Is This the End of Democracy? On the Middle East after ISIS

Mehmet Tas

A long-time Turkish activist discusses how the potential unleashed by the Arab Revolutions risked being stifled by the most recent incarnations of Islamic fundamentalism as well as the short sighted and self-interested policies of the U.S. and NATO, especially when it comes to Syria and Iraq – Editors

pic-20141125In a 1992 interview, the political philosopher Francis Fukuyama predicted that after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, humanity would march slowly toward the global civilisation of “freedom” and peace. Since then, millions have looked forward to seeing a peaceful and flourishing planet. However, nearly a quarter of a century has passed, and hardly anyone could argue that we are any closer to this.

Nowadays, if we look back we can see various extremely brutal events that have rejected democratic culture in many countries. Specifically, in the Middle East, terror has been increasing rapidly since the Iraq war. Millions of ordinary people have been witnessing the return of a cruel civilization in everyday life. War and terror have been gaining momentum across the globe, corresponding to the widening gap between rich and poor. As one violent incident comes to an end, a new, bloodier one follows in its wake. The political environment all over the planet is now so polluted that democracy and humanism have been removed as the last real hope for human development.

Corrupt and incompetent global governing bodies have pushed humanity into undeclared third world wars.

The Arab Spring, which renewed political optimism on an international scale, has been buried deeply. Military coups and the Muslim Brotherhood together drowned the dreams of freedom deep in the water. Taking Tunisia as an example, it will require much time and a huge amount of human energy to create a flourishing democracy. Elsewhere, in Benghazi, fanatical armed groups, some supported by NATO, are killing each other. Across Libya, medieval antidemocratic paradigms have led them to kill for the sake of power struggles. Democracy has been slaughtered once again in Arab lands.

In the same way, antidemocratic development has appeared in the very home of democratic culture: Europe. A number of nondemocratic movements have become mainstream parties in European countries. While economic crises hit the world economy, anti-immigrant nationalistic parties are trying to divide the EU and return to completely independent nation-states.

The Kurdish democratic autonomy of Kobani has been punished. The gangster states of the region blockade this small free land where humanism and harmony reign over all ethnic minorities living there—Yazidis, Alawites, Sunnis, and Turkmen.

Years ago, those who used to be called fanatics became extreme Islamists, and are now called Jihadi terrorists. The Taliban was their first organization, and from there they moved on to al-Qaeda and then transferred from al-Nusra to ISIS. They are looting, torturing and beheading; shooting any person without any interrogation. The Middle East has been turned into a lagoon of blood because of their terror. There is no mark of shame on their face. Whatever they do, they do it gladly, following the orders of the Caliphate. One of them, Abubekir Shakau, stated: “All that we are doing is not ours, we are doing God’s work.”

Almost half of the 50,000 affiliates of the ISIS army come from overseas countries. The burning question is: Why do these youngsters want to fight there? How can they be so ignorant about Islamic democratic traditions?

On the other hand, NATO has also claimed that it was unaware of the sudden increase in terror activities in the region. However, it is evident that in the past Jihadi terrorists were financed and encouraged by allies of the US and NATO. It is a historical fact that in any country that is invaded or bombed by these warmongers, the terrorist activities and militarist capacity become greater than before. At the same time, in some countries, like Nigeria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the political elite is more corrupt and ineffective. The Nigerian government could not send troops to the north of their country to fight Boko Haram; former Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki channelled resources to his circle, ignoring Kurdish and Sunni communities; and Afghanistan remains so unstable that the president could declare the election results months after it occurred.

BBC war correspondent John Simpson explains the situation: “The political weakness causes economical weakness as a consequence and both caused deep security problems. That is why seems it is too difficult to stop Boko Haram, Isis and Taliban” (New Statesman, September 5-11, 2014).

The political practice and strategy of ISIS differs from the others. The Jihadi terrorists have changed their aims and methodology with ISIS. New Statesman author Shiraz Maher investigated the historical evolution of these differences. She believes that these large transformations have roots back in the second half of the nineties, in Britain: “In 1994 a major international conference promoting the caliphate was held in London, gathering radical clerics from around the world…. A large part of the proceeding was dedicated to discussing what the caliphate is…. What the Muslims discussed then was precisely how—not whether—the caliphate should be revived. Seen in this way, it is clear that the roots of Islamist ideology run deep in some parts of British Muslim life” (New Statesman, August 29, 2014).

Since then, successive Conservative and Labor governments have dedicated enormous resources to increasing the profile of Islamic tariqa. Politicians and civil servants were in competition with each other to offer job opportunities in local councils, financial support for businesses, and most important, religious education in both schools and universities. On the other hand, secular Islamists and the progressive Left were at the same time discriminated against and marginalized. The tariqa became increasingly powerful and founded a school in Birmingham where they imposed Wahhabi/Salafi Islamic teaching.

Therefore, the younger adherents of this doctrine, born after 1994, have become Jihadists, terrorizing ordinary people in Iraq and Syria, without ever having known true Islam. The tariqa educated this generation with a corrupted interpretation of the Koran’s verse, “Anfal,” which has been exploited to spread the message of war. Consequently, the Arab and Kurdish people of Rojava, Iraq and Syria are losing their lives because of anti-Islamic Wahhabism.

Young extremists turned away from al-Qaeda, which suffered heavily after the Arab spring in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Instead, they have followed the violent call to arms of the Caliphate of the Islamic State (ISIS). The al-Qaeda strategy was based on fighting against Western interests and democratic values. Since the 90s, the founders of ISIS believed that this ideology would one day result in the failure of the Jihad. A representative of ISIS, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, sent a letter to the leader of al-Qaeda reminding him, “We cannot sacrifice Jihad for short-term political aims.” This widening of Jihadi principles has created strategic changes with the formation of ISIS.

Since the Syrian unrest of 2011, many countries were not able to react to these alterations. The West consistently saw Jihad as a Sunni-Shia war and was complacent in its actions. Iran and Syria do not have enough armed capability to suppress ISIS. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have, in effect, failed to oppose ISIS and consistently rejected any military intervention.

War against ISIS has recently become a feasible option. NATO and the U.S. believe that if they supply arms to the region and fight Jihadists, the brutal terror will cease. War against terror can only help win battles. Bombing these regions will only temporarily stop the terror. The Middle East needs democratic forces to fight economic and political problems.

Today, in many parts of the world, democracy either does not exist or exists with severe limitations. It is true that democracy cannot always win against brutal terror or war. History has seen a number of dark eras where democracy has disappeared. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy has become the main target of militarism, the far right and Jihadist terror. For many, it changing society for the better is no longer an option.

The lack of democracy in the Middle East is not caused only by militarist actions of the U.S. and NATO; political Islam and nationalist movements are also to blame. Both have rejected democracy and ignored human rights in the region for too long. Nowadays, a climate of terror, misery, and corruption dominates the Middle East. At present, the only option is the creation of a strong leftist movement dedicated to democracy and humanism.


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