The Western world and many Muslim states and analysts have been bristling with indignation for months now over the military threat and brazen display of executions by militants variously called the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Da’ISH). The US has marshaled this outrage into an ambitious new military campaign in Iraq and Syria, despite its disastrous mistakes in the region that have so diminished US and European influence. Western states and diplomats were famously far more sympathetic to the project for a Jewish state long before the Holocaust, and have been deeply aligned with it ever since, despite it’s distinctly violent origins. Zionist militants targeted the personnel of the British Mandate (once they began to limit Jewish immigration) and especially Palestinians, and implemented blatantly discriminatory policies against both Christians and Muslims. The antipathy of the surrounding Arab peoples to this Euro-Jewish project made the region increasingly dangerous and unstable with each passing decade. Behold the perplexing conundrum of religion, chaotic mayhem, and sectarian rivalries; yet the “armies of the night” are on the move again (Edward Said, “Ignorant Armies Clash By Night,” 1991)
IS emerged in the maelstrom of resistance to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003-2005, but despite that toxic legacy, Obama (and Hollande, Cameron, Australia’s Tony Abbot, et al) and his generals have embarked on yet another wave of attacks that this time includes Syria, the first Western intervention there since the French were forced to evacuate in 1947. Suddenly, the US invasion and destruction of Iraq in 2003 can be implicitly justified and simultaneously occluded by the peril of Islamic extremism. The new air war has continued for seven months and Obama has just requested three more years of funding by invoking the War Powers Act (in the new AUMF) expanding its scope to any successor to IS, while Republicans clamor for ground troops (NY Times, Feb., 12).
The US military began its renewed intervention on August 8, 2014, two months after ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul. At least 3100 US troops, unknown numbers of other personnel, 7000 private contractors, and an additional 3500 troops and advisors from nine European nations, Australia, and Canada have also joined the bombing campaign (as well as Jordan, Morocco and very briefly, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, while Egypt bombs Libya). According to the New York Times, the US had conducted 19,000 airstrikes as of Feb. 11, 2015. The UK has reportedly carried out 100 airstrikes and, in February, Jordan launched 56 more, within two days of the video of their captured pilot’s execution. Western armed forces are also re-training the Iraqi Army and advising the Kurdish peshmerga in their coordinated ground qassaults against the Islamic State. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has also joined the fight to protect Iraq’s Shi’i state, independently of the efforts by Western nations. Iran has lost at least 35 combatants, while the US and Western allies have reported not one combat death, a handful of minor injuries, but also the deaths of a dozen or so hostages, journalists, aid workers, curious travelers, and probably a few intelligence agents included in that mix.
The US military claimed in late January 2015, that 6000 “militants ” have been killed since its bombings have resumed (3700 of these during the battle of Kobane), whereas the Islamic State is responsible for the deaths or execution of perhaps 5000 of its Shi’i enemies and captives (according to the UN), since it’s campaign in al Anbar and Ninawa Provinces (since Dec, 2013) and the subsequent capture of Mosul in June of 2014. As many as 6000 Iraqi soldiers and Al Bu Nimr fighters may have died fighting IS/ISIS and their Iraqi allies (such as the Dulaym, Zoba, Al Bu Issa and al Jumaylat “tribes,” and a few allied militias) across Iraq over the past year, although these statistics are clearly less than reliable. The US announced its intention to recapture Mosul in January in coordination with Iraqi armed forces, certainly because Mosul, like Kirkuk, is a major oil region in Iraq, over which Britain and France jockeyed for control during World War I, and which the US rushed to “seize and hold” during the invasion of 2003.
The US has now entered Syria’s conflict, from which it recently demured after the use of chemical weapons was discovered. Iraq Body Count has estimated that over 17,000 civilians were killed in Iraq in 2014 and many sources report over 210,000 have been reportedly killed in nearly four years of civil war and over 7million Syrians have been displaced (internally or as refugees). Civilian non-combatants have been the vast majority of all armed conflicts since WW II, according to many scholars. The US has decided not to attack Syria’s As’ad (mostly Allawi) regime, despite the incredible ferocity of that Government’s war on its own people since 2011, presumably because his most vehement and effective opposition is composed of Sunni Islamists, including ISIS/IS, none of whom would advance Western or Israeli interests if victorious. Sunni Muslims, many associated with the Muslim Brothers, waged an unsuccessful guerilla war against the Hafiz al As’ad regime from 1980 to 1982, and were crushed with over 10,000 killed in Hama in 1982 (Patrick Seale, Asad and the Struggle for the Middle East, 1990).
Meanwhile the antiwar movement in Western societies has been remarkably dormant for years. Barely 1000 marched in London on October 14, 2014; several hundred across Canada protested a week later, but in the US, only Code Pink’s small coterie of D.C. women and Kathy Kelly and radical Christian grouplets bother to attempt civil disobedience at drone bases or Congressional hearings. 150,000 did protest Israel’s siege of Gaza in London on August 11, and a few thousand rallied the month before in London and Oslo, while some in the US blocked Israeli ships, but otherwise, it’s on-line petitions to Congress and Parliament by NGOs, and the wringing of hands. The astute analyst and author, Nick Turse has recently suggested that the US antiwar movement has dwindled because Americans no longer believe they can influence US policy (see tomdispatch.org, Feb 3), but he overlooked the fact that because Obama’s war targets radical Muslims or Muslim civilians living near their encampments, this slaughter arouses very little concern among a distracted and workaholic population already predisposed to regarding Muslims as enemies and thus expendable, even among the Left. North American anti-war activists have notoriously avoided Middle East conflicts, due to widespread sympathy for Zionists, the victims of the Holocaust, and ill-informed confusion over the region’s history, but Pew and Gallup found that only a quarter of the US population between the ages of 18 and 29 backed Israel’s latest attack on Gaza. Europeans may be more familiar with colonialism there, but have been largely reluctant to act in solidarity with Arabs or Muslims.
Brooding in close proximity to the ISIS Crisis, the Jewish State will soon hold a referendum (March 17) on Bibi Netanyahu, the stern and teeth-grinding Likud Party scolder, still plotting to derail a US nuclear deal with Iran, and the hesitating Herzog (Zionist Union) is merely hoping that the US Republicans’ ill-advised invitation has given him a chance in the election. Yet the Palestinians, raw from the Gaza and Jerusalem sieges, years of occupation and the expulsion of half of the entire 1947 population, have cost the Israelis any remaining sympathy beyond the corridors of Washington, DC. The Palestinians, repeatedly betrayed and abandoned, have recently refused to concede the Jewish character of the state as a precondition for more fruitless negotiations. They were swept away in a tsunami of pre-meditated Zionist lust for land, a methodical campaign to establish a specifically Jewish state that won the enthusiastic support of Western powers and the USSR, despite their murder of 345 British Mandate military officers and officials, and the UN mediator, Count Foke Bernadotte, of Sweden. Bridges were blown up, British headquarters bombed, Geneva Conventions flaunted, but no matter, all was forgiven (Patrick Seale, Riad el Solh and the Arab Struggle for Independence, 2010).
