“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and man’s enemies will be the members of his household.” – Matthew 10:34-9
I am writing this post as I desperately search through the BBC world news website to find a recent article (perhaps 1 week, max 2) on the ensuing peace talks of a two state solution between Israel and Palestine in the Paris summit and how Israel refuses to attend the talks. How can the keyword Palestine not link to the article? How is it easier to find something written years ago and not find something that literally happened NOW? It is precisely such reasons that so much confusion and violence can continue to be perpetuated without end. Perhaps, one might not even know what the significance of Palestine and its role is in the general unrest in the Middle East. Palestine is only one of the giant pink elephants that Western goggles fails to see. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Heretic perfectly captures this paradoxical nature of our current political times. In trying to open up discussion on the topic of Islam’s need for a reformation, Ali inadvertently creates further confusion and extreme viewpoints which further obscures the systematic violence enacted on a global scale. In removing social and historical context of modern history from her arguments, Ali’s proposition, regardless of how sound and rational it maybe, becomes distorted, contradictory, hypocritical even perverse to the point which one can consider her view points to be racist and islamophobic.
Phenoptosis: Part 1
Yet, it is this confusion which holds great opportunity for understanding. To quote from her words that it is, “the time for heretics to speak the truth with impunity…the right moment to remind ourselves that the right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion.” (p.237) I hope she will “defend to the death” my right to critically analysis her work, even though I would be considered one those Western Liberals whom “collude against critical thought and debate” by her standards. To be absolutely clear, I fully agree with her argument that Islam needs to reform, there should be freedom of thought and speech for all, the current Islamic culture is incompatible with Western sentiments, Sharia law is a crime against humanity for it violates basic human rights, women are equal to men and that sexual orientations should not be a point of marginalization. The main critique is not Ali’s position, but her proposition where the ends does not justify the means. In order to create a radicalized view point, Ali has left out critical historical context, created specific and narrow view points and does not provide enough information for the readers to formulate their own viewpoints other than to take the one she proposes; there is a blatant abuse of knowledge here. Not only does this behavior not bring forth reformation, it only radicalizes discussion and forces true critical and present issues to be ignored further propagating violence and ignorance. In order to address this, I will put back the historical and social context that her book has left out in order to defend Ali’s core concept of Islam’s irrefutable need for reformation. Only by giving readers the means to make their own objective opinion can an authentic reformation take place. As I quoted Zizek in an earlier post,
“It is a modern folly to alter a corrupt ethical system, its constitution and legislation, without changing the religion, to have a revolution without reformation.” In a radical revolution, people not only “realize their old (emancipatory, etc.) dreams”; they have also to reinvent their very modes of dreaming. Is this not the exact formula of the link between the death drive and sublimation? Therein resides the necessity of the Cultural Revolution, as clearly grasped by Mao: as Herbert Marcuse put, it in other wonderfully circular formula from the same epoch, freedom (from ideological constraints, from the predominant mode of dreaming) is the condition of liberation, in other words, if we change reality only in order to realize our dreams, without changing these dreams themselves, then sooner or later we will regress to the former reality. There is a Hegelian “positing of presuppositions” at work here: the hard work of liberation retroactively forms its own presupposition.
In denying and ignoring the socioeconomic context in critiquing Islam in a global perspective, Ali’s proposed changes to religion (Islam) without changing the corrupt ethical system, its constitution and legislation; will merely be a revolution without reformation. Here I am not merely talking about Arab nations like Ali was in Heretic, but the whole global formula in which systemic violence is produced; a global objective view is needed to bring forth clarity within subjective content. The main contradiction within the Heretic is that Ali is arguing for a greater and broader perspective for Islam, where religion is not everything, that there is more to life, to living, than to satisfy dogmatic religious doctrine. Yet, at the same time, she refuses to register religion in a socioeconomic/historical context and forces the reader to concentrate on religion alone as the main source of the issue and taking a blind-eye on everything else that does not support her views. As Ali explains,
“This book is not a work of history. I do not offer a new explanation for the fact that more and more Muslims have embraced the most violent elements of Islam in my lifetime—why, in short, the Medina Muslims are in the ascendant today. I do seek to challenge the view, almost universal among Western liberals, that the explanation lies in the economic and political problems of the Muslim world and that these, in turn, can be explained in terms of Western foreign policy. This is to attach too much importance to exogenous forces. There are other parts of the world that have struggled to make democracy work or to cope with oil wealth. There are other peoples besides Muslims who have complaints about U.S “imperialism.” Yet there is precious little evidence of an upsurge in terrorism, suicide bombings, sectarian warfare, medieval punishments, and honor killings in the non-Muslim world. There is a reason why an increasing proportion of organized violence in the world is happening in countries where Islam is the religion of a substantial share of the population.
