By Waheeduddin Ahmed
A learned friend of mine asked me a question: “Is this the lowest point in history for Muslims or was it the Mongol devastation of Baghdad?” To me the question was perhaps improperly phrased because we, as people are a part of history at this point of time and are actors in the drama which is being played out. So, are we any better or worse than the people who lived in Baghdad at that time? Let me leave the answer to the readers.
You can divide the modern history of the Middle East into five parts:
1. The colonial period
2. The Nasser Era
3. The post 6-day war era
4. The post 9/11 era
5. The post Arab Spring era
I see three common elements in the dynamics of all the five parts:
a) Arab (Muslim) incompetence
b) The hostility of the Christian world spearheaded by the United States of America
c) Israel supported by the World Jewry.
All the three factors have contributed to the catastrophes that have occurred. So would it not be logical to assume that a change in any one of the three elements should alter the equilibrium and inflection in any two forces should reverse the dynamics? If the answer is in the affirmative then let us proceed in the analysis of the topic.
The Colonial Period
This period was the one in which the modern atlas of the Arab world took shape. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, (Saudi) Arabia and Egypt, snatched out from the Ottoman dominions were made “countries”. The British and the French arm chair politicians and generals, over pegs of whisky and brandy, drew lines on maps like they did further east in the Indian subcontinent (McMahan Line and the Durand Line) and divided the Arab people into the British and the French areas of influence. The British appointed kings from the progeny of Sharif Husain in their areas and the French instituted “republics” in the areas under their mandate; they even wrote a sectarian trilateral constitution for Lebanon, which the Americans imitated five decades later in Iraq, a prelude to disaster as it turned out. Make note of the machinations of the British, the French and recently the Americans who are primarily responsible for the carnage in the Middle East. Since they have done it with their eyes on their prize, you cannot appeal to their conscience or try to teach them morality. It is your morality which should be under focus.
The Nasser Era
The first semblance of an awakening was the secular bourgeois movements among the urban population initiated by the western educated elite such as Zaghlol Pasha in Egypt, who sought to replace the colonial rule by their own. This was followed by a period of military coups by highly motivated young officers, who were not only rebelling against imperialism of the West but were attempting to change the systems. The harbinger of this change was Jamal Abdel Nasser. The nationalization of the Suez Canal, taking a cue from Mohammad Musaddeq of Iran was a landmark in history. Nasser joined hands in his anti-imperialist zeal with the leaders of the non-aligned countries: Nehru, Sukarno, Tito and Nkrumah, which boosted his prestige worldwide, while at the same time accepting military and economic aid from the Soviet Union.
Arab nationalism appeared on the horizon, given impetus by Nasser and the Bathists in Syria (Michel Aflak), which became the main driving force of politics in that region at that time. When Shukri al-Quwatli, the elected president of Syria, at his own initiative united his country with Egypt forming the United Arab Republic, it appeared as though the process of Arab unification had begun. When the six day war occurred, all the dreams of the anti-imperialists and the Arabists were shattered. Although Nasser was a great visionary, he was a poor military strategist. He and his sleepy generals had no idea what the post-WW1 military operations entailed. The humiliating defeat suffered by Egypt, Syria and Jordan changed the military equation forever and the Arab (Muslim) world sank into deep depression — the first of the two deep depressions of modern times.
