As a citizen of the United States of America there is much in my country that provides me with cause for anguish. The Union wages a war which she is unlikely to win, the elected officials who operate the cogs of government give no heed to its founding charter, and my fellow citizens stand idly by, content to play the part of sheep. Add the standard list of modern tribulations - a rapidly changing climate, increasing financial instability, a general disregard for liberty, etc. - and you have a torrent of affairs with which the concerned citizen must contend with.
This wide array of rather important public issues combines unfavorably with the limited number of hours in a day. The time-crunch prompted by this combination regularly forces me to justify my interest in oft-ignored problems such as stealth conflicts. The question is generally posed along these lines: "Why spend effort stressing about the media's portrayal of third-world conflict when there are real and pressing problems facing the world?"
My answer to this query is simple: the existence of invisible conflicts is dangerous to the health of the American Republic.
Stealth conflicts are those wars the rest of the world never hears about. They are conflicts that carry a considerable human cost but never seem to find a place in the international consciences, progressing and digressing undetected by those not immediately affected by them. Virtually ignored by all forms of media, such wars are started, waged, and won without ever making a blip on the public radar. They are, for all intents and purposes, invisible.
Allow me to provide an example:
Yemen: New terror camps as city falls to jihadists.In January, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh asked his network of loyalist jihadists to prepare for offensive operations against domestic “enemies of the state.” In return, Saleh has ceded authority to fundamentalist fanatics who seek to impose a neo-Salafi theocracy in the religiously pluralistic country. It is unclear if this is the full extent of the quid pro quo.
James Novak, Long War Journal, 1 March 2009.
Facing threats in the north and south, and an increasingly poverty stricken and desperate nation, Saleh has embarked on a strategy of empowering Islamic militants who, in exchange, have been given a free hand over some local populations. At a meeting in late January, Tariq al Fahdli headed a large delegation of “reformed jihadists” who met with President Saleh in Sana’a. Al Fahdli is a bin Laden loyalist and former al Qaeda operative. He is an in-law of Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, Saleh’s half brother.... The next week, security officials released over a hundred militants from jail including dozens of al Qaeda operatives. Al Fahdli asked for YR five million and settled for a three million riyal budget as sufficient to orchestrate the regime’s directives. Militants established several new terror training camps following the meeting.
In Jahr, Abyan Jihadists declared an Islamic Emirate. Nine homosexuals were gunned down and murdered in broad daylight. Shabwa Press reports “wine drinkers” were severely beaten. Fundamentalists also attached threatening leaflets to homes, condemning certain women. Tariq al Fahdli, “using elements of the mujahideen for help and security,” took over various buildings and plots of land for distribution to his inner circle, the paper said.
The hostile takeover of an entire city by Muslim terrorists with a connection to Al Qaeda is a news-worthy event. However, outside of the specialist publication Long War Journal not a single Western newspaper picked up the story. Indeed, a conflict that has displaced upward of 70,000 people has seen precious little coverage in the media at all, despite Yemen's well known status as a terrorist safe-haven. A quick search for the word "Yemen" in the archives of the New York Times provides readers with a small blurb about a bombing that killed 4 South Koreans, but nothing else about the country or the conflict therein. A search of the Washington Post archives yields similar results; once again coverage of the country focuses exclusively on the March 12th suicide attack on South Korean citizens.
Yet at least these newspapers are recognizing that bombs do go off inside Yemen. The same cannot be said for the media's treatment of another ongoing insurgency. Please consider the events detailed below:
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has approved the deployment of another 4,000 troops to the troubled southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala. He announced the deployment after chairing a meeting of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) on Thursday.
The prime minister said more troops were need to counter the activities of separatist militants in the deep South and discourage local teenagers from joining militant groups by opening up more education opportunities to them.
"I have authorised sending an additional 4,000 rangers. Their mission is non-combat. They will work towards a better understanding with local people," Mr Abhisit said.
Did you know that Thailand is embroiled in an Islamic insurgency? Few do. The main-stream media is silent on the subject. Again taking the New York Times and Washington Post as examples, a quick search of the archives of both papers shows that neither felt it necessary to spend ink on the subject once over the last three months.
I could go on like this for quite some time. Certainly there are conflicts more destructive than these two that the general populace is unaware of.
The reason I chose to highlight the insurgencies in Thailand and Yemen is simple: one cannot deny that America has a stake in their outcome. While the United States government has dropped the phrase "Global War on Terror" from its parlance, the fact remains that the United States is still committed to fighting Islamic insurgents across the globe.
This leaves one disturbing question: how shall a government run by the people respond to problems the people do not know exist?
Writing a letter to Colonel Charles Yancy in 1816, American founding father Thomas Jefferson sounded a warning to the young American Republic:
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Jefferson's words remind us of an uncomfortable truth: one of the great burdens of self-governance is the responsibility of the citizenry to remain informed and educated in the affairs of the state.
By all measures the great majority of Americans fail to take this responsibility seriously. Not a week goes by that a new study claiming that the average American's knowledge of geography, science, foreign affairs, economics, history, or the structure of federal and state governments is woefully inaccurate and inadequate for modern times.
This laxity on the part of the American people will have its consequences. If Americans refuse to seek out knowledge necessary for their survival and liberty such will be taken away from them in due course.
Yet this is what makes stealth conflicts so unsettling. You cannot blame your average American's ignorance of insurgencies in Yemen or Thailand on laxity. Apathy has not caused the invisibility of invisible wars.
In essence, ignorance is being forced upon the people of the United States. Where shall the the concerned citizen turn to make informed judgments of the world around him? What media outlet presents the world with any semblance of proportionality? NPR? CNN? The New York Times?
This is why I concern myself with the cause and continuation of stealth conflicts. A people cannot live both ignorant and free. The people of America deserve the chance to choose one way or another.
This post has been cross-posted at the Stealth Conflicts Forum.