Fred Habachi: Deadly Oxymoron

By Fred Habachi
Special to

The English word is settler, the French word is colon from which the word colony is derived, and the oxymoron to which the title refers is the expression modern settler. To explain why I regard modern settler to be an oxymoron, I must take a long digression, so bear with me dear reader.

I begin with the rhetorical question: What if fifty years from now a country, say China, developed a weapon that is capable of paralyzing any piece of military equipment you can think of? The country then puts on a show to demonstrate the effectiveness of the weapon and the world notices with trepidation. Then imagine the Chinese pretending to open up to the American public but doing so only to establish contact with the criminal elements in the American society such as organized crime, street gangs, petty criminals and so on.

And then one day, without giving any warning, the Chinese use the weapon to paralyze the American military for a period long enough to walk into the country and take it over without firing a shot. At first, as you can imagine, the Chinese are cheered by their criminal friends in America. But then surprise, surprise! The criminals realize that the Chinese only used them when they needed them but now plan to double-cross them.

Left with nothing to console them for their troubles, the criminals take advantage of the fact that the Chinese have created a chaotic situation by dismantling the institutions which included the security apparatus, and they move to fill the vacuum. They borrow a page from the book developed by the Mafia during the wars of the Twentieth Century and play on the patriotism of the American people who reintegrate them into the society. Together, they form a popular movement to fight against the Chinese but the former criminals also unleash a sustained and clandestine attack against rivals and enemies of the past to settle old scores.

In the meantime, drawing on the resources they acquired as criminals, they mount a ferocious insurgency and do a good job at hitting the Chinese invaders then “dissolving” throughout a society that does everything to protect them. The Chinese redouble their effort to find and punish the insurgents and thus escalate the conflict to the point where America begins to look like Iraq or Palestine today.

A propaganda war erupts between the two sides during which the Chinese justify to their people and to the World their invasion of America by pointing to the horrors committed by the criminals against them and against other Americans. They present this picture as being the true face of America while ignoring the hundreds of millions of Americans who struggle every day to stay alive and to provide for their families despite the atrocious conditions of the occupation.

Whether or not this can happen to America is not the point. The point is that a similar situation exists today in Iraq and in Palestine. The forces that commit the atrocities in these places represent neither the Arabs nor the Muslims. They are a collection of old and new criminals, of once solid citizens now double-crossed by the invaders, and of kids who joined the conflict for the adventure as did the American kids who lied about their age to join the First and Second World Wars.

Students of history will recognize the destruction of local authorities, institutions and social fabric by a foreign power as being a classic colonial scheme. Such schemes were put into effect in the Americas, Australia and parts of Africa between the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. And there is no doubt that when the settlers first moved in, they found the indigenous people so different from themselves, they described them in a manner that conveyed a sense of superiority. But what the settlers never did was to denigrate the locals.

The difference between then and now is that the modern description of the Iraqis, the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims is a clear and deliberate attempt at denigrating these people. However, this manner of waging a propaganda war was not invented at the time of the Middle Eastern wars. It started long before that, during the European wars a century or so before. For example, during World War One, the Allies accused the Germans of cutting off the hands of children and crucifying the adults. In response, the Germans accused the Allies of infecting their water systems with the plague and of gouging the eyes of their people.

But why do people go to such extremes to denigrate the opponent? As I see it, the reason resides in one’s frustration at the inability to colonize a territory in the classic sense. Modern awareness of the alternatives and modern methods to resist an occupation make it impossible to subjugate a people anymore. This means that in modern times, you can no longer settle into a place where you are not invited. Therefore, in the context I just described, the two words modern and settle contradict each other. When used together as in modern settler, they form an oxymoron.

For forty years the Israelis tried to settle in Gaza and the West bank of the Jordan River by force with the aim to expropriate the land and annex it to Israel. And for a number of years the Americans tried to establish bases in Iraq to build and to protect an apparatus for the exploitation of the petroleum resources of that country and the other resources of the region. But neither the Israeli operation nor the American succeeded in any of their objectives, and the propaganda wars that ensued tell of the frustration that the invaders felt at their inability to realize their old and cherished dreams.

The sad and troubling part in all of this is that after a few years of this sort of propaganda, people began to believe their own lies. The word turned into action and the fiction became reality. And the oxymoron turned deadly: young soldiers paid with their lives and families from all walks of life were wiped out.

-Fred Habachi is a regular contributor to; he resides in Canada and can be contacted at:

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