Friday, 8 July 2016

How Independence Day 2 captures the West’s confusion about radical Islam

I

The movie Independence Day 2 was terrible. About five people stood up and walked out. I haven’t seen that in a long time.

It felt like being bashed over the head with an idiot stick. None of the dialogue made sense, the aliens were two-dimensional and no character was interesting. Even if the special effects were new, they weren’t. They were dumb. Not even Jeff Goldblum saved that garbage.

But it wasn't why the movie failed. It failed because it was identical to the 1996 original. That is a major problem for disaster movies because they are a catharsis for a particular group of people at a particular time of history. Independence Day 2 missed the timing but it judged the audience exactly right.

Consider how Godzilla is a classic in Japan because it made sense to them at a perfect time. When the original movie was released in 1954, Japan had recently been subjected to the only two combat uses of atomic weapons in history. That, coupled with total defeat, created a national psychology leading to a movie about a mutant lizard, exaggerated by radiation, horribly trampling Tokyo’s metropolis. It was an artistic metaphor understood by a specific Japanese generation. The US remake was barely-veiled satire because every piece of psychological context was lacking.

National psychology also made the original Independence Day a great film. At its release in 1996, the US was in a period of seemingly-unlimited expansion and economic health. Aside from a few peripheral wars and isolated incidents, the world was stable and wasn’t as immediate as it appears today. The Americans ignored those threats not because they chose to, but because they didn’t understand this new era. They would pay for that ignorance in the early 21st century, but at the time it was as close to utopia the country had ever been.

II

Only a handful of years prior, the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union collapsed.

For half a century, the two powers of the US and the USSR competed for world domination without ever coming to direct blows. The Cold War was extremely hot between the two power’s proxy forces in the third and second world, but never rose to the level of combat for Washington and Moscow.

But those years, the West felt a menacing threat looming just over the horizon. Perhaps you had to be there to understand the perennial fear or to comprehend the choices – some of which seems ridiculous and pointless today. The spectre of Communism hovering over the world was a reality for countries which had already fallen to its ideology, although the US avoided Communist expansion.

So the enormous city-sized alien spacecraft in the original Independence Day hung over American cities as a metaphor for the Communist threat. There are scenes in the movie showing computer screens displaying similar spacecraft positioned over major world cities. The fear of Communist expansion.

Eventually the spacecraft annihilate the cities, filmed as a suspiciously nuclear-esque explosions rolling fire across streets and through paper buildings. The spacecraft are immune to the strongest US weaponry, defeating all of Washington’s aircraft and immolating its secret bases.

Then a captured alien tells the character of the US president there will be no compromise and hopes for the complete destruction of humanity – harking back to the propaganda against the USSR. But the alien’s own technology is eventually used against them by humans who stand out from the crowd, a not-so-subtle depiction of the great American enterprising spirit.

But the fifth act of the movie is the most important. It depicts the removal of the alien threat, with spacecraft now lying messily in ruins inside flattened cities. It also shows the coming together of a united world brought together in victory against a common enemy. The world celebrates a global Independence Day, a scene which resonated as a key facet of collective American psychology in the 1990s.

After the danger of the USSR and Nazi Germany, suddenly in 1989 no other form of democracy competed against American liberal market democracy. Washington was the last man standing, not because it was the best, but because its rivals dissolved. Now the entire world could either come willingly or be compelled to mimic the US model and usher in a new era of peace. Few predicted those metaphorical 1990s would come to an end. But they did.

III

Everyone now knows the events of 2001. The problems ignored by the US in the 1990s slipped into the largest and most secure empire the world has ever seen and struck highly symbolic targets at its core.

New York and Washington do not represent the core of the American way of life – for that, striking Austin or Denver would be more appropriate. The two East Coast cities represent the core of the American political and economic system which ate the world after 1989. Al qaeda chose its targets carefully, hoping to destroy the empire not the country – which, by the way, was precisely the goal of the Soviet Union.

A shocked US psychology was then exposed to grim reality: it had not defeated every competing ideology conspiring for world domination after all. Yet Islam was a different beast entirely to Communism. At least with the Communists there could be a discussion of differences. Karl Marx was a Prussian writing his ideas from a library in London. His was a post-Christian idea which took root because his readers understood the context and history as their own.

So when it came to changing minds during the Cold War, there was at least an affinity of Christ’s message of equality and shared humanity. The narrative after 1945 created a split between the two remaining forms of post-Christian democratic government which every country had to choose between. Fascism, the third form, was already dissolved. In hindsight this was a deeply dangerously and confused analysis.

