Cynicism over Syria… and the state of the Islamic world


Cynicism over Syria… and the state of the Islamic world

Ayaz Amir

Just a few days ago the issue dominating Washington was President Trump’s ties to Russia. What did he think of Putin and did the Russians influence the US presidential election? These were the questions being asked. And because of them the Trump administration was under attack from all sides.

Suddenly this has changed and the Russian connection—if ever there was one—is no longer the top news story. It’s all been wiped out by the dramatic strikes on Syria. And just as suddenly the ‘liberal’ voices attacking Trump for different reasons are baying with one voice that the strikes were the right step to take.

 To give just one example, Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times has been a staunch and consistent Trump critic. But in the aftermath of the Syrian strikes this is the tune he is singing: “President Trump’s airstrikes against Syria were of dubious legality. They were hypocritical. They were impulsive. They may have had political motivations…But most of all they were right.” Argument closed. This gives a flavour of the ‘liberal’ response to this act of aggression.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to congratulate President Trump. Britain, France, Germany and Turkey have voiced strong support. Saudi Arabia has said nothing publicly but its stance on Syria is well known. The Saudis were pressing the US for more aggressive action against Bashar al-Assad and indeed their unhappiness with Obama stemmed largely from his restraint on this issue. They should now be delighted.

As a candidate Trump was against American interventionism abroad. In office different considerations seem to have prevailed. Facing an onslaught of charges that he was soft on Putin the temptation to put to rest the entire Russian debate by carrying out a strike on Syria when the opportunity arose was, on the face of it, too strong to resist. And it has paid off with Trump being hailed as a man of decision…in contrast to Obama who was portrayed as feckless on Syria.

The contradiction in the American approach, however, is not easily resolved. American officials were saying only a few days ago that getting rid of Assad was no longer an American priority. After the strikes talk of regime change is again in the air, even as American officials insist that finishing ISIS is also an American priority. I was watching the National Security Adviser Gen H. R. McMaster on television and when asked about this he kept going round and round saying that both goals were to be pursued simultaneously.

All that the western nations beginning with the United States have managed to do is plunge the Middle East into unimaginable turmoil. Destruction has been visited on Iraq while Libya is no longer a functioning state, with different armed factions at each other’s throats. In Syria the western aim was regime change, throwing Bashar al-Assad to the wolves. He’s held out, with help from Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, but the American strikes and the expectation that they will lead to something more are rekindling the hope that he is brought down.

The West has learned nothing. Out of the Iraq turmoil and the Syrian civil war arose ISIS. Parts of Libya have been turned into havens from which ISIS operates. Europe’s refugee crisis is also a product in large part of this turmoil. With millions of Iraqis and Syrians forced from their homes many have tried to find safety and refuge where they can. Now western nations seem to be pressing for more turmoil in Syria.

The one country profiting the most from this situation is Israel. Two of its enemy countries have been destroyed: Iraq and Libya. Its lone sympathizer left in the Arab world, Syria, is under relentless assault. Now Israel’s sympathizers in the US, the neo-conservatives who were behind the Iraq war and who made no secret of their desire to redraw the map of the Middle East, are hoping that the strikes will escalate into something more decisive.

Putin will resist such moves as will the Iranians. The Hezbollah leader, Hasan Nasrullah, knows that the real aim of regime change in Syria is to destroy the land bridge which enables Iran to supply Hezbollah. In standing with Assad’s forces Hezbollah knows it is fighting not just Assad’s war but its own.

Listening to the western nations you would think their hearts were bleeding for the people of Syria. But their actual game is cynical and it has spread horror and suffering not only in Syria but the wider Middle East.

It will have to be said, however, that Muslim countries are equal partners in western cynicism. Leading Arab countries are directly involved in the Syrian conflict as financiers and backers of armed groups opposed to the Assad regime. For these Arab countries the enemy is Iran, not Israel. From Wikileaks we know that the late King Abdallah likened Iran to a snake and he counseled the Americans that the way to kill a snake was to crush its head. Arab potentates don’t like the Iranian revolution, fearing that its example has implications for their own survival. And they fear the rise of Iran as a regional power.

We live in a dangerous world made no safer by this American-sponsored turmoil in a region not too distant from us. Pakistan went down the nuclear road because of India. Looking at the disorder sweeping the Middle East doesn’t it seem to have been the correct decision? Would Iraq have been invaded with such impunity if it had possessed a nuclear deterrent? Would Libya have been destroyed so easily if Qaddafi had a nuclear device hidden somewhere?

Qaddafi and Saddam wanted to develop nuclear capability but for all their riches they did not succeed. The Iranians also set about acquiring a nuclear capability but under international pressure they had to give up. Alone among Islamic nations Pakistan, against the odds, acquired a nuclear weapons capability.

Only thing is that national survival demands more than merely this. It also calls for a better management of national resources and a husbanding of national energies so that national effort is not dissipated on too many unnecessary fronts.

Col Qaddafi did himself no favours by sponsoring terrorist activities in other countries and Saddam Hussein did not do well by his country by starting a war with Iran. That war lasted for eight years and brought much suffering and destruction in its wake. Interestingly, some of the same Arab countries that encouraged Saddam to make war on Iran are behind attempts to destroy the Assad regime.

Is there something wrong with the world of Islam? It is easy to blame others but if we look at ourselves it’s not hard to see that we are equally responsible for our troubles. To take Europe’s example, it has some common frame of reference, some unity of thought and purpose. Is there any of this unity in the world of Islam?

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