By Kumar David –
Revulsion greeted the abominable Paris attack and the downing of a Russian civilian airplane; the barbarism was universally condemned. Though BBC, France-24, Al Jazeera, CNN – every channel – carried saturation coverage what took me aback was that aside from threats of military action, spying, and ill-concealed Islam phobia in the US, there was no mention of the roots of jihadist terrorism. “Great” strategists, political commentators and Middle East (ME) “specialists” on TV and print media failed to go beyond calls for merciless military responses and more intrusive snooping.
First however I must acknowledge Angela Merkel’s firm humanism; she is heir to the values of the European Enlightenment. Her and to a degree Obama’s stances contrast with the primitivism of US Republicans and Europe’s drift to rightwing extremism. American Republican-led states have threatened closure to Syrian refugees and plan religious tests for settlement of Christians only (though it won’t hold up to a legal challenge). A rightward drift is visible in percentages polled in the 2014 European Parliament elections: Marine Le Penn’s Front National or FN (22%), Britain’s UKIP (24%), Austrian Freedom Party (23%), Danish People’s Party (19%), Dutch Freedom Party (18%). Worse, in Eastern Europe many ultra-right governments are in office. Jihadism drives people into the arms of reaction just as LTTE terrorism drove, oblivious to state terrorism middle-of-the-road Sinhalese, into a chauvinist bind. I am only rephrasing the a-b-c of Lenin’s critique of ultra-leftism.
What they will tell you
In the aftermath of a terrorist assault hard reaction is necessary. The six-location November 13 carnage in Paris which killed 130 was followed in four days by the Saint-Denis shoot out when police laid siege to an apartment where jihadists were holed up. There is evidence of use of encryption techniques and real-time coordination between attackers on the ground and remote handlers. Jihadists cross European borders and travel to Syria with ease though mastermind Abdul Hamid Abaaoud and ground leader Salah Abdesalam are known to French and Belgian authorities.
The response of President Holland, Premier Cameron, Senator McCain and US Republicans is to go in with guns blazing; a blitzkrieg obliterating Daesh (pronounced die-eesh, acronym for the Arabic full name of ISIS/ISIL) and anything still standing in Syria and Iraq. In a narrow military sense it will work like Saddam and Gaddafi were finished off, but as in those cases nothing else will be achieved unless fundamentals change; there is precious little hope of that.
Western leaders and media argue that Daesh must be destroyed at its source in Syria and Iraq to eradicate terrorism. They say it must be expelled from its territory and the Caliphate smashed since these are magnets for jihadists, especially from the West. A more sophisticated variant also wants a vigorous campaign to defeat jihadist ideology and caliphate theology. But who will be the educator – Teflon Blair? There is no person or establishment in the West that won’t be laughed out of court if it erects evangelical tents in the ME and preaches ‘quality’ Islam against Wahabism and despoiled jihadism. If jihadist ideology is to be vanquished in the eyes of throngs of radical Muslim youth the thrust must come from the ground up; a whiff of Western manipulation is the kiss of death. The ideas of Daesh can be vanquished only by a progressive ulema (a body of Islamic scholars) within the ummah the community of Muslim peoples.
David Cameron says “the root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself” and goes on: “When they say wronged Muslims are getting revenge on their Western wrongdoers and others say terrorists are driven by poverty, I am not saying these issues aren’t important, but let’s not delude ourselves. We could deal with these issues and still some people will be drawn to Islamist extremism”. The notion is that addressing poverty and oppression or correcting wrongdoing are not a priority; the priority is military action and defeating jihadist-caliphate ideology. This cart-before-horse mentality has griped the West, like those who from 1956 to 2009 intoned: “Tamils have no problems, the problem is the LTTE”. Wiser than Cameron Pope Francis said otherwise in his Nairobi sermon: “Despair born of poverty and frustration fuels terrorism”.
What they won’t tell you
The inferno in the ME boiled for a century and exploded after the US attacked Iraq in 2003. Bush calculatedly went after the wrong dictator (Colin Powell’s WMD charade at the UN was replete with pre-planned falsehoods). Bush’s proconsul Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army (now a rich source of recruits for Daesh) and turfed Bath Party members (Sunni elite) out of state employment. The conditions for the ascent of Daesh in the Sunni world were laid. After Paris the West laments “My god the worst has happened to Europe”, well maybe but people in the ME face worse on a daily basis in the shape of Israeli automatics, off-target drones and on-target Basher al-Assad artillery.
