Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind
By Dr S. Akhtar Ehtisham
The US, sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly, funded and encouraged right-wing Islamist activism.
This little known policy conducted over six decades is largely to blame for the emergence of Islamist terrorism. Only after 9/11 did Washington begin to discover its strategic miscalculation.
The US spent six decades cultivating, manipulating, double crossing and cynically using/misusing them as cold war allies.
During the cold war the enemy (deemed so by the West) was not merely the USSR. It was nationalism, humanism, secularism, and socialism, which were feared by Muslim fundamentalists too. The US found it politic to find common cause with the Islamic right.
The US spent years constructing a barrier against the USSR (felt) that Muslims between Greece and China, ‘the arc of Islam’ …might reinforce the barrier…restive Muslims inside the USSR might be (its) undoing.
The US played, not with Islam the religion, but with Islamism. Islamism is a more recent…political creed… a militant philosophy…would appear heretical to most Muslims of earlier ages. It is in fact a perversion of the religious faith. The US supported, organized and funded it. It is variously represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, Ayatollahs, Saudi Wahabis, Hamas, Hezbollah, Jihadis and Osama.
In the 1950s, besides the USSR, the enemies were Nasser of Egypt and Mossadegh of Iran. The US and Britain used Muslim Brotherhood against Nasser, and funded an ayatollah during the US-sponsored coup in Iran in 1953.
During the 1960s, Arab socialism and left wing nationalism grew. The US forged an alliance with Saudi Arabia and… with Wahabism, and joined hands with the former in pursuit of an Islamic bloc…Saudis founded the Islamic Center of Geneva (1961), the Muslim world League (1962), the Organization of the Islamic Congress (1969).
With the death of Nasser in 1970, Islamists became an important support of the regimes tied to the USA. The US allied itself with Anwar Sadat who used it to build an anti-Nasser political base, with General Zia of Pakistan who used it to consolidate his hold on power and with Hasan Turabi of Sudan who was rising to power with the help of the Brotherhood. US saw it as an offensive tool to use against the USSR.
The US/allies did not learn any lessons from the 1979 Iran revolution. They spent billions in the Afghan jihad. The US looked on as Jordan and Israel aided terrorists in Syria, and Israel helped found HAMAS.
CIA and neo-cons made secret deals with Iran in the 1980s.
With the cold war over in 1990s some strategists argued that political Islam was the new threat replacing communism. In Algeria, instead of supporting democracy, they favored the army crackdown. In Egypt the Islamists posed a grave threat to Mubarak, yet the US covertly supported the Islamists. In Afghanistan, after the USSR had been driven out, the US supported the Taliban.
Post-9/11 Bush signed on to the “Clash of Civilizations,” and launched a global war on ‘terror’ and targeted Al-Qaeda it had helped create. Yet, in secular Iraq, it backed the Islamic right in Iraqi Shias who were supported by Iran.
Post-WW I, the British and the French forced the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the bid-East started impinging on US consciousness.
In 1945 FDR went east in search of oil, and had a fateful encounter with the king of Saudi Arabia, Ibne Saud.
In 1947 Princeton University created the first Near East Center in the US. Partly sponsored by the government, centers for Middle Eastern affairs began springing up in the country.
The American attachment to a romanticized fantasy of Arab life and disdain for their ‘heathenism’ proved a deadly combination. But it never dawned on the US that the Islamists were qualitatively different from the comprador clerical establishment.
For those who knew little about the religion and culture of the Mid-East, and the ranks included presidents, secretaries of state, CIA directors, in search of tactical allies, Islam seemed a better bet than secularism.
By the 1950s Middle East studies were set up in many universities. But as the cold war unfolded, the ‘Arabist’ scholars in state and CIA were attacked by the cold warriors and their Zionist allies, so the US could not avail of the little knowledge of the region it had access to.
The history of obscurantism, anti-rationalism, and Koran literalism competing with enlightened, progressive thought goes back 13 centuries. But it took the creation of pan-Islamic movement by Jamal al-Afghani in the late-1880s, and the resurgence offered by the founding of Muslim Brotherhood by Hassan al-Banna in 1928 and Maududi’s Jamat e Islami in 1940, that the Islamic right came into its own.
The Muslim right found support from the oil satrapies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and established political alliances with US right wing strategists… they converged further in Reagan years. Militant Christian right and fervent Zionists were so blinded by their hate of secular nationalism that they happily cheered Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan.
Christian right, and Islamic fanatics, in fact all religious zealots share an absolute certainty about their beliefs, unity of religion and politics, intolerance for difference of opinion, condemnation of apostates, unbelievers and freethinkers and promote blind faith in their followers.
There are two challenges, the first the threat to the security of America by Al-Qaeda and related groups. The second is the broader aspect of the growth of Islamic right in all Muslim countries and among the Muslim populations all over the world, especially in India, the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Northern European countries.
Bush deliberately exaggerated the Al-Qaeda threat. It did not offer an existential threat. It does have a large number of followers or assets in the Western countries to pose a substantial danger. It did not have any links with Saddam or any other rulers in the Muslim world.
War in Afghanistan did not destroy Al-Qaeda, (in fact it weakened the government and left the general populace at the mercy of marauders of all kinds. They support the resurgent Taliban). War in Iraq was akin to FDR attacking Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor.
The Afghan and Iraq wars were tailor made for the Bush policy of empire building and pre-emptive war, and that allowed the administration to construct a huge political-military enterprise from East Africa to Pakistan.
Unless the Islamic right is stopped, Al-Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbollah and other extremist groups will continue to grow. The groups draw financial, theological and legions of recruits from the fundamentalist groups.
The US must remove grievances that push angry Muslims to such organizations as the Muslim Brotherhood. US must join the UNO, EU and Russia to help settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, by a two state solution, by withdrawal of Israelis from illegally held lands to the pre-1967 borders.
The US must abandon its imperial pretensions, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, dismantle its bases in Mid-East and sharply cut training mission, visibility of its navy and arms sales.
The US must stop propping up satrapies in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
The US must give up its tendency to make bellicose threats to nations such as Iran and Sudan.