A troika of attacks - one in France, the other in Tunisia and the third in Kuwait - left scores dead and many wounded. The responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the Islamic State (IS). In France, the target was an American firm , in Tunisia, the victims were mostly Westerners and in Kuwait, Shi’ites.
The Middle East appears to be spiraling into a downward trajectory of anarchy and chaos; the rest of the world is not insulated either. The contemporary world appears to be corresponding to what Thomas Carothers, albeit in a different context, called the ‘grey zone’, a zone where a quasi peace obtains, a ‘red zone’- an area defined by comprehensive anarchy and disorder and a ‘blue zone’ – defined by the security communities of the West. This multilayered world suggests a fluid and a porous world wherein the grey, red and blue , at times, blur and meld into each other.
The coordinated attacks stand eloquent testimony to this layered, porous world. From an International Relations theory perspective, theoretical paradigms stand inverted: world politics and global security have to contend with non state actors than merely state actors (conventional IR theory holds the state to be the pivotal and central unit in International Relations). This, however, need not detain us. What is germane and worrisome is why has the world-especially the Middle East- come to this pass? Is there a way out of the morass?
The question posed here is as complex as the answer. No single explanation will suffice. But a few set of reasons can be isolated and inferences drawn from these. The Middle East’s, to use the phrase coined by Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos, stems from multifarious reasons: some are internal and others external. The Middle East (an awkward nomenclature owing its genesis to colonial artifice) was once a vibrant, dynamic region: its dynamism accrued from the dynamism of Islam - a supremely creative event in the historical span of the region.
Islam – a revolutionary faith- inverted the dominant paradigms - political, social, cultural and politico-economic- of the Hijaz (modern day Saudi Arabia) and accorded the once rather isolated region and its peoples confidence and an outward looking impulse. The result was remarkable: the Middle East region came to be be subsumed by the dynamic and outward looking faith of Islam. Islamdom arrived on the scene with splendour and then spread as remarkably. The inner lives and selves of Muslims corresponded to the outer world. Such was Islam’s tour de force, that the ferocious Mongols, who ran down and decimated Baghdad, the seat of Muslim power then, later converted to Islam. However, with the passage of time, the muaamillat( worldly affairs) of Muslims suffered a regression. This could be, what Samuel Huntinton, again albeit in a somewhat different conext and permutation and combination called ‘political decay’. In this schema, Muslim institutions lagged behind social development. Political decay coincided with the rise of Western Imperialism and made the Middle East vulnerable to it. Decay coupled with imperialist marauding of the region accelerated the regress of the region.
A response sought by some Muslims of this era was fragmented and disjointed. Some advocated a return to the of Islam and mere emulation(taqleed) of the great Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (SAW); others suggested borrowing wholesale the precepts that had a Western ingress, territorial nationalism. Out of a dialectic between these major strands emerged the Modern Middle East- a region where nature of the state and its form lay uneasily atop a society that was Islamic and Muslim.
Post decolonisation, the Middle East’s international orientation was also tenuous and premised on a crude real politic than a sober orientation and focus. The powers that be saw the region as one where their interests clashed and the race was on for influence and jockeying for power. In the mean time, the undercurrents that were gaining traction in the region went unnoticed. This condition received a jolt and a rude shock after the September 11 attacks on the United States’ homeland. The sole superpower used the September 11 attacks as a pretext to change the political cultural and economic landscape of the region. Going under the ideological rubric of neo conservatism, the United States sought to ‘bring freedom to the Middle East’ through hard and coercive power. The deep states of the region collapsed and other became fearful as profound social and political forces were released by the US invasion.
While Al –Qaeda- the group that attacked the United States was decimated , a new force emerged in the Middle East. This force was and is the Islamic State. The IS reflects and embodies the convoluted and painful history of the region and also the deep faultlines that define it. The ISIS is then a compendium of the region’s history and the forcible redrawing of the Middle East’s politics.
The forces that were released after the Middle East’s implosion are akin to the proverbial ‘genie out of the bottle'. There is little to suggest that the region will revert to calm and normalcy at least in the foreseeable future. However, there are lessons to be learnt. The major one is that ideological hubris and exceptionalism and grafting this to other societies is sure shot recipe for disaster.
Absolute Freedom and political liberalism – clear Western constructs and philosophies - in their western sense may not be entirely universal. There is an inner dynamic to every culture and region that may be at odds with other cultures. Superimposing it onto different worlds is rife with danger as the contemporary Middle East demonstrates. This is not to suggest and imply that the Muslim world - especially the Middle East - does not need change. It surely does. But the impulse for this this change should and must emanate from within and perhaps more importantly should correspond to the deepest yearnings and culture of the region.
To believe and act contrarily is not only folly but sheer hubris and arrogance. The fallout of this hubris will be felt for years to come. Alas, more innocents will be consumed by the orgy of violence within the Middle East and beyond All zones- grey, blue and red- will be implicated in and affected by it. This is the sad but prosaic reality of the Middle East and our increasingly blighted world.
Updated Date: Jun 29, 2015 07:37:07 IST