The argument in this book is that religious doctrines matter and are in need of reform. Non-doctrinal factors—such as the Saudi’s use of oil revenues to fund Wahhabism and Western support for the Saudi regime—are important, but religious doctrine is more important” p.22
In other words, Ali’s argument undermines her own position on Islam, you cannot discredit the importance of religion by appealing to greater socioeconomic context and yet at the same time put religion as a factor that is more important than those same socioeconomic struggles! It is from this confusing, often contradictory and hypocritical, standpoint that gives weight to her critics’ claims of racism and Islamophobia in her work. Case in point, Ali’s applause and support for the ethical values of American Cold War mentality and how American’s were right in their response in foreign policy at that time may have logical credit and authenticity when taken out of context. To quote Ali’s own words,
“Yet here is another conflict that we can take inspiration from as we embark on this process: the Cold War… If we continue this policy of non-intervention in the culture war, we will never extricate ourselves from the actual battlefield. For we cannot fight an ideology solely with air strikes and drones or even boots on the ground. We need to fight it with ideas—with better ideas, with positive ideas. We need to fight it with an alternative vision, as we did in the Cold War. The West did not win the Cold War simply through economic pressure or building new weapons systems.” (p.218-9)
This American “wining” led to a war that was never really over. A point blatantly clear once one considers the factors Ali fails to mention such as: the aftermath of the “initiatives funded directly or indirectly by the CIA” leading to the global nuclear arms race that never ended (there is now enough nuclear arms to end the world ten times and over), creating monopolies and global power structures that incited further violence and bloodshed outside American and Soviet struggles (nuclear India vs. nuclear Pakistan, for starters), current Russian and American relations (just look at what that does to current Syrian conflict), violent Americanized democratic wars against communism leading to the Korean and Vietnam wars against the “communists” (both ended in horrific amounts of dead and the destabilization of power within the region leading to present day North Korea), the general proliferation of bigotry and hatred (random ‘witch hunts’ throughout American society to the CIA funded genocide of “communists” in Indonesia), and ignoring the legacy of the European model of social welfare (a relic from the “communists” that Ali experienced first-hand in Holland which facilitated her own deradicalization).
Ali’s comments on the Cold War seems naïve and childish when seen within an historical context especially when there was alternative peaceful means of resolving the conflict that would have led to a new era of social democratic enlightenment, much like what Bernie Sanders was trying to run for in 2016 (a page in history well narrated by American historian Oliver Stone in his documentary series Untold History of the United States). This is only one of the examples throughout the book where Ali is unapologetic in selecting narrow glimpses of social history to support her argument in a radicalized way. Radical in this instance is to be eye-catching to the segment of readers whom she is trying to appeal to without real critical thought or engagement. This type of writing is unforgivable to a scholar of her caliber (she is a Harvard lecturer) which leads one to believe she did this on purpose, to what I would assume is to appeal to the right wing American Republican or the conservative Neoliberals to market her own reputation and sell her books. Unfortunately some readers may actually miss these critical points in forming their judgements on the Islamic debate or worse use her material to support their own narrow and racist views and disregard her actual argument for greater human rights for all. This is highly problematic for many reasons, for Ali’s core argument, that Islam needs reformation, is a critical and important one which needs to be discussed but is stifled by her own work.
To start, Ali clearly states that not “everyone will accept this argument, I know. All I ask of those who do not is that they defend my right to make it.” The KKK might think they have a legitimate reason for their beliefs and viewpoints and may even bring forth convincing statistical evidence (perhaps even social/historical/economical facts out of context) to support them, but no sane and logical human being should listen to it let alone let them make that proposition. This point falls sharply back on to Ali’s own argument against radicalized and dangerous imams propagating narrow minded ideological viewpoints. The way Ali supports her own arguments sadly follows that radical frame work as she purposefully filters through history to portray her own radicalized version of social reality, which makes this book just as dangerous as the Qur’an in her argument if fallen onto the uninitiated reader. The need of an Islamic reformation is clear, but if the reformation takes place for all the wrong reasons, true emancipation and solidarity will never take place. Much like Ali’s Cold War example, it is not a simple matter of wining but also the matter of how one wins; wining for all the wrong reasons will only delay Mutual Assured Destruction.
To defend Ali’s call for Islamic reformation one needs to put back the missing history. Luckily, Ali’s double standards of historical filtration leaves many traces of which one can begin to restore the historical context back into her work. To quote one of Ali’s own inspirations, Adel Raziq’s 1925 book Islam and the Foundations of Governance,
“This institution which Muslims generally know as the caliphate has nothing to do with the religion. It has…more to do with …the lust for power and the exercise of intimidation that has been associated with this institution. The caliphate is not among the tenets of the faith…There is not a single principle of the faith that forbids Muslims to co-operate with other nations in the total enterprise of the social and political sciences. There is no principle that prevents them from dismantling this obsolete system, a system with has demeaned and subjugated them, crushing them in its iron grip. Nothing tops them from building their state and their system of government on the basis of past constructions of human reason, of systems whose sturdiness has stood the test of time, which the experience of nations has shown to be effective.” (p.61)
The issue at hand is not to deny Ali’s claim’s that there is a core systemic structure of violence within Islam, because that is true. For all religions contain an innate violent component that defends its core beliefs. Even Buddhism which popular media extols as a peace loving religion contains the necessary elements (scriptures, etc) to justify horrific acts of violence which can be ‘karmically’ justified (this can be seen from famous Zen Buddhist writers and their fascist involvement during WWII to modern day violent murders of Rohingya Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar). The point is to address how religion becomes intertwined with politics to facilitate the use of violence towards political ends. This is a critical factor because Ali disregards the importance of socioeconomic factors (mainly Western intervention) as one of the key factors to Islamic violence because of the fact that there are other nations and cultures that has suffered the same fate without resorting to radicalization, terrorism, etc. This type of logic has a “Fox New” ring to it, much like the use of statistics that prove that black people kill more black people, Ali is addressing a similar sort of point like Muslim people kill more Muslim people. Such comparisons are pointless and largely naïve when taken out of context. For all the history and statistics within Heretic, Ali provides little defense for her argument other than to simple leave out the historical/socioeconomic components that does not agree with her views on reality.