David Gruen/Ben Gurion, (1886-1973) a Polish emigre to Palestine (and the US for a time), armed guard for Jewish settlements and Zionist militia member, later became a labor leader and ultimately the most important man in Israel’s history as head of the Jewish Agency from 1935 until Israel ‘s foundation. He became its first military chief during the War of 1947-’48 and elected Prime Minister, leading the nation from 1948 until 1963 (which included a brief hiatus). According to Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe, in 1946-’48, he and his colleagues (Rabin, Yadin, Allon, Sadeh, Zeevi, Pundak, Avidan, etc) meticulously discussed and perfected Plan Dalet, a project of ethnic cleansing that began with frightening intimidation, and quickly proceeded to the comprehensive burning of houses, forced expulsion from homes, rapes and massacres (such as in Dayr Yasin), looting, brutal attacks in the middle of the night against villagers who had never raised a hand against Jewish people. The locals faced barrel bombs, mortar attacks, flaming oil rushing at them from hilltops and land expropriation. Israelis dressed as Arabs, studied Arabic and Palestinian behavior, masquerades they rehearsed in Shefaya, near the Zikhron Yaacov settlement, in order to infiltrate their communities. They brought cars to Palestinian repair shops and exploded them. The Acre water supply was poisoned with typhoid by Zionist saboteurs, who attempted the same in Gaza, before their capture and execution. These scandalous actions did not cause Western armies to launch aerial bombings, nor did statesmen describe the men who committed them as barbaric (Ilan Pappe, Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine, 2007).
With ruthless efficiency, defenseless Palestinians were driven onto the roads and across the hills of the West Bank, and into neighboring lands. Houses and shops were torched unless the Israelis wanted to move in, and over 530 villages were wiped off the land and the maps, half of all existing communities in the entire country. They had all been catalogued in Village Files, compiled with careful attention to water, shops and farms, fertility of the soil, powerful families and their heirlooms, and documented by aerial photography. The Zionists knew more about Palestinian land, villages, and social structures than the Palestinians knew themselves, typical of Social sciences, agronomy, and hydrology were all harnessed for the Jewish state, as well as an extensive network of informants in the seven years before the war began. The Hagana, Palmach, Irgun and LEVI militants forcibly occupied Palestinian cities, and even planted mines in the debris to ensure their inhabitants could never return. From lists they had complied and distributed to each brigade, they lined up those who had fought in the uprising of the late ’30s, and shot them. For nineteen years after they ruled by military fiat, arresting, imprisoning, and deporting their subjected victims without cause or trial, stealing their land for exclusive Jewish use, and forbidding the slightest whimper of dissent. That same process has persisted now in much the same fashion in regard to Occupied Palestine for 68 years. Israel never established a constitution, nor has it ever declared boundaries, just in case other exigencies developed (Pappe).
How did British troops respond, those that were responsible for the population facing these violent evictions? They either trained the Zionists in these methods, integrated them into British forces confronting the 1936-’39 Uprising, advised them how to successfully accomplish their goals, (Major General Orde Wingate) or stood by and watched, advising the Muslims and Christians under attack to leave as quickly as possible to avoid a worse fate (Major General Thomas Stockwell, in Haifa). At the time, the British had assembled 100,000 troops on the ground, more than were present in all of crisis-ridden South Asia, just prior to the Partition. The British had just forced the French to evacuate Syria (1946-’47), after DeGaulle ordered air strikes and other atrocities against the democratic Arab nationalists fighting for their independence in constitutional assemblies in Beirut and Damascus. So the British were amply capable and quite accomplished in using military forces in the region to restore order when it behooved them to do so. In this case, no need. The US supplied WW II surplus armaments and materiel to the Zionists during a ceasefire in the midst of the war and Czechoslovakia contributed even more, with the consent of their Soviet overlords (Pappe; Patrick Seale, Riad el Solh and the Struggle for Arab Independence, 2010).
The architects of the Jewish State were not survivors of the Holocaust, as is widely believed, for they had been in Palestine for decades planning to drive the indigenous people from their lands since they refused to surrender it voluntarily. Some Jews who had fled the Nazis did fight with the Hagana and other Zionist militias. Mizrachi Jews, born in Arab lands, served in brigades described as “lesser units.” Leaflets distributed to Palestinians warned of “ruthless war” with “no compassion” for their suffering, and “certain death” if they dared resist. It was a campaign of intentional ethnocidal terror, according to Israeli revisionist scholars Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris, and Simha Flapan, (although Morris has since justified it), as well as Palestinian historians and scholars such as Walid Khalidi, Nur Mahalsa, Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, and Joseph Massad. The US and USSR, the major military powers after WW II, rushed to recognize the new Jewish State immediately after it’s declaration on May 15, 1948. The war with the circumspect and compromised Arab armies followed for another six months. It wasn’t David vs. Goliath like we were told; it was a war in which the Israelis possessed unmistakeable advantages (Pappe, Seale, Edward Said, The Question of Palestine 1978, Avi Shavit, Survival of the Fittest, Interview with Benny Morris, in CounterPunch, Jan 16-18, 2004).
While both Muslims and Christians scattered with only what they could carry on their backs, their meager irregular fighting forces, with virtually no training or arms, because of an international arms embargo imposed upon them by Western powers, was routed within a few weeks and suffered 13,000 fatalities. When Palestinians failed to respond to initial violent provocations, the Zionists worried that this was an inadequate justification for the wider war they passionately wanted, so as to gain more territory than the generous UN had already allotted them. The surrounding Arab states waited for the official end of the Mandate on May 15, after months of fighting and clear Zionist victories, to send in their timorous armies, which gave the Israelis the cover they needed. Israeli violence was ultimately acceptable to the Europeans, because European Jews, such as Dr. Chaim Weizmann had promised the British that they would promote and protect Western interests (oil, arms, and commerce) in the region, and after the news of the Holocaust became public, Westerners rushed to compensate the survivors with a land of their own, on the manufactured ruins of Palestinian lives (Seale 2010).
