21 July 2017 | Tristan Dunning | The New Arab
Comment : Blaming religion for Middle East violence ignores nuance and absolves governments of their responsibility
“…In brief, if we posit that the essence of the problem is religion itself, then we can forget about the Sykes-Picot agreement between the French and the British 100 years ago, dividing the failing Ottoman Empire into artificial states according to imperial rather than local interests.
It allows us to avoid the issue of US meddling in the region, including the disastrous invasion and destruction of the Iraqi state in 2003, which created a security vacuum facilitating the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the subsequent emergence of IS.
It absolves the failures of the post-2003 Iraqi government to build a functioning state and the political elite’s unashamed peddling of sectarian policies, which alienated the Sunni population so much that IS fighters were initially welcomed as liberators in Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi in 2014.
It elides the Assad regime’s deliberate militarisation of the civil unrest in Syria in 2011, which turned the government’s claim of fighting extreme Islam into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and thus validated the subsequent brutality that the regime and its Russian allies unleashed in densely populated areas such as Aleppo.
It ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states transferred arms and weapons to extremists in Syria to provoke a virulent regional proxy war between ostensible Sunni- (Saudi) and Shia- (Iran) backed entities, and thereby nix any chance of the democratic spirit of the 2011 Arab uprisings from spreading and succeeding.
Fixating on foreign fighters and eschatological conflict misidentifies the root causes of conflict in Iraq, Syria and the “war on terror” in general. This, in turn, has led to a variety of poorly informed and counterproductive policy decisions since 11 September 2001.
Until we recognise the practical roles that governments have played, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, in fomenting and perpetuating the conditions that facilitate the rise and persistence of groups such as IS and al-Qaeda, then we are doomed to make the same mistakes again and the currently seemingly endless cycle of international violence will continue unabated.
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