In popular current events and within Heretic, one is bombarded with the impressions of the Islamic struggle through issues and radical groups such as: the refugee crisis (Syrian conflict), the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, IS (ISIL,ISIS), Boko Haram, Iranian current events and Saudi Arabia and the other “oil rich” states, as Ali defines as the picture of the Muslim world in Heretic. Of which Ali only provided historical context on Boko Haram and leaves out everything else, but if one were to revisit those topics by asking simple questions like, where did the Taliban come from, how were they created, why is the “West” the common enemy, was there Western intervention involved, etc. One would quickly realize that Western (mainly American) foreign policy was a major factor in creating the present day issues.
Where did the ________ (Taliban, Al-Qaeda,ISIL) come from?
This is a clichéd question with an answer often forgotten by popular media even though their activities dominate all facets of current events. For those that have forgotten this part of history, one just simple needs to refer to the Hollywood Block-buster 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 911 by Michael Moore. To give a brief summary, as quoted from Time article on the documentary,
“Moore’s perennial grudge is against what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex: the collusion of big corporations and bad government to exploit the working class, here and abroad, for their own gain and in the process deprive citizens of their liberties. The Bush Administration’s Iraq policy is handmade for Moore’s grievances. Bush and his father have enjoyed a long and profitable relationship with the ruling families of Saudi Arabia, including the bin Ladens. The best-seller “House of Bush, House of Saud” by Craig Unger, whom Moore interviews, estimates that the Saudis have enriched the Bushes and their closest cronies by $1.4 billion.
Politicians reward their biggest contributors, and the Bushes are no exceptions. Fifteen of the 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudis; but when Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador who is close to the First Family, dined with the President in the White House two days after the attacks, the mood was collegial, not angry. In the Iraqi ramp-up and occupation, the Administration has rewarded its Saudi and Texas supporters with billions in rebuilding contracts. As Blaine Ober, president of an armored vehicle company, tells Moore: the Iraqi adventure is “good for business, bad for the people.”
To summarize, the Taliban is one of those, as Ali would put it, “initiatives funded directly or indirectly by the CIA” to repel Soviet influence within the region during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a page of Cold War history often forgotten where millions of civilians are killed and displaced. The collision of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the CIA sought out radical individuals throughout the world and brought them together giving them money, weapons and training to lead the local Pashtuns national rebels against Soviet invaders. Among those they gathered was Osama Bin Laden, whom was armed and trained by the CIA.
To quote the BBC article on Al-Qaeda,
“The organisation grew out of the network of Arab volunteers who had gone to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight under the banner of Islam against Soviet Communism. During the anti-Soviet jihad Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA. The “Arab Afghans”, as they became known, were battle-hardened and highly motivated. In the early 1990s Al-Qaeda operated in Sudan. After 1996 its headquarters and about a dozen training camps moved to Afghanistan, where Bin Laden forged a close relationship with the Taleban.”
The origin of present day terror can be traced to exactly this historical period, more specifically the after math of American vs. Soviet Cold War conflict. This gave rise to the Mujahideen or jihadists whose original purpose was to fight against Soviet occupation is now the trade mark violent terrorists’ one sees in popular media. This point is further elaborated by Robin Cook in his article in the Guardian titled “The struggle against terrorism cannot be won by military means”,
“Osama bin Laden is no more a true representative of Islam than General Mladic, who commanded the Serbian forces, could be held up as an example of Christianity. After all, it is written in the Qur’an that we were made into different peoples not that we might despise each other, but that we might understand each other.
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.”
Ali’s American “wining” of the Cold War left a vacuum that created local power struggles within the region. Afghans were incited to fight a war with themselves for the sake of a struggle which had nothing to do with them in the first place. A great secular culture, radicalized in the face of imperialistic forces as Western ideological super powers wage war at the cost of millions of Afghan lives. Ali is definitely right to quote the violent verses of the Qur’an as a means of radicalization, but is it so hard to understand how Western imperialism lead to similar levels of radicalization out of factors like starvation, death, destruction and despair? Perhaps Ali was right; America did win the Cold War and hence, as a winner, it gets to reap the spoils of war. A full American invasion was set in motion in a country that had very little to do with 9/11 given the fact that Bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia. Again, this aftermath is well documented by Michael Moore’s documentary where the invasion of Afghanistan was largely motivated by George W. Bush’s personal interesting in building a pipeline within the region:
Afghanistan was given in exchange for the blood of millions of Afghans (men, women and children) a new era of democratic freedom based not on social democracy, human rights nor freedom of speech, but plain corporate American greed:
Religious dogmatic thinking is the reason Ali suggests that stifles social democratic development within Muslim countries. In that same light, Ali fails to explain that social democratic freedom in Muslim countries are also undermined by Westernization itself. This forced rapid development is not only driven simply by a Western social-democratic cultural good-will, but is driven at the same time with a Western neo-imperialist and exploitative capital greed. What alternatives are there for an Afghan who lives in a forced social democratic nation (war torn, broken, unstable) that in its very conception was already socially compromised? Under such context, relying on radical religious leaders as a form of alternative government does not seem as farfetched and unreasonable as Ali would suggest.
