Uploaded on Sunday 2 August, 2015 to the world order
War-torn Iraq and Syria: Rise of militant Islam post Arab Spring
What has gone so wrong in regions where coalition troops have engaged in and toppled dictatorships? What are the factors which have led to the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? What do we understand about Arab/Islamic society and tribal norms? How does western society differ? Are the curriculum studies on matters pertaining to sociology adept enough, and have we invested sufficient resources therein to enhance our understanding of the complex social, cultural, ethnic, tribal and religious dimensions which shape the Arab world?
Iraq is a country with multiple religions. Every religion in the Middle East has a representation in Iraq. The Yazidis are a designated prime target of the Islamic State. Thousands have either been killed, fled their homes or been forcefully converted. Yazidis are deemed by Islamists to be infidels for their idol worship. Jews and Christians are slightly more tolerated because of their holy scriptures, whereas Yazidis are feared and hated due to their bad reputation. They are perceived to be 'worshippers of Satan'.
Prior to the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later the Islamic State, there used to be six Christian denominations in Iraq. The last count is two because four have fled northwards to the region of Kurdistan.
In tribal circles, the law of the tribe trumps the law of the state and tribes are out of bounds to strangers, and neither do tribes mix with other tribes. This primitive way of life with its idiosyncrasies developed out of necessity, and is found in regions with arid land and water shortages. When a tribe discovers a natural source of water, it will guard it with its life otherwise the tribe's continuity is put in jeopardy. In regions where geographic conditions are causal factors for dictating the odds of survival, the law of the tribe becomes a natural occurrence, and people live and die by the sword. In regions where land is arable and fertile, the law of the land can be enforced by an authority in a civilized manner because there are no such constraints.
Taking Iraq as an analogy, Saddam Hussein was part of a small Iraqi tribe called Dulaimi. The smaller the tribe, the more vicious it must be to keep its grip on power. Because the tribe was so small, Saddam Hussein's rule was deemed illegitimate by a majority of Iraqis. The second factor is that he was a Sunni Muslim, thus his rule stood in opposition with Shia Muslims. Thirdly, Iraqis of other religious denominations did not feel represented. Fourthly, Saddam Hussein lacked the legitimacy to rule.
Iraq's Arab Shia population outnumbers the Arab Sunni population by a factor of 3, i.e. there are approximately three Shiites to every Sunni. Saddam's rule was thus a minority rule; and for any Iraqi who cares to remember, a Sunni government and a suppressed Shia majority is all there was. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 signalled a change of the guard. After Saddam Hussein was toppled, Iraq had a new government in 2006 led by a hard-line Shia, Nouri al-Maliki. The tide had turned for Sunnis, in a bad way. All of this exacerbated the instability by making the government less unified and competent, creating rage in the Sunni populous and weakening the loyalty of a reformed military, part of which hated its own government. Retaliation was to follow, which began the process for the Islamic State in Iraq, which grew out of the al-Qaeda in Iraq banner under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
In Syria, the fragmentation is more severe. President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite Muslim. Alawites make up no more than 10% of Syria's demography. In July of 2000, aged just 34, Bashar al-Assad became the President of Syria. Following in the footsteps of his late father Hafez al-Assad, Basher al-Assad's rise to high office was in effect a coronation since he stood as the sole candidate in a one party state, representing the Ba'ath Party. His victory was assured as opposition against the President was disallowed. He duly won the 'election' with a flawless 100% result of the vote count. Before he took over the reins as President, the Syrian Constitution dictated a minimum age of no less than forty years of age for eligibility. The Constitution was amended to thirty four years of age to enable Bashar al-Assad to ascend to power. Alawites abide by the doctrines of the Nusayriyyah, and are perceived by much of the Arab world to be heretics or 'kafirs' for their idol worship. Thus, the majority of Syrians do not find favour with Assad.
The late dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi (Qaddafi) ruled Libya for 42 years, from September 1969 until August 2011. His tribe is called Qadhadhfa. The name Qaddafi is an adjective of the founder of the tribe Qaddaf Addam which means 'the one who sheds blood' [of others]. When Muammar Qaddafi's reign began in the late sixties, if somebody spoke badly against him, he would deal with such person by chopping off the tongue. If such mutilated person continued to act against his interests, he would throw said person into a can of acid. Rumour has it that Qaddafi made his first million from amassing the gold teeth of his victims that remained standing in the acid. Libya suffers from a legitimacy complex with its citizenry because it is a conglomerate of ethnic groups. Qaddafi's regime was illegitimate because it was a minority rule over a majority.
