Monday, 22 September 2014

Imperialism is Degrading and Destroying the Middle East!

US President Barack Obama’s speech on 10 September in which he vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the forces of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ signals a fresh imperialist military offensive in the Middle East.

Triggered by the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) rapid conquest of territory in recent months, including significant oil fields and refineries in Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq, capture of banks, and beheadings of three Westerners (two journalists and an aid-worker), US forces have begun air strikes on IS targets in Iraq.

The Obama Administration is also supplying arms to the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq, and will send thousands of ‘military advisers’ and ‘trainers’ to support the Iraqi Armed Forces.

The withdrawal of US forces from Iraq as of December 2011 is being reversed. In fact, some hope that the US will now be directly drawn into the conflict in Syria through aerial bombing of forces loyal to the dictator Bashar Al-Assad and direct support to Syrian rebel militias.

"[Obama] needs to demonstrate the potency of American firepower – to give countries pause before turning their backs on him", declared The Economist newspaper. The corporate media has been beating the drum for “American leadership”, amidst the ‘chaos’ in the Middle East constructed and projected on our televisions screens.

By "American leadership" is meant that that the US should use its military might to substitute for its political and economic failures at home and abroad; so as to preserve its hegemony in the post-cold war international order.

‘Islamic State’

However, a clear-headed assessment of the historical record and current motivations of the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies, is no defence or justification for the ‘Islamic State’.

This utterly reactionary organisation now controls around 40 percent of Iraq, 25 percent of Syria, and even parts of Lebanon; and is estimated to have over 31,000 fighters.

Its ruthlessness is illustrated by the systematic rape and sexual slavery of women by its fighters; mass executions and beheadings of prisoners-of-war and civilians; and forcible conversion of non-Muslims on point of death; as well as expulsion of Shiite Muslims, Christians, Yazidis (Kurdish-speakers), and other religious, ethnic and cultural minorities from their homes.

Its proclaimed goal is to create a new state or caliphate (khilafah) unifying Muslims now divided across states and nationalities, but based upon its fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam, and under the tyranny of its leader and self-proclaimed ‘Caliph’, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The IS strategy has been to conquer as much territory as it can, especially of areas where oil can be mined and sold for its self-financing; and to equate its struggle for power with a ‘global jihad’ against the West through recruitment of disaffected Muslim youth born and raised in those countries.

Of course, the IS did not spring from nowhere.

It is born of the desperation and humiliation of a people who suffered the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq, that caused 114,000 direct deaths and indirectly more than 1 million others and displaced more than 3 million civilians; and who have been politically marginalised because of their Sunni faith in the sectarian Shiite-dominated Iraqi state constructed by the US after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Like Al-Qaida and other terror organisations, the IS feeds off and grows from the fall-out of US foreign policy in the Middle East, including the unconditional support for Israel, and the devastation in Syria where over 191,000 people have died in just three years.

The IS ranks are renewed by Muslims from the West who endure greater racist violence and discrimination since the rise of Islamo-phobia following the September 11 2001 abomination by Al-Qaida, and the ‘war on terror’ unleashed by the US and its allies thereafter.

Until very recently the IS received funding from sources in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, anxious to contain the rise of Shiite regimes in the region, and to support the IS military campaign in Syria against the Assad regime.

While Western governments stoke up public opinion by describing the IS as the greatest threat to human civilisation, at least since Al-Qaida, imperialist allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also practise public beheadings, and amputations of limbs; lawfully discriminate against women and religious minorities; and treat foreign migrant labour as virtual slaves. Such is their shamelessness.

Imperialism is not a Conspiracy

It is one thing to (correctly) identify that imperialism is one of the parents of Islamist militias, as has been clear at least from western funding and other support for the Mujahideen in their war against Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

It is another thing to (falsely) argue that the ‘Islamic State’ is a drama being staged in the Middle East following the script of the US-NATO-Israel combine.

Imperialism is not some ‘conspiracy’ in which every move on the chessboard is known in advance and executed to plan by an all-knowing and all-seeing power.

This method of analysis is based on mystical and irrational analyses of social phenomena, unfortunately commonplace in the Sri Lankan Left.

Kurdish Resistance

Let us admit that whatever strengths the Marxist analysis of imperialism may have, there are no easy solutions to the humanitarian catastrophe that is taking place in that region and elsewhere, as millions of people are engulfed in brutal wars

We know that imperialist intervention will bring no long-lasting relief to the masses, and is shoring up the dictatorships of sultans and emirs in states that were created by colonialism and imperialism in the 20th century.

However, we cannot be indifferent to the real and ongoing sufferings of the people from forces such as the ‘Islamic State’; or tell them from our zones of comfort that this suffering must be borne in the name of standing against the primary enemy of imperialism.

Therefore, our political criticisms notwithstanding, we should support the armed resistance of the Kurdish Regional Government and of Kurdish militias from Turkey, Syria and Iran, who are now the only shield of defence for the unarmed civilian population from the marauding hordes of the IS; whereas the Iraqi Armed Forces that were trained and armed by the US with billions of dollars simply dropped their weapons at first sight of the IS.

At time of writing, the IS has been advancing on Kurdish villages on the Syrian border, leading more than 130,000 to flee their homes, legitimately believing that they will be massacred if they stay.

The Kurdish resistance including the Syrian YPG (Peoples Defence Force) and the Turkish PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) has the right to demand and receive support from any quarter, including western governments, especially of humanitarian aid such as tents and blankets, food and medicine.

As the editor of the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar newspaper recently commented, the peoples of the region face a triple threat: that of western ‘colonialism’ (or what we would call imperialism); of the tyranny of its local rulers (whether clients or opponents of the West); and of religious obscurantism (including Islamic fundamentalism).

The challenge for any democratic and socialist project in the Middle East is that all three threats have to be taken up together and at once.


For publication in the October 2014 issue of Vame Handa.

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