By Nuray Mert
“Anti-foreign interventionism” has long been central to my politics. Coming from a young socialist background, I have been a staunch opponent of all sorts of imperialism, all the way. I was one of the most enthusiastic “anti-war coalition” activists before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. No regrets, I still feel the same anger about the neo-con U.S. policy that has turned Iraq into hell.
Nevertheless, nowadays, I feel seriously challenged concerning the issue of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It is not only ISIL’s barbarism, which poses a serious dilemma about choosing between my political anti-interventionist principles and the great human costs and suffering that ISIL creates. It is also the knowledge that another military intervention may not stop - or perhaps may even contribute to - the human cost, as happened in previous cases such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. It seems that there is no easy solution to survive this challenge, as in the case of the cold ice bucket challenge. So I can only contemplate a more inclusive international intervention of some sort to stop ISIL barbarity. After all, ISIL itself is also a kind of foreign intervention, since foreign fighters are traveling to other people’s lands in the name of a “noble cause.” If it is a matter of fighting between different causes, ours can be a humanitarian one, but it should avoid the political-historical baggage of the so-called “humanitarian interventionism,” which has mostly been used as a “cover” or legitimacy for power struggles up to now.
Still, ISIL poses more moral dilemmas concerning the question of who is to be held responsible for such horrendous religious ideology and politics. Is it Islam itself that contains the seeds of radicalism? Is it Western powers that have long encouraged radical Islam in the name of political/strategic interests? Is it the sociology of the alienated Muslim youth? Is it the travesty of Western nihilism in the post-liberal age? All of the questions on the relation between religious faith and political convictions are doomed to fail to find answers, as the debate either becomes either too banal or too philosophical to help us. As for the role of Western interests in promoting radical Islam, this has come to be an undeniable fact, rather than a matter of debate. As for the discourse on “the alienated Muslim youth” - the nihilistic youth culture or Islamism as a modern and then post-modern ideology - we have already read too much about it, including all of John Gray’s writings and warnings. Besides, I have started to think Western self-criticism has turned into a sort of Western benevolent thought: “We, Westerners, are the cause of the problem and it is only we who could create such a mess,” or “Those Muslims do not know what they are doing, it is only we who are clever and self-critical enough to find the roots of the problem.” It seems that self-criticism sometimes loses its way and ends up patronizing those who are meant to be the subjects of empathy.
In fact, we Muslims (or only some of us) can be as evil as Westerners (or only some of them). Muslims, Christians, atheists, Hindus, whites, blacks, males and females, gays and straights, we all human beings can do evil things; likewise, different cultures and societies can promote evil thoughts and deeds. I am not suggesting or repeating the argument that issues such as ISIL are a “Muslim” problem, I am just trying to suggest that they are also a “Muslim problem.” In fact, I am completely against confusing political issues with theological ones, but a “Muslim problem” does not necessarily mean a theological problem. On the contrary, it is a problem of those who define themselves as “Muslim,” label their cause “Muslim,” and speak in the name of “Islam.” Besides, I do not only mean “Muslim radicals,” let alone the likes of al-Qaeda or ISIL. I think everybody who speaks in the name of religion, be they ordinary Muslims, scholars, politicians or any other, has the obligation to speak up, debate and take action on the ongoing barbarity that is being fulfilled in the name of a religion.
What am I saying is as simple as that: Muslims are capable and need to talk about good and evil, rather than putting all responsibility on the West, or taking refuge in sociological explanations.