Infinity: The Views of a Dreamer
Ideological Desperation: Religious Extremism
Written by Aaron Peterson
With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism’s seemingly extreme tendency towards the committing inter-sectarian violence the question needs to be asked, what conditions allow for this rise in extremism? What has allowed furthermore for the rise in religious based militancy? One of the abstract thoughts promoted almost without understanding is the language of misunderstanding where the simplicity of damnation in terms of thought comes in to use terminology such as “subhuman” and “uncivilized.” With this, the issue is presented as a civilization and cultural problem nearly in line with the European colonialism of the 20th century, which was valiantly put forth with justifications of having to civilize African and Asian people for their own good, as they were according to colonial powers unable to do so themselves without foreign meddling. Once again, the same seems to apply in the case of many Arab and African countries where the same hand uses the same excuses out of quasi-humanitarianism in order to interfere in the issues of other nations.
Islamic fundamentalism enters as an interesting concept, in it’s own formation it is a case of neo-traditionalism mixed with the hardliners of conservatism pushed forward in the sense of militancy to extremities. The most focused on strand of political Islamism, Wahhabism emerged from the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia Wahhabism remains the official ideology of the Saudi kingdom, however at the same time in inconsistency with the ideology, the Saudi King and the royalty have no legitimacy in accordance with the ideology. More so than anything, the ideology is the export Saudi Arabia uses with a focus on frustrated Sunnis in order to spread it’s own foreign influence.
The majority of targeted nations for the spread of Wahhabism are those which have undergone crucial periods of chaos in terms of poor conditions, both economic and political. One of the longest running being Afghanistan… Looking at Afghanistan with a historical view, the conservative politics of Wahhabism aren’t in Afghanistan’s nature. Prior to the beginning of the Soviet/PDPA-Mujahideen conflict in 1978-1979, Afghanistan stood as a generally progressive and neutral state, a Switzerland of Central Asia. What allowed for the rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan with the breaking point being 1979?
In 1979, when the PDPA rose to power via a military coup known as the ‘Soar Revolution’, the PDPA focused on a campaign of ending apparent semi-feudal conditions and what was deemed cultural backwardness particularly in rural Afghanistan. Of course, this was through the PDPA’s Marxist line. Quickly, reaction arose in Afghanistan as if a powder keg that had been waiting to explode. The Wahhabbi strand of politics quickly became the cause of the day and militancy took off against the USSR and the regime of the PDPA.
Unsurprisingly in the case of Afghanistan, the Mujahideen rose from the rural areas of Afghanistan. Flourishing from the fear of the crushing of existing traditional conditions in rural Afghanistan and seeking to impose a new phase of Islamic society over the rest of Afghanistan. A case of extreme traditionalism stemming from the perceived attack on Islamic values from outside forces. Nationalism, although foreign in many cases to the politics of extreme Wahhabism enters in this case into a different respect. Within the spectrum of Wahhabist political Islamism, the nation is not in the sense of ideology but in the sense of a pan-Islamic Caliphate, on the basis of a shared Muslim identity. In this respect in the vacuum of education and with desperate conditions along with a perceived siege of foreign elements, the ideology managed to flourish and was able to rally enough support to act as a traditionalist counter to the PDPA.
1991: The USSR is dissolved and the ‘Afghan Jihad’ is taken as a victory among political Islamists against a foreign power. The Afghan regime of Najibullah soon after is ousted and the attempt to gain power grows fast among the Mujahideen. With the absence of the USSR as a superpower, there becomes a clear issue throughout the region sparked by a decline in the traditional radicalism of Arab Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. To make this more so clear, an event in 1991 completely unrelated to the fall of the USSR makes the Wahhabi point more solidified within it’s own logic… The First Gulf War against Iraq with the forces of the United States being on the frontline against the Iraqi invaders in Kuwait. Military bases are propped up in Saudi Arabia with the detest of Islamic clerics who perceive the presence of military bases from the United States to be a violation of sacred religious ground. One voice perhaps, is most important at this time, a voice that would become one of the most defining to the modern age in terms of global politics… Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi veteran of the Afghan Jihad comes to the forefront when making an offer to use his Arab Mujahideen in order to protect Kuwait from Iraqi forces, to Bin Laden, the Iraqi regime is a mutual enemy that represents secularism and goes against the neo-traditionalism of the Wahhabi ideology.