The genesis goes back to the Balfour Declaration (1917) promising a Jewish state in Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948. I will not recite history; only highlight two points. The Palestinians have been driven to the wall and rendered stateless, poor angry and hopeless; six million in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip and 5 million in Arab countries. Secondly Israel’s long-term intention and “final solution” for the Palestinian problem is evident. The whole Palestinian territory must one day be a Jewish state, settlers are the leading probe in the venture, most Palestinians will be expelled, those who remain will be second class. It may take a century but this is the ultimate intention; an unannounced supra-Zionism. Depressingly, with US support the scheme seems to be working. A festering Palestinian sore drives the volcanic anger emanating from the ME; terrorism will not cease till this is cleansed. Since the West cannot resolve it the cycle of violence will return again and again.
This is the grim at-root picture and it is overlaid by the story of Iraq and Syria, both artificial constructs of post-WW1 British and French policy. After crushing the Ottoman Empire the European Great Powers arbitrarily carved out areas of control – Lebanon and Syria to the French, Jordan and Iraq to the British Mandate – with scant regard for settled tribes and religious demographics. No account was taken of Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Christian Assyrian communities. It is no surprise that anti-British and anti-French Kurdish and Shi’ite independence movements commenced during WW2. The discovery of oil transformed power relations across the ME and brought America to the ME with the double mandate to bolster Israel and exploit oil. Oil wealth improved people’s livelihood in Iraq and Syria too for three decades after WW2, but the Palestinian horror continued.
The storyline shifted to the overthrow of Mosaddegh for threatening Anglo-US control of Persian oil (1953), then the coming to power of dictators Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad in the 1970s, then revolution in Iran and overthrow of the Pahlavi Monarchy and expulsion of its US masters in 1979 and next the Iraq-Iran war where the US armed and incited the former. Oil, power and greed drove a veritable devils circus complicated by 9-11 which had nothing to do with Iraq or Syria. Nevertheless Moron Bush with Teflon Blair in tow drove his tanks into Baghdad; the consequences have been remorseless. Poverty, destruction of lives and homes and mass flight of refugees; these lie at the root of terrorism. One part of the world cannot go up in flames without conflagration elsewhere. This is the difference between the way Western leaders and media depict terrorism and I perceive it. Hence my certainty that nothing lasting will be achieved until stable nations (possibly with different borders; or federations) are created and the power vacuum ended.
It is spurious to say that since the Paris jihadists are French or Belgian citizens, extremist ideology in Europe, not dire conditions in the ME lies at the root. There is an identity that radical Islamic youth in Europe share with other Muslims. Daesh, which inspires and coordinates operations is rooted in the post-Bush ME and possesses ideological consistency and military-organisational continuity which runs to a worldwide network. It holds its own in disputes with other schools of Islamic ideology and is confident in its use of scripture. There is much more to it than a bunch of irresponsible youth and criminals enlisting in a gun trotting loony outfit. There is an ideological ferment that reminds me of 16-th Century Reformation schisms or the fights to theoretical death of Marxist sects in pre-revolutionary Russia. It is social and political solutions to concrete issues, not theological debates that can cut this Gordian knot.
Political and social solutions
It is easy to outline what needs to be done; it is difficult to get any of it done. A long-term approach is far more important than military action
a) Borders must be redrawn to correspond to cultural-historical divides and durable nations established. Separate Shia, Sunni and Kurdish states or federal arrangements are appropriate. A Greater Kurdistan incorporating parts of south-east Turkey would be good and stable.
b) These states must be democratic and secular as they need to be multi-religious, multi-clan and culturally plural even if boundaries are redrawn.
c) A political solution that eases Assad out after a transition and guarantees the Sunnis a role in the power structures of the new states or federations is essential. The Syrian military, an effective fighting force, must not be disbanded except removing the high-command.
d) New boundaries and political structures must be internationally guaranteed; hence they must be acceptable to Iran and Russia in addition to America of course. In the age of globalisation survival is predicated on a global mandate.
e) Unless a Palestinian state is created jihadism will not disappear. Supra-Zionism (intention to make all of Palestine a future Israel) is an abscess that America cannot staunch for reasons of its own domestic politics. An international alliance with minimal American influence will have to force Israel into a reasonable compromise.
Nothing will hold up sans economic development. Yes, stabilisation of states must come first but this will matter little unless people’s lives improve. Interestingly, Daesh runs an orderly though dictatorial network of schools, clinics, courts and administrative services in the territory it manages. Regional reorganisation after the defeat of Daesh will be stable only if international public-private partnerships intervene to foster growth. That is global state power can provide security, direction and financial guarantees, the private sector can inject expertise and money.