ISIS war beckons kurdish state

ON SUNDAY NIGHT President Obama called on Turkey, again, “to seal its border with Syria.” He was giving a status report on America’s war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Last week Defense Secretary Ashton Carter demanded, somewhat impatiently: “Turkey must do more to control its often porous border” with Syria. Other American politicians and strategists have been voicing the demand, continually.

Americans’ concern is real. Through the Turkish-Syrian border, ISIS gets a good deal of its recruits, arms and other supplies from other countries. What is the problem with the Turks? you would wonder. Why can’t they just close their damned border to those God-awful “Islamic terrorists”?

Well, sealing off Turkey’s 566-mile border with Syria is no easy task. Not any easier than shutting down the U.S. border with Mexico. The real problem, though, is deepening strains in U.S.-Turkish relations over the Kurdish agenda. I would not call it a crisis point yet, but the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fuming over what it sees as America’s persistent disregard of Turkey’s stability and security concerns. Ankara has been warning Americans that their indifference to Kurdish separatism in Syria and arms supplies to Syria’s Kurdish guerrillas have posed an existential threat to Turkey.

In Syria, the  Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), has been fighting ISIS at America’s prodding, while expanding an autonomous Kurdish region they carved out in northern Syria in the fog of the Syrian civil war. They have named the territory Rojava. The Turks are alarmed to see the YPG joining up with their own Kurdish militants belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Since 1984 the PKK has waged a violent on again, off again campaign to create an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, where Kurds are a majority of the population. The Erdogan government says it supports the fight against ISIS, whoever carries it on. What scares the Turks is the growing fraternity and collaboration between the PKK and the YPG.

Groups of Kurdish activists in Turkey, Syria and Iraq – and some in Iran – have aspired for a common independent state ever since their historic homeland was split between these four countries in the wake of World War I. The total Kurdish population in the region and elsewhere is between 28 million and 35 million, which makes the Kurds the largest ethnic group without a nation-state. The Kurdish territory in Syria has been a PKK stronghold since the Turkish secessionist group emerged in the late 1970s. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, now facing a suspended death sentence in Turkey, lived in Syria for years and from there conducted armed raids into military and civilian targets inside Turkey. The ties between the PKK and Kurdish activists in Syria endure. They have been strengthened by droves of PKK fighters – more than 1,400 according to Ankara – joining the YPG’s separatist campaign in Syria. In return, Kurdish guerrillas in Rojava are supplying the PKK with arms and ammunition, some of which are supplied by the United States.

Israeli-Kurdish ties

The Obama administration has practically turned a deaf ear to Turkish complaints that the YPG threatens to help heat up the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey. The reason for the American insouciance is obvious. Syrian and Iraqi Kurds are the United States’ only dependable allies in that troubled region. Some American lawmakers have called the YPG “our ground force” against ISIS. But as the YPG reclaims territories from ISIS control, it adds them to its autonomous domain. Rojava abuts the Kurdish-inhabited southeastern Turkey, and also Iraqi Kurdistan Iraq. Thus the silhouette of a “greater Kurdistan” is forming. Whether Kurdish separatists in Turkey can actually cleave southeastern Turkey off the Turkish state is another question.

For decades the United States resisted the Kurds’ separatist activities in Turkey and Iraq. Washington did not want to alienate Turkey, a valued NATO member, or destabilize Iraq. The un-answered question remains whether America’s deepening ties to the Kurds would eventually make it jilt the Turks.

I feel sorry for the Kurds, a non-Arab, non-Turkic people belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam. They have been persecuted and sometimes slaughtered by Arabs and Turks and used and abused by America, pre-Revolutionary Iran and, to an extent, Israel. Iraqi Kurds’ under-the-radar ties to Israel heightened their tensions with Arabs. Enmity with Arabs is what has fostered mutual empathy between the Kurds and Israeli Jews.

The Kurds’ struggle for an independent Kurdish state reached a high watermark in 1920, when the victors of World War I promised them one. The Western allies signed a treaty in Sevres, abolishing the Turkish-dominated Ottoman Empire, which they had defeated in the war, and allotting its territories to different countries and communities. The Sevres treaty stipulated, among other things, an autonomous Kurdistan, comprising part of Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey), whose coastal territory would be annexed by Greece. And so on.

The Kurdish homeland project died in 1922 when a ragtag Turkish army, led by its gifted general Mustafa Kemal, defeated and expelled the British, French, Italian and Greek occupation forces from what would emerge as the modern Turkish sate.

“We lost our freedom when the Turks won theirs,” Laila Serhati, a Kurdish activist from the Turkish city of Adiyaman, told me in Berlin in 2000. A PKK sympathizer, she was organizing protests in Germany against the Turks’ capture of Ocalan in Kenya with the help of the CIA and, more painfully for the Kurds, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Iraqi Kurds’ fervor for independent Kurdish state drove them into the arms of outsiders who had an ax to grind against the Iraqi government. More often than not, they were betrayed by those who used them, beginning with the then Iranian monarch, Shah Muhammad Riza Pahlavi. The shah of Iran wanted to give Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a good shellacking for stonewalling an Iranian bid to get a piece of the Shat e-Arab waterway, which marks the boundary between the two countries. A 1937 treaty had given Iraq jurisdiction over the whole stream.

The shah tried to get the redoubtable Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani to step up his armed struggle for an independent or autonomous Kurdish state in Iraq. The shah promised Barzani all kinds of help in the insurrection. Tempting as the Iranian’s offer was, Barzani did not take a bite. He did not trust the Iranian tyrant.

American betrayal

So in 1972 the shah brought up the issue with Nixon and Kissinger, who had stopped over in Tehran on their return from Moscow, after concluding the historic SALT I arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. Could they get the Kurds to resume their secessionist struggle? inquired the Iranian ruler. An earlier Kurdish uprising for independence had been put down by Baghdad in late 1960s. The monarch was America’s top cop in Muslim Middle East. Yet Nixon apparently did not want to get personally involved in his dirty game. The American president asked him to “work it out with Henry.”

No Machiavellian game was too dirty for Kissinger, however. He jumped at the shah’s scheme as a child would at a lollypop. Kissinger met Barzani – the father of Masood, the current president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan — and persuaded the Kurdish chieftain to restart his insurgency with renewed resolve and courage. The United States and Iran would “support you all the way,” assured the U.S. national security adviser.

In 1974 Mustafa Barzani waged a ferocious war against the Iraqi army, aided by two Iranian divisions and U.S. and Israeli arms, cash and intelligence. The conflict cost more than 10,000 lives on both sides, but it succeeded in delivering Saddam to the shah and Kissinger. The Iraqi leader agreed to revisit the Shat el-Arab issue. In 1975 Saddam signed a treaty in the Algerian capital of Algiers, relinquishing half the waterway to Iran, as demanded by the shah. As part of the bargain, the United States and Iran agreed to cut Barzani loose.

Eight hours after the signing of the Algiers treaty, America and Iran stopped all aid, including food, promised to Iraqi Kurds. The next day the Iraqi army began wreaking vengeance on the Kurds. It was brutal. The crackdown cost thousands of Kurdish lives, and drove nearly 200,000 Iraqi Kurds into neighboring counties. Barzani desperately tried to call Kissinger, now U.S. secretary of state. Kissinger did not take his calls. The State Department would not respond to his urgent requests for aid. The Gerald Ford administration even “refused to extend humanitarian assistance” to the victims of Saddam’s horrific retribution, noted Rep. Otis Pike, Democrat of New York, who led a congressional investigation into the sordid affair. The Israelis – 3,000 of whom had been smuggled by Iraqi Kurds from Iraq and Iran into Israel — also ignored Kurdish calls for help.

The Pike Commission issued a damning report on the American “betrayal” of Turkish Kurds. Kissinger dismissed it contemptuously.

“Covert action,” he said, “should not be confused with missionary work.”

Fast-forward 27 years. Americans were at the door of the Iraqi Kurds again. The George W. Bush administration was planning to invade Iraq. Along with an air war, there would be a ground offensive from the north. But the administration wanted to keep American soldiers out of harm’s way, as much as possible. Would the Kurdish Peshmerga militia lead the charge? The leadership of Iraqi Kurds did not quite trust the Americans, or their “ironclad assurance” that they would not abandon the Kurds this time. Yet Masood Barzani (His father was now dead) and other Kurdish leaders decided they could not afford to alienate the world’s sole superpower.

Barzani’s argument that persuaded his associates to lead America’s ground war was related to me in 2010 by an old Iraqi acquaintance. Salam Asoufi, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse in Baghdad, had fled Iraq in the midst of the U.S. invasion and was working as a low-level employee at the Abu Dhabi mayor’s office. I met him there during a journalistic stint to the United Arab Emirates.

Asoufi had covered U.S.-Kurdish relations for AFP during the run-up to the war. He recalled that Masood Barzani had some difficulty persuading his associates to return to the battlefield against Saddam, again at American behest.

