“Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – Albert Einstein
A spate of attacks by Islamic fundamentalist groups in recent days have shocked us.
These attacks shock us and cause immense sadness. How can anyone not sympathize with the innocent victims and their families? They also fill us with rage. How could such dastardly acts be committed, by whom and most importantly how can such acts be stopped in future? However, it is important to resist the urge to latch on to simplistic answers which a highly successful propaganda machinery and ample bigotry which surrounds us, throw at us. Such answers play into the hands of those who are actually responsible for such a state of affairs.
The roots of this madness go back 60 to 70 years. In the post World War II era, newly independent Arab States were filled with hope of a better, modern future outside of colonial influence, in solidarity with other newly independent countries and the non-aligned movement and based on a secular progressive agenda. But this was a threat to US and Western powers and their goal of control over oil as these Republics sought to nationalize oil production to use the profits to benefit their own people and not Western corporations. Also, as workers and socialist movements made inroads in to the Arab World, the US looked for ways to curb the spread of socialism here. It was also a threat to the Saudi Monarchy which saw the idea of Secular Republics as an existential threat to itself. And hence an alliance was born between the Saudis and the West which continues to this date to put an end to the “dangerous” idea of Secular Republican Arab Nationalism by propagating an obscure virulent form of Islamic fanaticism. This is one of the main pillars of US foreign policy for the Middle East. The other pillar of US policy in the Middle East has been its unrelenting support for Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories in complete violation of international law and many United Nations resolutions. The brutal siege of Gaza, arbitrary arrests and the detention of thousands of Palestinians in West Bank and Israel without trials, targeted assassinations and periodic full fledged wars including aerial bombing referred to as “mowing the lawn” by Israeli officials show Israel’s total contempt for international law and the US support for it.
The earliest regime change manoeuvre at curbing Arab Nationalism was in Iran. The democratically elected Govt of Mossadegh was toppled in 1953 by a CIA backed coup. Mossadegh had sought to nationalize Iranian Oil. In his place, the hated Shah Monarchy was put in place. Egypt’s President and one of the most prominent voices of Arab Nationalism and Non-Aligned Movement, Nasser was sought to be contained by the US using the Muslim Brotherhood. After Nasser’s death, Egypt was co-opted by the Americans by effectively giving its military an annual bribe of $1 Billion since the 1970s.
The Iranians overthrew the Shah Monarchy and established an Islamic Republic in 1979. This posed a challenge to both US and Saudi Arabia. The new Republic needed to be punished for daring to topple the US puppet Shah regime. For the paranoid Saudi Monarchy, the concept of an Islamic “Republic” called into question their own raison d’être. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was then bankrolled by the US-Saudi Alliance to start a war against Iran. He used chemical weapons against the Iranians which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths. Declassified documents show that the Americans knew about these attacks but still continued to support Saddam. Interestingly, Saddam was an American friend when he used weapons of Mass destruction but became an enemy and Iraq was invaded in 2003 when he didn’t possess any such weapons. Another interesting part of this story is when Iran was getting attacked with chemical weapons, their supreme leader – Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa that the use of such weapons was un-Islamic and so Iran never retaliated with chemical warfare. So, the “greatest democracy on earth” sanctioned the use of Chemical weapons while a Muslim Mullah ruled out its use even as a defensive move.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia had started an organization called the World Muslim League in 1962 in direct reaction to Nasser’s pan-Arabic nationalism. It still exists today. It is funded and controlled by Saudi Arabia. It exports Wahhabism to all the countries where it has a presence. One would see an amazing correlation between places where WML has its offices (like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, etc.) and places which are current hot-beds of Islamic fanaticism. All this information is readily available in the public domain. However, Saudi continues to be one of the closest allies of the US till date. The US has effected regime change in country after country in the name of its War on Terror. Yet it continues to ally, fund and arm Saudi Arabia.
Afghanistan provided the first major opportunity for large scale use of these Islamic Terror Groups for regime change. The US poured in billions of dollars, training and provided logistical support to the “Mujahideen” (Jihad Warriors) in Afghanistan in a US-supported jihad against the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia exported its own disgruntled youth indoctrinated with Wahhabi fanaticism to fight the Holy Wars in far off lands, the youth who may have otherwise challenged the oppressive Saudi Monarchy at home. Among the “Holy Warriors” who left Saudi Arabia to fight in Afghanistan was one Osama Bin Laden, one of the sons of the wealthy Bin Laden family, intimately connected to the Saudi Monarchy.
Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted the U.S. organized and supported Bin Laden and the other originators of “Al Qaeda” in the 1970s to fight the Soviets.
Brzezinski told the Mujahideen.
We know of their deep belief in god – that they’re confident that their struggle will succeed. That land over – there is yours – and you’ll go back to it some day, because your fight will prevail, and you’ll have your homes, your mosques, back again, because your cause is right, and god is on your side.
British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, wrote that Al Qaeda was unquestionably a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that Al Qaeda, which literally means an abbreviation of “the database” in Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.
The extent of American indoctrination for the Jihad can be inferred from a Washington Post article in 2002.
The United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings ….
The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books ….
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US sought to project itself as the sole superpower and redraw the map of the Arab World. In the late 90s, before 9/11, a neo-conservative think tank – Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued a draft calling for regime changes in countries like Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and other countries. Many of the signatories of this document went on to hold important positions in the Bush Administration. Post 9/11, GW Bush used the ruse of “War against Terror” to effect regime change in country after country. Destroying working states and funding extreme elements like Al Qaeda in Libya, ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In this Regime Change doctrine, the US and Saudi Arabia funded and armed extreme Islamist groups to fight the regimes which were targeted to be changed and then to control the countries which had been rendered stateless.
Each such regime change would completely destroy the country – its infrastructure, state machinery and produce inhuman living conditions for vast majority of the population in these countries. It is these soulless conditions, this hopelessness which would provide fertile ground for recruiting the next set of “Holy Warriors”.
American Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote to Hillary Clinton in a confidential cable.
“My trip to Baghdad (September 6-11) has left me slack jawed. I have struggled to find the correct historical analogy to describe a vibrant, historically important Middle Eastern city being slowly bled to death. Berlin and Dresden in World War II were devastated but they and their populations were not subjected to seven years of occupation that included ethnic cleansing, segregation of people by religious identity, and untold violence perpetrated upon them by both military and private security services. I have not been to Gaza but suspect that the dehumanizing effects are somewhat similar. The occupation and especially the walling off of neighborhoods have destroyed the very fabric of the urban society.”
In such conditions, with the state machinery destroyed post regime change, the invading US backed Western forces would seek to regain control by funding the worst, most extreme Islamic fundamentalist groups.
The Secular Arab Republics had a contract with their own people. These regimes would provide a basic living standard to its people through state support and in return the people had no political rights. Over time this contract got violated with oil price shocks, increasing neoliberalism and cronyism, the state support decreased and people grew increasingly frustrated. Given the lack of political and democratic rights there was no outlet to vent out this frustration. In early 2011, a series of people’s revolts erupted across the Arab world in what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. This set the stage for the next set of US led Western interventions in the Arab World. US sought to curb the revolts in Tunisia & Egypt. Saudi troops crushed the rebellion in Bahrain. But these protests were used as a pretext to implement regime change in countries such as Libya and Syria. For those interested, Vijay Prashad’s excellent book “The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution” analyses the events around and post Arab Spring in great detail.
Sidney Blumenthal, close adviser to the Clintons and Hillary Clinton’s unofficial intelligence gatherer, wrote a since declassified intelligence email to the former US Secretary of State. The email identified French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.” Further the email confirmed what has become a well-known theme of Western supported insurgencies in the Middle East: the contradiction of special forces training militias that are simultaneously suspected of links to Al Qaeda. Blumenthal relates that “an extremely sensitive source” confirmed that British, French, and Egyptian special operations units were training Libyan militants along the Egyptian-Libyan border, as well as in Benghazi suburbs. Blumenthal further voiced concern about the very militias these Western Special Forces were training because of “radical/terrorist groups such as the Libyan Fighting Groups and Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are infiltrating the NLC and its military command.”
Libya and its neighbour Tunisia, with which Libya has a porous border, have since become major recruiting grounds for ISIS. Many ISIS operatives move about freely in Libya and through the porous border into neighbouring Tunisia.