During the 20th century, Islam remained unseen not because its ambitions for global domination were less fierce, but because its actors lacked the might to make things right. Its ideology was also purposefully concealed in Western minds because they had no idea what to do with an ideology that does not set Christianity as the main character in the movie of history.

The West was so enamoured with this thinking it could not see how it is an extra in someone else’s movie. This is the problem of the present turmoil: the West cannot grasp how conflict in the Islamic world reflects a reality in which Islam is the main character in its own movie. They are ships passing in the night.

Muslims are violently organising not only the Islamic version of the Thirty Year’s War but also a version of the Cold War between the two major forms of Islamic government – Sunni and Shia. Whatever emerges will be a stronger and more united Islam, perhaps with a unique understanding of modernised government. Terror attacks on Western symbols are but a spillover from this fight. It is not about us. It is about Islam sorting itself out.

IV

In this complex context, Independence Day 2 was released in 2016, a full 15 years after the Islamic narrative slammed headlong into the delusional narrative of the last remaining Western power structure.

Throughout those years the West has failed to discuss honestly how the two narratives interact. It rejects that an entirely different way of thinking may also have global ambitions or be a legitimate competitor. The result is a confused strategy and poor tactical response. The perfectly-named “Global War on Terrorism” captures this confusion. It is folly to think a tactic of warfare (terrorism) will be removed.

Old German philosophers understood how naming a phenomenon is the first step in controlling not the thing itself, but one’s reaction to the thing. So a refusal to name Islam as the movement behind today's terror threat reveals a defence against the idea the West may not be the central character in history’s movie at all, and there is another, equally motivated ideology competing for control.

Understand that this is a denial of agency for the entire Islamic world – the ultimate control mechanism. Rather than admit Muslims can act independently inside their own historical narrative, a Muslim’s actions are instead framed as a reaction to the West's actions. The Iraq War in 2003 caused the Islamic State, drones cause terrorism and the West’s freedoms are the reason they lash out. This is nonsense and demeaning.

Feminists have rightly pointed out a similar dynamic as an insidious psychological control over society’s subjects. It is a power dialectic of control. It diverts the narrative away from clashing ideologies, to a narrative in which only the arc of democracy exists along which every people group fits somewhere, either on the way towards democracy or having achieved democracy. Again, this is a demeaning and a deadly misunderstanding of history.

V

The movie fails to tackle this reality, not because it refuses to, but because it cannot do so. Its writers have no frame of reference.

Its directors know there is a conflict occurring across the world. And they know there must be an enemy because people are violently dying and people on television wearing symbolic green uniforms or white kufiya say they are at war with each other. But the reality from which the film emerged cannot access this truth because it is operating from inside a simulation.

The simulation tells the West it is not fighting the “other” – there is no “other.” The simulation explains how there are no enemies, only citizens and democrats it hasn’t naturalised yet. To name the threat as Islam and place its belligerency into the simulation would be to create an enemy and therefore dispel the simulation itself. An impossibility.

The directors could not discuss the modern enemy. How can an enemy be discussed for whom there is no name? How can an enemy be defeated when the West denies even the concept of enemy? Officials hypothesise if only Muslims are shown enough kindness they will eventually see the truth of democracy and the Western system. But what if it’s the other way around? What if it is the West’s psychology which will be captured?

Officials invite Muslims into their nations. Those same officials cancel the concept of borders, which Europeans spread to every corner of the globe under the model of Westphalian sovereignty. The officials allow millions of people who believe in a competing ideology to travel freely and live without control inside their own cities.

Independence Day 2 has no clue how to depict this confusion other than choosing a recreation of an ideal era to which most Americans still believe the US will one day return. But it won’t. It can’t. The days of easy credit and global friends are never coming back. Or, more appropriately, those days can only return if all competing ideologies are crushed.

The actors for Islamic radicalism clearly understand what is going on. They are under no illusion that competition on a global scale must result in a single victor. The Taliban in Afghanistan say publicly they will continue fighting the NATO-led war for as long as it takes. They know the West lacks the stomach and a sufficient government structure to organise a competent empire to maintain its ideological capture.

If Islamists push the West for long enough, eventually it will capitulate. The West is not militarily weaker, but it refuses to use its military might to engage the enemy appropriately. It purposefully constructs rules of engagement so convoluted and regulated its forces are denied the necessary freedom to function on the battlefield.