“We will lose some lives again,” he said to them. “We have lost a lot of them. We are where we were. This time I believe we will get closer to our destination…. It will be a lot closer without [Saddam]. I am not counting on Americans’ help, or anybody else’s help. I am counting on ourselves. Our love for Kurdistan.”

Barzani was right. The United States was – and still is – unwilling to support a declaration of independence by Kurds, in Iraq, Syria or Turkey. It does not want to be accused of destabilizing the region. But Saddam was gone along with his military. The Shiite and Sunni Arabs were busy slaughtering one another. Who could stop Iraqi Kurds from carving out an autonomous homeland? Moreover, the United States came to view the Iraqi Kurdistan as an alternative territory for U.S. military bases, for which it could not get permission elsewhere in Iraq.

U.S. bases

One of America’s key objectives in its invasion of Iraq was to set up a string of military bases there. In 2004 General Jay Garner, the first U.S. proconsul in Iraq, announced that the United States would be building a number of military bases in northern and southern Iraq, and that those bases would stay there “for the next few decades.” The Pentagon spent several years building those bases, apparently without consulting anybody who would have known how Iraqis felt about American military presence in their country. In the end, the otherwise pro-America government in Baghdad had to tell U.S. officials that the Iraqi public would not be hospitable to their military bases.

Now that anti-American terrorism is stalking many parts of the Middle East and North Africa and the future of several pro-American Arab regimes is uncertain, American military strategists have been pushing for U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. And Kurdistan authorities are only too eager to accommodate them, partly to seal their autonomy against any encroachment from Baghdad. The Pentagon already has set up an airbase near Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Ostensibly, it would be used to conduct reconnaissance on ISIS and other terrorist networks. Some 3,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel have been stationed there, and the base is scheduled to expand.

And, as I mentioned, the YPG, the Kurdish militia in Syria, has got undeclared U.S. blessings for Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish statelet in Syria. Given America’s dependence on the YPG to fight ISIS, it has no choice but to support Syrian Kurds’ territorial ambition, or at least look the other way as they pursue it.

On Tuesday (December 9) I was watching on television the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. war against ISIS. Getting the YPG guerrillas to fight ISIS and meeting “what they need” to step up that fight were the main theme of the hearing. Sen. Joe Manchin, Republican of West Virginia, glowed as he mentioned Syrian Kurds’ success in grabbing lands from the “caliphate.” So did some others. The only senator who made an implied reference to the consequences of the YPG’s land grab was Mike Lee, Republican of Utah. Was the YPG’s “goal shifting” regarding Rojava? he asked Gen. Paul Selva. The Air Force commander replied that he could answer Lee’s question only in a classified setting.

The Turkish government is alarmed by all this because it knows, as do many political observers in and outside the region, about the Kurds’ long-cherished dream of having an independent greater Kurdistan, in which the protagonists of the project want to include a large swath of Turkey. Arabs in Iraq and Syria are apparently reconciled with the Kurdish goal. They have little control over their countries, roiling in civil conflict, terrorism and anarchy. They also can’t resist U.S. geopolitical interests in the region, which require active Kurdish support.

While the Turks are concerned about the greater Kurdistan movement, they are in no mood to let it dismember their country. Turkey has a powerful military, which would resist the disintegration of the country. So would nearly 80 percent of its (non-Kurdish) population. Would the protagonists of greater Kurdistan have to settle for half a loaf rather than none: a state comprising Kurdish communities only in Iraq and Syria?

♦ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Muslim Journey’ (http://muslimjourney.com).

How Islamic ‘Islamic terrorists’?

It was bloodcurdling!

On Friday night when I saw on my television screen Islamic State terrorists mowing down unsuspecting Parisians, chills ran down my spine. Those Muslim killers, most of them French-born, slaughtered 132 people and wounded 350 others.

The same kind of horror had also struck me when I saw mangled bodies of Pakistani children and women crushed by bombs from American drones. It did, too, when I struggled to keep my eyes on the pictures of a pyramid of naked bodies in Iraq’s Abu Gharib prison; of a naked man cowering before a howling dog, its leash being held by a smiling American soldier; and other Iraqi prisoners tortured by CIA interrogators, limping or nursing their wounds.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, anguishing over the Paris carnage, are making clarion calls for not only the obliteration of the IS but also the defeat of “radical Islam.” Rep. Peter T. King, Republican of New York, has reiterated his earlier calls for greater “surveillance” of American Muslim communities.

“We have to find out,” he said, “who the radicals are. We have to find out what’s going on in the mosques, which are often incubators of this type of terrorism.”

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson excoriated President Obama for refusing to call the Paris tragedy an act of “radical Islamic terrorism.”  Governors of more than half of American states have announced they would not accept Syrian refugees because those refugees may include Muslim terrorists. And the socialist French President Francois Hollande has declared “war against terrorism … against radical Islam.” A Fox News commentator echoed demands from an assortment of American media pundits and politicians to organize a global coalition to stamp out, not just the IS, but “radical Islam.”

Is the West really at war with “radical Islam”? And can Hollande and the proposed global coalition accomplish what George W. Bush’s “global war on terrorism” could not? The GWOT, which raged for a decade in many Muslim societies, did “smoke out” Al Qaeda from its caves in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains, as Bush had vowed to do. But his administration could not have been gloating over its “mission accomplished” when it saw Al Qaeda, chased out of Afghanistan, was mushrooming in at least three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.

Anti-Western terrorism did not exist in Iraq until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

During my four research and reporting trips to Iraq in the 1990s and earlier, I came to know of Iraqis as among the kindest and most hospitable people anywhere. In 1991 Alexandra Avakion, a New Yorker working as a photographer for the Sunday Times of London, told me that she felt “embarrassed by [Iraqis’] generous hospitality” to her.

“Our [trade] sanctions have devastated the Iraqi economy,” she added, as we were traveling in a car from Baghdad to to Babylon. “A half-million children have died of malnutrition because of [the sanctions]. If they had done this to America, I would’ve thrown stones at Iraqi visitors to America.”

Well, cruelty can be infectious. The IS was born of the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq. The unwarranted and foolish American invasion and occupation of that country triggered mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing of its Sunni Arab minority by its Shiite majority, whom the Bush administration had brought to power in Baghdad. Outrage and anguish over the American and Shiite cruelties and injustices drove many Sunni Arabs into an alliance with Iraqi soldiers and commanders thrown out of their jobs by the American occupation force. And they formed the IS to avenge the nightmare they were suffering from the American invasion and the Shiite pogrom.

Similarly, Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon, was born in 1982 to resist the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist organizations were created to fight the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Many of these militants are practicing Muslims, some belonging to the obscurantist Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam. Some are secular. They all say their struggle against their transgressors is their religious duty.

Historically, Muslims – religious and secular – have invoked Islam to inspire their coreligionists to join their movements against foreign aggression or domination. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a thoroughly secular and Anglicized Muslim statesman, harped continually on Islam to galvanize Indian Muslims behind his struggle to create the “Muslim homeland” of Pakistan.

“God is one,” Jinnah thundered before a mammoth Muslim crowd in 1946 in my hometown of Sylhet, Bangladesh. “We have one Quran. Our Umma [the global Muslim community] is one. O Muslims, unite like one man. Nobody on earth can stop your march to Pakistan.”

Pakistan would be created a year later.

An uncle who had attended that rally, told me years later that many in the crowd knew that the leader of the Pakistan movement almost never practiced Islamic rites and drank alcohol every day, even though drinking is strictly forbidden by Islam. Yet his references to Pakistan and Islam “made the crowd jump and spin, throw their umbrellas into the air, and shout ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Some cried out of joy.”

Mahatma Gandhi, the would-be father of Independent India, was an Oxford-educated barrister like Jinnah. Unlike Muslim Jinnah, however, Gandhi was a deeply religious Hindu. And he had proclaimed that his goal was to make India a “Ram rajya,” a Hindu holy land.

Many societies have summoned their religions or secular ideologies to perk up what essentially have been ethnic, nationalist, anti-colonial and expansionist movements. Struggles against foreign occupation and domination, in particular, have almost always been waged in the name of religions, traditions and cultures. How different is the IS’s ‘Islamic’ campaign against the French and American aggression and hegemony from George W. Bush’s declaration that the 9/11 terrorists “have attacked our freedom”? Or Tony Blair’s assertion that Al Qaeda wanted to “change our way of life”? The IS’s use of the Islamic label for its fight against foreign aggression and domination is as misleading as Bush’s and Blair’s invocation of their secular values in waging war against a Muslim country.

IS terrorists remind me of my boyhood hero Khudiram Bose. Khudiram was a young anti-colonialist activist in India, who belonged to a radical Hindu nationalist group, the Jugantar. He was hanged by India’s British colonial establishment in 1908 for accidentally killing two British women in the town of Muzaffarpur in Bihar state. Hindu nationalists had been angered by a British magistrate’s harsh prison terms and death sentences to their fellow anti-colonialist activists. The Jugantar had assigned Khudiram and Profulla Chaki, another militant, to kill that magistrate when he would be traveling to a club in Muzaffarpur. One day when the magistrate’s special carriage arrived at the gate of the club, Khudiram threw a bomb into it. But that day two British women, instead of the magistrate, were taking that carriage to the club. Both were killed.

