A misplaced ego of the West

Published on Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The world is heading towards a new round of confrontation — not between a brutal Middle Eastern State and the liberal West upholding cherished democratic values, not between the capitalistic economic system and the communist dictatorship of the proletariat — but between the civilised society upholding normal human values and the inhuman barbarity of deranged Jihadists of the Middle East proclaiming an 'Islamic State'. This vicious murderous group aims to establish, by sheer force of the sword, an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East — reminiscent of the early days of Islam. Although Muslims round the world had condemned the ideology of these deranged, vicious people, that did not stop them from perpetuating animal barbarity. Pitched against such vicious human-animals is the civilised human society. The whole of Middle East had been going through an upheaval — social, economic and political — ever since the beginning of Arab Spring in January of 2011. But little did anybody imagine that the legitimate struggle for democratic rights of the common people in those countries could one day set the whole of Middle alight. From Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Syria and now the whole of Middle East is alight, except, of course, the countries which have been fanning the flame. Like any other flame, once it is lit, no one knows how far it will meander and how much it will devour. In Syria, the burning zeal of the people had degenerated into a bloody civil war which had already claimed over 200,000 combat deaths and dislocation of more than 10 million people. Even more ominous is that this conflict has stoked up religious and ethnic flames that may engulf regions far beyond the Middle East. A blatantly religious group, calling itself the 'IS', is wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East. Who is this 'IS' and how did it come into existence so swiftly to carry out such a blitzkrieg that the established Syrian and Iraqi armies had to just melt away and give up large swathes of territory — from the east of Syria, parts of Kurdistan and north and west of Iraq right up to a short flight away to Baghdad? They achieved such military success in a matter of days and the West was caught completely unaware and off-guard. These 'IS' soldiers, clad in black uniform proclaiming Islamic Caliphate, are not exactly a rag-tag of fighters. These are hardened Jihadists with years of fighting experience in the Iraqi sectarian struggles, others are Syrian soldiers defected to al-Qaeda and then to 'IS'. All of these fighters are fully committed, well trained and well resourced. The intelligence report claims that 'IS' is the richest terrorist group ever in the world with well over $2billion cash reserve, with a streamline of oil revenue and a very well equipped fighting force – all captured from the fleeing enemies. These committed Jihadists aspire to establish a State resembling the Caliphate of the early Islamic days. The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) comprising Syrian Sunni Muslims, disillusioned and fortune seeking Syrian soldiers, al-Qaeda fighters, foreign Jihadists and other regional paramilitary fighting forces like Hamas had been fighting against Bashar al-Assad's regime for over two years. They could make no headway to overthrow Bashar regime, although money and military supplies had been flowing across the Turkish borders into Syrian rebels uninterrupted. It is an open secret that money, arms and ammunition from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States had been coming to the FSA right from the beginning and the West was fully aware of it. But what the FSA did not get is the direct military help – like that given to Col Gaddafi's opponents in Libya – in the form of air strikes destroying Gaddafi's military capability. Frustration started to grow among the fighters of the FSA. An extremely radicalised group within al-Qaeda, calling itself al-Nusra Front under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that came from Iraqi front started to merge together with the FSA. This violent, vicious group had been found to be too radical even to the al-Qaeda. Eventually this group broke away from al-Qaeda to set up a unit under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is known to his followers as Caliph Ibrahim and they want to proclaim a Caliphate encompassing Iraq, Syria, Israel and Jordan, as it existed during the early years of Islam. Initially this band of fighters proclaimed ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and then ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and finally the 'IS'. The tactics this group follows is most brutal – behead enemy soldiers publicly to spread terror among enemy soldiers, kill and destroy civilian population who do not accept their version of Islam, destroy anything that stands on their way, extort money and materials from the civilians without any compassion. When this 'IS' captured part of Kurdistan in June of this year, they started to kill a large number of Yazidis – an ancient sect upholding their own religion for centuries, which is similar to Zoroastrianism – as Yazidis were branded as infidels. Out of fear, the whole population fled into the inhospitable mountain ranges and there was a