by Satyajith Andradi
Sri Lanka, as a nation, is no stranger to terrorism. Since independence, the people of the country have undergone untold suffering as a result of numerous acts of terror. The terrorist attacks of Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, are the most recent ones. However, there is a fundamental difference between these latest attacks and Sri Lanka’s previous encounters with terrorism. Whilst the previous terror incidents were essentially of local origin, all evidence indicate that the Easter terror attacks, although carried out by Sri Lankan nationals, was foreign inspired. It originated in the Islamic Radicalisation in the Middle East – an ultra conservative interpretation of Islam coupled with a strong terrorist orientation. How did Islamic Radicalisation, of which ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is the most recent avatar, come in to existence? What sustains it survival, evolution and growth?
Afghanistan – Turning of the Red Tide
The second half of the 1970s witnessed the rapid spreading of communism throughout the world. Many countries in the world embraced Soviet style communism, and moved away from the West’s sphere of influence. The communist victory in South Vietnam in 1975 ushered this phase. Cambodia and Laos in Indo-China, Angola in Africa and Nicaragua in Central America followed suit. The communist advance reached its zenith with the installation of a Marxist regime in Afghanistan, and the sending of Soviet troops to that country in 1979. Given the fact that the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries, Cuba and China were already under communist rule, one could have thought in the late 1970s that the whole world would soon turn communist. However, that was not to be the case. The West developed a lethal and potent weapon to fight communism – Islamic Radicalisation. The United States aggressively supported the Islamic fundamentalists to fight the Soviets. As a result the Soviet Union was drawn into a costly war in Afghanistan, comparable to the United States’ war in Vietnam. Eventually, the Soviets suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Islamist insurgents and withdrew troops from Afghanistan. The victorious Islamist fundamentalists became the Taliban. In the meantime, the defeat in Afghanistan significantly contributed to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the communist Soviet Union itself. In a decade or so, by the early 1990s, communism was effectively wiped out of Europe.
High Tide of Western Imperialism
The 1990s could be rightly called the decade of western imperialism. With the demise of the Soviet Union, in 1991, the United States became the world’s sole super-power. It became the global policeman in the new world order. The ideological rhetoric of the United States and its rich capitalist allies was embraced as the new sacrosanct ideology by most of the ruling elites of the world, including former communist countries. In the economic sphere, the West’s rhetoric called for a global economy with free trade and open markets; in politics it upheld free and fair elections and parliamentary democracy; in the social front it sanctified the rule of law, press freedom, and a plethora of human and civil rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and conscience, gender equality, etc. Throughout the 1990s, the West reigned supreme and became richer and powerful. The United States came to be looked upon as the ‘Leader of the Free World’ by most of the world’s ruling elites. Meanwhile, most of the remaining few communist –ruled countries, such as China and Vietnam, too, embraced capitalism and global trade as a means of developing economically.
Naughty Republics and Cozy Kingdoms
An increasingly rich and powerful West was seen to live up to its rhetoric in most parts of the world. The widespread acceptance of its narrative be most countries prove the point. However, in one particular important region of the world, namely, the oil–rich and mostly predominantly Islamic Middle– East, its behaviour was blatantly out of step with its rhetoric. Intriguingly, it maintained strong and cozy relationships with many of the region’s oil-rich Arab kingdoms, which were despotic and feudalistic to the core, and practiced an ultra-conservative and intolerant interpretation of Islam. Meanwhile, it was at odds with many of the region’s Arab republics such as Iraq and Syria, which had overthrown their feudal and despotic monarchies. Relative to the conservative kingdoms, these republics were more tolerant, democratic, and modern.
The Geo-politics of Oil Economics
Why has the West’s behaviour in the Middle – East been radically out of step with its neo – liberal rhetoric? The answer lies in the geo-politics of oil economics. Everyone knows that the Middle- East is the West’s main source of energy – petroleum, and that oil is vital to the sustenance of the prosperity and power. The Jewish state of Israel, which is situated in the midst of this predominantly Islamic region, is the West’s most secure foothold and veritable guardhouse. The West perceived republics such as Iraq as threats to the security of Israel, and the conservative Islamic kingdoms as allies. The West behaviour has encouraged the conservative Arab kingdoms to propagate their brand of ultra conservative Islam for their own survival on the one hand, and irreconcilably antagonised the region’s dispossessed masses on the other. This has been the surest recipe for fuelling Islamic Radicalisation.
9 / 11 Terror Attacks – Afghanistan re-visited
The West’s decade-long supreme sense of security was disrupted on 11th September 2001 with the Al-Qaeda terror attacks in New York and Washington D.C. The attacks were masterminded by a well-to-do Saudi national operating from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The Taliban, which the United States had earlier nurtured against the Soviet Union, had turned its guns against its erstwhile creator and patron. The wheel had turned full cycle, so to speak. This led the United States and its allies to wage a full war against Afghanistan, in order to destroy Al- Qaeda and Taliban. Taliban was ousted from power by the West, though it is still active in the Fagan countryside. It is worthwhile to note that the Taliban irreparably destroyed the centuries old colossal Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, few years before the Al – Qaeda terror attack in the United States and that the West was by and large oblivious to that event.
Regime Change and ISIS
Emboldened by its military success in Afghanistan, the United States, together with several of its western allies, invaded Iraq alleging that the later possessed weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi regime was changed. However, the conquerors did not find any weapons of mass destruction. In reality, the invasion was meant to remove a potential threat to Israel. Another motive would have been the greed for Iraqi oil. Subsequently, the West made another attempt of regime change in neighbouring Syria. Though the mission in Syria was not fully accomplished, due to Russian intervention, the power vacuum created by the weakening of Iraq and Syria facilitated the birth of the terrorist ISIS. This organization too carried out many high-profile terror attacks in the United States and several of its allies such as the UK, Germany, France, etc. More importantly, the interventions of the Western powers in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen have brought about untold misery to millions of people in those countries, who are predominantly Muslims. Meanwhile, Islamic Radicalisation continues to thrive in numerous forms.
Islamic Radicalisation and the Crisis of Western Imperialism
Islamic Radicalisation was created by the Western Imperialists as a lethal weapon to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. However, after the communist threat was removed, it continued to thrive due to the West’s dubious meddling in the oil-rich Middle East. Like a Frankenstein monster, it turned against its creator, as shown by the numerous terror attacks in the West, including the 9 /11 attacks in New York and Washington D.C. But it seems that there is nothing much the West could do to destroy it. Unlike Dr Frankenstein’s hideous creation, this monster has staged many a comeback every time its head was cut off. It resembles the mythical Hydra. The story of Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS proves the point. Meanwhile, the West continues to get increasingly entangled in the Middle , further fuelling Islamic Radicalisation. The United States’ recent confrontations with Iran are a case in point. Meanwhile, Islamic Radicalisation has also brought about confusion to USA policy as amply manifested by the US Administration’s so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ on the one hand, and it’s very cozy relationship with the oil –rich ultra conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia with regard to the gruesome murder of the moderate Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the other. Western Imperialism is in deed crisis. Islamic Radicalisation is arguably its most visible manifestation.