America, Fuck Yeah!
Even before the illegal war on Iraq in 2003, Western intervention (American/CIA) was already active within the region. Namely, it was Western intervention that allowed a man like Saddam Hussein to come into power. Geo-proxy wars are a common yet little talked about phenomenon. Usually in this context, paranoia of conspiracy theories comes to mind, but what needs to be addressed are the concrete events that actually happened within historical context. What happened in Iraq is directly linked with what happened in the neighboring country Iran. This was again well portrayed by the Hollywood block buster movie Argo 2012 about the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1980. This is not simply just a movie, it really actually happened, specifically the American and British conspired puppet government, a period of history well summarized within the first 4 minutes of the movie,
“This is the Persian empire… known today as Iran. For 2500 years, this land was ruled by a series of kings known as shahs. In 1950, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mosaddegh a secular democrat, as prime minister. He nationalized British and U.S. petroleum holdings returning Iran’s oil to its people. But in 1953 the U.S. and Great Britain engineered a coup d’état that deposed Mosaddegh and installed Reza Pahlavi as shah.
The young shah was known for opulence and excess. His wife was rumored to bathe in milk while the shah had his lunches flown in by Concorde from Paris. The people starved. The shah kept power through his ruthless internal police: The SAVAK. An era of torture and fear began. He then began a campaign to westernize Iran enraging a mostly traditional Shiite population.
In 1979, the people of Iran overthrew the shah. The exiled cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, returned to rule Iran. It descended into score-settling, death squads and chaos. Dying of cancer, the shah was given asylum in the U. S. The Iranian people took to the streets outside the U.S. embassy…demanding that the shah be returned …tried…and hanged.”
What the movie left out, one can refer to the article on Wikipedia to fill back in,
“Shah Pahlavi left the United States in December 1979 and was ultimately granted asylum in Egypt, where he died from complications of cancer on July 27, 1980. In September 1980, the Iraqi military invaded Iran, beginning the Iran–Iraq War. These events led the Iranian government to enter negotiations with the U.S., with Algeria acting as a mediator. The hostages were formally released into United States custody the day after the signing of the Algiers Accords, just minutes after the new American president, Ronald Reagan, was sworn into office.
The crisis is considered a pivotal episode in the history of Iran–United States relations. Political analysts cite it as a major factor in the trajectory of Jimmy Carter’s presidency and his loss in the 1980 presidential election. In Iran, the crisis strengthened the prestige of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the political power of theocrats who opposed any normalization of relations with the West. The crisis also led to the United States’ economic sanctions against Iran, further weakening ties between the two countries.”
Ali may criticize those that use religion as a means to uphold political power within the Heretic, but by denying important socioeconomic context, Ali leaves very little information for the reader to understand how that relationship came to be. For example, Ali criticizes Ben Affleck during an interview by quoting an open letter written by an activist named Einah,
“…What you did by screaming “racist!” was shut down a conversation that many of us have been waiting to have. You helped those who wish to deny there are issues, deny them. What is so wrong with wanting to step into the current century? There should be no shame. There is no denying that violence, misogyny and homophobia exist in all religious texts, but Islam is the only religion that is adhered to so literally, to this day.
In your culture you have the luxury of calling such literalists “crazies.”…In my culture, such values are upheld by more people than we realise. Many will try to deny it, but please hear me when I say that these are not fringe values. It is apparent in the lacking numbers of Muslims willing to speak out against the archaic Shariah law. The punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, etc, are tools of oppression. Why are they not addressed even by the peaceful folk who aren’t fanatical, who just want to have some sandwiches and pray five times a day? Where are the Muslim protestors against blasphemy laws/apostasy? Where are the Muslims who take a stand against harsh interpretation of Shariah?” (p. 215-216)
The context that Ali leaves out was that Ben Affleck was the led actor in the movie Argo that captured a specific chapter of history of how Iran was radicalized through Western intervention. Affleck was not addressing liberal censorship through political correctness, he is addressing the need to factor in Western intervention when Western liberals confront Islam.