Half a century later I, a Muslim boy in a neighboring state, would be chanting the widely popular Bengali-language song, extolling the Hindu nationalist’s “martyrdom”:

“Ekbar biday de ma ghure ashi

“Hasi hasi porbo phnasi dekhbe bharatbasi….”

(Farewell, Mother! Here I go on my journey/I will be putting on the hangman’s noose, smiling, for all India to see….)

Many places, schools, and monuments in eastern India have since been named after Khudiram. During our 1981 visit to the Victoria Memorial Museum in Kolkata (Calcutta), my wife and I saw Khudiram’s portrait hanging on a museum wall, alongside those of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, and other leaders of the Indian Independence movement. On my visit to the Victoria Museum last year, however, I did not see Khudiram’s portrait on that wall. Times have changed. India is now fighting militants struggling for the independence of Kashmir, Assam, Jharkhand, and other territories, and Indians call them terrorists. Also, since 9/11 Indian governments have been supporting the U.S. “war on terror” and, in return, the United States has denounced Kashmiri insurgents as terrorists.

The IS terrorists who enacted the Paris massacre obviously were riled by France’s recent military intervention in Syria and also, perhaps, by stories of French colonial occupation of their country after World War I. For many Syrians, the French have been the most hated Western nation. In the Syrian countryside, you can still hear anecdotes of French colonialists’ racial hubris and brutality. Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter in Paris, saw a terrorist shooter on Friday yelling: “It’s the crime of [French President Francois] Hollande. It’s the fault of your president. He shouldn’t have attacked Syria.”

All the same, I call the Paris shooters terrorists, as do about everybody else. But given the source and nature of their violence, what would you call the Boston Tea Party, the Massachusetts Minutemen and the Sons of Liberty who fought the British during the American Revolutionary War? How would you label the bands of privateers who, during the Revolution, chased and bombed British navy ships from their bases in Boston, Portsmouth, Salem, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and elsewhere?

Americans and Europeans must, of course, fight the IS and other terrorist groups that may be attacking or threatening to attack their countries and people. But the West needs to remember two things. One, these terrorists are no more fighting for Islam than America was fighting for democracy in Iraq. Secondly, bombing from the air, putting American boots in Syria or Iraq, or outsourcing the anti-IS war to Kurdish guerrillas could heighten, rather than diminish, the terrorist threat to the West. It would be profitable to remember the lessons of the U.S.-led war on terror during the last 14 years.

If anything can effectively tackle the terrorist threat against the United States, Europe – and indeed Israel – that would be acknowledging and addressing the source of the menace: foreign aggression, occupation and hegemony.

♦ Mustafa Malik, who hosts the blog Muslim Journey (http://muslimjourney.com), is an international affairs commentator in Washington.

‘Islamic bomb’ scare, again!

“Persuading Pakistan to rein in its nuclear weapons program should be an international priority.

“The major world powers spent two years negotiating an agreement to restrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which doesn’t have a single nuclear weapon. Yet there has been no comparable investment of effort in Pakistan.”

The New York Times Editorial Board

HERE AGAIN is an ‘Islamic bomb’ alert! And the scaremongers this time aren’t some Islamophobic American politicians, but the editorial board of America’s greatest newspaper.

We just saw that American and European governments get struck by amnesia when someone asks about Israel’s formidable nuclear arsenal of 200 or more nukes, but they did not rest until quarantining Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.

The same way they and the “free press” in the West have been scaring the Westerners about Pakistan’s ‘Islamic bomb’ for four decades. They have been doing so ever since Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime felt compelled to begin exploring a bomb after India had detonated its first nukes in 1974. Three years earlier, the Indira Gandhi government in New Delhi had invaded and dismembered old Pakistan. Pakistanis – not just politicians and generals, but everyday workers and shoppers – were scared to death of India getting nuclear bombs, besides having conventional military forces that were three times bigger than Pakistan’s. To allay the widespread panic, one evening Z.A. Bhutto went before TV cameras to assure his nation that he would do all he could to counter Indian nukes.

“We shall eat grass,” he paraphrased an earlier comment in his innately colorful language, “and make the bomb, and fight India for a thousand years.”

The phrase “eat grass” was meant to show how hard it would be for impoverished Pakistanis to spare their meagre resources to build a nuclear deterrent against the India, but that after India had once broken up their old country, people in what was left of Pakistan had no choice but pursue the bomb.

Yet the Times editorial board is mum about India’s nuclear weapons stockpile, and wants Pakistan to unilaterally disarm!

It reminds me of the late Pakistani statesman Mahmud Ali, who had been angered by Henry Kissinger’s brutal pressure on Z.A. Bhutto to dismantle Pakistan’s nascent nuclear program. In his August 1976 meeting with Bhutto in Lahore, the U.S. secretary of state even warned that the Pakistani prime minister would “make a horrible example of yourself,” if he defied the American instruction. (The quote is from Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography, Daughter of Destiny). Ten months later Gen. Ziaul Haq overthrew the enormously popular Pakistani prime minister and hanged him in 1979, despite intense international pressure to spare the life of the democratically elected prime minister.

Meanwhile, about two months after the fateful Kissinger-Bhutto meeting, Mahmud Ali, a former minister in the Z.A. Bhutto Cabinet, had told me on the phone from Islamabad about Bhutto’s decision to brush aside “the enormous American pressure to terminate our nuclear program.”

“See,” added my political mentor, “Christians can have the bombs. Jews can have them. The Hindus can have them, too. And Russian and Chinese Communists also can. No problem. If only a poor Muslim country tries to have a couple of them to defend itself against a mortal enemy … skies would be coming down.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/opinion/sunday/the-pakistan-nuclear-nightmare.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

God help Israel

I SUSPECT that you can still make a buck selling snake oil to folks at the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper laments that John Kerry’s plan to install cameras on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in East Jerusalem wasn’t working. Palestinians and Israelis were still fighting and dying.

Surprise! Surprise!

Apparently Rory Jones, the writer, and his desk editor and the copy editors at the Journal who put out the story believed that monitoring visitors to the Al Aqsa compound would defuse Palestinians’ anger at encroachment on the mosque site.  I bet others do, too. Al Aqsa is one of Islam’s holiest shrines. It’s adjacent to ruins of the historic Jewish temple.

Palestinians youths erupted in anger after a rush of marauding Jewish extremists and other Jews to Al Aqsa and its vicinity.  They attacked a number of Jews with knives. Some of the victims died. Israeli security forces responded by killing five times more Palestinians.

Just about everybody in Israel and Palestine knows that the new wave of Palestinian unrest has been spawned by Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine, the unremitting construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinians’ lands, and the abandonment of the peace process by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There will not be calm without political prospects to definitively end the occupation,” Nabil Shaath, a prominent Palestinian leader, said the other day.

Kerry knows it all too well. Before and after his recent trip to Israel and Jordan, he said, in coded words, that the new flare-up of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians stemmed from Israel’s continued settlement construction in the West Bank and Palestinians’ despair from the collapse of the peace process. Why, then, has he orchestrated the camera gimmick? Does it make sense?

Well, it does. The sad fact is that Kerry and his boss, President Obama, just don’t have the spunk to tell the glaring truth to the Israelis that it’s past time they wound up their anachronistic colonial enterprise.  That it’s fast driving them to the precipice.

I miss Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower. Though a light-weight leader, Bush senior had the guts to face down AIPAC and Israel’s powerful allies in the American political establishment, and tell the recalcitrant Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to stop gobbling up Palestinians’ lands, and head out to Madrid to talk peace with them.  On 30 October 1991 the former head of the Jewish terrorist gang Irgun tucked his tail between his legs and marched on to Madrid.

Carter paid dearly for his moral stand on the Palestinian issue. In 1978 his prodigious efforts got then Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to sign a peace treaty at Camp David.  In the following months the American president realized that Begin was going back on his commitments regarding the Palestinians. Those commitments included full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, cessation of Jewish settlement construction in those territories, and improvement of Israel’s human rights record in Palestine. Israeli persecution and suppression of Palestinians, he said, were “one of the worst examples of human rights abuse I know.”

So on 10 March 1979 the president flew in to Jerusalem, hoping to get the Israeli prime minister make good on at least some of his promises about the Palestinians. Realizing that his host was stonewalling him on every Palestinian grievance he had raised, Carter exploded and gave Begin a piece of his mind. As the deeply disappointed president was heading for the airport for his return flight, a New York Times reporter asked an assistant to Begin’s if Carter was flying straight to Washington or would be stopping at Cairo to brief Sadat on his talks with the Israeli leader.

“We haven’t decided whether to send him to Washington or back to Georgia!” replied the Begin aide.

Carter knows that AIPAC’s all-out campaign against his reelection was a key reason he lost the 1980 presidential race.  Though a one-term president, he will shine as one of the moral titans in American history.