The UN Partition Plan of 1947 had offered 56 percent of the land to the Jews, who owned only 6-7 per cent of it and constituted one third of the population (and not quite 30,000 before the waves of immigration began, compared to 1.5 million Palestinians). The Palestinian Arabs were encouraged to accept 44 per cent, despite their centuries-long habitation and cultural traditions rooted there and no responsibility for the Holocaust, whatsoever. Zionists fielded 94,000 armed men at the peak of the conflict, and began with 35,000 fighters, while the poorly armed and trained Arabs from the still European-occupied Arab states, Egypt, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and the Levant (occupied until Dec., 1947) had a combined force of 25,000 at its climax. The best equipped Arab force, the Arab Legion of Trans-Jordan, an instrument of British power, had already secretly agreed to severely limit it’s activities in secret collusion between King ‘Abdullah and the immigrant Russian-American teacher from Milwaukee, Goldie Mabovich /Golda Myerson Meir, an agent of the Jewish Agency and close associate of Ben Gurion. The Arab Legion did fight to secure the Old City of Jerusalem and various other areas of the West Bank that the Israelis had initially agreed to forfeit to ‘Abdullah, to further his own ambitions at the expense of unwitting locals who assumed their fellow Arabs were fighting on their behalf. King ‘Abdullah’s collusion was exposed by his top general after the war, ‘Abdullah al Tal, with documentation published in the Egyptian and Lebanese press (Pappe, Seale, 2010).
If one argued that the deaths of 6 million Jews at the hands of a European fascist state could justify driving Palestinians from their lands, then doesn’t it also follow, that Palestinians and Iraqis could reasonably justify the formation of Islamic states, even if this entailed considerable violence? Iraq was invaded and a British colonial regime was implanted there for almost half a century (1920-1958). When Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid ‘Ali al Gaylani tried to lead his military officers to mount a nationalist military coup and expel the British in 1941, he was crushed and the British puppet, Hashemite regent ‘Abd al ‘Ilah and the more independent opportunist, Nuri al Sa’id, were reinstated. After the Gulf War, the US imposed sanctions that destroyed over 1 million lives (1991-2003) and the American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of between 100,000 and 1 million people, while US forces remained in the country. The resumption of war between Iraq’s Shi’i dominated state and Sunni militants and their communities, since Dec., 2013, a direct result of the war and occupation, have brought even more calamity (according to UNHCR estimates, more than 11,000 dead and 1.9 million more internally displaced people). If the violence used to establish the respective states becomes the criteria for evaluation, then the violence by Zionists was unquestionably more extreme than that by ISIS (or far more than by HAMAS and the PLO), however difficult that is for Westerners to face. Furthermore, as Saudi King ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ibn Sa’ud often remarked, Germany was the cause of the Holocaust, not Palestinians. Why was a Jewish state not created in Germany?
The Holocaust eventually ended and Israelis now have a national homeland, a highly militarized state that guarantees citizenship for any Jew from anywhere in the world, who can find her or his way there, while the Palestinian Nakba, their own national catastrophe, grinds on this very day, with millions still in exile, and no sovereignty or political rights to speak of, and no right of return, despite the innumerable international legal and historical precedents that require it. Israel is certainly exceptional. It is regarded fondly by a majority of Westerners as an exemplary model of Western civilization for a tragically oppressed people. The obfuscation of the crimes against humanity that underly it has never been admitted, seriously explored, nor remedied. That is not to claim however,that Israel is unique in its violence or in the wholesale disregard of the human needs of the population under its control in West Asia. Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, and Iran all have dismal records in that regard, and the Gulf States have notoriously oppressed the migrant and Shi’i workers (often South Asians) that sustain their oil economies.
The Israeli assaults on Palestinians in Gaza are repeated every few years, while the scale of the human and physical destruction that accelerates apace, is ignored, despite impassioned protestation of the victims, and those that seek to publicize their plight. Arab nationalism in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, and the Levant was thwarted at every turn, until Arabs drove out Western powers by their resistance, the sacrifice of their lives, and the undying enmity of their colonizers who continue to bomb, strafe and demonize them to this day. Yet, the Islamic state and its lunatic crimes are depicted as a threat to the national security of Western states, requiring the widest mobilization of forces. ISIS is an unprecedented, wicked nightmare of medieval fanatics, while the Jewish state, despite its rough edges, is the realization of Revelation, and deserving of billions in annual foreign aid, a fortress of the most advanced weapons available, and unflagging protection from scrutiny in the UN, the International Criminal Court, or in any juridical body in the Western world. The Jewish state and the extant Islamic states (Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, and now Iraq/Syria) have all thus far, proven to be cruel hoaxes, engineered by secular oligarchs (except for Ayatollah Khameini) cynically legitimizing oppressive regimes by claiming religious heritage as founding narratives.
Over the past six years, Israel has mercilessly attacked Gaza’s Muslims and its Government four times, most recently this summer. HAMAS was elected into power fairly, by nearly all accounts; but nevermind, they are terrorists and ever shall be. Precious little is rebuilt, despite promises by Western states, but it’s always time for more destruction nevertheless against more Muslim “fanatics” a few miles away. The latest bloodletting in Gaza, in July 2014, killed over 2000 people and buried hundreds of defenseless children, women, and men in the thrice-rebuilt ruins of their houses, offices, and makeshift shelters, while being justified by US and other Western governments, despite profound dread and regret behind the scenes. Needless to say, the Western media quickly turned away, never harped on the vicious brutality as a cause for an air campaign against the Likud perpetrators, nor was any rescue mission dispatched or even the slightest sanctions, except by well-meaning NGOs that faced deadly fire on the Mediterranean, and by those that have launched the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). Some Israelis ate popcorn while watching the bombing show and laughed, cheering for more. They were not called barbarians, were not chastised as remnants of some Medieval regression, and were not profiled on CNN. They are so modern! They share our “Judeo-Christian” (sic) tradition.
It is only 550 miles from Jerusalem to Mosul, a little further than from Boston to Washington DC, or from San Francisco to San Diego, or from Amsterdam to Paris. The belief that Israel’s Iron Wall will protect it from the weapons of Hizb’ullah, Iran, Hamas, or the Islamic State for much longer is absurd. Israel strongly supported the US invasion of Iraq and encouraged further invasions of Syria and Iran, yet political analysts across the spectrum now believe that the invasion of Iraq benefited Iran more than any party in the region. Israel and the Islamic States that are now proliferating around it share the same neighborhood, but the origins and genealogies of their respective religio-ethnic states are startlingly divergent, especially regarding support from secular Western powers, so otherwise adamant that religion must be separated from politics and the state.
The Vision of a Jewish State
The dreams of European Jews for a national homeland in the last quarter of the nineteenth century were certainly understandable as Jews faced persecution in the Russia Empire amid violent pogroms in many regions, a condition they had endured for centuries at the hands of European Christians, especially during the Crusades and later, in the Spanish Inquisition. Jews were also killed by Muslims in Granada in 1066 and many lost their lives in riots in Morocco and Algeria, from the fifteenth through the early nineteenth centuries. Many Jews were killed in Libya in 1785, and they suffered significant discrimination in 17th century Iran, Bukhara, and in Yemen, in at least two periods under the centuries- long Zaydi Shi’i Imamate. Nevertheless, the Osmanli Empire was a welcome refuge for them.
