ISIS: the US saves Iraq, yet again?
The tweets of US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power deserve to be added to the speeches of George W. Bush as examples of rhetoric-in-the-service-of-an-empire. Her statements give the impression that the US is a charitable organization desperately looking for colored people to save around the world. The distinctions between Obama and Bush were only great in the minds of those liberals who projected so much of their dreams and aspirations on the campaign of Obama in 2008. By 2012, it was was clear that Obama was following in the footsteps of his predecessor with less fanfare.
Obama returns to Iraq grudgingly: people forget how close the views of Obama are to those of Donald Rumsfeld. The latter never believed in whole-scale invasions by massive armies. He was an advocate of quick wars on the cheap – for the US, that is – where only the air force and special forces are used in relatively non-extended operations. The structures that are left or not left behind are less important.
Obama made one thing clear: that he won’t accept the creation of a caliphate anywhere in Syria or Iraq. The almost century-old Saudi quasi caliphate never offended the US or its Western allies – who actually helped create it – although the ideological foundations of Saudi Arabia and ISIS are one and the same. The ISIS official statement about “the destruction of gravesites and tombs” was not published or even covered in the Saudi-dominated Arabic press. They found it too embarrassing to give any coverage to the argument pushed forward by ISIS, whose religious rationalizations and justifications rely on the views and practices of none other than Mohammed ibn ‘Abdul-Wahab, the founder of Wahhabiyyah which is the ruling religio-political doctrine of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
ISIS is not something that is alien to religious Muslims although many Muslims are becoming way too defensive in their need to explain to Westerners that “Islam” – what is Islam, and which Islam? – does not really endorse the views and interpretations of ISIS. But that is not inaccurate. Indeed, mainstream Islam (three out of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence and Ja`farite twelver Shia) frowns upon the views, excesses, practices and interpretations of ISIS. But Wahhabiyyah is fully in sync with ISIS.
On another level, one can speak of an ISIS-like trend or schism in every religion out there, including in Buddhism which is still widely perceived to be peaceful and even pacifist despite the pogroms against Muslims that Buddhist monks are leading and cheerleading in Burma and Sri Lanka. It is by nature of religion that such intolerant, exclusivist and murderous trends are produced and endorsed by a religious elite and by a segment of the population. Of course, ostensible Western seculars see threats to secularism only from Muslims, when threats to secularism emanate even from the Supreme Court of the US.
Obama started the bombing campaign with food drops in Sanjar mountain. One can only hope that the deadly mistakes from Afghanistan are not repeated; when US planes dropped gigantic food packages resulting in the death of innocent civilians who perished from too much “rice and beans,” so to speak. One hopes this time the packages are smaller.
And whenever the subject of minorities is brought up, the typical Western orientalist cliches are invoked. That minority Christians and Yazidis (or it should be Azidis) are suffering at the hands of Muslims. But those minorities have existed side by side under “Islam” for centuries. To be sure, they did not live in a state of equality but who did? They were able to survive under Saddam far better than non-religious minorities could survive under the rule of the Jewish state of Israel. In fact, Israel is a culmination of an ISIS-like ideology, but it happens to be in alliance with the West just like Wahhabiyyah.
Azidis are now the talk of the town. They are represented as the quintessential victim when all are victims from the project of Saudi Arabia and ISIS. Those are ideologies that target fellow Muslims before they target others. Mohammed Ibn `Abdul-Wahab began his campaign of fanaticism by stoning a Sunni woman, long before he went about his rampage against Shia up north. Azidis have been misunderstood by both Muslims and Christians, and they suffered from anti-Kurdish discrimination and hostility. Both Muslims and Christians did not bother to learn their teachings and less so to understand them. Their complicated belief system involved worship of the Peacock god, but the latter has been consistently confused by Muslims and by Christians with Satan. But Azidis, like all religious groups have their own prejudices as well. Members are not permitted to convert to other religions: in 2007, a Azidi woman was stoned to death in that same talked about area for converting to Islam. That triggered a sectarian mini-war.
The US, says Obama, wants to protect a political order. Those who defy US will in Iraq, even if they were only a few years ago hand-picked by the US, will have to go. US planes will ensure that US occupation can continue in other means and airports for the operation of drones will soon fill the entire Middle East landscape, if they have not already.
The US starts wars that it does not want to end, and new presidential candidates have to pledge to fight new wars once they are elected, provided those wars are launched against Arabs or Africans. Fighting “terrorism” is the catchphrase and funding and troops can always be made available for that eternal mission (the Baath ideology comically was described by its founder as containing an “eternal message” but the US “war on terrorism” is proving more eternal than the message of the Baath).
The most glaring omission in the discussion of ISIS is the Syrian dimension. ISIS did not come out of thin air: it was raised, nurtured and cuddled through US policies in two adjacent countries, Syria and Iraq. In Iraq, the US occupation gave impetus to new militant ihadi groups where none existed (just like the NATO intervention in Libya). In Syria, the US did something even more sinister: it permitted its allies, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to arm and fund all militias that were operating under Bashar al-Assad, even if those militias have ideologies that even al-Qaeda finds to be too extreme. The US did not think that the effort would take too long: it was assumed that Bashar would fall in a matter of weeks, or a month at most, and that those groups would then simply and voluntarily disband. That is the real story of the rise of ISIS.
The US is still dealing with a region that it had tried to remake after September 11. But the US never ceases to express surprise that it does not control all pieces of the region. It still believes that with one “small” war, or one additional bombing campaign, the pieces will fall into place and the American-Saudi-Israeli order would prevail. This wishful thinking by the US will be increasingly put to the test, especially as elements of its own coalition turn on one another.
Dr. As’ad AbuKhalil is a Professor of Political Science at California State University, Stanislaus, a lecturer and the author of The Angry Arab News Service. He tweets @asadabukhalil.
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