The current radical rhetoric that Iran is using directly comes from a specific historical event that happened outside of the writings of the Qur’an. Iran had the Qur’an for centuries without radicalizing, but only after Western exploitation for oil through a CIA conspired puppet government that sparked radical nationalism in its resistance bringing with it fundamental Islamic teachings. The ending that was left out of Argo was an important factor in this debate because of the Iraq-Iran war which defines how Western intervention can be seen to have purposely created strife within the region for the purpose of primitive accumulation (the exploitation of people and culture for gain, specifically oil in this instance). All of this history can be considered as the introduction to how the radical Islamic group ISIL was created. To begin, one must back track to a man named Saddam Hussein and how he came to power leading to the eventual American invasion of Iraq in 2003; an illegal war declared on Iraq in order to find Weapons of Mass Destruction that never existed. This is not surprising since it was not weapons that they looked for, in the views of the hungry world market, oil is always thicker than blood.
The Unknown Known
Iraq was a culturally rich diverse region full of history of conquests and empires’ rise and fall. The chapter of history which concerns this debate is of the rise of the Ba’athist’s party, the core ideology that led to current day ISIL. To quote from the Wikipedia’s account,
“In 1958, a coup d’etat known as the 14 July Revolution led by the Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Qasim. This revolt was strongly anti-imperial and anti-monarchical in nature and had strong socialist elements. Numerous people were killed in the coup, including King Faysal II, Prince Abd al-Ilah, and Nuri al-Sa’id. Qasim controlled Iraq through military rule and in 1958 he began a process of forcibly reducing the surplus amounts of land owned by a few citizens and having the state redistribute the land. He was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif in a February 1963 coup. After his death in 1966, he was succeeded by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, who was overthrown by the Ba’ath Party in 1968. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became the first Ba’ath President of Iraq but then the movement gradually came under the control of General Saddam Hussein, who acceded to the presidency and control of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), then Iraq’s supreme executive body, in July 1979.”
The rise of the Ba’ath Party and the clash between Iraq and Iran can be seen as an extension of Ali’s aforementioned American process of “wining” the Cold War. As quoted from Wikipedia’s account of the July 17 Revolution,
“The 17 July Revolution was a bloodless coup in Iraq in 1968, led by General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, which brought the Iraqi Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party to power. Both Saddam Hussein, later President of Iraq, and Salah Omar al-Ali, later a Ba’athist dissident, were major participants in the coup. According to historian Charles R. H. Tripp, the coup upset the “US-sponsored security system established as part of the Cold War in the Middle East. It appeared that any enemy of the Baghdad regime was a potential ally of the United States.”
To put all of this into perspective, Saddam was a by-product of this rising nationalism against Western intervention within the region. The ideological struggle of the West between American capitalism and Soviet communism and the ensuing power struggle within the region paved the grounds for Saddam to rise in power and establish himself as a dictator through the process. Firstly as a warrior for Iraq nationalism against imperial and monarchic rule ushering in a socialist revolution then, secondly, as a dictator, supported by radicalized nationals fueled on by the propaganda and conflict propagated by Saddam’s own fascist agenda for wealth and power. Saddam’s true crime against humanity was never harboring weapons of mass destruction, but squandering the vast oil wealth of Iraq on a militaristic agenda instead of promoting the security and prosperity of the Iraqi people through peaceful means. The Iran-Iraq war began as an opportunity for Saddam to consolidate power within the region making Iraq the most prominent super power in the Middle East. The one who controls the oil of both Iran and Iraq basically controls the largest supply of oil in the world, even shadowing the Saudi’s supply, a fact blatantly apparent to all international super powers that was eyeing the chaos generated by Iran’s independence from American and British influences. Essentially, the 1980 Iran-Iraq war became the battle field for international super powers to wage a geo-proxy war on whom will control the oil supply within the region (and the monopoly on future) and has little to do with neither Iranians nor Iraqis. To quote Wikipedia’s account of the intentional response:
In April 1982, the rival Baathist regime in Syria, one of the few nations that supported Iran, closed the Kirkuk–Banias pipeline that had allowed Iraqi oil to reach tankers on the Mediterranean, reducing the Iraqi budget by US$5 billion per month. Journalist Patrick Brogan wrote, “It appeared for a while that Iraq would be strangled economically before it was defeated militarily.”:263 Syria’s closure of the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline left Iraq with the pipeline to Turkey as the only means of exporting oil. However, that pipeline had a capacity of only 500,000 barrels per day (79,000 m3/d), which was insufficient to pay for the war.:160 However, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Gulf states saved Iraq from bankruptcy by providing it with an average of $60 billion in subsidies per year.:263[clarification needed] Though Iraq had previously been hostile towards other Gulf states, “the threat of Persian fundamentalism was far more feared.”:162–163:263 They were especially inclined to fear Iranian victory after Ayatollah Khomeini declared monarchies to be illegitimate and an un-Islamic form of government. Khomeini’s statement was widely received as a call to overthrow the Gulf monarchies. Journalists John Bulloch and Harvey Morris wrote:
The virulent Iranian campaign, which at its peak seemed to be making the overthrow of the Saudi regime a war aim on a par with the defeat of Iraq, did have an effect on the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], but not the one the Iranians wanted: instead of becoming more conciliatory, the Saudis became tougher, more self-confident, and less prone to seek compromise.:163
Saudi Arabia was said to provide Iraq with $1 billion per month starting in mid-1982.:160
Iraq began receiving support from the United States and west European countries as well. Saddam was given diplomatic, monetary, and military support by the US, including massive loans, political clout, and intelligence on Iranian deployments gathered by American spy satellites. The Iraqis relied heavily on American satellite footage and radar planes to detect Iranian troop movements, and they enabled Iraq to move troops to the site before the battle.