Jews lived in a Jewish states in Israel prior to and following the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE, into the Seleucid era. Then Jewish rebellions like the Maccabees (and their Hasmonean Dynasty) brought about Roman intervention and further efforts at independence provoked imperialist repression and the Diaspora. Jews lived in a nominally Jewish state in Khazaria, a Turkish realm in the Caucasus and southern Russia, where rulers adopted Judaism as a state religion from the late 830s CE until their defeat and absorption into Russia in the decades after 965 CE. Tens of thousands of Jews are thought to have lived there and most probably influenced the cultures of medieval Russian and eastern European Jews in later centuries. A series of small proto-Zionist projects followed in the Middle Ages in Tiberias, Palestine, by the affluent Andalusian Jewish exile, Joseph Nasi, facilitated by Osmanli Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul. Tiberias persisted as a Jewish community for a century, and after most of the Palestinians who lived there were driven out in 1947-’48, remains so today.
Christian persecution of Jews reached a climax in the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews and Muslims were both driven from the Iberian Peninsula by the crusading zeal of the victorious Castilian and Aragon kingdoms. Jews had fled to safer shores in Europe, but also to North Africa, Istanbul, Salonika, Palestine, and elsewhere across the Mediterranean. The nationalism sweeping across eastern Europe, in the wake of the decline of the Ottomans, and the Prussian victory over the French in their War of 1870-’71, bolstered German romantic nationalism (blood and soil, common ancestry, language, Kultur, folksongs, et al) and particularly influenced the Austrian, Polish and Russian secular Jews (many of whom emigrated to Britain, the US and Palestine), that founded the most important Zionist circles and mass organizations. These men saw the three millennia of Jewish religious and cultural traditions as the bedrock of a potential Jewish national movement, despite the fact that they had become largely secularized and no longer sought to preserve the religious heritage of Orthodox interpretations of the rabbis and scholars. They certainly intended to harness that religious heritage, for a return en masse, to Palestine (Nur Mahalsa, The Palestine Nakba, 2012).
One major obstacle to that project was the textual religious tradition that anticipated a return to Israel, only after the Mashiach (Messiah) appeared in an apocalyptic messianic age, and thus the early hostility of the Orthodox religious to any politicized innovation born of the Jewish Enlightenment, the Haskalah, associated with Moses Mendlesohn, and the Yiddish and Hebrew literature spawned from it. The project was often interpreted as a corollary of anti-clericalism and anti-Semitism, like that of Voltaire, and of controversial Reform Judaism and thereby blasphemous (Rabbi Hirsch vs. Andrew Geiger, et al). Zionism was often subject to the same passionate opposition, but the tide most definitely turned in the modernist direction of the maskilim. Ha’am championed cultural Zionism as an alternative to the conceptions of the religious Jews that Herzl had so ardently sought to lure toward the movement, and Ha’am later became a critic of Zionist colonies for their condescending indifference toward Palestinian peasants in the 1880s, which he feared would lead to violence. Many Jewish critics of Zionism feared that the movement would cause anti-Semitism to intensify (David Myers, WasThere a Jerusalem School?…Reshaping the Past; Studies in Contemporary Jewry, Vol. X, 1994, Schmuel Feiner, The Jewish Enlightenment, 2003).
The founders of Zionist organizations were largely professional, middle class Jews, significantly assimilated into European and Russian society and culture, and far removed from rabbinical scholars and those who frequented the synagogues. But they were not the real constituency Zionists intended to mobilize. They needed young people with worldly ambition, ready to change Jewish history profoundly and these youth became the focus of both the Viennese writer Nathan Birnbaum’s Kadimah student groups and the Russian physician of Odessa, Leon Pinsker, who organized the Hovevai Zion (Lovers of Zion) that began their colonial experiments in 1878/1883 at PetahTikvah, the first colony, just west of Jaffa/Tel Aviv. Birnbaum returned to Orthodox religiosity during WWI and became a committed anti-Zionist, as did the secular Albert Einstein. Herzl, Weizmann, and the French Baron Edmund James de Rothschild, whose philanthropy funded the purchase of lands and formation of early colonies in Palestine, and Ben Gurion in the 1930s, were all convinced of the wisdom of tying the project to the imperial powers, and after WW I, to Britain. Britain and France had already begun to encircle Palestine long before that war (e.g. the French in Mt. Lebanon during and after the 1860 massacre of Christians by the Druze Shi’i and the Sunnis in Damascus; a British vice consul for Palestine appointed by Lord Palmerston in 1840; the British purchase of Egyptian shares in the Suez Canal in 1875, followed by the 1882 British occupation of Egypt). That strategy proved to be a very successful one, to say the least.
When the prospect of a Jewish state arose in the early decades of the 20th Century, and Zionists focused on the colonization of Arab Palestine, powerful Western politicians and diplomats were eager to embrace the idea, regardless of centuries of anti-Semitism in Christian Europe and North America. As small settlements were organized by Zionist immigrants to the west of Jaffa (Tel Aviv), in the Galilee and the Negev desert, their Arab neighbors were soon drawn into disputes (in 1886) over grazing rights and Jewish racism against them. Those conflicts soon spread to other colonies and urban centers as Jewish immigration grew, but the Palestinians had lived peaceably among local non-Zionist Jews for centuries. Well educated and assimilated Jewish professionals like the Viennese writer Theodore Herzl lobbied the Ottoman Sultan and German leaders before WWI and Polish emigre and chemist, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, in London, the undisputed Zionist leader (President of the World Zionist Organization), from WW I until 1930, soon began to persuade and woo British elites, including the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour. His commitment to the formation of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, recently occupied by British forces during the world war against Germany, the Habsburg and the Osmanli (Ottoman) Empires, was made official in his famous Declaration of British policy in 1917. Weizmann was already anticipating transfer policy, telling sympathetic British officials that “the Arabs will have to go elsewhere.” (Zahar Huneidi, A Broken Trust, Herbert Samuel, Zionism, and the Palestinians, 2001)
Another less well known British Zionist, Herbert Samuel, only the second Jew to achieve Cabinet-level power in the British Government (after Disraeli, who converted to Anglicanism as a boy and also backed proto-Zionist ideas), after serving as Home Secretary, first proposed the formation of a Jewish state to Balfour in 1914. He was appointed High Commissioner of Palestine from 1920-’25, a decision (by PM Lloyd George, who was also committed to the Zionist project) that was regarded as incendiary by General Allenby, Commander of British forces in Palestine. Mark Sykes, who secured the 1916 secret understanding with France’s Picot, about European control of the Middle East, also became a committed advocate of Zionism, after discussions with Weizmann, the French philanthropist, Baron de Rothschild, and British rabbis. Samuel’s facilitation of Jewish power, immigration, and land sales in Palestine was the writing on the wall. Soon Palestinian Muslim leaders like the Mufti al Hajj Amin al Husayni assumed leadership of the growing protest of Zionism, and the brazen betrayal of the Arabs who had so recently been promised an independent state for their participation in an armed revolt against Istanbul, organized by the British and the infamous T.E. Lawrence (Huneidi 2001).
