By Kumar David –
Civilisations have clashed: Who will rebuild? What shall we do about ISIL?
The blame-game is secondary; important but less important; the living take precedence over the dead. The real issue is what to do next; the blame-game is disputation about who did wrong in the last century or in previous decades. I can drive home the point with a Lankan analogy. Whether war crimes were committed and who is to blame should be followed up; but it is secondary to current Tamil demands for genuine devolution, anticipated possibility of regime change, etc.
We must take a similar approach to the Middle East; the Sykes-Picot secret Agreement of 1916 which arbitrarily carved up of the Middle East and Turkish territories, then oil and American Imperialism, then creation of Israel and CIA’s overthrow of Mosaddegh in 1953, all relevant and crucial past history. But now ISIL, al Qaeda, fundamentalism and the de facto collapse of states (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Palestinian Authority, and Somalia in Saharan Africa) cry out. The primitive savagery of fundamentalism, the brutality of jihadism, the American led air war and the arming of anti-ISIL Kurds, Iraq’s rump army and anti-Assad Syrians is primary. Where do we stand on these matters? These are mainly moral questions for us in Lanka as there is no practical way in which we can intervene or influence events.
We can, as some addle-pates do, relieve our bile eviscerating Obama as if he is a great plague, froth against jihadist terrorism, or pontificate great theory – historical blame-game. It is all familiar, maybe tiresome and serves very limited purpose. Instead let me restate the dilemma in unpretentious questions to which I do not have indisputable answers but only attitudes and opinions.
The moral imperative
The questions are direct and urgent; the answers, taken together, define a person’s moral and ideological deportment, and on this occasion ideology and morality are separable. For example, it is not obvious if a leftist will damn ISIL as a barbarism, or deem it the rage of downtrodden creatures. Likewise among pious Muslims there are admirers of ISIL and detractors, enthusiasts of the American military campaign and opponents. There is no palpable left/right, Muslim/non-Muslim, democratic/conservative divide in the responses to these three questions.
a) Notwithstanding a century of colonialism and more recently American resource exploitation of the Middle East and bankrolling Israel – oppressor of the Palestinians – should we support a military campaign to destroy ISIL and al Qaeda as a greater evil?
b) Conversely, notwithstanding ISIL’s despoliation of democratic, and I daresay socialist values, should we throw our moral sympathy behind jihadism as the voice of the oppressed?
c) If we answer yes to (a), how do we carve out our separate identity in this conundrum; ‘we’ here means democrats, socialists and liberals?
Reader please give forthright answers; don’t duck and hedge and give “on the one-hand but on the other-hand” nonsense. My answers to (a) and (b) are straightforward: (a) YES, and as a corollary, (b) NO. The snag is (c). You may have guessed that this is the non-Kantian moral imperative I have been leading up to all along; (c) is the purpose of this essay.
Let me explain my hostility to jihadist fundamentalism. Less severe as fits the case, hostility underlies my aversion to religious extremism (BBS) and shrill nationalism whether Sinhala or Tamil. But there’s no denying the jihadist version, objectively, poses a greater threat. Fundamentalism refers to the philosophical approach that holds that there exist core beliefs which are unshakably true, un-falsifiable and a compulsory code of practice. Those who hold that the Koran is the inerrant and literal word of god to be strictly adhered to, and the font of moral righteousness, are fundamentalists in a proper usage of the term. That per se matters not; but when these protagonists permit no barrier between religious morals and state and society they come in conflict with democratic practices and the separation of church and state. These ideologues vary greatly; some conservative and propounding narrow views, others employing populist rhetoric. Imposing strict codes of behaviour on society, that is on other people, is the root of conflict. When enforced imposition of religious practices comes in conflict with broadly accepted norms of human rights, the clash becomes acute.
These believers vary in doctrine and political demands. Some accommodate Christians, Jews and secularists comfortably, others employ a dualist Manichean ideology; ‘You are one of us or against us’. In the latter form it is now the world’s primary source of resistance to the West. In the aftermath of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, radical Islam alone had the balls and the brawn to stand up against it as Europe, Pakistan and Asia, China and Russia, cowered in fear. This, its anti-imperialist strength, is born of a century of exploitation by foreign masters in cahoots with local rulers.
Migration has added a new dimension. David Greenfield, an American is candid: “A clash of civilisations is approaching driven by a variety of factors, including the collapse of European, American and Russian world power and the demographic strength of the Muslim world. We could ignore the implications for our own countries if it were not for a sizable stream of settlers spreading across Europe and speaking openly of the day when they will become a majority and impose Islamic theocracy on the native European minority”. This clash will not go away; rather it will worsen with the passage of time; Europe will find no easy exit from ruinous contradictions.