Eisenhower’s dealings with David Ben-Gurion, during his second tour as Israel’s prime minister – and with the British and French governments – were a high watermark of America’s moral standing and global leadership.

Ike was incensed by the Israeli-British-French occupation of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula following the 1956 Suez War. The Israelis and their European allies were retaliating against the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. They wanted to use Sinai as a bargaining chip to force Nasser to relinquish Suez. The American president wouldn’t put up with their bullying. He issued a diktat of sorts to Ben-Gurion, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and French President Rene Coty, demanding they pull their troops out of Sinai. They all complied, without a whimper of protest.

President Obama is a good man and a true patriot. But he’s just cut out of different cloth than those presidents were made of. It was so sad to see our president endure meekly all the taunts, vitriol and humiliation that Netanyahu, the leader of a client state, was dishing out to him year after year.  All of that while the Obama administration was flooding Israel with more arms, ammunition and economic aid (Can you believe it’s now $4.5 billion a year!) than any other in history.

All the same, if you look at the faces of Palestinian youths jeering and throwing stones at the heavily armed Israeli troops occupying their land, you can see they aren’t very impressed by Israel’s military might. From my conversations over the years with Palestinian intellectuals and politicians – in Israel/Palestine and the United States – I was struck by a sense of history and optimism exuded by some of them.

Some of my Palestinian interlocutors recalled the sacrifices other peoples had to make to liberate themselves from European colonial subjugation. Jack Khazmo, then editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem newsmagazine Bayadir al-Siasi, described Israeli colonialism as “the last gasp of Charles Darwin.” The ideology behind European imperialism and colonialism derived from Darwin’s thesis of the “survival of the fittest.” The fittest here happened to be, as you have guessed, the white races. Imbued with the idea of their racial superiority, European invaders roared into impoverished and mostly defenseless countries of Asia and Africa; colonized and brutalized their inhabitants and looted their resources, saying the invaders were there to “civilize” those inferior races.

Many European, i.e. Ashkenazi, Jews who built and dominate Israel added to that superiority complex the notions of their being God’s “chosen people.” Some quote the Bible to justify their claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean:

“Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” (Genesis 15: 18)

I was surprised to hear two atheist Russian Jews who had immigrated to Israel alluding to the “promised land” concept to claim that the old Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza) belonged to the Jews. One of them was a Ph.D., looking for a teaching job. At one point he ridiculed ultra-Orthodox Jews’ “obsession” about religious praxis and customs. I was traveling with them on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

A few days later I related that conversation to a Palestinian businessman in Amman, Jordan.  Moneif Hijjeh pointed out that Jews, Christians and Muslims worsted the same God and followed the “Abrahamic tradition.” He asked me if God had given all of Palestine to Abraham’s descendants, didn’t the Arabs, the children of Abraham’s son Ishmael, inherit it as well?

“Come on, Moneif!” interjected a Moneif’s business associate Khalil Awad, who had joined us for lunch at the restaurant of Amra Hotel in Amman, where I was staying. “They don’t need to justify stealing our land, where we have been living since Abraham migrated there.  Did the Nazis need to justify cleansing Germany of Jews and Gypsies?”

The racial or ethnic hubris betrayed by many Israeli Jews seems associated more with colonialism than God’s pledge to Abraham. Israeli Jews – a majority of them atheist, socialist, or otherwise secular – justify their colonization of Palestine the same way many Indian Hindus – also mostly secular – defend discriminating against Muslims and justify the demolition of the historic Babri Mosque in northern India. God Rama, they argue, was born on the spot where Muslim Emperor Babur built the mosque in 1527. Those Hindus don’t need any historical or archaeological evidence (in fact there is none) to prove that God Rama descended on earth in human form, let alone being born on the mosque site.

Haider Abdel Shafi, who had led the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, attributed the Jews’ claim to a Jewish state in Palestine to “their purely colonialist mentality.” On a visit to Washington the following year the leftist Palestinian leader told me that he was “hopeful, but not sure” that the Israelis would concede a Palestinian state, as the Palestinians were expecting them to do. If the Israelis tried to “perpetuate their occupation [of Palestinian territories],” he warned, “colonialism can become their nightmare. I hope they are reading the history of colonialism”

If the history of colonialism has any lesson, it’s that hegemonic powers’ military and economic might usually don’t impress people struggling for freedom from their colonial subjugation. If it could, my parents’ generation wouldn’t have been able to throw British colonialists out of the Indian subcontinent.  In the 1940s Great Britain was the greatest military power and the largest empire on earth on which the sun never set, while Indians were among the world’s poorest and most backward peoples.  Winston Churchill, then British prime minister, dismissed the rising tide of independence movements in British colonies as some miscreants’ “subversive activities.” He berated Mahatma Gandhi as a rabble-rousing “half-naked fakir,” or beggar. India and Pakistan won their independence in 1947. Other British colonies followed suit in quick succession.

Abdel Shafi’s foreboding flashes on my mind as bloodletting between Palestinians and Israelis takes an ominous turn. If a “nightmare” actually befalls Israel, the Obama administration, along with other American administrations, and Israel’s gung-ho supporters on Capitol Hill can’t shirk their responsibility for it. Americans’ blanket support for Israel, regardless its behavior, has emboldened the Israelis to go on settling the Palestinian lands ever more impudently, illegally and in the face of global protests.

I can see clouds darkening on Israel’s horizon. If I were an Israeli Jew, I would worry about my children’s future in Israel.  But I see that most Israelis are a lot braver than me.  They apparently have decided to live by the sword.  God help them and their children.

  • Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog Beyond Freedom (http://beyond-freedom.com).

 

 

 

 

Declare Middle East nuke-free

Persian Gulf monarchies are petrified by the anticipated Iran nuclear deal, being negotiated in Geneva. Last week Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates threatened to try to acquire nuclear weapons technology if they didn’t get one of two things from the Iran deal.

One, they wanted the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment program shut down completely. Iran would never agree to that. Secondly, if the program is allowed to continue, albeit at a reduced level, the United States should sign a security pact with them. In practical terms, that would mean insuring the security of their thrones from external and internal threats.  These Arab rulers know that the Iranians have better things to do than lurch into a military adventure. On the other hand, domestic threat to their regimes has heightened since the Arab Spring.

The Obama administration knows that too, and the president recently said so publicly. He said the real security threat facing the Gulf Arab monarchies could come from their disenfranchised and “alienated” public. In recent weeks the administration let the Gulf Arab governments know that while America would be willing to defend their countries against external aggression, it wouldn’t intervene in their domestic feuds and unrest. The message left the Arab royals mopey and grumpy.

The White House had invited all six monarchs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to meet the president on Wednesday to discuss the Iran deal and their security concerns. Led by the Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, four of the six kings declined the president’s invitation, sending in their surrogates, instead. Obama apparently ignored the snub and made the best of the occasion. He reiterated to his guests America’s “ironclad” commitment to defend their countries against any “external” aggression.

Meanwhile, some American media pundits and others have voiced concern about the possibility of Saudi Arabia following up on its vow to seek the nukes. If it does, the Pakistanis would find themselves in a thorny dilemma. The Saudis underwrote Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program with the apparent understanding that Islamabad would supply them with the nuclear technology if they need it. Moreover, the kingdom has been a generous benefactor to Pakistan for decades. In fact, because of the late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, the current Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is alive today. Then Pakistani military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who had overthrown then Prime Minister Sharif in a 1999 military coup, was bent on killing him. Fahd pressured Musharraf into sparing Sharif’s life and sending him  to exile in Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, it would also be very hard for Islamabad to defy the inevitable American pressure against sharing its nuclear knowhow with the Saudi kingdom. The Sharif government’s – and top Pakistani generals’ – decision to let the Americans kill Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan showed the efficacy of Washington’s clout over Pakistan. (The United States demanded Pakistani cooperation in the U.S. Navy Seals raid on the bin Laden compound after a Pakistani intelligence officer had tipped off the CIA station chief in Islamabad about the Al Qaeda chief’s whereabouts in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.)

All the same, the whole brouhaha about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a smokescreen around the root cause of the bugaboo: the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Americans would let Israel hold on to its more than 200 sophisticated nukes and then try to keep Arabs and Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons capability. America’s prodigious exercise to keep Iran from approaching a nuclear “breakout” is meant to deprive the Iranians of a deterrent against Israeli nukes, if they wanted one.

Iranians and Arabs have long been calling on the international community to declare the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” That would be the best and most effective nonproliferation program for the region. But Israel and America wouldn’t heed their call because such an arrangement would require Israel to abandon its nuclear weaponry.

It’s about time Americans reviewed their perilous policy on the Israeli nukes to forestall the danger of proliferation in that increasingly unstable region. Washington should get  the U.N. Security Council to designate the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

  • Mustafa Malik, a columnist in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Beyond Freedom’ (http://beyond-freedom.com).