Among the Zionists who organized the colonization effort was the Russian journalist Zeev Jabotinsky, who fought the Czarist forces in the pogrom in Odessa in 1905, with the military aid of future Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. Jabotinsky knew the project would require a military effort because he recognized that the Palestinians were an indigenous people, a nation, that would never accept “an alien settler” population in their midst. He suggested that an “iron wall” would have to be erected to protect a fledging Jewish state from the inevitable resistance that would arise to combat it (see Avi Shalim, The Iron Wall, 2000, and Jabotinsky, On the Iron Wall, 1923). Beginning in 2002, that wall was built and now surrounds and suffocates the people suppressed behind it. Now it’s Jerusalem, that sacred city of three faiths, that is being cleansed of its Palestinian “problem,”with more and more neighborhoods being Judaized and it’s Palestinan inhabitants evicted or buried beneath an avalanche of settlements, demolitions, restrictions on movement, and access to the al Aqsa Mosque and the Haram al Sharif. Unless you are too old to present a threat, and you don’t have official residence in the city, you will never see those glorious sites, unlike Jews or foreign tourists; even then, for American non-Jews, it is becoming more and more difficult (Huneidi 2001, Joseph Nedava, Trotsky and the Jews, 1972)
Jabotinsky’s (Revisionist Zionist) fascist followers formed the Covenant of the Ruffians (Berit ha-Biryonim) in 1931, that gave rise to Menachem Begin’s Irgun and Abraham Stern and Yitshak Shamir’s Levi, or the Stern Gang, two groups that attacked British officials and Palestinians in terrorist-style shootings and bombings. Later their progeny plotted the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, and backed the younger Rabbi Kook’s theology of settlements on occupied land as spiritual redemption, giving rise to Gush Emunim. The religious fringe approved the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitshak Rabin for daring to negotiate land for peace. Current Netanyahu cabinet members openly advocate annexation of the West Bank and restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel if they don’t profess sufficiently their loyalty to the Jewish state, not to mention tranfer of those resisting the perpetual limbo of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Nazis proceeded to destroy the Jewish community in Europe and began that project by enlisting a few Protestant churches to support their fascist program. When that didn’t proceed quickly enough, Hitler gave up and reverted to his secular impulses. The Zionist project then sifted through the wreckage in order to utilize whatever remained for their campaign. The British, Americans, and Soviets put aside any reservations and backed them wholeheartedly regardless of the violence and moral compromise necessary to clear the “land without a people for a people without a land.” Jews and Palestinians both paid the price for the European bloodletting, but in extremely different ways, and across very divergent historical eras.
The Arabian state established by Muhammad ibn Sa’ud in the western Najd region of the Arabian Peninsula, in 1744, with an alliance of militant Bedoiun tribes (the Ikhwan, Brothers) under the aegis of a reformist Islamic theology of scholar, Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al Wahhab (1793-1792) marked a milestone in modern Islamic political life. It’s strict scripturalist interpretation of the Qur’an and it’s emphasis on jihad against “corruption” of this tradition also enabled Sa’ud’s conquest of the Shi’i holy city of Karbala. Those whose practices were deemed unacceptably innovative from early Islam could be expelled from the Muslim community (the practice of “takfir”). ‘Abd al Wahhab’s theology was rooted in a purist monotheistic conception of the unity of God, and condemned any deviation from the practices associated with the Prophet Muhammad, the Four Rightly Guided Khalufa (Successors to Muhammad, or Caliphs, as the leaders of the Muslim community), and the first three generations of Ancestors, “salaf”, thus Salafism. This first Saudi movement was decidedly anti-British, who were expanding throughout the Persian Gulf and egalitarian (Alexei Vassiliev, The History of Saudi Arabia, 2000).
Those who advocated this Unity of God theology and anti-imperialist Islamism were called al Muwahiddun: advocates of Montheism (or Wahhabis). The purist morality and exclusivist ideology marked a dramatic shift from the far more flexible and inclusive theological foundations of the three great extant Islamic empires, the Savafids of Persia, the Mughals of India, and the Osmanli (Ottoman) Empire and Khalifate in Anatolia, the Arab world, and southeastern Europe. After the jihad led to the capture of Makka and Madina from 1803-1813, a dramatic threat to the political and religious prestige of the Osmanli Khalifate, the Egyptian son of the military strongman Mehmet Ali, defeated the first Saudi state and returned most of Arabia to Osmanli control in 1818, but the theological roots, the deployment of jihad, and its anti-imperialism were to have a dramatic impact on Muslim reactions to Western colonialism for the next two centuries (Vassiliev).
A second Saudi state was established by a descendant of Sa’ud, Turki Ibn Abdullah in 1824, after Egyptian forces were driven out of the Najd, and was consolidated by his son Faysal (ibn Turki ibn ‘Abdullah al Sa’ud; 1785-1865) in 1934. A new generation of “tribal” Ikhwan again rallied around the theological orientation of ‘Abd al Wahhab, with a capital in Riyadh and this state endured until 1891. The second Sa’udi state was riddled with deadly factions and rivalries, and once again, Egyptian armies denied them control of the Holy Cities after 1936. Across the Red Sea, a militant Sufi leader of the Samaniyya Order, Muhammad Ahmad al Mahdi, inspired by this same theology, despite it’s campaign against Sufism, captured the capital Khartoum, defeated and killed the unfortunate Christian British Governor-General Charles George Gordon, besieged there, in the first years of the British occupation of Egypt. Ahmad, who claimed the title of the Mahdi ( based on a folk legend of a Muslim “guided one” who would come to lead Muslims just prior to the Day of Judgement) died shortly after his military proto-state was founded, but it further consolidated by his successor, the Khalifa, ‘Abdullahi Ibn Muhammad, until he was defeated and the Sudan was colonized by the British in 1898 (Vassiliev, P.M. Holt, The Mahdist State in the Sudan, 1958).
