“Cruelty has a human heart,
And Jealousy a human face;
Terror the human form divine,
And Secrecy the human dress.”
– William Blake: A Divine Image
In an awkward social situation I was recently challenged to debate the proposition that Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology. #facepalm #whitepeople. This seems to be the default position of a lot of conservatives, and one can easily see its appeal. What’s not to fear about a triumfulist, supersessionist ideology which divides the world into Muslims and infidels, and Muslims into Sunnis and Shiites, who’ve been murdering each other in God’s name for 1400 years? If this is really the way we look at the culture and polity of the Middle East then perhaps we may need to adjust our glasses and dust off the history books.
The fertile land to the east of the Mediterranean has been a war zone for millennia. The Bulgars murdered the Macedonians who murdered the Phoenicians who murdered the Romans who murdered the Persians who murdered the Assyrians who murdered the Hittites who murdered god knows who in their conquests of Anatolia and the Levant. For all its alleged brutality, the Muslim conquest of the Arab world is but one chapter in a history which spans the rise and fall of empires. Let’s not forget the millions of Muslims who would be murdered by the papacy under its holy inquisitions, their children forced into slavery in the New World. If history is indeed written by the victor, then the proposition that Islam was spread by the sword is a eurocentrism egregiously unabashed of the log in its own eye.
There is a period familiar to most of us which European history refers to as the Dark Ages (evidently darker for some than others.) While Europe under the Holy Roman Empire had become a sophophobic monoculture obsessed with death and purgatory, the Arab world was enjoying its renaissance, embracing a newfound pluralism equal parts Shi’ism, Sufism and Greek Philosophy. While Christians were sacking libraries, drowning witches and burning heretics at the stake, cities like Baghdad and Damascus boasted libraries, museums and academies, and were the birthplaces of modern medicine, algebra and astronomy.
Some would argue that the argument over patriarchal succession which would divide the followers of Islam into Sunni and Shia has been the primary cause of conflict across the Middle East since the seventh century CE. Some might also argue that pigs fly. Despite the hundreds of holy wars fought on land and sea, the glorious kingdoms of the Azeris and the Ottomans owed more to their policies of inclusion and modest taxation than conquest, conversion and subjugation. Then, as now, military expansion was about the control of resources, meaning as long as they paid their taxes people were generally free to worship in whichever way they chose.
The emergence of Wahhabism in the 18th century is a different story. Set against a background of British and French colonial expansion and ongoing territorial disputes with the Ottomans and Safavids, the doctrine of One King, One Faith, One Mosque became a rallying cry under which the al-Sauds would conquer the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and establish theocratic rule across the Arabian Peninsula.
No one had predicted that the Turks would ally themselves with the Central Powers in WWI, or that the Hashemites under Faisal bin Hussein would become our proverbial enemy’s enemy. Victory for the allies saw the final curtain fall on the Ottoman Empire and marked the end of the Arab dream of independence. The spoils of war were divided among the victors (Britain and France) and new territories carved out from traditional lands, while the status of regional powers was downgraded from formal statehood to little more than tribes waving flags, as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir would later quip.
The House of Saud’s moment finally arrived in 1932 when Abdulaziz Ibn Saud united the Arab kingdoms of Najd and Hizaz to form modern Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with Wahhabism as its official religion. The discovery of oil in 1938 was a fait acompli which would give the Saudis influence over western economic and foreign policy, and in 1945 the greatest protection racket in modern history was put in place. The US Military Training Mission was an arms-for-oil deal which guaranteed military co-operation and the protection of the Saudi Royals in return for a controlling interest in the global oil market. In 1971 Richard Nixon finally tore up the Bretton Woods agreement in a financial coup d’etat which established the US dollar as the world’s indispensible oil currency. The US has continued to have a very close relationship with Saudi Arabia ever since; so much so that when 19 Saudi hijackers flew jet planes into the World Trade Centre buildings on September 11 2001, the US responded by invading Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been universally touted as a monumental clusterfluck, the descent into stone age barbarism which followed was not the result of religious extremism or sectarian violence, but rather a long term strategy for the Balkanization of Iraq and Syria into three new territories representing their ethnic majorities: Sunni, Shia and Kurdish. More than a decade of aggressive foreign policy; of interventions, assassinations and torture; of rape and pillage and wanton destruction of Iraq’s industrial potential has seen this goal all but fulfilled. Now it’s Syria’s turn.
Just like its predecessor al Qaeda, Islamic State is a creation of US intelligence and Saudi manpower. Oddly enough its recruits are less likely to come from the ranks of disaffected youth loitering in the dark corners of the internet, and more likely to be death row prisoners from Saudi gaols pumped full of fenethylline and other psycho stimulants. The joint air campaign by the US and its British, French and Turkish allies, far from being designed to degrade and ultimately destroyISIS, has systematically targeted civil infrastructure and created a refugee crisis which is now creating tensions in Europe – all according to plan.
In his book Children of the Days, Eduardo Galeano tells the story of March 9, 1916, The Day Mexico Invaded The United States.
“On this early morning in 1916, Pancho Villa crossed the border with his horsemen, set fire to the city of Columbus, killed several soldiers, nabbed a few horses and guns, and the following day was back in Mexico to tell the tale. This lightning incursion is the only invasion the United States has suffered since its wars to break free from England. In contrast, the United States has invaded practically every country in the entire world. Since 1947 its Department of War has been called the Department of Defense, and its war budget the defense budget. The names are an enigma as indecipherable as the Holy Trinity.”
The US is not only the most militarized country on earth, but far and away the biggest state sponsor of terrorism. With billions spent on proxy armies armed to the teeth with the latest weapons technology, entire governments can now be removed at arm’s length. Whether it be deposing a socialist president in Africa or Latin America, or a demolition job in lower Manhattan, America’s attack dogs stand ready and waiting.
In his 2004 documentary mini-series The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis paints a bleak picture of how our political landscape has changed in recent decades. From the ashes of 9/11 came a new golden age of opportunity for the political class. Empowered by mass hysteria, our leaders learned that their jobs would now be safe as long as they promised to keep us safe. Yet far from keeping us safe, the last 15 years have seen an exponential increase in terror attacks throughout the world. With the cold war barely over a new enemy has already emerged, this time not a great empire or a great army, but a shadow.
As heroic tales go, there is none more epic than an apocalyptic clash of civilizations. And who needs Stanley Kubrick to bring it to life when you have an iphone and an internet connection? Shock footage of brutal executions permeates our daily news feeds, while playing further to our fears is the suggestion that the Middle East is now exporting terror; that the waves of refugees flooding into Europe are a Trojan horse which ISIS will use to spread its message of hate throughout the world.
Pandora’s box has nothing on the hell on earth George Bush heralded in when he proclaimed his absurd War on Terror. But with the forces of darkness now unleashed, what happens when the mission is accomplished? Who will call off the dogs? Is there a plan for containment? An exit strategy? Do Obama, Cameron, Merkel, Hallande and Erdogan have a secret safe word? Or has perpetual war been the plan all along?
Like the U-boats, bombers, machine guns and tanks of WWI, and the Atomic bomb that ended WWII, the spectre of terror and the power of mass media are devastating new weapons in the hands of the global industrialists and their government whores. The war on terror is a farce. ISIS is a patsy – a straw man being used to justify a shameless war of aggression. In Nazi Germany we saw the power of propaganda to stigmatise a religious and ethnic minority. Do we really want to go there again? Blaming Muslims for problems of integration and failing to contain jihadism plays well with right wing media pundits, but seriously, one might as easily blame the Jews for the holocaust.