By Nadeem F. Paracha
July 27th, 2014
It is a well-known fact that, in the 1980s, the United States and oil-rich Arab monarchies bankrolled a number of radical right-wing Islamic outfits to initiate an armed insurgency against the Soviet forces that had invaded and occupied Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s soil and intelligence agencies were used to launch the insurgency and in the process this country too experienced the state-sanctioned mushrooming of a number of radical reactionary organisations.
Also well-known is how, after the exit of the Soviet forces, from Afghanistan in 1988, many of these outfits across the Muslim world gradually mutated into becoming nihilist groups who turned against their early providers and patrons.
Terrorism in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria grew manifold and in the next two decades the state in these countries was at war with those elements that they had first fattened with American dollars and Saudi riyals to fight the ‘undemocratic, atheistic and imperialistic Soviet empire.’
The political faux pas of Western governments and many of their Muslim allies in propping up and conjuring religious radicalism to compete with ‘communist imperialism’ has roots that actually stretch back beyond the 1980s.
Less well documented are acts of some ‘secular’ Muslim governments and even the state of Israel, encouraging the formation, rise and spread of right-wing religious groups in Muslim-majority areas to not only counter the ‘spread of communism’ but to also keep in check the growth of various left-wing Muslim outfits that were dominating the anti-West, anti-Saudi and anti-Israel narrative and activity at the time.
For example, after 1973, the secular regime headed by Anwar Sadat in Egypt, encouraged the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood that had been banned by his predecessor, Gamal Abul Nasser.
A number of Muslim Brotherhood activists were in exile in Saudi Arabia but many were allowed back into Egypt after Sadat re-established ties with Riyadh (in exchange for the much needed financial aid from the oil-rich monarchy).
The Brotherhood and its youth-wing were then used to root out ‘Nasserites’ from university campuses and from the government itself. The Nasserites and other left-wing Muslim groups had opposed Sadat’s re-rapprochement with Saudi Arabia — a country they considered to be the reactionary anti-thesis of ‘progressive Arab/Muslim nationalism’.
In Pakistan, the populist government of Z.A. Bhutto, whose party had come to power on a socialist manifesto, turned against its left-wing. From 1973 onwards, Bhutto had begun to face resistance from his erstwhile leftist supporters when he slowed down his ‘socialist reforms’ and began to bring the country closer to oil-rich Arab monarchies.
Following Sadat’s lead, he quietly encouraged the growth of right-wing groups on campuses believing that by doing this not only was he countering resistance from left-wing critics, but he was also neutralising right-wing opposition and appeasing oil-rich monarchies.
In 1975 his government sanctioned the backing of a small ‘Islamist’ insurgency against the Afghan nationalist regime headed by Sardar Daoud. The insurgency was crushed.
Within the next two decades, almost every government that tried to outsmart left-wing resistance by encouraging radical Islamic groups now faced a serious armed, ideological and existentialist threat and violence from mutations of what were once ‘friendly forces’.
Sadat was assassinated by a break-away faction of the Muslim Brotherhood; Bhutto was toppled by a right-wing movement and then a military coup; Ronald Reagan’s ‘pro-jihad’ America was struck by an unprecedented terrorist attack two decades later; Margaret Thatcher’s Mujahideen-loving England was targeted in a nightmarish attack by terrorists in 2005 (7/7); and countries like Pakistan and Egypt are locked in a military and existential war with ‘former brothers’.
Even China, the other communist power during the Cold War, that had turned against the Soviet Union in 1962 and consequently played a major role in backing the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan, is facing unprecedented violence from groups in its Muslim-majority provinces that were first radicalised during the Afghan insurgency that China had fully supported.
But keeping in mind the recent atrocious attacks and acts of brutality being committed by the Israeli military and air force in Gaza (supposedly against Hamas), rather interesting is the story of the founder of Hamas, the learned cleric, Shiekh Ahmed Yassin.
One could say that what the Israeli forces are going after is at least partially the product of their own smug creation. This is how: As Israel was going after leading radical Palestinian organisations in the early 1970s, such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other left-wing anti-Israel Muslim groups; it tacitly encouraged the emergence of some Islamic ‘charity’ organisations in Gaza.
The largest in this respect was founded by Sheikh Yassin in 1973 and was called, Mujama al-Islamiya. Yassin had been critical of the PLO and the Soviet Union but remained quiet about Israel, so much so that in 1979 the government of Israel formally recognised Mujama as a ‘legitimate charity organisation’.
In 1980 when Yassin fell ill, he was invited to Israel and treated in one of Tel Aviv’s finest hospitals. As the Mujama was allowed to build its seminaries in Gaza, PLO offices and leaders were continuously pounded by Israel.
Even when in 1984 a mosque in Gaza run by Mujama was raided by Israeli forces and a cache of arms recovered from there, Yassin was first arrested but then released after he convinced the Israeli authorities that the arms were actually meant to be used against the PLO.
By the late 1980s when the PLO, once the most powerful Palestinian movement in Gaza, was largely depleted by the combined attacks of Israel and the Mujama forces, Yassin changed gears during the 1987 ‘Intifada’ — a popular uprising against Israel in Gaza, first initiated by the PLO but eventually infiltrated and commandeered by the Mujama.
It was during the Intifada that Mujama evolved into becoming the Hamas. In 2004 the man the Israelis had nourished to counter the PLO and then treated at Tel Aviv’s finest hospitals, was assassinated by the Israeli intelligence agency with a Hellfire missile.
These are facts. What aren’t (so far), are new speculations now emerging in some sections of the Arab media, suggesting that there was a similar Israeli hand behind the creation of the extremist ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
This seems rather far-fetched, but with the kind of twisted faux pas, self-assured blunders and eventual monster-making practised by a number of supposedly anti-extremist strategists in the West, Israel and various Muslim countries, could they be committing their biggest blunder yet?