The post 6-day war era
Realizing the inability of the Arab armies to liberate Palestine — after all it was the Arab governments which had exhorted the Palestinians to leave their homeland before quixotically attempting to march into it — the Palestinians took their destiny into their own hands. The PLO was born. Although the Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat was the main constituent in it, it was a secular organization with Christians like George Habash and Leila Khalid playing significant roles in successful anti-Israel operations. The high jacking of airliners and the Munich operations occurred. The PLO became a deciding factor in the politics of Jordan and Lebanon. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon took place. This was the time when all the Palestinians had to do was to say peace and Israel would have agreed to their main demands based on two states solution. Sadat and King Husain dropped out of belligerence and separated themselves from the Palestinian issue on the promise of American aid. With Yitzhak Rabin as Prime Minister of Israel, overtures for peace began and Yasser Arafat was allowed back in Ramallah to manage the Palestinian municipalities. In the meantime however, the Israelis stumbled upon an exciting discovery. The Palestinians, they found out, were orphaned and had nowhere to go and therefore there was no compelling reason to accede to their demands; the Jews did not have to part with an inch of Palestine. Peace talks were good for Israel’s image. If they made any offers in the “peace talks” whether in Camp David, Madrid or Oslo, all they had to do was to go back, shell a refugee camp, change their government, bring the cursor back to zero and wipe the slate clean, a repetitive act in the play. They could also continue building new settlements on the occupied territories with the American veto in the U.N. at hand to realize the dream of “Greater Israel”.
While this was going on, the Muslim world was witnessing a sea change in its outlook. A Shia cleric by the name of Ruhollah Khomeini had stirred an Islamic revolution in Iran and Muslims all around the world were fascinated with it. Exasperated by the fruitlessness of secular politics, Palestinians also turned to Islamism as the solution to their problems and Hamas was born, overshadowing Fatah and other Palestinian organizations.
The Soviet Union collapsed, bringing the Soviet aid to the oppressed nations of the world to an abrupt end, leaving them at the mercy of the hegemonists. George H. W. Bush took almost all the Arab countries to war against Saddam Hussein, promising them a “New World Order” in which justice will prevail. In fact, what followed would be injustice all around and a total betrayal. This was the background in which Nine-eleven took place. To my mind, given the background, nine-eleven was destined to happen. If you trace the line of causality backwards, there is no single event at which you can stop your finger and say: this is what did it.
Post 9/11 era
The attack on World Trade Center, gave George W. Bush an opportunity to go back to Iraq to finish the job his father had left incomplete and also topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan, with Tony Blair as his second fiddle. In doing so, he converted three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into an arena of stubborn political chaos from which there would be no respite in the foreseeable future. Was this a punitive act against the atrocity or an ethno-religiously motivated contemptuous act of a born-again Christian is anybody’s guess?
In December 2010 in Tunisia, a street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi died by self-immolation on a street of Tunis in protest against official harassment. This provided the spark for revolutionary uprisings in most of the Arab World. The regimes in Tunisia and Libya were overthrown. Bahrain was in turmoil. The kings and the Sheikhs from North Africa to the Persian Gulf panicked and offered the civil servants and workers hefty pay increases to stem the tide of unrest.
However, in Syria the regime decided to fight back rather than give in to demands with help from Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah. The conflict still continues with most of the country converted into a demolition site, a smear on the map which is spreading to blot out civilization in much of the Middle East. In Egypt, protests in Tahrir Square organized by the student elite forced the dictatorship to quit. Elections, which followed, brought Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power. This was not acceptable to the secular bureaucracy and the military-appointed judiciary nor was it acceptable to the U.S./Israeli interests. A massive amount of money and intrigues went into play, reminiscent of the dismissal of Musaddeq in 1953 by an M16-CIA operation. Morsi was deposed and a new military dictatorship friendly to Israel came into power. This marked the end of the Arab Spring and plunged the Arab/Muslim world into the second era of deep depression.
The post-Arab spring era
In the aftermath of the demise of the Arab Spring the world is awakened to a few hard realities:
• There is no such thing as an Arab nation. The dream of Quwatli, Aflak and Nasser has been shattered.
• Sectarian schism within Islam is a potent destroyer; even such revolutionary regimes as Iran can easily fall back to the old ways of the Safawis. Iran and Hezbollah’s role in fighting to prop up a dictatorial regime in Syria, instead of facilitating a smooth transition to the people’s rule has disappointed even their most ardent supporters.
• The Salafi/Takfiri groups are the Nihilists of modern times.
• Israel exists because the West wants it to as a proxy to its “interests”, whatever they may be! Judaism is not an issue; it is geo-politics. The West, in order to project its power onto the three other “barbaric” continents, needs to establish vice regencies on site — a prospective additional candidate is Kurdistan.