Christian and Jewish fundamentalists too deem the Bible the literal and inerrant word of god, but find ways of sidestepping its injunctions. Deuteronomy is a particularly bloodcurdling text. Chapter 20 prescribes that when you lay siege and capture a city “thou shall smite every male . . . but the women and little ones and the cattle and all that is in the city . . . though shalt take unto thyself and eat the spoil thereof.” Chapter 21 condemns women caught in adultery and non-virgins at marriage to death by stoning. So chucking rocks at feisty females is not only a Taliban pastime! Chapter 27 lists twelve savage curses, 28 adds four more. Charming verse 23:1 stipulates that if your marbles are damaged or your pecker “cut off, (you) shall not enter the congregation of the Lord.” In like vein 23:2 banishes bastards and their issue for 10 generations to come (phew!) from the flock. The stuff makes delightful reading (there is much “going into her” adventure in these pages). Fortunately Christians, even fundamentalists, find ways to feign deafness. The problem is that some provisions in the Koranic text are similar and jihadists live by them, literally.
Then there is Wahhabism; preaching puritanism whilst its benefactor, corrupt and reactionary Saudi absolute monarchy, swims in whisky. Monarchy and Wahhbism lean on one another; militarily and ideologically keeping a vice like grip on the country. They are the source of funds and beliefs for Islamic extremism all over the world. Stephen Schwartz in The Real Roots of Islamic Extremism says “Islamist extremism exists because corrupt and oppressive rulers maintain power. The West should support democratisation of Arab and Islamic countries”. But till recently it was the West that provided an umbrella for these ogres to thrive. Be that as it may, the case for eliminating Wahhabism, monarchy and jihadism is now unassailable.
After the American led war
History teaches that military methods alone cannot eliminate ideas, particularly religious and racial ones. I do not refer to the see-saw outcomes in the daily battles and bombardments in Syria and Iraq. Eventually American military might with the fifty-odd others in tow will prevail; ISIL will be destroyed as were Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi. Afterwards Basher al-Assad will be dispatched. But what then; anarchy like post-war Libya or a fractured and failed Middle East like Iraq already?
Nations cannot, in globalised times, rebuild themselves in isolation; it is a multilateral task. No barriers exist to the movement of capital and goods, jihadists and ideas, Ebola and education. Even ISIL acknowledges this when it calls for a Greater Caliphate, that is world government abiding by Islamic law. Jihadism cannot be pushed aside except by putting something universal it its place. Francisco Fukuyama’s crap dug from the Entrails of History has been flushed down; hidebound neo-liberalism. Neither has capitalist democracy, impoverishing the poor and marginalising the periphery, succeeded, as depicted in John Gray’s False Dawn: Delusions of Global Capitalism. Capitalism is still unable get off its knees after the 2008 New Depression; Europe teeters on the brink of its sixth recession in six years, Abenomics is kaput in Japan, and the Chinese miracle is running out of steam. This backdrop to Jihadism makes Rosa Luxemburg’s option “Socialism or Barbarism” ever more true, but it is also ever so far as the Left slumps all over the world. Every zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century has been laid to rest; it’s time for out of the box lateral thinking.
If single-malt democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism and liberalism of yesteryear are all stale, their brand champions on the run, but we still refuse to capitulate to the demons creeping out of a moral and mental extremist morass, is a new blend of populist-socialism and broad-minded liberalism the answer? It seems so, but there is no one-taste-suits-all-palates blend. It has to be a separate mix, case by case, country by country, continent by continent. Middle East blend won’t sell in Lanka. Halting the relentless march of the European far-right (UKIP, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Greet Wilders in Holland, or the Freedom Party of Austria) needs yet another blend of spirits.
This broad formula makes sense in Europe and South and East Asia not overwhelmed by war and anarchy, but it is inadequate for the great swathe stretching from Shahran and Northern Africa across the Middle East into Pakistan and Afghanistan – that is the greater part of the Islamic world. As Rajan Philips said last week (“End Of Innocence In Canada, Sri Lanka Declared “Unstoppable”): “While it is necessary to contain and destroy the brutal machinery of the Islamic State, that alone is not sufficient as a solution to fundamental and broader problems”. Economic development and investment, education and women’s liberation, welfare and health, these are sine qua non, but seem beyond the knack of local peoples and the capacity of the international community, despite an increase of global productive power beyond anything ever before seen in human history.