This post is based on a great article by Tyler Durden via Zerohedge
President Ronald Reagan gestures while talking to Burhaneddin Rabbani, a spokesman for the Afghan Resistance Alliance, at the White House in Washington, June 16, 1986. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Where did violent Islamic extremism come from?
In the wake of the terrorist Paris attacks on Friday, November the 13, this is the question no one is asking — yet it is the most important one of all. If one doesn’t know why a problem emerged, if one cannot find its root, one will never be able to solve and uproot it.
History takes no prisoners. It shows, with absolute lucidity, that the Islamic extremism ravaging the world today was born out of the Western foreign policy of yesteryear.
In order to understand the rise of militant Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaida; in order to wrap our minds around their terrorist attacks on civilians in the U.S., France, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan and many, many more countries, we must recover this historical memory.
Where did militant Salafi groups like ISIS and al-Qaida come from? The answer is not as complicated as many make it out to be — but, to understand, we must delve into the history of the Cold War, the historical period lied about in the West perhaps more than any other.
Osama bin Laden
We needn’t reach back far into history. Just a few decades.
Article about Bin Laden the 'freedom fighter" on the UK newspaper The Independent
A photo of an article published in British newspaper the Independent in 1993 exemplifies “warrior puts his army on the road to peace.” It features a large photo of Osama bin Laden, who, at the time, was a close Western ally.
The newspaper noted that bin Laden organized a militia of thousands of foreign fighters from throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and “supported them with weapons and his own construction equipment” in their fight against the USSR in the 1980s. “We beat the Soviet Union,” . bin Laden boasted.
The mujahedin, this international Islamic extremist militia organized and headed by bin Laden, is what eventually morphed into both al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Portraying bin Laden in a positive light, less than eight years before he would help mastermind the largest terrorist attack on American soil in decades, the British publication claimed that the “Saudi businessman who recruited mujahedin now uses them for large-scale building projects in Sudan.” In reality, bin Laden was setting the stages for what would be become al-Qaida.
In Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had disappeared in the last 400 years, for all practical purposes. It was revived suddenly with American help in the 1980s. When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, Zia ul-Haq, the [U.S.-backed] military dictator of Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan, saw an opportunity and launched a jihad there against godless communism. The U.S. saw a God-sent opportunity to mobilize one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the ‘Evil Empire.’
Money started pouring in. CIA agents starting going all over the Muslim world recruiting people to fight in the great jihad. Bin Laden was one of the early prize recruits. He was not only an Arab. He was also a Saudi. He was not only a Saudi. He was also a multimillionaire, willing to put his own money into the matter. Bin Laden went around recruiting people for the jihad against communism.
Extremist “Freedom Fighters”
In the 1950s and ’60s, Afghanistan was a somewhat secular country in which women were granted relatively equal rights. What turned Afghanistan into the hotbed for extremism it is today? Decades of Western meddling.
Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. government supported and armed bin Laden and his mujahedin in Afghanistan, in their fight against the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan famously met with the mujahedin in the Oval Office in 1983. “To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom,” Regan said.
Those “freedom fighters” are the forefathers of ISIS and al-Qaida. When the last Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1989, the mujahedin did not simply leave; a civil war of sorts followed, with various Islamist militant groups fighting for control in the power vacuum. The Taliban came out on top, and established a medieval theocratic regime to replace the former “godless” socialist government.
The Cold War
There are extremists in every religion, but they tend to be few in number, weak and isolated. Salafism, in its modern militarized form, has its origins in the 1920s, and even before. For decades, this movement remained weak and isolated. Yet, in the 1970s and ’80s, Western capitalist governments, particularly the U.S., came up with a new Cold War strategy: supporting these fringe Islamic extremist groups as a bulwark against socialism.
This Cold War strategy ended up being successful: After the fall of the USSR, the secular socialist groups that dominated the resistance movements of the Middle East were replaced by Islamic extremists ones that had previously been supported by the West.
It is not a coincidence that most of the secular countries in the history of the Middle East have been socialist of some sort. In contrast, the most reactionary countries — the countries where women are not granted equal rights and where the rule of law is based on Sharia — have frequently tended to be close Western allies. Why? The West was much, much more interested in preserving capitalism than it was in allowing secularism, gender equality and relative economic equality to flourish under socialism.
Many have argued that the Middle East, North Africa and Muslim-majority parts of South Asia are presently going through their parallel to the West’s Dark Age, a bloody period of religious extremism. They blame the rise of extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida on Islam itself, or on the Middle East’s supposedly “backward” culture, yet conveniently gloss over their own countries’ histories and policies.
There is much more than a tinge of racism in this orientalist idea that, for some reason, Muslims in the Middle East are centuries behind the englightened Christian West. This ludicrous claim does not stand up to even the most superficial historical scrutiny.
For one, never mentioned is the fact that, only decades ago, most Middle Eastern countries were Western colonies. Their civilian populations were terrorized and brutalized by Western colonial powers.
And, again, what were the most secular and modern governments in the history of the Middle East? It was almost always the Soviet-aligned or non-aligned leftist governments that were either enemies of the West or non-allies in the Cold War.
Regardless of the critiques of these governments’ many problems, which is a separate issue, the reality is the Middle East was significantly more progressive and secular during the height of the Cold War than it is today. That’s not a coincidence. The U.S. and its allies destroyed secularism as part of their larger Cold War strategy.
The Cold War bites back
This Cold War strategy continues to bite back today, and hard. Because of this policy, we have now ended up with capitalist dystopias like those in Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the UAE — filthy rich oil states where businessmen are drowning in money while the migrant modern-day slaves upon which their economies are built die in droves, and theocratic monarchies imprison or even behead anyone who challenges the regime.
The Gulf states remain some of the most reactionary and extremist countries on the planet, and they happen to be close Western allies. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is the fountainhead of militant Sunni Islamism — and yet the Obama administration has done more than $100 billion in arms deals with the Saudi monarchy in just five years. In fact, less than three days after the Paris attacks, the U.S. sold another $1.3 billion of bombs to Saudi Arabia — bombs it will likely use to drop on Yemen, where human rights organizations say it is committing egregious war crimes, and where the chaos created by the Saudi-led coalition is helping al-Qaida and ISIS expand into Yemen.
Ideologies are not devoid from material reality. Yes, there are extremists in every religion, but why do they not have the same power in other faiths? There is no such thing as an ideology independent of the material conditions and social forces that assert that ideology materially — that is to say, politically — in reality. Islamic extremism was violently imposed upon the Middle East through a mixture of imperial machinations and individual radicalization under tyranny and extreme poverty.
Up until the 1990 Gulf War, throughout the Iran-Iraq War that consumed the 1980s, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein — the very same dictator it would violently depose in 2003.
Fast-forwarding two decades later, it is now widely acknowledged that the illegal U.S.-led war in Iraq — a catastrophic occupation that led to the deaths of at least 1 million people — destabilized the entire Middle East, creating the extreme conditions in which militant groups like al-Qaida spread like wildfire, eventually leading to the emergence of ISIS.
Saddam Hussein was the first Frankenstein’s monster U.S. policy created in Iraq, al-Qaida was the second, and now ISIS is the third.
If we truly want to end the abominable acts of violence perpetrated by extremist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida, we should take to heart the simple yet profoundcounsel of Noam Chomsky, another modern-day Cassandra: “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”