
No one could accuse ISIS of lacking enthusiasm and dedication in its war of extermination against humanity, but it is a long way from world domination. Its control of territory remains confined to Iraq and Syria - and is shrinking in both countries, largely the result of advances by left-wing feminist forces based mainly in the Kurdish community.
On November 13, local and Turkish Kurdistan-based forces liberated Shengal (Sinjar) in Iraq. The town is the home of the Yazidi religious minority, whose victimisation by ISIS – involving women and children being sold as sex slaves in public markets, as well as massacres – helped establish the group's reputation for theatrical brutality. Meanwhile in Syria, Kurdish-led feminist revolutionary forces continue to advance on the ISIS capital, Raqqa.
Wave of attacks
The well-coordinated attack on Paris was part of a wave of ISIS attacks outside Iraq and Syria to demonstrate that the group was still the world's most notorious jihadi terrorists.
The response of France and other global powers – increasing air strikes on Iraq and Syria, cracking down on civil liberties, further closing borders to refugees and escalating Islamophobia – is exactly what ISIS needs to maintain its credibility.
The outpouring of solidarity with the victims of the Paris attacks has been heavily promoted by politicians and the mainstream media. But it also represented a genuine and spontaneous sympathy for the 129 victims of senseless violence. On social media, many have pointed to the need to extend that solidarity to other victims of terrorism.
Paris is not the only place to be hit in recent days by the wave of ISIS attacks. The day before, ISIS suicide bombers hit an area of Beirut, Lebanon, that is a base of support for the Hezbollah party – killing dozens.
On October 31, 224 people were killed when a Russian airliner taking tourists home from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was bombed. And the vast majority of victims of ISIS have always been in Iraq and Syria.
Western powers, and their rival Russia, have been inconsistent in their fight against ISIS.
Because Russia is a global rival of the West, and in Syria supports the beleaguered dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, the bombing of the Russian airliner has not received the same saturation coverage as the Paris attacks. However, since the attacks on Paris, France and Russia have been coordinating their air strikes. Western insistence on Assad's departure has become more muted.
The ISIS attack on Beirut received even less coverage. This was not only because Lebanese deaths are in general less newsworthy than French deaths, but because the target was supporters of Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, which has sided with Assad in Syria's civil war, is classified as a terrorist group in the West. This is for its role in providing often successful resistance to Israeli aggression against Lebanon.
There have also been ISIS attacks in Turkey, most notably the October 10 bombing of a political rally in Ankara with a body count similar to the Paris attacks.
However, survivors of this attack accused the Turkish government of being behind the bombing. The Turkish state responded to the attack by tear-gassing the victims and blocking ambulances – and it came amid the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) militarised crackdown on the country's left-wing electoral opposition and Kurdish population.
The AKP government has restarted its war on the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Kurdistan-based force that played a key role in the liberation of Shengal. Like Hezbollah, the PKK is classified as a terrorist group in the West. However, its allies in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) are the West's most reliable ally against ISIS.
Turkey is a NATO member and one of the main recipients of Western military aid and weapons in the region. It is also resolutely opposed to the Rojava revolutionary forces and has armed and aided ISIS. Turkey views ISIS's war on Rojava as an extension of its domestic war against the Kurdish-led left-wing opposition.
This confusing picture reflects the fact that the West, and Russia, approach the fight against ISIS according to an assessment of what advances their own interests.
Moreover, the West, Russia and various regimes aligned with either or both actually kill significantly more people than ISIS. In Syria, the Russian-supported Assad regime has the highest body count in that nation's devastating civil war.
In Iraq, the birth of ISIS was preceded by the US-led invasion - and a religious-sectarian civil war instigated by the US to thwart a united anti-occupation resistance. The US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the resulting civil war, killed more than 1 million people.
For all its genocidal intent, ISIS barely makes it to the big league in mass killing. Furthermore, groups like ISIS are a result, not a cause, of imperial war.
Afghanistan has suffered similar numbers of deaths to Iraq from imperial wars that have spawned local movements similar to ISIS. These groups have terrorised that country and neighbouring Pakistan, which is dominated by a brutal and corrupt military that both nurtures terrorists and massacres civilians in the name of fighting them.
History of terror
This is not a new phenomenon. In the 1960s and '70s, US-led forces killed several million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In much the same way as the Iraq War spawned ISIS, the Indochina war helped create the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, which killed a further 1.5 million people.
When not waging war, the global powers maintain their rule by installing and supporting brutal, and sometimes genocidal, dictatorships. The US has a long history of direct involvement in military coups.
For example, 50 years ago, a US-instigated coup in Indonesia was followed by the massacre of hundreds of thousands of leftists and 32 years of military rule.
Throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Latin America was characterised by brutal military dictatorships and civil wars as a direct result of US intervention.
The numbers killed by direct Western intervention in Third World countries are themselves dwarfed by the numbers killed in wars indirectly resulting from the West's efforts to control the world.
For instance, since 1996, more than 10 million people have been killed in wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
These wars are fought by numerous local militias, backed by, and sometimes with the direct involvement, of neighbouring countries, in particular Rwanda and Uganda. Rwanda was itself the victim of a French-instigated genocide in 1996. The wars in the DRC have been characterised by armies of press-ganged child soldiers and widespread sexual violence.
Behind the seemingly complicated political and ethnic causes of conflict in the DRC is a mineral: coltan, widely used in computers, smart phones and other modern electronics. It is not a coincidence that violent conflict is wrecking the DRC at the same time as coltan has become important economically.
The workers who mine coltan in the DRC are virtual slaves: the extreme violence of the war serves as a form of labour discipline. Significantly, the US imports most of its coltan from Rwanda, a country where coltan is not mined.
The DRC is a microcosm of the world. Control of resources is a common cause of war. The wars in the Middle East, of course, are related to the region's oil wealth.
But it is not as simple as wars being simply about plundering resources. The violence of the imperial states and their efforts to maintain geopolitical control of the world are to maintain a global economic system based on exploitation.
This system is administered through financial bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. It is increasingly legally enshrined through free trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
This globalised capitalist economy is dependent on war and other forms of state violence. However, the inequality enforced by this system actually kills more people than violence by states or non-state terror groups.
According to UNICEF and World Food Program statistics, about 8 million people are killed every year through hunger and curable diseases. There is not a global shortage of food and medicine: rather they are commodities whose distribution is monopolised by profit-motivated corporations. It is simply not profitable to make them affordable to everyone.
Self-sufficiency is effectively prohibited under capitalism. Throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, international bodies, backed by state violence when necessary and aided by local elites, have forced farmers to stop growing subsistence crops and have imposed export-oriented monoculture.
The result is grotesque situations such as in Kenya, where millions of people face food insecurity while the country exports tens of millions of tonnes of flowers to Europe.
Unsustainable use of land and water through monoculture is just one way of numerous ways in which state-violence enforced global capitalism is creating environmental destruction. The most significant is, of course, the burning of fossil fuels, which is changing the world's climate.
While France reeled from the November 13 terrorist attacks, Australia was suffering the year's first bushfire casualties. Each year, bushfires in Australia have been intensifying, as have droughts, storms, heat-waves and other extreme weather events throughout the world.
Poverty compounds the human toll of such events. Super-typhoon Yolanda, which hit the Philippines in 2013, killed between 5000 and 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. At the time it was the fastest storm ever to make landfall. This record was surpassed by Hurricane Patricia in Mexico this year.
With the November 13 attacks creating a convenient excuse to ban protests, France has banned climate demonstrations for the UN COP21 climate talks in Paris from November 30 to December 11.
At these talks, no Western country is proposing cuts remotely capable of stopping the planet's average temperature from rising by as much 4°C from pre-industrial levels. It has already risen by 1°C.
Effective emission cuts are blocked by the same forces blocking access to needed medicines for the poor. It is simply not profitable. In her book This Changes Everything, Canadian activist Naomi Klein explains how burning fossil fuels is locked into globalised capitalism.
The solutions that will be proposed in Paris will be based on the false premise that capitalists can have their planet and eat it too. Targets will be reached not through burning less fossil fuels, but through mechanisms such as “carbon offsets”.
What this means is that 183,000 hectares of agricultural land in Mozambique, a country suffering food insecurity caused by dependence on imported food, has become foreign-owned commercial plantations growing jatropha, a toxic plant used to make biodiesel. Financing plantations such as these is how Western countries will meet their emissions reduction targets.
The news from climate scientists is grim. A 4°C rise in average temperature could actually mean the extinction of humanity.
Resisting this apocalypse are the same forces who are resisting poverty, terrorism and imperial wars. From the anti-fracking movements in Western countries, to movements in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America of farmers resisting dams, destructive development and monoculture – such as the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil – grassroots democratic resistance is occurring.
For several years the main opposition to the planet-destroying profit-driven agenda at UN climate talks has come from Latin America's socialist governments – Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela – that are based on mass movements of slum dwellers, indigenous people, workers and the rural poor resisting poverty and Western imperialism.
Meanwhile in the Middle East, the Kurdish-led left-wing feminist forces that have won the most success against ISIS are part of a movement that strives to create an ecological sustainable, democratic socialism.
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