Frightening reality that haunts the Middle East

Damaged buildings in Syria
Damaged buildings in Syria

by Aijaz Zaka Syed

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Has the good ol’ war on terror that President George W Bush unleashed on the world in response to the September 11 attacks achieved what it had ostensibly set out to do? It appears instead of rooting out terror, the coalition of the willing has actually fuelled and helped it grow to frightening proportions.

According to the Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks and the US spending of $4.4 trillion on the forever war and all-consuming invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism and casualties and fatalities attributed to terror have grown fivefold.

In the wake of September 11 attacks, Bush promised to deliver swift and summary justice — the way they did out in the American West. The terrorists will be brought to justice; they will have no place to hide, proclaimed the 43rd president ad infinitum.

Sure enough, America’s justice has been swift and effective. A small bunch of militants, essentially armed and trained by US agencies and who were holed up in the caves and mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, are now spread and to be found all over the Middle East and beyond.

Millions across the region have been killed or uprooted from their lands as a direct result of the war without end. The vast region stretching from Afghanistan to Arab Maghreb is on the boil with the militants on the march everywhere.

Borders have become irrelevant as city after city falls like a house of cards to the rebels. It looks like the end times are already here in the Middle East.

The state of chaos seems to have given a new lease of life and sense of purpose to the war whose end remains as distant as ever even though a second US president is nearing the end of his second term.

This is a war truly beyond borders. Its goal posts remain as ephemeral and shift as frequently as its battlefronts.

You would have thought having fought the ‘enemy’ all these years and achieving precious little to show for it, the least of all eliminating terror, the West would realise the futility and sheer folly of this crusade whatever its stated and imagined objectives.

While their policies and actions in Muslim lands remain as self-serving and hubristic as ever, they appear awfully intrigued, even hurt, at the angry response they are generating from their victims.

In the words of Gwynne Dyer, “the invasions, the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Africa, the whole lumbering apparatus of the “global war on terrorism” have not killed the terrorist beast. They have fed it, and the beast has grown very large.”

Else why would young people, brought up in Western climes with the best of education, careers and a cosy, comfortable life, give it all up to fight and die in distant lands? Some of the Isis fighters are said to be doctors and academics and apparently went to Ivy League universities.

The dangerous radicalization of young Arabs and Muslims that many of us have been warning about for years seems to have finally become a frightening reality.

The lure of trans-border fight for justice and to avenge all that has gone wrong over the decades and centuries appears to be increasingly irresistible for the young and restless, drawing recruits from as far as Canada and Australia and hitherto passive India. And the West has no one to blame but itself for this state of affairs.

By now it is clear like daylight that it is a deadly combination of historical wrongs and the havoc wreaked by hastily cooked up wars, not to mention the duplicity displayed in dealing with popular aspirations, that gave birth to the Leviathan called Isis.

Instead of facing up the past though, those who gave us the ‘shock and awe’ are busy repeating and reliving its horrors all over again. Their one and only solution to all Middle East problems is bombing it back to the Middle Ages. Bomb, bomb and bomb some more!

Doubtless, fighting the violent obscurantism of groups like the Isis is more critical than ever. The incredible brutality and savagery of the casual Isis violence demonstrated in recent weeks and months has brought nothing but shame to Islam and its followers.

And more than its cancerous growth and deathly spell on young and impressionable minds, it is its claim to represent and speak on behalf of the so-called Ummah that needs to be challenged.

This has been said before and needs to be said again. Without addressing the source and underlying causes of this ever widening conflict, you cannot bring peace to this ancient land. Isis and Al Qaida are but mere symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself.

They will continue to show themselves in some form or the other as long as there’s no cure for the malaise.

The author is an award-winning journalist based in Dubai.

The opinion article first appeared in Times of Oman.

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