It does this for two reasons: the West believes in an illusory arc that all people eventually will choose freedom and democracy. From this flows the idea of collective guilt and how one’s good actions will compel an enemy to cease fighting and adopt one’s own ideology (a legacy of Christian ethics).

From the Western perspective, it is a time-tested strategy. Since it worked against the USSR, why wouldn’t it work against political Islam? But from an Islamic perspective, which wants not compromise but replacement of the Western system, the strategy must look like suicide.

VI

I want to give this wheel one more turn.

Nowhere is this confusion more apparent than at a refugee site near the French town of Calais. Recently, a Canadian reporter travelled to the “Calais Jungle,” a camp estimated to hold between 4000 and 5000 people of mostly North and Sub-Saharan African descent.

Many of these people wish to use the camp to sneak into the UK. French NGO Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) estimates 62% of the camp occupants are male with a mean age of 33. However, the reporter found a very different demographic make-up.

In this short video, she and her camera operator depict a separate journalist team who have found the only four children in the camp. She points out their hypocrisy of failing to capture the reality of the camp behind them. So her camera spins around showing the camp’s true majority occupants: young adult males. I recommend the entire report. The distinct impression is of something fishy happening to the coverage of this so-called “refugee crisis.”

Her most interesting interview is later with an Eritrean migrant. The man tells her he is a Christian, describing how Muslims in the camp often beat and persecute him. The man speaks in broken English which is an indication of some bias. After all, if he knows English, then he also reads English language newspapers and watches English language television. Which means he probably knows Western concerns. And since he made it to France from Eritrea, he’s probably smart enough to use Western narrative for his own benefit. I know I would in his situation.

So when he tells the reporter there are “Islamic State” operatives inside the camp working to radicalise and connect travelling Muslims, one shouldn’t take the information as exact. However, she isn’t the first reporter to expose what’s happening in migrant camps. Apparently IS and al qaeda operatives have for months been moving through these camps and alongside migrants as they enter Europe.

VII

The real question then becomes: what is IS’ strategy here?

Clearly there are enough operatives in Europe if multiple journalists have heard about them. So even if they are trying to hide, their numbers are large enough that IS controllers aren’t worried if some operatives perform poor operational security and are discovered. Intelligence services likely know of these people too. Or perhaps the operatives aren’t trying to hide because know their stay in Europe will not be compromised even if they expose themselves.

Whatever is going on, what cannot be dodged is the low number of terrorist attacks these terrorists are conducting. Only a handful of high-profile attacks have made headlines, but the ratio of operatives inside Europe to successful attacks is heavily unbalanced. So why isn’t IS conducting more attacks?

The answer is unnerving. Terrorism is a tactic of warfare, not a strategy. It is used when one force faces a stronger foe it cannot engage on parity. The strategy behind terrorism is to destroy an enemy’s forces or for the enemy to cease its aggression – the goal of all warfare. Said in another, more frightening way, a force only engages in combat if it has not defeated its enemy, and will disengage from combat either once an enemy is defeated or its own forces have been defeated.

How does this apply to Europe? Clearly, those who adhere to the ideology of radical Islam think terrorism and other combat tactics are unneeded to compel European nations to bend. This is not because their forces have been defeated, but rather because they believe European forces have been defeated.

It appears IS operatives are positioning their fellow ideologues across Europe to occupy places through which the system of Western government can be directly affected. Engaging Europe’s militaries was unnecessary once the borders were dissolved. So the second stage of conquest now begins: domination of the defeated society’s minds and an eventual replacement.

VII

Power cannot be destroyed. Like energy, it only changes form.

There are many ways to seize power. Sometimes, all that is needed is the illusion that an enemy is actually a friend or that the enemy possesses no agency. Yet if that enemy continues to parse an accurate reality while its adversary chooses illusions, power will flow to the former. The Western system is assumed to be an immutable “end of history,” but it is neither. It is fragile and requires constant psychological maintenance.

This messaging must be reinforced by military might if it is to retain its claim of being right. When those steps are not taken, the system does not collapse, it is replaced. The Western model of society and government is not the truth, it is only the most effective lie. And if a more effective lie captures the psychology of a populace, then power will flow to it without obstacle.

Independence Day 2 is a window into this horrifying confusion. The West lives in a dream world without enemies where it is the hero of its own movie. If it does not maintain the system, then it will not be maintained. That might sound tautological, but it really is that simple.

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