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A Method in Madness

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

July 14, 2017

Mosul is free at last. It has been liberated, just like the rest of Iraq had been by the same coalition of the willing. Congratulations all around. So what if the ancient city had to be wrecked – literally – to be saved from the clutches of the monster called Daesh or the IS?

A CNN television crew that swept through what looked like a spooky city of ghosts in the final hours of the battle became emotional enough to note that it looked eerie and unnatural, like an alien landscape or the set of a war movie. However, life is more surreal than fiction. Not a single building that was captured by television cameras stood intact or betrayed signs of life. It looked like a city of ghosts.

Most conservative estimates suggest that the long battle to liberate Mosul may have cost thousands of lives – not to mention billions of dollars that are now needed to rebuild the city that has had a ringside view of Islamic history.

Amnesty International and other rights groups have warned that the tactics used by the Iraqi government and its Western allies in the war violated international humanitarian laws and amounted to war crimes. The rights groups also accused Daesh of “flagrantly violating humanitarian law by deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way”. But, hey, who gives a damn about what a bunch of stuffy humanitarians and activists think any way? What matters is victory, no matter what the cost is.

As long as terror is defeated and our ‘boys’ win, it matters little how one of the region’s oldest cities has been reduced to dust. Mosul’s fabled Grand al-Nuri Mosque – built by the great Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, who mentored Salah ad-Din Ayyubi (Saladin), the legendary Arab-Islamic hero and victor of the Crusades – has been reduced to rubble.

Apparently, it was because of its historic import that al-Baghdadi of the IS – the pretender to the so-called caliphate – chose the great mosque to make his dramatic appearance before the faithful in 2014.

And maybe that is why the 12th century mosque was destroyed in an explosion along with its famous ‘hunchback’ minaret. Everyone blamed Daesh terrorists. They blamed a US airstrike. Given the eventful history of the terror group as well as the illustrious record of the US-led coalition, you cannot put anything past either of these worthies. Both could be equally guilty.

Whoever targeted Mosul’s historic mosque, they had a rather uncanny sense of history and timing. They chose the night of the 27th of Ramadan, which is believed to be Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Power) by the Muslims – the night the Holy Quran was first revealed to the Prophet. The Grand al-Nuri Mosque, with its leaning minaret, was razed to the ground on the most important day or night in the Islamic calendar – which is considered to be the Night of Destiny.

It is not just Mosul. There is a long procession of such fabled and historically rich cities and countries that today lie in ruins all over the Middle East. From Palestine and Iraq to Syria and Libya – the region once considered to be the cradle of civilisation and the site where it all began – it is the same story. It’s a graveyard of civilisations.

History has been repeating itself across the region, with a pattern and frequency that is both frightening and fascinating. Maybe it’s merely a coincidence or a conspiracy of circumstances. But there is a method in madness that is being repeatedly unleashed across this ancient land, obliterating its celebrated centres of civilisation, art and culture.

That extremists, by their very nature, support and revel in such mindless destruction is a given. The razing of the Bamiyan Buddha at the hands of Afghanistan’s Taliban was a profound tragedy and was seen as such around the world. Similarly, the destruction of priceless heritage and artefacts in cities and historical sites – like Palmyra, with its Roman ruins – under Daesh was not just the collective loss of humanity, but a crime against humanity. It takes ages to build and create heritage like what proudly stood for more than 2,000 years in Palmyra. It is nothing short of an atrocity against humanity to deliberately destroy it.

More than anything, the greatest atrocity that the extremist fringe has inflicted on the Muslim world is its claim to represent and speak for Islam and its followers. With their control over vast territories stretching from Iraq to Syria, they came closest to persuading many people around the world that the casual brutality and savagery they inflicted on their victims was sanctioned by the faith.

Their deadly antics – which targeted innocent civilians, most of them Muslims – like slaying them on camera or burning them alive made us all hang our heads in shame. Yet they are nothing compared to the ‘shock and awe’ that the world powers have inflicted on countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of freedom, democracy and all that twaddle.

Iraq, which was once one of the Middle East’s richest and most developed nation, lies in ruins – not to mention more than a million lives that have been lost and the monster of sectarian conflict that the 2003 invasion has unleashed across the Muslim world.

Everyone talks about the destruction of Palmyra at the hands of the IS. But does anyone remember the obliteration – ‘culturecide’ in the words of Robert Fisk – that Iraq’s priceless treasures of heritage and antiquity suffered at the hands of those who came to liberate it?

Next door, Syria has been at the heart of one of the longest-running and catastrophic conflicts in history.  What started as a legitimate people’s movement against the Baathist tyranny soon got hijacked by various world powers and their lackeys. As a result, one of the world’s oldest countries has been totally flattened, with more than half of its population living as refugees in neighbouring countries. Libya, another oil-rich nation, has been in freefall since Qaddafi was driven from power and beaten to death like an animal.

It is the same story in much of the neighbourhood. I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories. But you have got to be as blind as a bat to not see the deliberate destruction and plundering of these ancient cities and countries one after another and under some pretext or the other, only to offer to rebuild them later – with their own hard-earned resources, of course.

First they create these monsters to wreak havoc in Muslim lands and then they come forward to help us get rid of them – for a price, of course. Who and what created Al- Qaeda and its more fearsome version, Daesh? Who brainwashed, trained and armed these extremists? The truth is out there, if you have the stomach for it. And when they run amok and turn on their own masters, you know who to blame. Meanwhile, little or no attention will be paid to the real drivers of this conflict or ‘terrorism’ until another deadlier version of Daesh surfaces.

It is a familiar game that even a child can see through. Look at the current crisis unfolding in the Gulf. Supporting this side with a lucrative arms deal and rooting for the other side with a defence pact, you keep them guessing which side you are on while you successfully play both sides as you go along. In the end, no matter which side wins, it is good for business. You know the routine.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist.