Editor's note: This piece was originally published on 23 November, 2015. In light of the truck attack in Nice, France, we are republishing this article.
The nuclear deal with Iran in July was a huge tectonic shift. Russian troops moving into Syria was another. It marked the bear’s return to centre-stage after a quarter-century’s hibernation. The Paris attacks on 13 November made a bigger splash on the global consciousness, but those two earlier events were geopolitical earthquakes of much greater magnitude. The after-shocks continue.
The key to making sense of all three events is Islamic State (IS), rather, the fact that chanceries across the globe now see IS as the gravest threat; over the weekend, even China declared war on Islamic State.
That is a sea-change from just a few months ago. Israel, the US and Turkey were evidently among the powers that covertly supplied and facilitated IS not so long ago. It would seem that the US had learnt nothing from the mistake it made a quarter-century earlier with the Al-Qaeda. Iran was still the great bugbear. Many Western, especially Israeli, analysts could see no greater evil.
The reason they rashly repeated history so soon is to be found in the interplay of two factors that have had an overwhelming role in determining Western policies in West Asia – the driving desire to control oil output and, two, the security of Israel. A couple of years after the neo-con fraud about non-existent `weapons of mass destruction’ paved the way for the occupation of Iraq, the US discovered to its horror that it had opened a land route under Shia control all the way from Tehran to Tel Aviv.
That is when the hare-brained scheme emerged to prop this anti-Shia force – yes, that is how Western operatives saw it — just as they had once viewed Al-Qaeda as anti-Communist. While arming and training IS, the same broadly Western powers supported the anti-Assad movement in Syria.
They were no more concerned about the human rights of Syrians than they had been of Iraqi human rights in the past, or are of human rights in Saudi Arabia now. As with all the various political moves that have boosted the extremely bigoted Wahabi ideology since the 18th century, geopolitics was once again the key, not religion, nor the people, and certainly not democracy.
Surely it was not coincidental that Israel engaged in the horrific bombardment of Gaza last summer as soon as IS dramatically captured territory that blocked Tehran from Damascus. At that stage, at least, IS appears to have had the backing of key Gulf powers, including Saudi Arabia.
For two-and-a-half centuries – more intensely during the First World War and again since Iran’s Islamic Revolution – peninsular Arabia has been pitted against Turkey (earlier, the Ottoman Empire) and Iran. Iraq and Syria, some of the oldest cradles of civilisation, have been drawn in. Iraq was anti-Iran under Saddam Hussein. By about a decade ago, both Iraq and Syria had become Iranian satellites.
This tragically obsessive Great Game in pursuit of oil – following upon that other tragically obsessive game, the Cold War – has had three awful consequences. One, it has deepened the Sunni-Shia divide, leading to genocidal violence in some pockets. Two, it has turned the most extremely narrow Wahabi interpretation of Islam into a widely accepted normative. This validation of Wahabism has occurred in tandem with the third consequence: most Muslims round the world now see themselves as victims of Western oppression and hatred.
Reactions to the Paris attacks, including that of the French state, have worsened that last trend. One of the most telling cartoons shared on social media pages in the wake of the Paris attacks and the Raqqa reprisals had three panels. In the first panel, Uncle Sam carried a cardboard cutout of a black man labeled 'terrorist.’ In the second, the cutout stood behind a cityscape and Uncle Sam was taking aim at him. In the last panel, the city had been reduced to rubble and Uncle Sam was strutting off with the cutout tucked under his arm, his gun in his other hand.
Heart-wrenching, horrifying videos of wounded, scared children, wailing or trying to find their parents in the rubble of their homes… these are the images that have been streaming across the social media pages of young Muslims in the wake of the Paris attacks. Some of those videos show families with little children struggling to escape the smoke and dust of freshly bombed concrete buildings. They are not pictures of Paris but of France’s counterattack against Raqqa.
Simultaneously, videos of other children have been shared – of children killed in Gaza last year, and beaten or killed in places like Kashmir. The message is that innocent Muslims are targets of violence.
It is tragic that France should have chosen this retaliation option 14 years after the blinkered objectives of Cheney, Rumsfeld and other neo-con strategists began the polarisation of the world. The world was by and large united in condemning the 9/11 attacks on the US, just as it was united in condemning the Paris attacks on Friday the 13th.
Arguments about who started it can go round in circles as much as the terror and counter-terror are becoming a world-destroying vortex. The history of its emergence is sordid; it goes back decades, even centuries. The point at hand is that the 'war on terror’ has produced more terror; not only is that terror rising, but also the paranoid polarisation that produces it. It is time to rethink our security policies – urgently.