Bin Laden’s attempt is rejected by the Saudi monarchy and the offer of the assistance of the United States to intervene in Kuwait is accepted. This serves as a pivotal movement of the radicalism of Bin Laden towards the United States, with this serving as a point where Bin Laden perceives the United States like the USSR previously to be a foreign power meddling in the affairs of an Islamic nation. The defeat of Iraqi Ba’athism in Kuwait, Shi’ite rebellions in Iraq and the no-fly-zone over Kurdistan serve as nails in the coffin for the Ba’athist Arab Nationalist movement, where Arab nationalism in combination with the lack of a global power to support it and with it’s defeat by another world power is seemingly weakened and unable to react in the interests of the Arab people. In effect, making the language of the conservative Wahhabi movement far more enticing to young Arab men who in light of the foreign interference would become radicalized.
Bin Laden’s organization throughout the 90’s becomes known as ruthless. The operations of rival organizations of a traditionally secular Arab Nationalist leaning become silent, with Islamic fundamentalism serving as a key ruthless international force of terrorism. Bin Laden replaces the notorious Abu Nidal who held the title of being perhaps the most prolific international militant along with Carlos the Jackal, a face of terror of the past.
Two key events help to further the Wahhabi militant position in the 1990’s as the new international radicalism. In 1993, the United States intervenes in Somalia at the height of the Somali Civil War in an attempt to restore order in Somalia. al-Qaeda begins it’s first true, expedition at this time fuelled by it’s discontent at the United States intervention in Kuwait. al-Qaeda to it’s benefit uses the language of pan-Islamism in order to legitimize it’s activity in Somalia under the guise of aiding fellow Muslims by raising the black flag of Jihad against an invading force. In the Somali case, the conditions similar to those in Afghanistan exist for the rise in the neo-traditionalist conservatism of Salafi jihad. Prior to the beginning of the civil war in 1991, Somalia was under the rule of Siad Barre, a self-proclaimed Marxist leader. Barre in similarity to the PDPA rose to power through a military putsch and the policies of the Barre regime were issued with the primary force of the Somali military, as opposed to a mass political line. With the absence of Barre and the seemingly faithlessness of secular Pan-African or nationalist alternatives in combination with poverty and the facing of foreign intervention, the Salafi jihadist call is seen as a prayer answered for Somalis who rush towards the Salafi doctrine as a saving force that will allow it to oust foreign influences and bring about a neo-traditionalist Islamic society in Somalia that will give it a sense of regained glory. So, the campaign of Bin Laden in Somalia begins and with a key propaganda victory. With the support of Islamic fundamentalist elements during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, although a small element, a strategic victory by the Somali National Alliance is gained. Ending in widespread chaos and with over a dozen deaths for the UNOSOM coalition, the Battle of Mogadishu, although a tactical victory for the United Nations inevitably leads to UN and US withdrawal in 1994. The level of al-Qaeda’s influence on the battle was marginal, although it is used as a propaganda tool in order to espouse that al-Qaeda is able to act on a basis of where Muslims require help.
To further affirm the belief of the inevitability of a cultural clash between Islam and Western society put forth by Islamic fundamentalists, attention is put on the developing war in the Balkans between Serbia and Bosnia, later Kosovo. Using the analysis of Serbia representing a crusading force of Orthodox soldiers infringing on Muslim land, the narrative of religious war is created. Fuelling this are the collective punishments issued by the Serbian military and atrocities by Serbian paramilitaries such as the Scorpions, notably Srebenica in Bosnia. Once again, the flag of Islamism becomes the rallying call with an absence of previously predominant ideologies of a Marxist orientation promoted by Hoxha’s Albania or the former state of Yugoslavia.
With the victory of Bosnia and later Kosovo during the Balkan conflicts, the propaganda victory emerges with the Islamic Mujahideen at the frontline. A promotion of the view of the success of Islamic jihad and the clashing of civilizations. With the fuel of these conflicts pushing Wahhabi radicalism forward, Bin Laden is able to affirm his credentials further with a series of bombings in Africa against US targets. Following this, the attacks of 9/11 solidify the position of al-Qaeda as a ruthless group that will go to any means in order to wage the sense of cultural warfare espoused by their organization.
With the invasion of the United States of Afghanistan in 2001, in which the national government of the Taliban is ousted in Kabul, Islamic forces are again able to organize an insurgency against a force deemed foreign and illegitimate. Thus, the beginning of the current 13 year conflict fought between the Taliban and numerous other organizations against the Northern Alliance and the Pakistani government. In the initial phases of the conflict, al-Qaeda’s ‘Afghan Arabs’ serve as an almost illuminating force where they act as the special forces of Islamic reaction to Western society. The conflict in Afghanistan marks the turning point for the al-Qaeda brand of Salafi Islamism in particular. No longer is the war against regional entities that can be considered pro-US, but the conflict is now being waged directly against the United States and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The final nail of the coffin signifying the rise of the Wahhabi militant position is marked two years later… Iraq, 2003, the United States led Coalition forces invade Iraq on the pretense of Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction. In the fighting, the Ba’ath regime is overthrown by the United States in a short period of time. Once again, Arab Nationalism as a political force is turned into salt and discarded. The putting in place of a transitional ‘new government’ primarily made up of exiled Shi’ites who have returned to Iraq creates the sense of alienation for the Sunni minority of Iraq. Coming in combination with ‘de-Ba’athication’ laws and a loss of Sunni ‘privilege’ in Iraqi society, many Sunnis feel the sense of being disenfranchised and second class citizens in the ‘new Iraq.’