danger that the whole of Yazidi population would simply perish without food, water and shelter. The public opinion in Britain, America and other countries propelled their governments to come to their assistance and send emergency aids. The 'IS' also destroyed numerous churches, killed a number of Christians and forced others to accept Islam; otherwise they had been threatened to be beheaded. During the last few days this vicious band of criminals have beheaded two American journalists – James Foley and Steven Sotloff – and one British aid worker – David Haines – and threatened to behead another British aid worker. Faced with such a vile and violent group, the West has no option but to take military actions. But the West is now very cautious, as the saying goes: once bitten, twice shy. The Iraqi experience – taking premature military actions without the requisite UN resolution and the public support – looms large in the psyche of the Western governments. To overcome this legitimacy deficit, a meeting of foreign ministers to tackle this menace of the IS had been called in Paris a few days ago by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Although 30 countries attended that meeting, not all of them were prepared to subscribe to military actions. Some countries attended the Paris meeting just to deflect international condemnation for their support for IS, while others attended simply to express solidarity with the West. Nonetheless, there were countries who attended out of sheer moral outrage. One thing every country realised was that this 'IS' was a potent threat not only to the Middle East and to the West, but also to countries far beyond the boundaries of the Middle East. A coalition of countries led by the United States of America (USA) had been gathered who would be willing to take military actions against the IS. The main countries are the USA, UK, France, Australia, some other European countries and probably Egypt and Jordan. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and UAE) as well as Turkey were playing dubious roles. On the one hand, they attended the anti-IS meeting with the West and at the same time, gave material support or at least sympathy to the IS. It is an open secret that the GCC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, had been actively supporting the FSA, al-Qaeda and other forces against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey actively encouraged and supported the FSA by keeping its border porous so that arms and ammunition could flow to the rebels uninterrupted. Their strategy was that if the 'IS' wins, these Sunni countries would benefit immensely. Turkey has a special relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Now under pressure, these countries are adopting somewhat duplicitous roles. Other countries such as Lebanon with a large Sunni population may be reluctant to take military actions against Sunni 'IS' for fear of igniting religious strife within the country. In this quagmire of interleaving conflict, the West is also not immune from Diaspora. Syria under Bashar al-Assad had been fighting these brutal and violent forces for over two years, but the West is not willing to talk to them, let alone ask them to join forces. The West accuses Bashar al-Assad of killing his own people when those people rebelled against him. It may be noted that the rebels had been instigated, aided and abetted, by foreign powers for their political and religious purposes. What the head of a State would have done – give up the State as soon as some people rebel against the regime? Iran which had long been fighting against Saudi Wahhabism has been purposely left out of the proposed coalition under pressure from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni States. Iran is a regional power which could play a very constructive role in eliminating this 'IS' menace. Saudi Arabia is blatantly playing a double role – joining half-heartedly the anti-IS coalition and then weakening the coalition from within! On top of it all, the West is not prepared to give Russia much of a role – presumably for Russia's role in saving Assad from Western ire. Had Assad been bombed out (in the absence of Russia's steadfast support for Syria at the United Nations), as the West wanted last year, the 'IS' would have taken control of Syria now and the West would have to live with a State aspiring to establish a Caliphate at its door step. If the West genuinely wants to eliminate the 'IS' once and for all, it is imperative that all players are brought together and an all-inclusive coalition of the willing is formed. It beggars belief that the West and Syria/Iran are both fighting the same enemy but they are not on the same side! Would it not be immensely beneficial if the forces fighting the 'IS' join together for the common good? Is it not the time to rise above petty vindictiveness of punishing Assad for breaching Obama's red line when Assad was alleged to have used chemical weapons, which was vehemently denied, in tackling his country's rebellion? Failure to degrade and destroy 'IS' is simply unimaginable, not only for the West but also for the whole world. The misplaced ego of the West to punish Assad should now be forgotten for the sake of greater good of the world. ————————————– A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

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