 

 

Fighting phantom terror

THE ISLAMIC STATE has sent new shock waves through the world by capturing more than 200 Syrian and Egyptian Christians. The terrorist group’s gruesome killing of other hostages has heightened concerns among many about the fate of these hostages.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and the Iraqi government reportedly have shelved their long-publicized plans to try to retake Mosul. The second-largest Iraqi city has been under IS occupation since last summer. If true, the news would further embolden the IS terrorists. They probably will further consolidate their occupation of the Syrian and Iraqi territory, which is already larger in size than the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the IS campaign of terror goes on. The New York Times describes it as a “rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane or Genghis Khan.” The reporter Anne Barnard depicted the horror as “entire villages emptied, with hundreds taken prisoners, others kept as slaves; the destruction of irreplaceable works or art; a tax on religious minorities, payable in gold.”

The last time the Middle East saw such repugnant sights was during the American invasion of Iraq, spotlighted by Abu Gharib; and of Afghanistan, where American soldiers not only slaughtered countless innocent Afghan and Pakistani men, women and children, but showed little concern for the humanity of their victims. Nothing symbolizes the dehumanization of the Afghans as the pictures of U.S. soldiers peeing before rolling cameras on the corpses of Afghan guerrillas. The pictures, like those from Abu Gharib, weren’t isolated events. We know from leaked reports of CIA atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan that high echelons of the Bush and Obama administrations were aware of these war crimes or condoned them after learning about them.

Leave aside the morality of the two administrations’ insensitivity toward these Muslim peoples and their values. What worries me most is that this see-no-evil, hear-no-evil attitude is a stumbling block to the search for a solution to the U.S.-Islamic imbroglio. In fact the same attitude has led American policy makers to decide that the Muslim rage against America and the West is actually confined to a fanatic fringe of Muslim societies. Studies after studies have shown that more than 80 percent of people in most Muslim societies are seething with anti-American rage. The IS and other Muslim terrorist groups enjoy tacit or vocal support of large numbers of people in these societies.

Most Americans apparently don’t know about it because American politicians and flag-waving American news media are more interested in mud-slinging against Islam, variously described, than looking inward into America’s role in the confrontation. In a prayer breakfast three weeks ago Obama condemned the IS for “twisting and distorting” religion for their heinous acts. But he also reminded his audience that Christians had engaged in similar crimes in the past.

“[R]emember,” the president said, “that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Nobody questioned the validity of his remarks, but his words triggered an avalanche of fury among Western politicians and intellectuals. Rudy Giuliani blamed the president’s upbringing for his reference Christian extremism. “I do not believe,” added the former mayor of New York, “that the president loves America.”

Sen. Ted Cruz also didn’t dispute the veracity of Obama’s comments. But the Texas Republican blasted him for not mentioning Islam as the source of IS terrorism. “The words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ do not come out of the president’s mouth,” fumed the presidential hopeful, “The word ‘jihad’ does not come out of the president’s mouth. And that is dangerous.”

“Any use of the word ‘Crusade,’’ said the University of London historian Thomas Asbridge, “has to be made with great caution.” Asbridge, who has written a series of books about medieval history, didn’t say why “great caution” needs to be used in references only to the Crusades, but not to Muslim extremism.

Their own neocolonialist attitudes and policies toward the Muslim world remain hidden to most Americans and Westerners in their dangerous blind spots.   Americans, especially American policy makers, need to remember that the IS, and its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq, didn’t exist before the uncalled for and catastrophic Iraq war. The IS, appallingly cruel as it is, emerged as the only defender of the members of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority who had survived the horrifying slaughter, ethnic cleansing and persecution by the successive U.S.-backed Shiite governments. Iraq’s sectarian Shiite leaders had collaborated with the George W. Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq. Most of them had returned to Iraq from exile “on the backs of American tanks,” said Columbia University scholar Rashid Khalidi.

In Afghanistan, Pashtun guerrillas, who organized as the Taliban militia, never had an argument with the United States until it invaded and occupied their country. In fact the CIA collaborated with Pashtun guerrillas, then known as the mujahedeen, or freedom fighters, during their 1980s war against the Soviet invaders. The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan not only made the Taliban hostile to America, but also led to the birth of the Taliban in Pakistan.

An of course, 9/11 was a direct fallout of the 1991 deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi citizen who was America’s ally in the Afghan war against the Soviets, was among the most vocal Saudi voices against the U.S. troop presence in “the land or Muhammad.” Expelling “the Crusaders” from the Muslim holy land was the first item on bin Laden’s agenda, as he outlined in his 1996 fatwa. Seventeen of the 19 plane hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens.

In April 2003 when America finally pulled out its troops and base from Saudi Arabia (under pressure from the Saudi monarchy, scared by 9/11), Al Qaeda groups in the Middle East celebrated it as a vindication of 9/11.

Western politicians and intellectuals are deluding themselves and their people by blaming Muslim terrorism on Islam, “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” “a twisted [Islamic] ideology,” and so forth. Of course some of the Muslim terrorism stems from Muslims’ sectarian and ethnic fissures. But most of it has been a reaction to foreign occupation.

A study of Britain’s prestigious think tank Chatham House has found that foreign occupation and domination is the wellspring of modern terrorism: Palestinian, Lebanese, Tamil, Kurdish, Buddhist, Chechen, Kashmiri, and so forth. In one of the most comprehensive studies of suicide terror attacks during 1980-2004, Robert Pape found that 95 percent of them were targeted at what the terrorists considered foreign occupation of their or their allies’ homelands.

In his landmark book Dying to Win, the University of Chicago professor recalls that Arabs learned suicide terror techniques from Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka and Marxist Kurds in Turkey. He says terrorists use religion as an inspiration only when they have “a religious difference” with the occupying or hegemonic power.

I’m afraid that even if the Obama administration’s repeatedly articulated plans to “defeat ISIL ever materialized, that of itself wouldn’t diminish Muslim terrorism against America and its allies. The Bush and Obama administrations succeeded in expelling Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, only to see it spread to the Middle East and north and West Africa. America and the West have to come to grips with the root cause of the Muslim rage against them: foreign occupation and hegemony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terror bred by grievances, not Islam

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S speech at this week’s terrorism conference in the White House sounded to me like a broken record from the George W. Bush administration. Bush and his advisers attributed Muslim terrorism to Islam.

“Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him,” said John Ashcroft, Bush’s attorney general. “Christianity is a faith where God sent his son to die for you.”

President Obama, too, believes that Islam is a major source of Muslim terrorism. His aides have lined up a group of Muslim clerics, activists and governments to present a “moderate” interpretation of Islam to their fellow Muslims. But unlike his Republican predecessor, Obama is more sensitive about the sentiments of mainstream Muslims, who resent linking their religion to heinous acts like terrorism. Hence he camouflaged his reference to Islam with the phrase “distorted ideology.”

The Muslim “religion,” in the sense religion is understood in the West, has little to do with terrorism. I tried to explain in my last segment that Islam, unlike Western Christianity, doesn’t segregate a Caesar’s domain from God’s. All Muslim domains, private and public, belong to God. In practical terms, the Muslim public sphere is suffused with Islamic values and social outlook.

Of late that the Muslim public sphere has all but submerged under waves of anti-American and anti-Western sentiments. Surveys after surveys have shown that between 72% and 94% of populations in Muslim countries are hostile or antipathetic to America. Their antipathy derives mainly from U.S. foreign and defense policies toward Muslim societies.

Muslim societies are modernizing fast, while becoming more and more attached to Islamic values and Islamic cultural patterns. They’re more concerned about Islamic causes and the global Muslim community.

Obama’s attribution of Muslim terrorism showed his gross misunderstanding of Islam as well as the motives that propel some Muslims into acts of violence. The president came into office with very little grounding in international affairs, and has stuffed his administration with holdovers from the Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. He is, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, getting the same kind of off-the-wall, jingoist advice that doomed both previous administrations’ Muslim world policies.

Islam, as I said, is a both a private- and public-sphere religion. These days most Muslims are channeling their grievances against America or their own governments in the public sphere through the democratic process. They’re engaged in democratic movements and, when permitted, pushing their agendas through the electoral process. It signals a dramatic and healthy evolution of these movements since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when their watchword was “Islamic revolution.” Those days some of my Islamist acquaintances in Pakistan and Bangladesh espoused armed struggle against the “enemies of Islam” at home and abroad.

Among them is Motiur Rahman Nizami, the head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party in Bangladesh, now on the death row for his alleged involvement in the killing of Bangladeshi independence activists in 1971. I met him in 2003 after the Jamaat had won the second-largest number of seats in a Bangladeshi parliamentary election, catapulting him to the post of industries minister.

His sparsely furnished office was tucked away in the Motijheel business district in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Did the Jamaat “still believed in armed struggle?” I asked.

He smiled, and instead of answering my question directly, he said, “Democracy is the best tool for us to spread the message of Islam.”

Because Islamic spirit and values are spreading quite rapidly in most Muslim countries, mainstream Islamists everywhere have come to believe that they no longer need violent methods to pursue their Islamization agenda. They’re avidly participating in democratic activism.