With Iranian success on the battlefield, the US made its backing of Iraq more pronounced, supplying intelligence, economic aid, and dual-use equipment and vehicles, as well as normalizing its intergovernmental relations (which had been broken during the 1967 Six-Day War). President Ronald Reagan decided that the United States “could not afford to allow Iraq to lose the war to Iran”, and that the United States “would do whatever was necessary to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran”. Reagan formalised this policy by issuing a National Security Decision Directive to this effect in June 1982.
In 1982, Reagan removed Iraq from the list of countries “supporting terrorism” and sold weapons such as howitzers to Iraq via Jordan and Israel. France sold Iraq millions of dollars worth of weapons, including Gazelle helicopters, Mirage F-1 fighters, and Exocet missiles. Both the United States and West Germany sold Iraq dual-use pesticides and poisons that would be used to create chemical and other weapons, such as Roland missiles.
At the same time, the Soviet Union, angered with Iran for purging and destroying the Tudeh Party (Iran’s national communist party), sent large shipments of weapons to Iraq. The Iraqi Air Force was rearmed with Soviet and French fighter jets and helicopters. Iraq also bought weapons such as AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades from the Chinese. The depleted tank forces were replenished with Soviet tanks, and the Iraqis were reinvigorated in the face of the coming Iranian onslaught. Iran was portrayed as the aggressor, and would be seen as such until the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq would be condemned.
Iran did not have the financial capability to purchase arms to the same extent as Iraq. Iran could count on China, North Korea, Libya, Syria and Japan for supplying anything from weapons and munitions to logistical and engineering equipment. There were also clandestine purchases from certain elements within Israel and the United States, who also bought small arms from China, via North Korea.
Saddam’s reign of terror within the region was largely possible through American support motivated by the access to the region’s oil. Key players like Ronald Regan and George Bush senior actively engaged in ‘shady’ deals with Saddam in order to earn his favor to secure American rights to construct pipelines within the region since Iran was no longer within the American field of influence. The aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war left both countries at a great loss with Iraq suffering a much heavier toll. As explained in the Wikipedia article on the financial situation,
The financial loss at the time was believed to exceed US$500 billion for each country ($1.2 trillion total). In addition, economic development stalled and oil exports were disrupted. Iraq had accrued more than $130 billion of international debt, excluding interest, and was also weighed down by a slowed GDP growth. Iraq’s debt to Paris Club amounted to $21 billion, 85% of which had originated from the combined inputs of Japan, the USSR, France, Germany, the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom. The largest portion of Iraq’s debt, amounting to $130 billion, was to its former Arab backers, with $67 billion loaned by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Jordan. After the war, Iraq accused Kuwait of slant drilling and stealing oil, inciting its invasion of Kuwait, which in turn worsened Iraq’s financial situation: the United Nations Compensation Commission mandated Iraq to pay reparations of more than $200 billion to victims of the invasion, including Kuwait and the United States. To enforce payment, Iraq was put under a complete international embargo, which further strained the Iraqi economy and pushed its external debt to private and public sectors to more than $500 billion by the end of Saddam’s rule. Combined with Iraq’s negative economic growth after prolonged international sanctions, this produced a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 1,000%, making Iraq the most indebted developing country in the world. The unsustainable economic situation compelled the new Iraqi government to request that a considerable portion of debt incurred during the Iran–Iraq war be written off.
Much of the oil industry in both countries was damaged in air raids.
In supplying Saddam with vast amounts of weapons and giving the man a free licence to wage war within the region, aggravated by poverty and desolation in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, things eventually back fired leading to the 1990 Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The rest of what happens next is again well documented by Michael Moore and the removal of Saddam from power in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq after the tragic events of 9/11.