In days gone by, the inhabitants of Arab states living in the Maghreb and the Middle East obtained their news information from local media sources in the form of newspapers, radio stations, or television networks in UHF or in VHF which were (a) mostly state owned; (b) controlled by the state and; (c) always spread propaganda praising the rulers. With the advent of satellite television hitting the market, a new network called Al Jazeera began broadcasting from Qatar for the first time in November of 1996. With this new technology, the rulers of Arab states found themselves usurped as the masters of transmission over the airwaves. The inhabitants were able to intercept the feed from Al Jazeera via satellite dishes, and it was nigh impossible for a government to jam the signal. Suddenly, the Arab world was interconnected with a common news broadcaster, thus putting an end to state media propaganda. The rapid spread of internet usage compounded this phenomenon. All of a sudden, people began to learn more about corruption and scandals in their respective countries. So too did Al Jazeera spread anti-western propaganda, anti-Israel propaganda, anti-American propaganda, and so on. On the other side of the pendulum, Al Jazeera expressed support for the Muslim Brotherhood—an Islamist movement outlawed in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, and other Arab states. Al Jazeera promoted the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of Arab regimes.
The Arab Spring was sparked off in December of 2010 by a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi after a policewoman forbade him to sell tomatoes in the market. Bouazizi was a proletariat who could not afford a trading licence on his meagre incomes. He set himself on fire in protest at the system, and succumbed to his injuries two weeks later. Immediately after that, demonstrations commenced in his town of Sidi Bouzid, broadcasted live by Al Jazeera. The news soon spread onto social media sites all over the internet. The next day, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, bound for Saudi Arabia, with one and a half tons of gold bullion bars which he stole from the central bank on his way to the airport. The revolt grew bigger until it spread to the shores of Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and even to the tiny island of Bahrain.
Bahrain is a country that is ruled since 1783 by a Sunni Arab royal family, the Àl Khalìfah dynasty. Arabs account for a small fraction of the Bahraini population by demography, with Persians and Asians comprising the vast majority. The Àl Khalìfah family was put on the throne by the British Empire for colonial interests, and is thus illegitimate.
In addition to elemental aspects of fragmentation between peoples, there are other factors to consider as well, such as economic, cultural and intrinsic personality traits. Anthropology and behavioural science posits that ethnicity (among other things like family genes, early childhood experience, social environment) plays a crucial role in determining proclivity, disposition, commonality and other kinds of idiosyncratic tendencies inherent in people. With the exception of the Jewish state of Israel, the states of the Middle East and the Maghreb have been by and large ravaged by continuous civil war, with very little to show for in terms of egalitarianism, liberalism, freedom, democracy and rule of law.
London and Paris bear some responsibility for the dysfunctional order of the Middle East. The borders were drawn, not by the inhabitants of those lands, but, by the colonial powers of France and Great Britain during the 1920s when Messieurs Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot carved up the Ottoman Empire into states after World War One. The territories were apportioned, not according to the needs and demographies of the inhabitants, but, as per the interests of the colonialists. The borders of Israel/Egypt and Turkey/Iraq will serve as two examples to illustrate the aforesaid paradigm.
When the Ottoman Empire was defeated after World War One and the Middle East started to be mapped out with boundaries, the Kurdish district of Iraq (northern part) was not initially included within Iraq's territory. It was part of Turkey. The Arabs did not like the Kurds, and vice versa, and this trend continues to this very day. The British had a stake in Iraq to ensure that the oil could flow to Europe. With Iraq exploited and its inhabitants repressed, oil was found years later in Kurdistan around the area of Mosul and Kirkuk where the river Tigris flows. Following this discovery, the British occupied that area and annexed it to Iraq, and the new border with Turkey was marked circa 100 kilometres around the oil fields to ensure that the Turks could not get to them within close range. The atrocities that have occurred between the Kurds and their neighbours, until this very day, have their roots sown in this action by the British. Instead of the Kurds living in a separate state of their own, they are conjoined with Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, and scattered among them against their will.
The Sinai desert presently falls under Egyptian sovereignty. Geographically speaking, Egypt is in Africa, whereas Sinai is in Asia and is the demarcation of the Middle East from Africa. Until the 1860s, the only place where one could walk across from Asia to Africa on terra firma without inhibition was between the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Suez, from Port Saïd southwards towards the city of Suez. Since the Suez Canal was dug by the French, Asia and Africa were no longer interconnected by dry land on one continuum. Following Britain's purchase of the Suez Canal in 1875, commissioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Parliament in London was concerned about the prospect of the Ottoman Empire's presence in and around the Suez Canal affecting the flow of British ships bound for India. To remedy this problem, boundaries were drawn demarking Egypt from the Ottoman Empire between Rafah (Mediterranean Sea) and Taba (Gulf of Aqaba) so as to keep the Ottomans as far away as possible from the canal.
The ramifications of these colonial legacies are an indirect cause of more than a century of bloodshed. The Islamic State is just one of many terror groups, all part of one cabal called the mujahideen. The Occident must own up to its responsibilities, form a coalition, reinstate order and become part of the solution. Restitution is long overdue.
* special thanks to Professor Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University
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