A second group of Islamists, known as terrorists, continue armed struggle to achieve their goals. They’re generally focused on resisting occupation and aggression by armed opponents. They include Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad in Kashmir, Riadus Salikin and the Islamic International Brigade in Chechnya, the ETIM in China’s Xinjiang province, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Levant, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad and Niger, and so on. All these terrorist groups see themselves fighting to liberate their peoples from foreign occupation or defend them against domestic persecution.

Obama was talking, specifically, about the Islamic State terrorism in Syria and Iraq. The IS emerged to defend Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who suffered horrible persecution and ethnic cleansing from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Iraqi Shiite governments and Shiite militias and the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. As many other terrorist groups do, the IS also has engaged in gruesome slaughter and brutal persecution of innocent civilians. The world shouldn’t tolerate such crimes.

The fact remains, however, that these terrorist groups have been fighting for political, not religious, causes. They’re inspired or instigated by political and social grievances, not by the Quran or some “distorted ideology” based on it. Whether their causes or methods of operation are justified (Nobody would justify the slaughter of innocent people), is another matter.

 

Cow, crescent and star

 Published in  Middle East Policy, Washington, D.C.; December 5, 2014

Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, is investigating the impact of Hindu nationalism on liberal values and democratic institutions in his native India. Earlier, he conducted fieldwork on religious movements and nationalist experiments in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent as a fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the University of Chicago Middle East Center.

LAST MONTH President Obama accepted India’s invitation to be the chief guest at its Republic Day celebrations. He will be the first American president to do so.

I was in Kolkata (Calcutta), India’s “cultural capital” when this was announced. Most of my interlocutors there were euphoric about the news, especially the supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatya Janata Party (BJP). Narendra Modi, the BJP leader and prime minister, had invited the American president to the January 26, 2015, events. On that date 67 years ago, newly independent India adopted its democratic constitution.

Most Hindu nationalists in India viewed Obama’s gesture as America’s acceptance of Hindu nationalism.  I saw it as the president’s doing business with a democratically elected government that happens to be Hindu nationalist. Two years ago, the Obama administration embraced the Islamist government of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who had come to power through a free and fair election. The Morsi government has since been overthrown in a military coup, and Morsi languishes in jail.

Nevertheless, secularists and liberals in the West who throw a fit on hearing the word “religious fundamentalist” or “militant” might consider following Obama’s lead on the issue. Not that we should approve of religious militants’ violence or other destructive conduct, if they engage in it. However, we need to understand the sources of their militancy and encourage their evolution into more peaceable social or political categories, and participation in the democratic process is one of the best roads to that goal. So far, though, bombing Muslim militants has been America’s and NATO’s preferred method of dealing with them, it has served only to multiply them and bolster their capabilities.

Today religious values and ethos permeate most postcolonial societies, whether Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or others. Unfortunately, the religious upsurge also has ratcheted up interfaith hostility in many countries. The BJP is a glaring example. The party and allied Hindu nationalist organizations plan to change India’s traditionally multi-cultural society into one based on Hindu religious and cultural values. They have come a long way toward that goal, but their march has been accompanied by widespread discrimination and violence against Muslims, India’s largest religious minority, numbering around 160 million people.

Modi has long been in the vanguard of the movement to Hinduize Indian society. He was banned from visiting the United States for nearly a decade for his alleged connivance in the horrific anti-Muslim riots of 2002. Nearly 2,000 Muslim men, women and children were hacked, beaten and burned to death by Hindu mobs. The all-important question haunting many Indian minds, including mine, is whether these faith-based communal conflicts will abate. And if they do, how?

I disagree with those who fear that the new wave of religious resurgence, especially among Muslims, might lead to the kind of sectarian or interfaith bloodbaths that ravaged Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some historical records show that 35 percent of the population perished in those waves of intra-Christian militancy. But these are different times. Thanks to the spread of the Enlightenment values of freedom, tolerance and humanism, people around the world are increasingly getting used to divergent ideologies, religions and cultures. Everyday people in most countries are more tolerant of the religious or ethnic Other than they were 50 years ago.

The growing acceptance of the Other has been facilitated by globalization and the 24/7 electronic and digital interaction across countries and continents. Of course, most diehard liberals (Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls them “liberal fundamentalists”) and religious militants have yet to feel the winds of pluralism and contestation with discrepant ideologies, faiths and communities. I also do not rule out further aggravation of Muslim hostility by the military aggression and political and diplomatic tutelage America and its allies are using around the Muslim world. But I see this approach running its course before too long, as its futility and backlash begin to dawn on its practitioners.

Meanwhile, there has been a growing search among intellectuals, the media and others for the sources of the what is commonly known as religious militancy and violence. A host of sociologists and social scientists has concluded that the religious pull being felt by people in postcolonial societies stems, in large measure, from their quest for dignity and authenticity. This is also fostered by their pervasive exposure to Western ideas of freedom and selfhood. Modernity’s corrosive effects on societies are another source of religious upsurge. “Modern societies,” says Daniele Hervieu-Leger, a leading French sociologist, “may corrode their traditional religious base; at one and the same time, however, these societies open up new spaces and sectors that only religion can fill.”

Postcolonial societies aren’t generally receptive to the liberal tools of mediation, elections and so on, to settle what they see as existential issues: foreign domination, preservation of religious and cultural values, and basic communal interests. Many Western societies have no qualms about waging war over lesser questions.

Liberalism, is a uniquely Western ideology; it cannot be planted holistically in most non-Western societies.  The liberal concepts of church-state separation, individualism and freedom without responsibility emerged largely as reactions to anomalies in European traditions. Those include the long and bloody religious conflicts, the church-state power struggle and the sanctity of individual property rights in the Germanic tribal cultures. Societies that were unaffected by these historical trends and experiences have mostly been inhospitable to most of the liberal values that are germane to Eurocentric civilization.

Hence most of Europe’s former colonies are modernizing, while cherishing the basic aspects of their religious and other traditions.  Peoples outside the West can, of course, profitably cultivate many of the useful institutions that have evolved from Western ideas, experience and endeavors. Indeed they have been enriching their lives and societies by embracing many of those ideas and institutions — democracy, the rule of law, scientific inquiry and so forth. But they’re doing so to the extent these pursuits can be adapted to their core religious and cultural norms.

The view that liberalism is a specifically Western ideology and that aspects of it will not work in many non-Western societies, is shared, to different degrees, by a growing number of sociologists, philosophers and historians. Among them are Peter Berger, David Martin, Grace Davie, Karen Armstrong, Amy Goodman, Steve Bruce, Ernest Gellner and Charles Taylor. They also include many non-Western intellectuals who are committed to liberal and leftist causes and worldview.

Susnata Das is professor of history at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata. The leftist Hindu intellectual complained that Hindu-Muslim tensions had increased in India since the BJP had come to power in New Delhi seven months earlier. Asked about his take on the Gujarat “riots,” the professor took exception to my use of the word. We were talking in our native Bengali language. Getting excited about his viewpoint, he switched to English: “It was NOT a riot. It was pogrom.” With portraits of Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels and India’s socialist icons watching us from his office walls, Das described some of the horrifying details of the Gujarat carnage. He blasted Modi and his BJP for their anti-Muslim “bigotry, pure bigotry, and hate,” which he said had unleashed recurrent Hindu violence against Muslims.

Then, scratching the back of his head, indicating a sense of resignation, my interviewee lamented that India’s once-powerful leftist and secularist movements had been “losing ground” to Hindu nationalism. That was because, he added, many Indians are “turning back to their religious and cultural traditions.” The same can be said of people in many other non-Western countries. They are forswearing many features of liberalism with which they began their journeys as citizens of independent states and substituting them for their own religious institutions and idiom.

The “Muslim homeland” of Pakistan was founded by a thoroughly secular and Anglicized Muslim statesman. He did not practice the Islamic faith, and he drank gin in the afternoon and whiskey in the evening, though drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden by Islam. In August 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly (parliament) that his new nation would guarantee complete freedom to practice any religion, but that religion would have no role in the affairs of the Pakistani state.

The father of the nation assured Pakistanis,

You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.

Yet the Islamization of Pakistani society and laws began less than a decade after Jinnah’s death in 1948. It reached a peak under the government of another staunchly secular Pakistani leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. That left-leaning populist came to power as president when grassroots Islamization campaigns had spread to large swaths of Pakistan and threatened his government. In September 1972, he said to me in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, “You can’t be a democrat and secular [in Pakistan] at the same time.” I had asked him about the pressure from the Islamist political parties Jamiatul Ulama-i-Islam and Jamaat-i-Islami to enshrine the Sharia, Islamic canon law, in a constitution that was being drafted in parliament.  “The National Assembly has been elected by the people,” he reminded me. “Most of our people are devout Muslims.”