Here one can strongly emphasize the importance of history and socioeconomic accounts in order to both understand what is happening in current events and to not allow a past mistakes to be made again in the future. Under the presidency of George W. Bush junior, an illegal war to invade Iraq was waged in order to find weapons of mass destruction in 2003. As history has shown those weapons did not exist and whatever weapons that Iraq was armed with was supplied and sold to them, largely in part, by America itself. It is unjustified that Ali in the Heretic so casually dismisses Western intervention as a major cause of radicalization when it shown in history through real events that led to the suffering of so many within the region. When Ali explains that the poor decisions made by the governments of the Muslim world was caused mainly by the integration of Islamic texts into the social fabric of those societies, Ali at the same time, fails completely to explain that the poor decisions made by the governments outside the Muslim world, that directly affects Muslim people, were made with almost no references to Islamic texts. Simply put, the Muslim world is both affected by Islamic text being integrated into their social fabric and at the same time also affected simply by Western and global international interests fueled by greed. Ali’s logic that only Muslim nations radicalize in response to Western imperialism as a proof that Islam is the key factor can also be turn on its head with that very same logic by asking: why only some Muslim nations radicalize and some stay peaceful? The reasons why some regions radicalize and some do not cannot be found in the Qur’an, but the differences become apparent once one considers the historical and socioeconomic context of those specific regions, a factor that Ali completely dismisses as important to the Islamic debate fueling her critics and nullifying her arguments. These are images taken out of the documentary (Fahrenheit 911) of the events that took place in the Iraq invasion. The factors which Ali have left out of the Heretic looks like this in real life:
Anyone whom cherishes the importance of human life would be angered and disturbed by such images regardless of one’s religious affiliations. Imagine that those images reflect ones constant reality in which one lives. Who can help them other than the grace of God, in other words, a hope or a belief is all the relief some people have to escape from the trauma of present life. Ali who argues the need to focus on present reality as opposed to the rewards of an afterlife fails to acknowledge that in certain situations, it is their present reality and its uncanny horror that drives people towards the focus on death. It is not simply innate cultural beliefs or reliance on religious guidance that is reinforcing the continual integration of religion into Arab social and political fabric, but real life current events driven by real socioeconomic struggles. When confronted with such images, one does not even need to be affiliated with Islam or the Arab world to feel compelled to do something, anything. It is this blind compulsion to act which leads those whom are seemingly completely fulfilled within a Western life to take on a crusade of justice based on the moral and ethical justification of the exploiters of Islamic texts. Nothing is more deceptive than the truth and the ‘truth’ of Western invention within Arab nations and the images of the aftermaths are far more powerful tools towards rationalization than any verse in an antiquated book. A factor Ali fails to see even with her understanding that modern terrorist groups have fully adopted the use of social media. What terrorist groups propagate is not religious verses, but skewed current events and excerpts from social history to justify the adoption of radicalized ideology and boost of their brutality to instill fear and awe in their enemies. This is the core reason why Ali’s use of history is problematic because Ali is using the same method as radical terrorist groups, the narrow selective filtering of history to make radicalized claims, to justify the arguments for reformation. Under such pretexts of a debate, no real insight can ever be achieved, and any sort of reformation based on such context will only be skewed, warped and distorted. A great shame since being a scholar of such renown is capable of far greater then what was presented in the Heretic. Ali is making a very important point which gets lost by the very way she writes, which is addressing the paradox of praxis within the Islamic debate. This is best illustrated by examining how the radical terrorist group ISIL came to be.
Terror Fulfilling Prophecy
Al Jazeera has a very comprehensive program composed of international experts (U.S. and Iraqi) which examines in detail the chronological order of how ISIL was formed.
There is very little room for historical debate that will read the illegal American invasion of Iraq in 2003 with any positive light. The beginning of ISIL was the direct aftermath of removing Saddam Hussein from power. George Bush’s claims that Al Qaeda was in Iraq was based on fake intelligence, but with Saddam out of the picture and the country in ravages it inadvertently created the most ideal conditions which welcomed Al Qaeda into Iraq. What was left of the Baathist resistance (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bath-Party) were formed into Sunni insurgent groups, given the poor handling of the religious tension between Shiites and Sunnis by the American occupation and Iraqi government, was merged with Al Qaeda to form a new terrorist group call the Islamic State of Iraq. American efforts at uniting local tribes against the backdrop of IS brutality was extremely success and contained the situation. Yet out of a complete strategic blunder a series of detention camps were created throughout Iraq in order to address the inhuman Iraqi prison system and the large amount of radicals and suspected radicals arrested in the anti-terror efforts. What was created were the perfect breeding grounds which only promoted radicalization, where extremists were detained with large populations of disenfranchised youths. Statically speaking 18 of the 27 of senior ISIL leaders are from Camp Bucca, one of those aforementioned detention camps. (http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2015/riseofisil/watchone.html 39:45) When the American forces left the country the detention camps were closed and hundreds of thousands of newly radicalized individuals were released back into their homes creating a new organized ISIL force. With the backdrop of the Syrian civil war and the outbreak of civil war in Iraq, a tenuous peace between Shiites and Sunnis was brought to the breaking point by both American and Iraqi government failures in supporting the perceived Sunni persecutions, gave ISIL tremendous room to grow. First as a liberating force against the brutal Assad regime in Syria that united hundreds and thousands of battle hardened extremists globally to a singular cause then, second, as a modern military force as they returned back to Iraq and captured Mosul arming themselves with six divisions of U.S supplied modern weaponry. Fueled by the oil of both regions of Syria and Iraq, generated by endless chaos the ideology of my enemy of my enemy allows ISIL to sell their oil with impunity and continue their reign of terror which dominates present day current events. To bring back Ali’s comment on the Cold War, to quote Al Jazeera, “In October 2015, both Russian and American fighter-jets dropped bombs on Syria, both with their own objectives, both claiming ISIL as their number one target.” Another sign of the American’s ‘wining’ the Cold War, a full fledged word war is now unleashed in the Middle East,
“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is becoming further entwined in a widening web, with allies and foes competing, and coalescing, for their own interests. NATO countries jostle with Russia and Arab states resisting a resurgent Iran, while all the time they all insist they’re fighting ISIL.
And all the while ISIL stands its ground and dares to rise.”
