Many blog-readers have asked me this. How to respond? The easiest and most honest answer would be to say, Who knows? Because no one can tell. The question does, however, raise some interesting issues. For example, how curious is it to find yourself thinking of Al-Quaeda as ‘moderate’? For, in the face of Desh, Taliban, and other enormities, such is evidently the case. It leads one to think of who controls these organizations. And, on the anniversary of the US attack on the Medecins Sans Frontiers hospital at Kundun, Afghanistan, a year go today – in which many innocent patients and staff were slaughtered – it reminds you of the valid grievances shared by some members of some anti-western groups. Al-Quaeda, since the assassination of Osama bin-Laden, has been headed up by Dr. Aiwan Zawahiri, a spectacularly uncharismatic leader, also very adept at hiding himself from US assaults. A surgeon by profession, he presumably has, or so one would imagine, the kind of educated mind able to look through ideological blather and perceive the political realities of his organization’s current and future situation. This may well account for Al-Quaeda’s recent low profile.
The current situation vis a vis West Asia, from Iran and the Gulf to Syria, is about as uncertain and turbulent as that troubled stretch of the world has ever been. The catastrophe in Iraq, and now the chronic vacillation regarding Syria, have made it clear to those two-thirds of the planet never enthusiastic about western hegemony that the United States is a waning power. Where once a phone calls from any Secretary-of-State would have made rebels and dictators alike jump, now there is only a scornful silence, as everyone proceeds with their bloody work of imposing someone’s brutal will upon others. Within this fiasco are, somewhere or other, the many voices supposedly representing an ‘Islamic State’. But who exactly do they claim to represent? It certainly isn’t most of the planet’s billion-odd Muslims.
The African factions, like al-Shebab – and which proliferate faster than one can recall their grandiose names – scarcely represent any form of Islam at all. They comprise mostly recent Muslim converts whose allegiances are principally tribal. Conflicts in Africa are invariably hostilities between tribes dating back into the mists of time, and only nominally religious wars. Groups sympathetic to an ‘Islamic State’ south of Syria are extremist Palestinian factions financed by the Wahhabite clergy of Saudi Arabia – just as Bashar Assad’s Shiite regime is backed by hardline Iranian clerics. The Syrian rebels seek a Sunni government at Damascus – some indeed probably a secular one. The forces of Desh – in a three-way civil war (something the US is prone to get involved in, despite military advice to the contrary) – are in reality led by officers of the old Iraqi Republican Guard. They may have grown beards and become adept at spouting nonsense bowdlerized from the Koran, but their sole interests are carving out a territory for themselves from parts of Syria and Iraq. One can hardly blame them. A vast majority of the Sunni and Christian Iraqis with whom I am still in sporadic contact say the same thing: no matter how bad things were under Saddam, there was peace, stability and prosperity. Now there is just conflict, chaos and poverty. It ought to have been very clear to the brain-trust in Washington that overturning Saddam’s Ba’athist rule would leave the oppressed Shia majority in power, and everyone else running for their lives. It is another measure of America’s waning power than no one appears to have advised against the war. Long-used to being in power, Iraqi Sunnis, and some of their Christian subordinates, would have not only felt mistreated, but would also have also possessed the know-how, and some of the means, to fight back – to carve out part of Arabia for themselves. At the end of the day, it is the post-1919 dividing-up of West Asia by western powers which decided on the artificial frontiers seen on any map today. The inhabitants of these vast areas – much of them desert – have never viewed the boundary-lines as legitimate. As a glance at the atlas will show, they are all straight lines – a sure sign of the mapmaker’s work. A sign too of the viability a theorised ‘Islamic State’ presents to many living in the proposed area for such a state.
Israel sits unhappily at the centre of this maelstrom, unable or unwilling to voice her many valid complaints and suggestions. To Jerusalem, the only feasible solution to Syria’s dilemma is the continuation of Assad’s regime. It may not be just or likeable, but it will still be easier to deal with than any kind of Sunni democracy, let alone – God forbid! – any kind of Islamic state. A situation in which no one is happy certainly seems like no solution at all.
But should such a bastion of pseudo-Islamist ideals manage to cut itself a portion of West Asia, what prospects would it have for a thriving future? Precious few, I would say. Israel’s potent military would be ever-watchful. Iran would arm and finance Shia rebels. The Saudis would meddle. And the African factions would demand help with their endless inter-tribal belligerence. On top of all this, the Internet and social media would force the Future into these time-trapped regions and, just perhaps, their denizens would then ask themselves and their leaders what all the horror, hostility and bloodshed were about, Perhaps?
P.S. Whoops! I have just learned that the US have blmed Russian interference for all the problems in Syria. Now doesn’t that just go to show you that an old unresolved squabble is better than
Paul William Roberts