By Aijaz Zaka Syed
November 04, 2014
War is not nice, said Barbara Bush, in what should be the understatement of the century. Wife and mother to two US presidents, she should know what she is talking about. Her hosannas to peace did not prevent the two Gulf wars though. As Einstein said, you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.
You do not need Einstein’s brains or his crown of snow-white hair to know that ‘war is not nice’. Having suffered the unprecedented devastation and savagery of the Two Great Wars, the most catastrophic wars in the history of civilisation in every sense, the west learnt its lessons. Never again, it vowed. And since the end of World War II, Europe has managed to avoid the long, internecine regional military conflicts and wars that plagued it for centuries.
The butchery of the Balkan Muslims in the 1990s when the west stood and stared long and hard before reluctantly stepping forward to put out the blaze had been an exception and so has been the conflict in Ukraine.
But they are nothing compared to the endless nightmare that had been the two World Wars, which the west has successfully managed to avoid over the past seven decades or so.
Peace, prosperity and the good life that comes with it are palpable for everyone to see when you travel through the western hemisphere. Life is beautiful. Life is a breeze as you glide through Europe from one country into another without the hassle of borders and immigration checks. No wonder everyone in the wretched ‘third world’ is dying to move to the ‘first world’.
However, someone has to pay to keep the voracious juggernaut of the western military industrial complex going. If peace reigns everywhere, what would become of the international arms industry that feeds western economies?
So while peace is desirable, war is unavoidable and must go on forever – not on European or Western soil, God, no, not again – but somewhere, anywhere but here. After the devastation of the Far East for long decades – from Korea to Vietnam and Cambodia to the Philippines – the Near East and the heart of the Islamic world have been the ideal theatre for the forever war.
Look at the history of the past four decades and more. The Middle East and the Muslim world has been perpetually simmering with one conflict or another, from Palestine to Maghreb to Yemen and from the Iraq-Iran war to the later Gulf wars to the destruction of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And now with the sudden and dramatic rise of Isis, out of nowhere, the whole of the Islamic world has been turned into an endless battlefield, from the edge of the Gulf to the whole of Levant and as far as Turkey. And this war on an elusive enemy, whose identity and origins remain as ominously mysterious as its backers, now threatens to draw and consume every single Arab and Muslim country into its all-enveloping and all-engorging vortex.
The US and western alliance has not just enthusiastically thrown itself into yet another war in the Middle East and forced all regional players to sign on the campaign and for the first time pitch in militarily, but is also pushing a distant, marginal and totally unconnected nation such as Albania in Europe to throw its lot behind this unprecedented war.
Albania has not just been helping with huge supplies of arms and ammunition, it is sending its troops to apparently fight Isis. This week, foreign minister Ditmir Bushati lost his cool when CNN’s Becky Anderson wondered why a ‘Sunni Muslim country’ like Albania is sending arms and men to fight the ‘Sunni Muslim militants’ of ISIS in the distant Middle East. “We are not a Muslim country but a secular European nation and member of Nato”, Bushati shot back.
Recently, there was an interesting piece in the New York Times tantalisingly titled, ‘Pakistan’s Lessons For Turkey’. The writers, Michael M Tanchum and Halil M Karaveli, the first one an Israeli academic, talked of the dangerous dilemma Turkey faces in responding or not responding to the Isis challenge.
Rightly drawing parallels from the devastating consequences that Pakistan has suffered, and continues to, for its decision to support the Afghan jihad (and US proxy war) against Soviet occupation and latter act as a launching pad for the US invasion of Afghanistan, the writers argue that Turkey faces the same Hobson’s choice as Pakistan did three decades ago with attending consequences.
Strangely, though, they make an opposite case suggesting that if Turkey does not act against Isis, and by implication, join the latest western war, Turkish society faces the danger of being radicalised as has been the case with Pakistan:
“Turkey’s dilemma is far more grave than its leaders realize. Indeed, Turkey’s current situation resembles the early years of Pakistan’s sponsorship of the Taliban. The Islamic State is recruiting militants in Turkey. And failure to clean its own house now could lead Turkey down the path of Pakistanisation, whereby a resident jihadist infrastructure causes Sunni extremism to ingrain itself deeply within the fabric of society.
“Although Turkey now recognizes the threat – the Turkish government voted to authorize military force in Iraq and Syria – it has yet to come to terms with its own responsibility for helping to create it. Turkey claims that radical groups grew stronger because moderates seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria were not given adequate aid. But that is not the whole picture.”
The writers go on to argue that Turkey’s intervention in the Syrian civil war parallels Pakistan’s support of the Taliban to affect the course of the Afghan civil war: “But the Jihadism abetted by Pakistan did not remain across the Afghan border. Turkey may now be witnessing the beginnings of a similar blowback.”
Regardless of the thrust and intent of the clever, strategic New York Times piece, it is impossible to argue with its conclusion that Turkey, the leader of the Islamic world for centuries, an economic powerhouse and above all a NATO member state with the largest military force in the alliance, faces a curious existential dilemma. If it doesn’t join this war, it faces a clear and present danger of Isis-like militancy threatening its thriving, strong civil society. And if it throws itself, eyes wide shut, into the bottomless pit of the west’s forever war, it risks going the way Pakistan has.
And this is not just Turkey’s dilemma; this seems to have become the unmistakable and unavoidable fate of the whole of the Muslim world, with catastrophic, long-term consequences.
Their enemies who have plotted for centuries have finally got them where they wanted them. But if they think they can keep this raging inferno confined to the greater Middle East, they are seriously mistaken. Recent developments in Australia and Canada and the dangerous new trend of radicalisation of western Muslims suggest that the distant war is not so distant after all.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East based columnist and editor of 'Caravan', an online news magazine.