Once the Gaddafi regime was toppled in Libya, the US set its eyes on toppling the Assad regime in Syria. While the Obama talked about crossing of Red Lines as a pretext for regime change, the real reason was to contain the old nemesis of US and Saudi Arabia – Iran which ironically had got more powerful as its enemies on the West (Saddam Hussein) and on the East (Taliban) were taken out by US invasions. The Assad regime was close to Iran and toppling it was seen as a way to contain Iran. Respected investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote of a CIA “rat line” of arms transfers from Libyan stockpiles to the Syrian rebels. A declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, effectively welcomed the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the document identified Al-Qaida in Iraq (which became ISIS) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” and stated that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria. It is now well established that the US, Saudi and Qataris funded, armed and provided logistical support to fanatical groups such as Al-Nursa and Al-Qaida which went on to become the ISIS. NATO Ally, Turkey opened it borders with Syria for Jihadists to fly in from Libya, Tunisia, Chechnya and other parts of the world to Turkish airports like Mardin, cross the border and join ISIS to fight the Syrian Govt. While ISIS oil flowed into Turkey to be sold on the black market. The US and its allies turned a blind eye as these groups committed horrific crimes against women and minorities & religious “others” such as Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Alawites, Christians, etc. Anyone who opposed them or didn’t live up to their most barbaric laws was fair game for beheadings and cruellest punishments.
It is only after the ISIS went “overboard” by publicly beheading westerners, threating Bagdad and announcing an Islamic Caliphate which would include all Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries that they became the “bad guys” and US started attacking ISIS. Even then it was the Russian entry into Syria in support of the Assad regime which forced the US to finally get serious about hammering the ISIS.
The discussion on the Global War on Terror would be incomplete without also understanding its effects on the US domestically. This perpetual low intensity war is great for US military-industrial complex which wields enormous amounts of political power in the US. In a world where capitalism is facing an acute shortage of demand globally, you can just funnel enormous amounts of people’s money into Military, Defence, Security, IT and reconstruction sectors. Its public knowledge that US spends more on defence than next 10 or so countries combined or that Halliburton (which had Vice President Dick Cheney on its board) got no bid contracts for Iraq reconstruction projects. For most big name IT companies US Military, homeland security, etc. are huge customers. Normally, this money should go to people’s welfare. However, US healthcare is one of the worst in developed world, Education standards are falling, road infrastructure is not what it used to be. So, how do you justify this to your people, while funnelling huge amounts of money to rich white folks on Wall St? By keeping them very scared about terrorism and through fanning the flames of Islamophobic hysteria.
With each terror attack, we see an outpouring of sympathy and messages of solidarity with the victims. We also hear calls for Muslims to take “personal responsibility” and for all Muslims to condemn the terror attacks, as if the vast majority of Muslims have anything to do with the terror attacks. We hear calls for reform movement within Islam. This is indicative of the rampant Islamophobia in society and the complete success of the propaganda machinery of US led Western Imperialism. Such calls are clearly misguided since they seek to blame the victims rather than the real source of such Terror Networks. In such a bleak world is there any reason for hope? Imperialism has now ravaged the world for the last 500 years. Yet there also have been astonishing victories in the fight against Imperialism. The post war period saw a wave of anti-colonial struggles successfully overthrow colonial rule. Similarly, Latin America was in the US stranglehold and a laboratory for Neoliberalism. In the 1970s, CIA backed coups installed brutal military dictatorships in many Latin American countries which oversaw violent elimination and mass killings of the civil society and Left activists in those countries. And yet, Latin America has seen a resurgent wave of Leftist Govts come to power in country after country which have managed to take Latin America out of the US stranglehold. Clearly, given its oil resources, the Middle East is especially precious to US led Western Imperialism. However, the only way to fight these Imperialist Terror Networks is for people the world over, including in the US and the West, to organize people’s and workers’ movements which can provide hope to the people for a better future. It is through these struggles for better living and working conditions, a people’s unity can be built to tackle such powerful forces. History has shown that only such people’s movement have been capable of taking the fight and beating back Imperialism. I conclude with Rosa Luxemburg’s prophetic words written 100 years back: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”