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AIJAZ SYED : Why war is good business

Princess Reem Al Faisal, granddaughter of the legendary Saudi King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, may be an unknown commodity for the world beyond the Middle East.

by Aijaz Zaka Syed / Arab News

Saddam's heads, taken from the roof of the Republican Guard Palace, now located at Al-Salam Palace, Forward Operating Base Prosperity, Baghdad, Iraq, 2009 © Richard Mosse

But her fame as an artist and photographer par excellence has traveled far beyond the borders of the Saudi kingdom.  The magic of her exquisite black and white images celebrating the stark simplicity of life in Arabia, including the great spiritual journey of the Haj, has to be truly experienced to be believed.

But it wasn’t her amazing skills with her old Contax camera or her ability to see the extraordinary in an ordinary world but her fiery opinion pieces saying it as it is with rare courage and honesty that first got my attention. Like her grandfather, Reem is forever driven by a concern for her people, and the oppressed and voiceless everywhere.

Despite her background, Reem has repeatedly censured the Arab leaders for their failure to confront big powers on continuing injustice and oppression in the region. At the height of Israel’s murderous offensive on Gaza two years ago and during the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, she came up with some of the best and boldest writings in recent times, prodding the sleeping conscience of Arab elites.

Her strong beliefs and convictions come across in everything Reem does. In her passion for photography, in her incisive writings and even in the kind of art, artists and themes she chooses to present and promote at her unique gallery, The Empty Quarter, in the heart of Dubai’s glamorous financial district. Since its inauguration two years ago, the Empty Quarter has covered unusual themes, from violence and identity and cultural issues to the exploitation of the marginalized and dispossessed lot of the region.

These days the Empty Quarter is hosting another unusual exhibition, The Spectacle of War, for which Reem herself turned up, once again talking about an issue that has been close to her heart:  The exploitation of the Middle East and how it has ended up becoming a battleground for big powers and their little games.

Featuring some of the finest photographers and artists of our time, the Spectacle of War offers a rarely seen perspective on the obscenity of the Iraq war. However, it isn’t just about Uncle Sam’s with-us-or-against-us mission in Mesopotamia. This is the story of a whole civilization and its abuse.

Pointing to the images of Saddam Hussein’s grand, opulent palace, now occupied and trampled by the US Marines with obscene graffiti defacing its walls, Reem says, “they come and just take over everything!”

In her traditional abaya and earnestly explaining each picture to her guests that incidentally include former Pakistan Premier Shaukat Aziz and his wife and Emirati dignitaries, Reem looks more like an activist than a member of a royal family.

But spectacularly nightmarish as the Iraq campaign has been, described as a war by Disney by Paul Rutherford, the author of the Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Marketing the War Against Iraq, it is merely another chapter in the history of business of war.

Those images, some of them captured from inside the smug safety of an American tank or Humvee, tell the story of centuries of exploitation of the vast region that stretches from North Africa to the Gulf to Central Asia.

While much of the known world has suffered at the hands of colonial powers, the Middle East remains the real big bazaar and virtual laboratory of the global arms industry.

Of course, one has been familiar with the history of the Middle East and clever, petty games Western colonial powers have played over the past couple of centuries to exploit it in every possible way. Nonetheless, it was a sobering experience to see it all brilliantly illustrated, explaining how the global war machine thrives on the conflict in the Middle East.

Indeed, there’s nothing like a good war for politicians and businessmen. Wars help failed politicians reinvent and empower themselves as they turn their insecurities and delusions of grandeur into a national cause. And for those who make its instruments, nothing beats the war business. The world economy may be tanking and ordinary mortals like you and me may be driven up the wall by spiraling inflation. However, things that go “bang” and kill in ever new ways are on a roll.

The ineffectual angels of the United Nations and big boys who run the whole circus may make a great deal of promoting peace and stability around the world, but no one really wants peace. Certainly not in the Middle East.  Peace is the last thing the arms industry and their friends in high places want in the region, or anywhere else for that matter.

Indeed, the greater the unrest and instability, the better it is for people in the business.

This may be why while the rest of the world has moved on at a mind-boggling pace over the past five or six decades, particularly after World War II, time has stood still for much of the Middle East. The region is stuck in a time warp that is centuries old. The more things change in our part of the world, the more they have remained the same for the Arab world.

This is perhaps why most conflicts since World War II have taken place in the Middle East.  Having drawn its lessons from the Two Great Wars, Europe has managed to avoid major military conflicts and keep the continent safe.  However, war remains a big industry and vital source of revenue for the industry that deals in trillions of dollars.

Only it’s now staged elsewhere — away from the continent and in distant Arabia or Africa and Asia.

This is why the Arab-Israel conflict continues to fester even after seven decades. If the Middle East finds lasting peace, what will happen to all those fancy weapons the US and European war machine has been churning out year on year? Why would you want peace in the Middle East, or for that matter anywhere else on the planet, if you are Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman or even Dick Cheney’s Halliburton that has been making billions by building those military bases all across the Middle East and Central Asia?

And it’s not just the awesome arms and ammo that are an endless source of income for the merchants of death.  Decades after its ostensible exit from the region, the empire continues to control all levers of power and economic interests in the Middle East.  Using an ancient regime of licenses and monopoly, the US, UK, France and others in the West still call the shots by controlling virtually everything, from the oil industry to the supply of essentials like military uniforms and jackboots. No wonder for all their protestations and pretentions to champion freedom and democracy around the world, our colonial masters are cowering in their pants as the tsunami of change sinks one subservient satrap after another.

Change is the last thing the West wants now. Status quo is the name of the game. But who can stop an idea whose time has come? And beware. The current churning doesn’t merely target an old, corrupt order. It also seeks an end to the injustice, exploitation and open loot that the empire has presided over all these years.

Source:  Arab News

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published opinion editor, he looks at and comments on world affairs from a Middle Eastern and Arab-Muslim perspective. He received the European Union’s prestigious Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize in 2007 for his writings on the Darfur conflict.  Write to him at [email protected]

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