By Aijaz Zaka Syed
September 19, 2014
Who likes to play the devil’s advocate? I certainly do not. The increasingly murderous antics of the so-called Islamic State or Isis are truly horrendous and cannot be condoned by any sane, sensible human being. Arabs and Muslims have all the more reasons to despise the terror army because it claims to speak and perpetrate these shameful acts in their name and the name of their faith.
While the coldblooded killing of two American journalists and a British aid worker have understandably enraged western public opinion and helped their governments rally behind Washington in another grand crusade in the Middle East, the majority of victims of IS terror happen to be Arabs and Muslims.
Sometime ago in these columns when yours truly had raised questions about Isis’ origins suggesting it could be the brainchild of the folks who had helped create Al-Qaeda, there was much derision. Some Muslim Americans were particularly upset. In his Huffington Post piece, British journalist Mehdi Hassan too trashed the theory questioning the Arab and Muslim penchant for ‘conspiracy theories.’
But ask yourself this – who stands to benefit from what has been unfolding in Iraq and Syria? There are a number of beneficiaries, including Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to a strange law of unintended consequences. The focus has now definitely deflected from an embattled Damascus, which was on the verge of collapse.
However, the chief beneficiaries of this war are Israel and its friends in high places. The marketing and sales targets of the ever ravenous international arms industry have been taken care of – for at least another 10 years. No wonder everybody loves a good war. As veteran Arab analyst Osama Al Sharif notes, the focus has already shifted from Gaza and Israel’s war crimes in the 51-day offensive less than a month after the ceasefire.
With ten Arab States, understandably concerned over the meteoric rise of Isis, joining the ‘core coalition’ led by Washington, the heat is certainly off Israel. So is the regional and international pressure for ‘dialogue’ and peace. The Palestinians can go back to their ghettoised existence until Israel feels the need to test and retest its latest arms and their resolve.
So whatever the circumstances and explanation for the rise of Isis and the swift response it has elicited from world powers and everyone in the region, what is hard to miss is the inevitable – more war, wanton destruction and loss of precious lives and resources of Muslim lands – and its far reaching implications.
This when Iraq is still burning. It is yet to recover from the last glorious war fought in the name of freedom and democracy barely a decade ago. The cradle of civilisation, the land of Hammurabi, the first law giver in history of mankind, is set to witness another war in the name of peace. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
And yet this president had pledged to “bring America's longest war to a responsible end.” In the run-up to the 2008 polls, candidate Obama had vowed: “I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank!”
What you can bank on is the outcome of the coming war. Whoever wins this long and protracted battle on a mythical, mutating enemy, the loser will once again be the Muslim world. Muslim blood is ready to be shed on both sides while the ultimate victory will go to someone else.
And God forbid if anyone should raise inconvenient questions like what or who gave birth to the Isis terror. No one wants to be reminded how it was the world powers’ pussyfooting around Assad, not to mention the vital military and diplomatic sustenance provided by Moscow and Tehran, ignoring the regime’s endless savagery on its own people that essentially rallied motley tribes, rebels, and assorted militants under the black flag of Isis.
Another major factor has been the sectarian approach of the successive post Saddam governments in Baghdad, totally shutting out the Sunni minority. No wonder Isis draws its strength from various Sunni tribes, from Iraq to Syria.
But, over and above, it is the international duplicity, colonial policies and unjust wars in the region – the continuing Palestinian dispossession and persecution being the most powerful example – that created and midwifed this monster.
We just saw what happened in Gaza. How Israel bombed a besieged, utterly defenceless population 24/7 for nearly two months while an indifferent world stood and stared.
Indeed this whole business looks so hopelessly staged that even Thomas Friedman, that old apologist of the empire, cannot help the feeling that something is amiss.
“What concerns me most about President Obama’s decision to re-engage in Iraq is that it feels as if it’s being done in response to some deliberately exaggerated fears – fear engendered by YouTube videos of the beheadings of two US journalists – and fear that Isis, aka, the Islamic State, is coming to a mall near you. How did we start getting so afraid again so fast? Didn’t we build a Department of Homeland Security?” wonders Friedman in his latest column in the New York Times.
“I am not dismissing Isis. Obama is right that Isis needs to be degraded and destroyed. But when you act out of fear, you don’t think strategically and you glide over essential questions, like why is it that Shiite Iran, which helped trigger this whole Sunni rebellion in Iraq, is scoffing at even coordinating with us, and Turkey and some Arab states are setting limits on their involvement?”
I am not dismissing Isis either. But is war – another wave of carpet bombing and indiscriminate destruction targeting a country already reeling from the last many such campaigns over the past quarter of a century – really the solution? Every time you come to save the Middle East, you destroy it some more.
Fight Isis and the intolerance and hateful bigotry that such groups represent by all means. We can no longer deny the fact that extremism has emerged as a great threat – perhaps the greatest ever – to Muslim societies. But this scourge within is best addressed and eliminated by the community. External and spurious solutions can only aggravate the malaise. Besides, groups like Isis and Al-Qaeda and their competitive shenanigans to attract the world’s attention are mere symptoms, not the disease itself.
I know we have been over this before. But unless you do something about the bugs and germs that cause the sickness, you cannot imagine a cure. Band Aid cannot treat cancer. Groups like Al-Qaeda and Isis are born and thrive in injustice and oppression. Check tyranny and you choke off terror.
Besides, if killing of innocents and taking over of large swathes of territory is the sole criterion for waging war, well, Israel has killed more innocents – thousands of them – stolen an entire country and continues to threaten the entire neighbourhood. Why haven’t we seen an international coalition against the only nuclear power in the region? Where was Obama’s sense of outrage when Gazan homes, schools, hospitals, even UN shelters were bombed? But to even think of such heretical thoughts would be suicidal for a US politician, more so for the president.
Another western war in the Middle East, even if it includes Muslim states, is a recipe for unmitigated disaster; an invitation to angry Muslims worldwide. More importantly, it will play right into the hands of extremists and offer them the legitimacy and recognition they crave. Collective Arab and Muslim efforts should tackle this ‘Fitna’. Seeking help from the very folks who are responsible for the present mess in Mesopotamia and Middle East would be the ultimate irony and absurdity of historic proportions.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East based columnist and editor of 'Caravan', an online news magazine.