Sharif Husayn of Makka, governing steward of the Islamic Holy Cities from 1908, which his extended family controlled for nearly seven centuries, had been the principal focus for the symbolic leadership of the Arab Revolt (1916-1918), a British-inspired plan to detach the southern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, and secretly divide them with France (the Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1916, after the British discovered oil in Iran in 1908). Husayn had set his sights on being the leader of the Muslim world, a new Arab Khalifa, once the Turkish leaders in Istanbul were defeated by the British. He assigned his son Faysal (the future humiliated King of Iraq, via Damascus) the task of leading Arab fighters into battle, from the Hijaz, in Arabia, and from its Syrian Province (present day Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon). The British reneged on that vague commitment (in the McMahon Correspondence, between Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner of colonial Egypt with Sharif Husayn) and disregarded Arab hopes for their independence, because the British had long regarded Muslims as subversive enemies in their global empire, that extended from Malaysia and South Asia, to the Persian Gulf and East Africa, all the way to Egypt, Sudan, and Nigeria. So Arab efforts to establish an Islamic state with British support failed. Once again, Jews were to be the chosen people, but this time by the imperialists.
As Jewish nationalists emigrated in larger numbers to Palestine in the 1920s, the Palestinians and Arabs, from Egypt to Iraq, chafed under British and French military rule. The Sharif of Makka dreamed of an Arab Islamic Khalifate to supplant the Turkish one. There hadn’t been an Arab Khalifate since the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in the thirteenth century and murdered the last Arab Khalifa, al Musta’sim Billa in 1258 CE. Pakistani philosopher Mawlana ‘Abul A’la Maududi advocated an Islamic State in Pakistan the 1950s, to induce secular Muslims into returning to their faith, to undo the psychological and spiritual damage of two centuries of British colonial Christian and secular culture. Palestinian Islamic scholar and Afghan jihad theorist and organizer, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam revived the concept of a Khalifate to rule a very large Islamic State or Empire in the 1980s, as did his protege, ‘Usama bin Ladin, to strike the heart of the American empire in the Middle East. Al Qa’ida also challenged the primacy of the Shi’i Islamic Republic, established in Iran by the followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
When King ‘Abd al ‘Aziz ibn Sa’ud attacked and captured Makka and Madina in 1924, this time with the support of the British, they did nothing to stop him, which drove Sharif Husayn into permanent exile, where he died in 1931. Thus the British no longer had to face their broken promises of Arab and Palestinian independence to the Hasemite dynasty. From that date on the Saudis established their third Islamic state in much of the Arabian Peninsula, again based on the religious ideology of ‘Abd al Wahhab, a far cry from the conception of Islam of the Sharif of Makka and the secular nationalism of most if the Arabs of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, at that time. Yet another new generation of Ikhwan militants captured Makka and Madina again, until they were brought to heel by King ‘Abd al Aziz ibn Sa’ud. The obeisant Saudi religious establishment today overlooks and justifies the luxurious life of the royal family, their political compromise with Western policies, and the leadership’s widespread violation of the religious and communal austerity of Shaykh ‘Abd al Wahhab and the Ikhwan.
The conception of an Islamic state has been a critical element of politicized Islam ever since the emergence of ‘Abd al Wahhab and ibn Sa’ud in the 18th Century and it inspired Islamic state formations from Mali and Nigeria in the west to Sumatra in the far east. This project became far more urgent after the abolition of the Osmanli (Ottoman) Khalifate by the secular Turkish military leader and first President of the Republic, Musafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924. Ataturk (1881-1938) admired modernism and European progress and saw Islam as an obstacle for Turkish nationalism and the transformation of Turkish society along modernist lines. In direct confrontation with that Western legacy, was the doctrine espoused and established by Iranian Shi’i revolutionary, Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-1989), and his followers, in the Islamic Republic, originally conceived as rule by Shi’i clerics (velayat-i faqih), quite distinct from that of the three Saudi regimes in the 19th and 20th centuries, ruled by military sultans with Islamic advisors.
The establishment of an Islamic state, ruled under Shari’a law has also been a central ideological component of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (ikhwan al Islamiyya) from their origins in the the 1920s, as well as their tortured, executed ideologue, Sayyid Qutb. The Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt) has since renounced violence as a strategy to establish an Islamic state, but still hopes to achieve it through democratic, constitutional means, as they attempted to do in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution 2012-’13, before they were overthrown, imprisoned and massacred in Cairo by General al Sisi’s military regime, with the repugnant acquiescence of the Islamic scholars of al Ahzar, the thousand year-old Islamic University and Mosque in Cairo. Contemporary Muslim scholars are engaged in wide-ranging debates on the prospect of Islamic states, and they range from liberal, democratic versions, such as that of ‘Abdullahi Ahmad an Na’im and Abdolkarim Souroush to outright rejection by modernists as well as by those who criticize the modern state as incompatible with Islam (Wael Hallaq).
Secular nationalists, leftists, Communists, and liberal democrats among the Arabs (and in other Muslim zones of the world) discouraged the Islamic trend as regressive, ultra-conservative, and damaging to the prospects for material progress, and the containment of the Zionists and the West. When in power they often imprisoned and tortured them and ignored or co-opted religious leaders to diminish its influence in Arab society. When these secular nationalists failed to solve the crisis of an expansive Zionist state, in 1967, or the military intervention of the West in 1991 and 2003, many were discredited. The Islamic trend reared it’s head yet again as the last hope of resurrecting the Arab and Muslim peoples, and it has now been reconfigured as a revolutionary ideology, committed to jihadist confrontation. The contest, intellectual, political, and military, between various forms of secularism, nationalism, authoritarianism, and Islamism is a distinctive feature of contemporary Muslim societies.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an offshoot of al Qa’ida in Mesopotamia, began using the concepts of jihad and an Islamic state to elevate its peripheral status and mark its alliance with several other groups of Islamist fighters in October of 2006, under the leadership of ‘Abu ‘Ayyub al Masri, or perhaps ‘Abu Omar al Baghdadi in Baquoba, Iraq. Al Masri/al Baghdadi was/were killed in 2010 in US bombings and the group came under the leadership of ‘Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (b. 1971), who assumed the mantle of self-appointed Khalifa of the Islamic State, based in Mosul, in July, 2014. He is an Islamic scholar, with the equivalent of a PhD in Islamic studies and has been deeply influenced by ‘Abd al Wahhab, the Saudi Ikhwan, and Salafist, Takfiri doctrines. His religious authority is significantly greater than bin Ladin’s and his political and military achievements have been remarkable, the first serious effort to patch together an Islamic Fertile Crescent, since the Hashemites’ unpopular projects and Nuri al Sa’id’s proposals from WWI until 1946, when the Arab League and other Arab leaders universally spurned them. Like bin Ladin, al Baghdadi’s entry onto the world stage has been a political earthquake, despite the moral depravity of ISIS ethnic cleansing projects, mass executions, and media spectacles.