• The U.S. and Israel have a clear strategy: keep conflicts alive wherever they are raging in the Muslim World; keep Egypt and Jordan thoroughly neutralized; keep the Gulf princes maintain their debauched lifestyle and direct them to the casinos and act swiftly when any force emerges which could pose a threat to Israel or any other vicegerent such as the Kurds.
• In order to conquer the East, the most potent weapon the U.S.A. could use was bribery. This worked wonders in Afghanistan and changed defeat into victory in Iraq. It saved trillions of dollars in military expenditures and thousands of G.I. lives.
How to Counter the West’s strategy
As I have said in the beginning, there are three elements in the dynamics which could be inflected. The question of competence is difficult but not impossible. Although we disagree with their dogmatic stances and the methodology of cruelty, the Taliban and recently the ISIS have demonstrated that there is a capability out there of highly effective centralized organization. It is not known if it will remain as effective if you subtract the highly objectionable dogmas from their mode of operation but it is obvious that if they insist on adhering to them and resort to cruelty, they have no future in the political arena. Even if they come to power somehow, people will sooner or later reject the doctrines they impose.
One phenomenon, which is difficult to digest, is the apparent monolithic ideology of the ISIS. If what is being said of them is true, the group has among its cadres many youth from the Western countries, who are educated under the western educational systems and are used to the western lifestyles. It is also alleged that the group consists of many former Bathists and members of the Iraqi army. How then can such diversity create the alleged doctrinal rigidity?
The establishment in Iran is diverted from the track laid by the fathers of the Revolution. A sectarian civil war in Islam is in nobody’s interest. Iran had in the past supported the oppressed Muslim peoples in Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia and Kosovo and had won admiration of all the Muslims on earth. However, its support of the dictatorship against the people of Syria, who fought the regime under the leadership of such non-sectarian organizations as the Brotherhood, has dismayed people and when Iran was joined by Hezbollah and the Shia volunteers from Iraq it became a sectarian conflict by strengthening the Takfiri elements in the opposition, who until then were minor players.
Nobody needs to be told that the House of Saud is not exactly what we want to see as “protectors of the Haramain”. Their money, invested in madrasas all over the world, including Europe and America has turned out clerics and students who have spurned reason and logic and laid obstacles in the acquisition of knowledge and scientific progress, an affront to the instruction of the Prophet (S). Hence, both Iran and Saudi Arabia must exit from playing politics in the Muslim World.
When the dust of the Gaza conflict settles, there will emerge road signs in the region for both the Jews and the Palestinians. For Seventy years the Jews have managed to hold the whole world hostage reminding it of the Holocaust and extracting sympathy and support from the guilt-ridden Europeans. The effect is now wearing off and they are being judged by what they are doing to others. Research shows that the public opinion in Europe is turning against them. In America a majority of young people is becoming pro-Palestinian. The day will come when the public opinion in America will force the politicians on Capitol Hill to think that the vote bank in Brooklyn is a liability rather than an asset. However, this will not happen without a concerted effort on the part of Palestinians and their supporters. In various cities in North America and Europe, people who demonstrated in favor of the victims of Gaza were mainly non-Arab and non-Palestinian. This is a window of opportunity for all. We will miss this to our peril. The Jewish organizations in America are spending billions of dollars to counter this trend in public opinion.
This author has been, for years, advocating that the Palestinians form a “rainbow coalition” with other ethnic groups such as Blacks and Hispanics but the appeal has fallen on deaf years. Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular have highly insular attitudes, which have given them a bad reputation among Blacks and other minorities. They should realize that the days of Arab nationalism are gone. They are alone in the Middle East. Their only chance is to unite with people across the whole spectrum. If they expect other people to support their just cause, they should show reciprocity and support the cause of all the oppressed people on earth and must be seen to be doing so.
[Dr. Waheeduddin Ahmed is Editor of Journal of Muslim and World Affairs. He blogs at MJournal.org. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]