continues … NZ Herald
continues … NZ Herald
With the retaking of Mosul in northern Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIS) could soon be a thing of the past. But the defeat of ISIS and the demise of its self-proclaimed Iraqi-Syrian caliphate won’t bring peace to the Middle East, or even an end to the Syrian tragedy. Rather, it is likely to open a new chapter in the region’s bloody and chaotic history – one no less dangerous than the previous chapters since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.
The continuation of this violent pattern seems almost certain because the region remains unable to resolve internal conflicts on its own, or to create anything like a resilient framework for peace. Instead, it remains trapped somewhere between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Western powers are hardly blameless for the Middle East’s woes. Any mention of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which Great Britain and France partitioned the post-Ottoman territories, still incites such rage in the Arab world that it seems as if the plan, devised in secret in 1916, had been conceived only yesterday.
Nor should we forget Czarist Russia’s role in the region. Following World War II, its successor, the Soviet Union, and its Cold War rival, the United States, began their multiple interventions.
Indeed, the US may be the most significant contributor to today’s regional turmoil. America’s interest in the Middle East was originally based on its need for oil. But, with the onset of the Cold War, economic interest quickly morphed into a strategic interest in preventing the emergence of anti-Western, Soviet-friendly governments. America’s effort to maintain decisive influence in the region was then supplemented by its close security partnership with Israel, and finally by the two large military interventions of the two Gulf Wars against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
America’s involvement in Afghanistan, too, has had profound repercussions for the Middle East. The US-backed insurgency of the 1980s, launched under the banner of jihad against the occupying Soviet Union, transformed two close American allies – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – into strategic threats. This became clear on September 11, 2001, when it emerged that 15 of the 19 attackers sent by al-Qaeda were Saudi citizens. And it was Pakistan that created the Taliban, which provided al-Qaeda a haven for hatching its plots against the US and the West.
The success of the first Gulf War, launched in January 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, was fatally undermined 12 years later by his son, President George W. Bush, whose own Gulf War caused a regional catastrophe that continues to this day. Whereas the senior Bush had pursued the limited objectives of liberating Kuwait and didn’t seek regime change in Iraq, his son’s aims were far more ambitious.
The idea was to topple Saddam Hussein and bring about a democratic Iraq, which would catalyze comprehensive change throughout the Middle East and transform it into a democratic and pro-Western region. Within the younger Bush’s administration, imperial idealism prevailed over hardheaded realism, resulting in sustained destabilization of the Middle East as a whole and helping to place Iran in a position to expand its influence.
After the Islamic State’s demise, the next chapter in the history of the Middle East will be determined by open, direct confrontation between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for regional predominance. So far, this long-smoldering conflict has been pursued under cover and mostly by proxies. The two global powers active in the region have already clearly positioned themselves in this conflict, with the US siding with Saudi Arabia and Russia with Iran.
The current “war on terror” will increasingly be replaced by this hegemonic conflict. And with Saudi Arabia and four Sunni allies imposing isolation on Qatar, in part owing to the Qataris’ close relations with Iran, this conflict has reached its first potential tipping point at the very center of the region, the Persian Gulf.
Any direct military confrontation with Iran would, of course, set the region ablaze, greatly surpassing all previous Middle East wars. Moreover, with the fires in Syria still smoldering, and Iraq weakened by the sectarian struggle for power there, ISIS or some successor incarnation is likely to remain active.
Another destabilizing factor is the reopening of the “Kurdish question.” The Kurds – a people without a state – have proven to be reliable fighters against ISIS and want to use their new political and military clout to make progress toward autonomy, or even an independent state. For the countries affected – first and foremost Turkey, but also Syria, Iraq, and Iran – this question is a potential casus belli, because it affects their territorial integrity.
Given these unresolved questions and the escalation of the hegemonic conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the next chapter in the region’s history promises to be anything but peaceful. Yes, the US may have learned from the Iraq disaster that it cannot win a land war in the Middle East, despite its vastly superior military power. President Barack Obama sought to withdraw US forces from the region, which proved difficult to achieve both politically and militarily. That’s why he ruled out military intervention – even from the air – in the Syrian civil war, leaving a vacuum that Russia quickly filled, with all of the known consequences.
Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, also campaigned on a promise to withdraw from the region. Since the election, he has launched cruise missiles at Syria, entered into more comprehensive commitments toward Saudi Arabia and its allies, and escalated America’s confrontational rhetoric vis-à-vis Iran.
Trump clearly faces a steep learning curve when it comes to the Middle East – a region that won’t wait for him to master it. There is no reason to be optimistic.
Joschka Fischer was German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998-2005, a term marked by Germany’s strong support for NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, followed by its opposition to the war in Iraq. Fischer entered electoral politics after participating in the anti-establishment protests of the 1960s and 1970s, and played a key role in founding Germany’s Green Party, which he led for almost two decades.
More than 30,000 Muslims from around the world congregated at a farm in the United Kingdom for a three-day event protesting ISIS and religious extremism.
The protest was part of the 50th annual Jalsa Salana, an annual convention and gathering for Ahmadiyya Muslims.
The Ahmadiyya sect was founded in India in 1889 and faced persecution and violence from religious extremists in countries abroad. Despite their plight, the religious movement’s official motto is “Love for all, hatred for none” and their philosophy is rooted in tolerance over extremism.
There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, the overwhelming majority of whom abhor Isis and the evil it represents. So what is driving a handful of extremists to commit horrific acts of mass murder in the name of Islam?
One contributing factor might be a concept drawn from the world of cultural psychiatry: acculturation – the process of balancing two competing cultural influences.
There can be a number of possible outcomes to this process:
Deculturation, when a migrant loses all touch with their culture of origin.
Assimilation, when they retain some loose association with it but fully adopt the culture of the host nation.
Integration, when they retain strong ties with their culture of origin but are fully functioning members of society.
Rejection, when they reject the host-nation culture completely in favour of their culture of origin.
Trying to meet the cultural expectations of parents while trying to fit in with peers; dealing with experiences of racism; balancing religious and western values, it poses a challenge for many Muslim youths living in western countries today.
For those who find themselves at odds with the culture of their parents, and yet are met with hostility from the culture of the society they live in, exiting the acculturation paradigm to embrace a third culture that provides them with a sense of belonging may be an appealing option. In this case their minds become fertile ground for radicalisation.
This is akin to the pathway into gang culture for young people around the world – a sense of alienation from family and society at large delivers them into the hands of older gang leaders. The counterculture for young Muslim men at odds with society nowadays is not gang culture but radical extremist factions that offer self-esteem and identity in exchange for allegiance to a violent and morally bankrupt manifesto. Once they are members of the subversive peer group, alarming ideas and behaviours can become normalised very quickly indeed.
Perhaps the low self-esteem brought on by marginalisation is the mediator here, traded readily by some disaffected Muslim youths for the perceived sense of purpose and status associated with being a jihadi.
Those most likely to make the transition from radical to terrorist are the exceedingly vulnerable, who are highly susceptible to jihadi rhetoric, and narcissistic psychopaths, who might revel in the notoriety of being a terrorist.
Collective community action has been a prominent feature in anti-gang strategies around the world, and may prove effective in opposing this new type of thuggery, starting with closer ties and cooperation between Muslim and non-Muslim communities and a concerted effort to open a dialogue with at-risk individuals.
The media must present a counter-narrative to Isis propaganda, showing young Muslims they are accepted in the west and can find their sense of belonging here.
Muslim parents should be flexible in their demands that their children follow their cultural values and traditions where these are unlikely to lead to a favourable acculturation outcome for them.
Nothing can be worse for a Muslim immigrant parent who builds a new home in the west, with hopes and dreams for their family, than to see their child become a murderous suicide bomber.
We must take action to address the factors that underlie this problem if we are to prevent further suffering.
Terrorists seek to divide us; the only way we can defeat this evil is by working together.
Kamran Ahmed, psychiatrist and filmmaker
No Martyr’s Required.
In a possible first-of-its-kind attack on Western forces, Isis used a drone loaded with explosives to strike a Kurdish and French position in northern Iraq earlier this month, according to a report in the French newspaper. NZ Herald