The Islamic State in Iraq congealed as a jihadist network to challenge the US forces in Iraq in 2003-2005, as al Qa’ida in Mesopotamia. They took credit for the bombing of the UN office in a Baghdad hotel and the death of the Brazilian UN Representative Sergio Vieria de Mello, and twenty other staff. The bombing was in protest of the international legitimacy afforded the invasion by the presence of the UN and forced it to leave, which was a dramatic turning point in the fortunes of the US occupation. It was also an eerie repetition of the Zionist attack on the British and the UN in Palestine nearly sixty years before. The group was renamed the Islamic State of Iraq in October, 2006 and has subscribed to the Takfiri doctrines espoused by the Jordanian veteran of the Afghan and Iraq wars, ‘Abu Musab al Zarqawi, (Ahmad Fadil al Nazal al Khalayleh; 1966-2006). Al-Zarqawi attacked his Shi’i enemies in Iraq, who had worked with the US invaders to establish a new state, once Saddam Hussayn was on the run, captured and executed. Al Zarqawi justified the killing of Muslims by condemning them as heretics, non-Muslims, and collaborators with the American imperialists.
He had taken up that perspective from his mentor, Jordanian Shaykh Muhammad al Maqdisi, who in turn had accepted the revolutionary conceptions of Sayyid Qutb, and Palestinian Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam. Qutb and Shaykh al Maqdisi had deployed the concept of “takfir,” to specifically confront nominally Muslim political leaders, who had betrayed the principles of the Faith and the interests of the Muslim community, and thereby justified challenging their rule and perhaps even assassination, in order to subsequently establish Islamic States that would pursue social justice according to Islamic principles. Shaykh ‘Azzam rejected “takfir”against other Muslims, but supported revolutionary jihad against non-Muslim governments that occupied any Muslim lands. The concept of takfir was deployed by legendary Iraqi-Egyptian Islamic scholars, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Kathir, in the fourteenth century, both of whom justified fighting nominally Muslim leaders of the later Mongol state of the Il Khanate (in Iran and Anatolia), to protect Syria and Egypt, and its Muslim Mamluk leaders from conquest. Their fatwas (fatawa, or legal judgements, based on their well-informed understanding of Islamic law, and it’s interpretation) formed much of the basis for Salafism and Takfiri doctrines ever among politicized Muslim movements in the past two centuries (Andrew McGregor, Jihad and the Rifle Alone, ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam and the Islamist Revolution, The Journal of Conflict Studies, Vol 23, No. 2, Fall, 2003).
The US successfully marginalized the al Qa’ida forces in Iraq by hunting down, droning and otherwise killing and capturing it’s leaders and many combatants, and imprisoning and torturing thousands of others, while at the same time persuading the leaders of Sunni kin-based organizations in al Anbar Province to buy into a Shi’i-dominated state. The Sunni Awakening, and its al Sawha Militia, as it was called, proved short-lived, as Iraq slid into authoritarian rule, led by the Da’wa Party (Islamic Call) and it’s Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The Da’wa Party was founded in the late 1960s as a Shi’i Islamist movement to overthrow Saddam Hussayn and his secular, nationalist Ba’thist Party. Renowned scholar and leader of the Sadrist Movement, Muhammad Baqir al Sadr became a leading voice, but ultimately split from the organization in the late 1970s. Al Maliki forced the US out of Iraq, without bases or residual forces, in the Status of Forces Agreement of 2008, with the guidance and assistance of Iran’s Islamic Republic, and the last US forces were withdrawn in December of 2011. They have since returned at the request of al Maliki.
The profound distrust and exclusion of the Sunni minority, including the raid and attack on the Finance Minister, in December, 2013, led to massive protests, blockades, and urban encampments in sixteen Iraqi cities demanding an end to corruption, employment for Sunnis, the end of anti-terrorism laws used to harass Sunnis, the release of prisoners and other political concessions. These actions were organized in the wider context of the revolutionary protests across the Arab world, beginning in 2011. In April of 2013, violent repression, including the killing of the Sunni Agriculture Minister, led to massive protests and more repression, especially in the Falluja, Ramadi, and al Hawijah protest blockades and camps that soon provoked a total collapse of the fragile consensus holding Iraqi society together (Another important Sunni leader, Shaykh Qassem al Janabi, of Baghdad, was just assassinated February 15 with six others, leading to another Sunni boycott of the Council of Representatives) The Shi’i militant leader Muqtada al Sadr, descendant of the Sadr family that embraced the jihad against the British in 1920 was a nearly singular pillar of non-sectarian consensus. He supported the Sunni protests, encouraging an “Iraqi Spring,” until the ISIS offensive captured Mosul and threatened Baghdad. Al Sadr and his Saraya al Salam (peace brigades) forces have since joined the “popular mobilization of forces” to support the Iraqi Army in its confrontation with the Islamic State (Asharq al Awsat, Jan.20, 2015; www.aawsat.net)
In this highly sectarian atmosphere, (despite al Sadr’s attempted intervention), Sunni communities and kin based organizations, as well as the former Ba’thist military officers, decided to ally themselves with the newly invigorated Islamic State of Iraq, that found new success fighting in Syria. Their combat in Syria against the As’ad regime, and other resistance organizations was conducted under the leadership of al Bagdadi (Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali Muhammad al Badri al Samarra’i) who coordinated a new organization with a close knit group of allies in the Bucca Camp, a US prison near Basra. There, militants, Ba’thists, Islamists, and Takfiris from al Zarqawi’s groups shared a plan to become the vanguard of all Islamic resistance groups in the Syrian-Iraqi region, stretching between Aleppo, in northern Syria, to Mosul, and Falluja, in western Iraq, all the way to the fluid borders of the autonomous Kurdish state in northeastern Iraq and further south into the environs of Baghdad itself. Al Maliki’s government fell after Iraqi troops proved inadequate to defend Mosul, in June of 2014, and was replaced by another Shi’i clique, still led by Da’wa Party Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, with US blessings, in September, 2015 (Martin Chulov, ISIS: The Inside Story, The Guardian, Dec. 11, 2014).
In this latest phase of its activities, from 2013 through early 2015, the Islamic State has killed six thousand people (more or less ?) and driven several hundred thousand Yazidis (a Kurdish syncretic monotheistic religious sect that combines Zoroastrian, Christian, and Islamic elements) and Iraqi Christians out of their Mt. Sinjar homelands, toward Kurdistan (a few thousand have since returned). IS has come to rule a sizable territory, roughly the size of Texas, or slightly larger than France. It is thought to include a nominally Naqshbandi Sufi militia associated with former Ba’thist commander, and Saddam Hussayn loyalist,’Izzat Ibrahim al Douri (JRTN). IS has utilized tens of thousands of recruits from across the globe and has cleverly designed digital propaganda to draw the US into another war in the Middle East, and transform its struggle with other Muslim resistance groups for supremacy on the battlefield into a global clash with the West. It has also carried out innumerable bombing attacks inside Baghdad since the summer of 2014, a strategy it carried out in the most violent period of its jihad against the US occupation in the mid-2000s.