I was prompted to ask for the interview with the non-practicing Muslim politician after he had made a clarion call to Pakistanis “to make this beautiful country an Islamic state, the bravest Islamic state and the most solid Islamic state.” The U.S.-educated “socialist” Zulfikar Bhutto’s new constitution declared Pakistan an “Islamic state.” It proclaimed that “all existing laws shall be brought in to conformity with the injunctions of Islam,” and that no new laws would be enacted that would be “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.” Later, as prime minister, Zulfikar Bhutto endorsed other measures, excluding the Ahmadiya sect from the traditional Islamic mainstream; changing the weekly holiday from Sunday to Friday, the Islamic Sabbath; and taking other measures, all of which turned Jinnah’s secular Pakistan into an Islamic state.

Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia and most other postcolonial Muslim states also founded their political structures on liberal — sometimes socialist — models. Today most of them have reworked those models to accommodate Islamic tenets and code of conduct. Some Muslim states continue to maintain formally secular political systems, mostly for Western consumption. But Islam pulsates in the life of their Muslim citizens. This category of Muslim states includes Indonesia, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mali, Senegal, Djibouti and Gambia.

Hindu or Muslim societies aren’t the only ones facing a religious upsurge in their once-secular public space. The world’s only Jewish state was founded as a fiercely secular polity.  In its declaration of independence in 1948, Israel announced that it “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights” and “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture to all citizens irrespective of religion, race or sex.” These principles formed the bedrock of Israel’s Basic Law.

Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the ultra-orthodox and orthodox branches of Judaism began to Judaize Israeli politics and culture, gradually reducing Palestinians and other non-Jews to second-class citizens. The racial and religious apartheid that became pronounced under Prime Minister Menachem Begin has culminated in the policies of the  Benjamin Netanyahu government.

Despite the state-sponsored discrimination and suppression of Israeli Palestinians, however, the state’s Basic Law still recognizes the equality of all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity. In a widely cited ruling, former Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak articulated the state’s doctrine of equality. “It is true,” he wrote, “members of the Jewish nation were granted a special key to enter, but once a person has lawfully entered the home, he enjoys equal rights with all other household members.”

That could soon change. The “Jewish nation-state” bill, which the Netanyahu government has approved and will be pushing through the Knesset (parliament), would confer national and group rights only to Israel’s Jewish citizens. It would override the “individual rights” to be conceded to Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens. If passed, it would institutionalize anti-Palestinian apartheid, undermine democracy and turn Israel into a Jewish Pakistan. Netanyahu has fired two of his Cabinet members who opposed the bill (and disagreed with him on some other issues), paving the way for new elections.  Public-opinion polls show that religious and right-wing Jewish parties are more popular in Israel than ever; the bill could sail through the new parliament.

These “religious” tides aren’t specific to religions. Secular ideological and nationalist ferment has also fueled intergroup militancy. And it has often been as malevolent and bloody as movements carried out under religious banner. Karen Armstrong points out that the liberal French revolutionaries enacted some of history’s most savage massacres among the opponents and victims of the Revolution:

Early in 1794, four revolutionary armies were dispatched from Paris to quell an uprising in the Vendée against the anti-Catholic policies of the regime. Their instructions were to spare no one. At the end of the campaign, General François-Joseph Westermann reportedly wrote to his superiors, ‘The Vendée no longer exists. I have crushed children beneath the hooves of our horses, and massacred the women.… The roads are littered with corpses.

Ironically, no sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion than they invented another. Their new gods were liberty, nature and the French nation, which they worshiped in elaborate festivals choreographed by the artist Jacques Louis David. The same year that the goddess of reason was enthroned on the high altar of Notre Dame cathedral, the reign of terror plunged the new nation into an irrational bloodbath, in which some 17,000 men, women and children were executed by the state.

Europe’s bloodiest religious and ideological cataclysms occurred during its transitions from one ideational paradigm to another: from Roman to Germanic to Christian, from Christian to liberal, from liberal to socialist and communist, and from nationalist to imperialist and colonialist.

The religious and ideological movements in today’s postcolonial societies indicate similar processes of transition. They mark the transition from colonial-era liberal political paradigms to postcolonial indigenous ones. For many Muslim societies, it also represents the struggle to transform Western hegemonic political and security structures foisted on them into native Islam-oriented ones. Foreign tutelage in these Muslim states is sustaining repressive despotism, while native Islamic movements reflect the priorities and aspirations of the public.

The challenge before most of the former European colonies is two-pronged. One is to douse the extremist and violent impulses of the activists struggling for social renewal. They would abate in the course of time, as have previous episodes of Muslim extremism and violence. The other, which is more complex and long-term, is to build bridges between clashing religious, sectarian and ethnic communities: Hindus and Muslims in India; Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan; and Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds and Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

These communal tensions and conflicts have been touched off partly by the unraveling of the political institutions introduced during colonial rule. European powers and Westernized native elites carved out these states overnight, splitting sectarian and ethnic communities among different states without consideration of their inhabitants’ cultural affiliations or economic interests. Yet the citizens of these artificial entities were expected to identify primarily with state institutions and laws. Those citizens have mostly proved unable to foot that bill. They feel strong communal bonds with their religious and ethnic communities that often span more than one of these states.

There are not many true Lebanese in Lebanon. Lebanese citizens are primarily Maronites, Shiites, Sunnis and Druze. There are almost no real Iraqis in Iraq, only Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds and members of other religious, ethnic and tribal communities.

When people identify strongly with their nations or states, they view citizens of other states as the rival Other and compete and sometimes fight with them. When religion or ethnicity claims their deeper allegiance, they are prone to rivalry and hostility toward other ethnic or religious communities.

As the older nations and states matured, they learned, often the hard way, the perils of interstate hostility. Europe, once the most violent continent, has all but jettisoned conflicts between states.  Similarly, as religious and ethnic communities in postcolonial states would begin to mature, they would also learn the grief and misfortune caused by communal hostility. They would then be more disposed to living peaceably with one another.

 

GOP win to prompt new wake-up call

Tuesday night’s Republican electoral victory poses an insidious threat to freedom and democracy in America.

Yet if you believe in the American democratic system, you have to accept the argument that a majority of the American voters wanted to freeze the minimum wage at its starvation level, allow unbridled carbon emissions and deny healthcare to millions of Americans.

These were among the campaign pledges made by the newly minted Senate majority leader, Mich McConnell, and a lot of his fellow Republican congressional candidates. While celebrating victory, McConnell has vowed to “pass legislation” to put those pledges into effect.

I don’t believe, though, that most Americans would want to see the cruel Republican agenda carried through. I agree with the New York Times’ interpretation of the elections.

“Republicans ran on no message,” wrote the Times‘ editorial board, “except that [President] Obama was always wrong, and voters on Tuesday said they were angry with the country’s direction and political gridlock, taking their fury out on the president’s party because he is in charge.”

I bet the incoming Senate majority leader will have a rough time getting most of his agenda off the ground. In post-election statements Obama has asserted that he wouldn’t let the healthcare law be repealed or minimum wage kept frozen, and that he will push hard for immigration reforms and stand firm on his other key priorities.

But yes, a majority of American voters voted for the Republicans who ran on their sock-it-to-em, pro-Wall Street agenda.  And that agenda threatens America’s founding principles of equality, and indeed, freedom.

Freedom includes freedom of opportunity, which lends it any meaning at all. We’re familiar with the statistics of shocking income inequality in America. In 2012 the top 1% of American households (making $394,000 a year or more) scooped up a fifth of the national income. The figure broke the previous record set in 1928, the eve of the Great Depression. America today offers fewest opportunities for upward mobility in the Western civilization.

Studies show that only 6% of children born in low-income American families will make it to the top income ladder.  The current generation of American youth is going to be the first in American history to earn less than their parents’ generation.

Corporate corruption and plunder, abetted mostly by Republicans, have dried up many of the opportunities that make freedom a reality. We still have some of what metaphysicians call “negative freedom,” meaning absence of barriers to doing things we want to do.

Let me try to illustrate this through an anecdote about a boisterous party arranged by a group of American soldiers in Germany at the end of World War II. They were celebrating President Harry Truman’s announcement that they would soon be returning home. They had invited to their party some Soviet troops who also had been fighting the Nazis.

As the American revelers got a bit tipsy and wild, one of the Soviet soldiers asked why they had to get so crazy about their demobilization.

“Hey,” retorted an American G.I., “We’re going to be free in our land of freedom! You Commies are used to living under Stalin’s tyranny. You’ll never understand what freedom means.”

“Tell me what freedom means,” asked the Soviet Communist.

“It means I can yell in front of the White House: ‘Truman is a jerk!’” You, buggers, will be shitting in your pants at the thought of saying anything like this in the Kremlin.”

“Sure,” replied the Soviet soldier, “I can yell in front of  the White House and at the Kremlin that ‘Truman is a jerk!’”

The point is the Communist didn’t have the “negative freedom” to call Stalin a jerk in the Kremlin. Legal and social barriers had suppressed his freedom of expression, which Americans, mercifully, didn’t – and don’t – have.

The things that really matter in life, however, require “positive freedom,” which entails the availability of the wherewithal to fulfill what we freely desire.