Hormesis: Part 2
ISIL is the perfect example in which to understand Ali’s main argument in Heretic. The process of de-radicalization, by the American occupation, of radical Islamists through the use of Islamic texts proves Ali’s point. There is a violent core innate within Islam which is inseparable from the religion’s current form of practise. It was an impossible task to de-radicalize and teach Islam at the same time in the American detention camps. Other than the most obvious mistake (to the point of ignorance, there are decades of research and information from prison systems that would point to the predictable outcome) of grouping highly dangerous individuals with those of minor infractions with impunity, it is the lack of understanding in social and cultural intricacies of the religion (Islam) itself that lead to the radicalization of Iraqi prisoners. The Qur’an was simply understood as merely another book without any deeper understanding of its content, teachings, historical practices and interpretations. One is then immediately confronted with the paradox of what could have been done otherwise; they would not be able to keep the peace of tens-of-thousands of detainees had Islam been banned, the alternative, if they allow Islam to be practiced then inevitable radicalization takes place. To make a choice under such context is a false one for one is tempted to make a very simple mistake, one reminiscent of the many failures of American international policy, of ‘short-sightedness’. There should had never been detention camps in the first place for an illegal war fueled by greed only creates more violence. One can see this point clearly by taking the perspective of one of the detainees: to accept Westernization in the form of a forced cultural rape (illegal war) or to hold on to dogmatic cultural practises which one was native to. Both of those choices are false for it obfuscates the true position of the Iraqi people’s lack of choice. In other words, being put into a situation in which foreign intervention has already robbed them of the position to choose. If the Arab Spring movement proves one thing, it proves that if the Arab world was left to its own devices to freely choose its own destiny, even with the influence of dogmatic Islamic teachings heavily ingrained, the choice of the people are still of freedom and democracy. To quote Ali drawing inspiration from John Locke:
In Locke’s formulation, protection against persecution is one of the highest responsibilities of any government or ruler. Locke also argued that where there is coercion and persecution to change hearts and minds, it will “work” only at a very high human cost, producing in its wake both cruelty and hypocrisy. For Locke, no one person should “desire to impose” his or her view of salvation on others. Instead, in his vision of a tolerant society, each individual should be free to follow his or her own path in religion, and respect the right of others to follow their own paths: “Nobody, not even commonwealths,” Lock wrote, “have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other upon pretense of religion,” (p.209-10)
Here we have a situation where all human rights have a-priori been violated in order to be put into a position of choice; where neither the state nor the social fabric provide any protection against the invasion of civil rights and worldly goods and only religion was the only escape from the cruelty and hypocrisy of Western democratic salvation. The failure of praxis, or the failure of practice/theory cuts both ways, simply relying on the correcting influences of exposure to positive Western influences (westernized prison system) is not enough without cultural and religious understanding, not to mention that it was these Western positive influences which put people into prisons in the first place. Also relying on cultural theoretical critique does really little to dismantle violent ideology when it is far removed from one’s social reality. In order to fully critique Islam one has to consider it in its entirety of being a religion in its full political context. Ali is correct in identifying the violent core which promotes extremism within Islamic texts and teachings innate within the religion itself. It must be critiqued and discussed and brought to light. Yet at the same time one must not ignore the social reality that Western invention poses which systemically removes the freedom of choice leaving theoretical debate little more than just that, debate outside of brutal reality. If one were to follow Ali’s logic of thought in the Heretic, Islam would be the mother to violent extremism but if one was to refer to historical reality then Western intervention would be the father; the relationship that Ali obfuscates within her texts.
In ignoring historical context Ali’s quoting of the Middle Ages leaves out an important point: that often Islam is not native to the region where it is now known for, much like Somalia where Ali originated, it was introduced into the region through kings and monarchs and rulers after their initial conquests. The status of Islam’s authenticity only becomes consolidated at the advent where its rulers becomes challenged by a foreign entity, Islam becomes nationalized as a defense mechanism against the intruders whom interrupt the current (the then) established modes of normalcy within the region. Much like Somalia’s history where it is the historical event known as “The Scramble for Africa” that led to the rallying of Islamic support to repel the foreign invaders, the first spark, leading to current Islamic radicalization.
To quote Ali, “Looking back, I see now that many people embraced the Brotherhood in the first instance simply because they brought order.” (p.38) Be it for the better or for worse, Islam has a long tradition of acting as a stabilizing mechanism to political power, an aspect often exploited by those whom seek power from the hands (often Western imperial might) that are holding on to the region. As for the example of Somalia, it was an Anarchist country left in taters in 1991 by the hands of Western intervention and ideological wars. From its colonization and exploitation under foreign powers (British, Italy, France) in the after math of WWII to the violent communist struggle and repulsion in the aftermath of the Cold War that left Somalia in the heat of a civil power struggle producing a lawless country in perpetual conflict. A country in such desperation, where even the radical and violent ideas of Islam provided an attractive possibility at a chance of relative normalcy and stability. Under such conditions is it really so surprising, as Ali would put it, “Islamic scripture, interpreted literally, was presented as the answer to all problems, political, secular, and spiritual, and my friends as well as my own family began to accept this.” (p.39)