Their strategy of assymetrical terror and warfare, waged against a militarily superior opponent, clearly derive from bin Ladin’s previous adventures. Both are reminiscent of the theories advanced in the Communist underground of Brazil and Uruguay in the late 1960s, as described in Carlos Marighella’s Mini Manual for urban guerillas. Marighella thought that terror attacks would provoke the Latin American fascists to strike back with greater force, thereby expose their brutality, and eventually lead the masses to support the radical Left underground. The attacks were intended to polarize society, divide the population into those who backed the regime and those that resisted it, and thus facilitate a total transformation of the political order. The Tupamaros of Uruguay put those ideas into practice, and despite their defeat in the short term, today a former Tupamaros guerilla, Juan Mojica is President and the fascists have disappeared from the political horizon.. Democratic rule has replaced fascist juntas across the continent, even though neo-liberal capitalism is a far more tenacious obstacle than military rule. This comparison of strategy is by no means intended to equate the Tupamaros with the Islamic State; however it does debunk the oft-repeated canard that these Islamist militants are ultra-conservative. They are in fact innovative, modernist revolutionaries with a conception of Islam at great variance from traditionalists of any stripe (McGregor, Faisal Devji, Landscapes of the Jihad, 2005 and The Terrorists’ Search for Humanity, 2008; Alastair Crooke, Resistance; The Essence of Islamic Revolution, 2009; Bobby Sayeed, A Fundamental Fear, 1997).
As of January, 2015, the Islamic State has advanced the jihad in Iraq far beyond the initial steps of al Qa’ida in the decade since the US invasion, and has profoundly shaken the Shi’i Da’wa Party regime, while amassing a war budget in smuggled oil proceeds, and contributions from Salafist donors across the Middle East. It’s attacks and attempted hegemony over Islamist militias in Syria, and its control of much of the northwest and west is based far less on popular support than on military muscle, and is highly contested around Aleppo, and in the west and south. Inside its urban bases, it has allegedly crushed political opponents, public deviance from its Salafist social codes, and those it regards as apostates or non-Muslims. The violence that it engages in may be influenced by Abu Bakr Naji’ s theory of the “management of savagery,” engaging in a long war of attrition against its Western and Western-backed opponents. This war is initiated by military operations of “vexation and exhaustion” of the enemy, then forcing them into “paying the price” by capturing hostages and killing them ” in a terrifying manner,” and finally forging a provisional state to protect Muslims from the chaos, through renewed security, the provision of services, and the establishment of Shari’a to accord them social justice. Naji asserts that this strategy was practiced by Abu Bakr and ‘Ali Ibn ‘Ali Talib, the first and fourth Khalufa (Caliphs) to subdue warring tribes, anxious to eradicate Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Muslims won that struggle and prevailed (see Hassan Hassan, the Guardian, Feb. 10, 2015; Abu Bakr Naji, The Management of Savagery, azelin.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/Abu-bakr-naji-the-management-of-savagery-the-most-critical-stage-through-which-the-umma-will-pass.pdf).
It is impossible to judge how prevalent the well publicized outrages of IS/ISIS are and to what degree they are merely media spectacles to provoke more military invasions from the West, one of the possible objectives of its reverse psychology. As French scholar of Islamism in North Africa, Francois Burgat has reported, many of the massacres attributed to the GIA in Algeria were actually the work of Algerian security forces posing as Islamists to discredit their revolutionary movement in the 1990s. That possibility certainly remains to be explored in relation to ISIS. Western states have been drawn back into the abyss of intervention in Iraq, and might still polarize the Muslim community worldwide, attracting more militant recruits to the region. Such intervention has led thus far to unquestioned US political failure, reduced Western influence across the region, and spurred the spectacular growth of Islamist militancy. The reaction of the region’s Muslims as the violence spreads is difficult to predict. The US hopes that it will eventually win the day, but that was not the result of it’s actions since 2001, when it last garnered any sympathy in the region. It’s continuing support for an increasingly belligerent Israel does not auger well for its prospects of turning Arab and Muslim opinion in a more favorable direction.
The larger context for the political strategy of IS is the violent rivalries which have plagued Iraq and Syria, since independence (1946 in Syria and 1958 in Iraq), between Arab nationalists, Ba’th Party factions of Syrian and Iraqi origin, Communists and Islamists and the Western/Israeli conspiracies to undermine all of the above. The latter were first hatched by Britain and France, then the US and Israel, the most powerful military and political forces in the region over the past century. These incredibly complex intrigues inside nearly every Western Asian state since the British and French Mandates were established in the aftermath of World War I, can be explained by the determination to control the vast oil reserves of the region in the modern capitalist economy and it’s military applications for world dominance, no matter the cost to local people. As Noam Chomsky has pertinently reminded us, George Kennan, the US national security advisor and political theorist of the WW II era, called West Asian petroleum reserves the greatest material prize in world history. Whatever the motivations for stoking violence inside Syria and Iraq over the past century, it is impossible to hold power there without constructing an incredibly dominating monopoly of force, a reality that is crystal clear to the leaders of ISIS, to the Shi’i, to the As’ad Regime and it’s opponents, as well as Israel.
Thus the political environment in Iraq, Syria, and Palestine cannot be remotely compared to the conditions that prevail in the West, a legacy of colonial and imperial domination that will persist until it is directly confronted and overcome. The conspicuous lack of unity among Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims has profoundly inhibited their ability to challenge and defeat imperialism, and this cannot be blamed solely on Zionists or Westerners, no matter how much they benefit from it. It is not a propensity toward violence, nor the lack of resources that causes it, and the intensity of Islamist ideologues and jihad has thus far only exacerbated the divisions, although their long range intent is clearly the opposite. It remains to be seen if a non-violent or less militant Islamist tendency can gain any traction in the midst of such high economic and political stakes and the advanced stage of militarization that has grown stronger by the day, mostly from US weaponry.
Zionists tied their bandwagon to Western imperialism just before World War I and both have become instrumental in the subversion of Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim self determination ever since. Violence and clever diplomacy have both played critical roles in the destruction of secular Arab nationalism, including those strains most favorable to a Western framework for their future states. That process has now led to a religious war of the most primal sort over those resources and the allegiances of the Muslim populations. Thus Israel squandered almost universal sympathy after the Holocaust and is now regarded as a dangerous threat to peace nearly everywhere outside the West, and even in much of Europe. The US has done the same since 9/11. This exhausting, apocalyptic drama casts Western Civilization and its Jewish State protege against Islamic states, or Muslims against Christian/godless imperialists and their Zionist henchmen. Where these ominous storms are leading us is anyone’s guess, but the prospects for more vexation and destruction are indeed sobering.
Richard Wood is an activist-sociologist currently writing a book on Muslim Resistance to Western Imperialism. He has traveled through Palestine many times and other regions of the Muslim world since the first Palestinian intifada.