Larry Ellison or Charles Koch can hop in his private jet and enjoy a fabulous weekend or month in the idyllic Alpine valley of Interlaken, or try to savor “eternal bliss” in India’s sub-Himalayan fairyland of Garhwali. But most of the bottom 90% of Americans also would like to do that. Surveys show that their real incomes are less today than were in 1987, and that they’re struggling harder to pay their home mortgages, car insurance and utility bills. They can’t materialize their freedom to spend a weekend in an Alpine or Himalayan Shangri-La because they don’t have the positive freedom, the resources, to do so.

The fading of freedom in America has accelerated since the Republican “Reagan Revolution” kicked off the current era of wanton corporate loot. Americans businesses and corporations have been maximizing their profits by racing for automation, throwing workers out of jobs; freezing wages; curtailing employees’ health and retirement benefits; and other tools of exploitation. All these have drastically shrunk Americans’ ability to enjoy comfortable and meaningful lives, which they’re theoretically free to do.

The erosion of freedom in America, and the consequent impoverishment of the human condition here, has been aggravated by the hijacking of the democratic process by the Wall Street. The right-wing majority in the Supreme Court has helped speed the process with its Citizens United judgment. Thanks to that ruling, Tuesday’s congressional elections were the most expensive in American history, most of the campaign funds being dished out by the corporate tycoons. Seven decades ago H.L. Menken had said, “We have the best Congress money can buy.” And the Wall Street was the highest bidder for the incoming Congress.  In fact congressional support for or indifference to The Wall Street’s unbridled depredation has turned American democracy into an oligarchy.  The point was underscored by a <a href=http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746/>Princeton University study</a>, put out in April.

Republicans in the 113th Congress will surely try to lavish on the Wall Street the goodies it paid for through their campaign coffers. Those goodies would include freezing of the minimum wage, loosening curbs on environmental degradation, denying healthcare to many Americans, and so forth. Obama will, as I mentioned, resist their retrograde actions, but the control of Congress has, at least for now, made them a stumbling block to freedom and justice in America.

All the same, I remain an optimist about America’s future.  I’m hoping that the fuddy-duddy, mostly clueless, GOP back numbers on Capitol Hill will mess things up badly, giving Americans a fresh wake-up call. The last wake-up call was given them by the Great Recession. It was precipitated the reckless deregulation, budget cutting and war spending of Republican George W. Bush administration. And in 2008 irate voters gave the progressive Democrat Obama a rounding mandate to embark on bold, progressive reforms.

Sadly, however, the 44th president didn’t seem to have much of a vision or the backbone, and he got bogged down in his futile drive to win Republicans’ goodwill, instead of pushing hard the popular mandate he had got from Americans. Later, when he tried to salvage some of his election mandate, it was too late. He had lost much of his political capital and with it the ability to persuade congressional Republicans to cooperate on his agenda.

Well, few societies have reformed themselves, economically or politically, in one go. Hegel has been wrong about many things, but history has vindicated his “dialectic” process of social evolution time and again.  Simply put, it says that a social or ideological model triggers a contradictory one. The two models clash inevitably, only to produce a more dynamic and progressive third formation, synthesizing the good elements of both mutually antagonistic systems.  Polls have shown that Americans are getting increasingly peeved at their economic and political institutions catering to the top social ladder, which has been exploiting them. I believe it’s only a matter of time before the bulk of the bottom 90% Americans will decide they’ve had enough of the Republican-Wall Street skullduggery, and try again to cut it out through the electoral process. They may have to repeat the process several times until they succeed. And they have to succeed if freedom and democracy should endure in America.

 Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Beyond Freedom.’

 

ISIS could trigger Arab revolution

On the darker upper strip of my computer screen I saw my eyebrows rising, as I read, for the first time, President Obama’s mission in Iraq and Syria. Now, as his aides and spokespersons drone on and on about that mission, I get ticked off or, alternately, amused.

Can the United States and its allies really “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL)?

Personally, I deplore this war because of the deaths and devastation it’s going to cause, and the piles of dough we, American taxpayers, are squandering on it. So far the war’s price tag is estimated to be $1 billion a month. It’s likely to rise.

Yet I also see the war having a far-reaching, liberating effect on Arab societies. I see it reviving and strengthening the Arab Spring, which Arab monarchies and dictatorships had foolishly thought they had behind them. More on this in a minute.

Meanwhile, I’m afraid Obama isn’t going to “destroy” ISIS. Remember his repeated vows to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al Qaeda during the Afghanistan war? Thanks mainly to that war, Al Qaeda and its many affiliates have mushroomed in the Middle East, North and West Africa, and elsewhere. If Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam had any lesson for the United States, it’s that conventional military establishments, however powerful, can’t defeat modern guerrilla forces that are ready to die to end their oppression and avenge their subjugation and humiliation.

Afghan Mujahedeen taught this lesson to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, then the world’s largest conventional military juggernaut. The Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrilla groups in Gaza have driven it home to Israel, the superpower in Middle East.

Ignoring these glaring lessons and lurching into a new war in the hope of stamping out the world’s most powerful Muslim guerrilla force is just insane. Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

The gruesome atrocities that ISIS has committed against civilians in Iraq and Syria are indeed heinous and inhuman. They’re repugnant to Islamic tenets and principles. Beheading innocent civilians, killing Yazidis and Christians or converting them to Islam by force are certainly not part of the “jihad,” struggle authorized by Islam, they claim to have waged.

Islam sanctions two kinds of jihad. The greater jihad,  jihad al-kabir, is the struggle to resist one’s own immoral impulses and actions. The lesser jihad,  jihad al-saghir, is armed struggle to defend one’s community or territory against outside aggression. ISIS obviously has proclaimed the lesser jihad against the Shiite government and militias in Iraq, the Alawite government in Syria as well as America and its allies. Islam would probably support its armed struggle if it is, or was, meant to resist the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Shiite pogrom against Sunni Arabs in Iraq or the suppression and oppression of people by the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria.

But Islamic law strongly prohibits its inhuman atrocities against civilians, mentioned above. These crimes belong to the categories of the brutal torture, murder and humiliation of mostly innocent Muslims in Abu Gharib, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere by American forces. They’re as barbaric as American soldiers peeing on Afghan Muslim corpses, or Israelis slaughtering Gazan children.

In any case, the more America and its allies beat up on ISIS, the more it will attract recruits and monetary support from fellow Sunnis from around the world. Already, some 3,000 American and European Sunni youths and many thousands more from the Muslim world have joined the guerrilla organization. I expect the trend to accelerate in the months and years ahead.

It reminds me of a comment an Iraqi friend made to me during one of my three research trips to Iraq. In 1991 Subhy Haddad, a veteran Iraqi journalist, was working for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. I had him over for lunch at Baghdad’s Sagman Hotel, where I was staying.

Between bites on his eggplant Domla – eggplant with meat, vegetables and spices stuffing – Haddad said I wouldn’t be able to interview some of the Shiite intellectuals and politicians I had on a list. About half of them had fled to Shiite Iran to escape then Sunni Arab President Saddam Hussein’s persecution. If Sunni Arabs (as different from Sunni Kurds) ever got knocked out of power, he continued, Shiites would wreak vengeance on them. Iraq’s Sunni Arabs “would then turn to their fellow Sunnis in the region” for support. Iraqis, he added, were “more loyal to their ethnic groups than to Iraq.”

I remembered Haddad when successive Shiite governments in Baghdad and their brutal militias began slaughtering Sunni Arabs after the United States had overthrown the Saddam regime. Many of those persecuted Sunni Arabs joined Al Qaeda in Iraq to resist the U.S. invasion and the Shiite pogrom. ISIS has resumed that struggle and strengthened it manifold.

That the United States sired ISIS is missing from American discourse on that militant group. Senator Carl Levin was a rare exception. “ISIS did not exist before our invasion of Iraq,” said the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee at a hearing on the issue. “They are a consequence of our invasion of Iraq.”

Levin echoed a chorus of voices from politicians and pundits in the Middle East. ISIS is “the product of foreign invasion,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

And America’s expedition against ISIS is going to produce the same results as did its war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: spread and bolster the movement, aggravating threats to American security.

If the Sunni Arab militancy in Iraq and Syria has alarmed the United States, it has spawned panic among Arab monarchies, which are its next targets. In fact ISIS, the Al Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist militant groups already are calling for the ouster of repressive Arab monarchies. No wonder five of those monarchies – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – have jumped on America’s anti-ISIS bandwagon in a desperate effort to save their thrones.

The thousands of Arab youths from Persian Gulf countries who are honing their fighting skills in this war will one day return home. They will almost inevitably revive and fire up the simmering revolutionary movements against their tyrannical monarchies, the most formidable they ever faced.

I don’t expect many of these anachronistic power structures to survive another Arab generation.

  • Mustafa Malik is an international affairs commentator in Washington. He covered seven Middle Eastern countries as a newspaper reporter and conducted fieldwork in five as a research fellow for the University of Chicago Middle East Center.