Origins of Savagery in the Middle East: Non-Islamic Origins of Terrorist Jihadi Groups
There is an attempt underway to make the case that Islam, the religion, inspired or spawned the creation of various jihadist groups. The fact that the US itself was a major catalyst for the creation of such groups, as that was its plot against communism during the Cold War, often goes unmentioned. But to understand the horrific savagery of terrorist groups in the Middle East you have to go to the origins of militias in the Middle East.
Zionist gangs were the first modern militias in the Middle East. This runs contrary to the silly (and racist and bigoted) thesis of Thomas Friedman’s silly book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” wherein he posits that Israel was contaminated by its Arab and Muslim surrounding, and that the Jews, unlike backward Muslims, were genetically incapable of producing acts of violence, but were forced to change their ways to survive in this new savage neighborhood. Zionist gangs in pre-1948 Palestine were the real pioneers of terrorism in the Middle East. They were the first to perpetrate acts of terrorism that are often assumed to have been introduced by Hamas in the 1990s. It was Zionist terrorist groups who first 1) tossed grenades into cafes, market places, and public squares; 2) shelled villages and towns indiscriminately; 3) threw grenades on busses; 4) sent letter bombs; 5) used booby-trapped ambulances against Palestinians; 6) used car bombs; 7) used barrel bombs; 8) and bombed hotels. And all those pioneering acts of terrorism occurred as far back as the 1930s and 1940s. Later, when the Israeli state was founded atop an already existing Palestinian state, the new state pioneered other acts of terrorism including hijacking of planes and the use of planes in indiscriminate bombings.
Yet, modern-style Arab militias did not really form until the Lebanese civil war of 1975 when the right-wing Maronite militias of Lebanon started to engage in unprecedented savagery (there were militias in Oman, south Sudan, and Kurdistan, as well, but the Lebanese Phalanges and the Sham`unis had been operating since 1958). Unsurprisingly, the Lebanese right-wing Maronite (Christian) militias received Israeli training since their inception, and their association with the Israeli military and intelligence only grew over time. The Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 was not the first collaboration between those two terrorist factions.
The Phalanges militia (and its other Maronite-oriented militias) started the Lebanese civil war and they were responsible for its prolongment. The other side was not prepared; it took time for the PLO to — begrudgingly — set up Lebanese militias. But the savagery that characterized the Lebanese civil war was clearly the pioneering work of Bashir Gemayyel and his gangs. They were the first groups to kidnap and kill on the basis of sectarian identity. They were the first to cut off limbs and other body parts (barrels of Muslim penises were found, the work of Phalanges and Tigers militias, who in 1975-76 pulled passengers out of cars and checked if they were circumcised. They were the first to mutilate corpses (there are accounts of their horrific deeds in books written by Beirut-based correspondents at the time, like Jonathan Randal and Helena Cobban and others). The right-wing non-Muslim militias also burned people alive in various refugee camps and in poor, Shia-dominated shantytowns in East Beirut. They were the first militia to shackle men to the back of cars and drag them through the streets until they die. They were the first to slice people up while alive, and to dump bodies into the ocean while placing their legs in cement. The account of one of the henchmen of the Phalanges, Joseph Saadeh, has not been translated into English, but it reveals the extent to which the right-wing non-Muslim militias introduced a level of savagery and brutality neither Lebanon nor the region had known before in internal fighting (See SAADE, Joseph, BRUNQUELL, Frédéric et COUDERC, Frédéric, 1989, Victime et bourreau, Paris: Calmann-Lévy.)
This is not to say that Lebanese civil wars of the 19th century were not brutal, they were. But never at the level that Lebanon witnessed in 1975-76, and its aftermath, at the hands of those right-wing Maronite-oriented groups (which received the largesse of the terrorist state of Israel and also of the US government, at the highest level after 1980).
Yet, when those Christian militias — who used the cross in their emblems and had Christian motifs in their mottos and rhetoric — engaged in these horrific war crimes, the Western press didn’t attribute that to their religion. Yet, if a Muslim commits one act of murder or terrorism, the blame falls on the Islamic religion and all Muslims of the world. Neither Judaism nor Christianity should be blamed for the crimes of Jewish or Christian terror groups. But those who are interested in studying the phenomenon of ISIS and its savagery should go back to the Lebanese civil war and study the contributions of the death squads on the Maronite right. They will see some similarities that fly in the face of conventional wisdom in Washington, DC..
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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