The Shock and Awe of Words

Human Rights Muslims Today Reasoned Comments

By Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

Peoples of the Islamic world are quite familiar with the doctrine of “Shock and Awe” as understood and deployed by Colin Powell, a General in US Military the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the execution of US wars in Southwest Asia and North Africa, especially in Iraq in the 1990’s and in 2003. Shock and Awe, as explained by academic scholars, consists of two parts,

… Shock meant the ability to intimidate, perhaps absolutely; to impose overwhelming fear, terror, vulnerability, and the inevitability of destruction or rapid defeat; and to create in the mind of the adversary impotence, panic, hopelessness, paralysis, and the psychological incentives leading to capitulation… Awe may be present in the absence of shock in that a target or an adversary could be convinced to accept our will by the perception or reality of our overwhelming ability to affect, influence, and control his or her actions. In practical terms, shock often reinforces or creates awe. But to achieve long-term or lasting effects, it is awe rather than shock that is the applicable mechanism.” (Harlan K. Ullman in “Shock and Awe a Decade and a Half Later”).

That is the meaning and function of “Shock and Awe” of War. Recently, we have been introduced to the deliberately calibrated and timed deployment of “Shock and Awe” of Words.

First, it was the president of the United States, Joe Biden, who peddled the made-up, fake story about some 40 babies beheaded by Hamas on October 7, 2023. Months later, the third in line in the order of succession in the US government, the speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson on the same “trusted” news outlet that propagated the fictitious story about the beheading of 40 babies, CNN; Johnson, too, propagated another fake story. He said, without being challenged for evidence by CNN, that Hamas “placed infants in the oven and cooked them alive”.

One must ask, why would U.S. officials embrace and amplify such horrific and shocking false, untrue stories? One reasonably possible answer is this: to be able to justify, commit, and support an atrocity, one must provide a more atrocious narrative about the events used to justify it.

To justify the US government complicity in the ongoing genocide that resulted in the killing of 14,778 children, the murder of 9,752 women, the burying of 9,000 people under the rubble, the injuries sustained by 77,143 people, the orphaning of 17,000 children who lost both parents, the murder of 485 medical staff, the assassination of 145 journalists, the death of 30 children through State-induced famine, the starvation of 1,107,000 people, the displacement of 2 million people, the full or partial destruction of 412 schools and universities, the full or partial destruction of 556 mosques, the destruction of 3 churches, the full or partial destruction of 380,000 housing units, the full destruction of 213 hospitals and health institutions, the perpetration of sexual violence against Palestinian women and girls, and the commission of 3,025 massacres… they must make up something more shocking. That is why some U.S. government officials continue to peddle fake news about alleged atrocities committed by Palestinians and ignore or express doubt about atrocities Palestinians have endured at the hands of Israeli armed forces using the weapons the US government has been providing.

People should be shocked about the Israeli reaction to the October 7 attacks, not the other way around. Here is why: The official figure released by the Israeli government stated that the attack killed 1,139 Israelis—764 civilians and 373 security personnel. While retaliating to this attack, the Israeli armed forces killed 14,778 children, and many more adults, the equivalent to killing 13 Palestinian children for every 1 Israeli; or 1,056 Palestinian children for everyone 1 Israeli child—that should be shocking to any human being with a conscience. One must ask, how many more Palestinian children must die before Israeli leaders’ thirst for the blood vengeance is quenched? Because reasonable people find no reasonable principled morality or recognized jurisprudential maxim that can justify such indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force and violence.

The reality is this: one cannot make up more shocking fake stories because, according to NGOs and UN investigators, Israeli forces have already committed indescribable atrocities. The evidence unearthed from the mass graves found “bodies without heads, bodies without skins, and hand-cuffed victims who were buried alive”; these are real stories, made possible by the kind of weapons supplied by the US government and its Western allies.

These figures and facts enumerating the abuses and crimes to which Palestinians have been subjected in the last 200 days alone are not made-up, fake stories; they are official findings, reported by NGOs, UN experts, and independent investigators.

The intentional production of false narratives is necessary to justify the atrocities being committed against Palestinians—without them, any thinking person would see this ongoing so-called “self-defense” retaliatory war for it is: a genocide.

* Dr. Ahmed E. Souaiaia has taught and written about human rights for over 20 years in two U.S. universities.

Articles with byline express the opinion of its author(s) exclusively; such content does not necessarily reflect the opinion or the position of Islamic Societies Review or its editors.

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