The Blog

The 'Islamic State' Monstrosity: Can the Middle East Rise Up From the Ashes?

The Arab world, the heart of ancient civilisation and birthplace of the three Abrahamic faiths, is now haunted by a mounting monstrosity: the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The Arab world, the heart of ancient civilisation and birthplace of the three Abrahamic faiths, is now haunted by a mounting monstrosity: the so-called Islamic State (IS). Their latest online video release purporting to show the beheading of US journalist James Foley by a killer with British accent is shocking. Muslims across the world have expressed their abhorrence to this group; the main British Muslim umbrella group, the MCB, has called their actions psychopathic violence.

IS's atrocities are just a horrible addition to decades-long cruelty in the region. For decades tin pot dictators, power-hungry militaries and monarchical autocrats have played havoc with their own people - killing opponents, bulldozing cities, gassing villages, pilfering state wealth and above all allowing foreign powers to turn the region into a theatre of war and anarchy. Some did this in the name of Arab nationalism and others used religion as a political ploy.

All this started with the dismal social degeneration of the once powerful Ottoman Empire and its disastrous support for Germany in WW1 a century ago. The political naivety of the collapsing Ottomans and mindboggling Arab opportunism was then used by the British Empire to orchestrate an anti-Ottoman revolt from its Arab provinces. In a secret Sykes-Picot Agreement Britain and France decided to bring strategically important Ottoman Arab territories into their sphere of influence; with artificial boundaries they created pliant Arab states.

WW1 caused death and destruction on an industrial scale; most deceitfully it sowed the seed of long term enmity between the Arab people. The worst case was in historic Palestine which, because of the Balfour Declaration, created a generational conflict between two people, the Jews and Muslims.

Fast forward: today the Middle East is reaping what was sown 100 years ago. The reign of terror in Baathist Syria and Iraq, military autocracy sapping the energy of Egyptian people, and depravity of Gulf monarchies (with varying degrees) - have some links with European colonial enterprise designed to milk Arab wealth.

The continuous brutalisation of the Palestinian people and Israeli illegal settlement expansion - with direct or indirect support from the US and its allies - has proved long term lethal. Gaza carnages by the Israeli military machine every few years is one such example.

However, the latest nail in the fractured Arab body came from the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which took place against international outcry. Driven by a neoconservative agenda and with breathtaking arrogance, the US jettisoned all international legality in Iraq; it was imperial hubris at its worst. Under a US 'shock and awe' barbarity Iraq, once a centre of Muslim civilisation, saw a replay of Mongol savagery of 1258. The Geneva Convention was thrown out of the window and the world witnessed the death, destruction and humiliation of a people by an occupying power.

When the world's sole superpower adopts a 'might is right' policy, autocratic forces elsewhere find cues to do the same to their adversaries; the result is a 'Law of the Jungle' and loss of moral compass that we see now in many parts of the world.

The demonic evils of the IS, which is neither Islamic nor a state, has horrified us all. By terrorising and killing ordinary people and posting revolting images online, the group is handing over massive propaganda weapon to Islamophobes everywhere.

We must not forget the fact that IS is, in-part, a by-product of a brutal and immoral invasion of an independent Iraq by America, not dissimilar to the way Al-Qaeda emerged after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Dangerous proxy wars are now haunting Iraq and Syria, following sectarian lines In spite of historic theological and political differences between Sunni and Shia Islam the Muslim world was spared from a bloodletting that Europe saw between the two branches of Christianity in the Middle Ages. The current Sunni-Shia violence, though a sign of extreme degeneration within today's Arabs, has something sinister behind it - the impact of foreign domination.

Nobody expects the US and its close allies to come and rescue the Arabs from their current misery; but it is for their own 'national interest' in an inter-connected world these global powers avoid replicating their past misdeeds. Beggaring the neighbour is not only unethical, but also counter-productive in the long run. The Arabs expect some degree of ethics in the Middle East policy from the US and its allies; but what they see now is double standard. Is the blood of ordinary people killed by IS's cruelty in Iraq different from the blood of innocent people in Cairo's Rab'a massacre last year?

Iraq is trying to form a unity government under domestic and international pressure, it is vital America and its allies make sure their humanitarian assistance does not end up in another 'mission creep'.

America, still an unrivalled global military force, has an extra obligation to be fair for the sake of world peace. Like a wheel global power rotates, the US will one day lose its supremacy; common wisdom demands it does not remain on the wrong side of history for so long.

Meanwhile the Arabs will not be in such a perilous state forever. They have a uniquely rich religious heritage to stand up and have also a history of shaping destiny themselves when they are at their worst. What they probably most need now is a new breed of trusted leadership with vision, wisdom and political acumen. They have missed a golden opportunity of the 2011 Arab Spring due to the dearth of this political leadership, and also because of conspiratorial vested interests. But one day, hopefully not too long in future, they will rise up again and unshackle themselves from this continuing humiliation.

No light may now be visible at the end of the Middle East tunnel, but it is just a matter of time when this new force will rise from the ashes.

(Dr) Muhammad Abdul Bari is an author and commentator on social and political issues. He was former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.