In the situation of a perceived religious feud, often times… It is the most sectarian force who pushes the boundaries that can rise to the top representing the anger of the group. With this, the initial birth and success of al-Qaeda in Iraq began. al-Qaeda in Iraq, later the Islamic State of Iraq began a bloody campaign of bombing Shi’ite targets including a 2006 attack on a holy shrine that sparked the highest point of intensity in civil strife. Until 2008, the Islamic State in Iraq is capable of waging a violent sectarian war knowing absolutely no boundaries directly targeting the civilian population on religious grounds. In order to wage the sectarian conflict against Shi’ites in order to establish an idealized version of a conservative Salafi state, the Islamic State of Iraq use the rhetoric of Shi’ite apostasy and a global conspiracy against Shi’ites with the occupying forces at the lead. The first period of the Islamic State in Iraq ends in 2008, as other Sunni militant groups more moderate to the primarily foreign Islamic State in Iraq join forces together in order to marginalize it through various attacks which destroy the overall structure of the group. In some cases, Sunni militant groups such as the Islamic Army in Iraq and Hamas of Iraq cooperate with US forces in order to do away with what they perceive as a mutual enemy.
Upon withdrawal of the United States, violence in Iraq remains at a stalemate, although ongoing, the Islamic State in Iraq is no longer a potent force capable of it’s ‘grand actions’ at the height of the sectarian infighting in Iraq. This remains the situation until the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.
Once more in Syria, using the perceived alienation, abuse and marginalization of the Sunni majority in Syria by Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’ath regime, Sunni Islamist forces successfully rally around the black banner once more in Syria. Organizing with the funding of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to a massive degree. The influx of weapons and initial gains of ground in combination with numerous propaganda victories give the position of Salafi jihad weakened by the Iraq experience, a new life force. the Islamic State in Iraq is able to re-organize itself in Syria’s mess with foreign funding which revive it as a viable organization and through violence, it quickly emerges as one of the most ruthless forces, even dispatching al-Nusra fighters, a rival al-Qaeda affiliate. The Islamic State of Iraq, now a multinational organization known as Islamic State of Iraq the Levant is able to even gain the negative attention of the ‘mainstream al-Qaeda’ grouping of Zawahari, which condemns and distances itself from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
The new weapons and the propaganda of the campaign in Syria from the perspective of ‘Sunnis rising’ spreads from Syria to Iraq. The now multi-national ISIL finds itself in a position to act in Iraq. The 2014 Offensive in Anbar begins, in the opening of January, ISIL with the support of tribal groups discontent with Iraqi President Maliki’s government are able to gain control of Fallujah. The ruling of Fallujah, despite heavy attempts to stop the militant campaign in it’s track through a wide range of techniques including area denial bombings by the government and military offensives resulted in abject failure.
With the ISIL propaganda victory from January and an ongoing militant campaign throughout Anbar at a level unseen before, ISIL finds itself in the position of being able to wage it’s June offensive… In a week, the cities of Mosul and Tikrit are captured. The Iraqi Army, which was pumped in hundreds of millions of US dollars retreats completely from Mosul and Tikrit, ISIL have a firm capture. With the capture of Mosul, ISIL capture the central bank, not only are they in the middle of a high point in terms of propaganda and military action, they are with the seizure of the central bank, the recipients of 500~ million dollars at a low estimate, effectively making ISIL the richest Salafi grouping in the entire world.
And so, ISIL began it’s campaign towards Baghdad using the alienation of Iraqi Sunnis as it’s fire. The extremism of ISIL justified through the Sunni feeling of marginalization by the government. The point arises of “While I may not agree with ISIL, the Iraqi government must be overthrown”, for the Sunni community arises, much like the earlier cases people initially welcome the ruthlessness as they perceive it to be the most capable force. Even with widespread massacres committed by ISIL, the campaign goes on and continues with effectiveness. Leaving the world to watch the unfolding of the continuing evolution of Salafi militancy, with ISIL eclipsing Ayman Zawahiri’s al-Qaeda.
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