A little lesson on the Middle East.
Before I do, a disclaimer – I’m not an “expert”- at least not a bona fide expert. I’m just a guy who spent a little time there, a guy who worked with a ton Muslims, spoke to them, asked them questions, and then formed my own opinions based on who and what I knew. Also please know, that most of the “Experts” you see & hear are academics, or politicians who have a viewpoint and a larger political agenda. I’ll speak directly about Iraq, because that’s where I have been, and that’s the country I have the most insight about.
|On the outskirts of Baghdad, modern freeways & modern traffic jams.|
There are two Iraq’s, or maybe three, if you count the divide between Shiite and Sunni – which you kinda have to these days. There is Modern Iraq, well educated, somewhat cosmopolitan. Mostly Sunni or secular Shia, they were not fundamentalists, although proud Muslims. They lived a life we would recognize – they lived in modern apartments, huge estates, and depressing & vile slums, just like we do.
Before the war the city of Baghdad was a bustling Middle Eastern metropolis, the women would have mostly worn a hajib (a headscarf), and make-up and jewelry, not a burkah. The men wore slacks and collared shirts, some in suits, some in jeans or track suits. In all it would be an exotic, but somewhat familiar place, the call to prayer would echo five times a day all through the city, the smells would be in turn third world (poop & diesel exhaust), and exotically, deliciously spiced. Bus' would rumble, traffic would snarl, vendors would sell, and old men with prayer beads would sit in sidewalk cafe's smoking and visiting. This would be one of the Iraq’s.
The second Iraq is rural, it’s coated with a fine brown film of river silt that hovers in the air and is whipped up into fierce dust storms that block out the sun. The villages and towns are made out of mud brick.
|A rural Iraqi homestead.|
You can see them baking the bricks in the sun along the roads at ancient brick factories. Made by hand, in ancient molds. Families live in compounds, three or four generations in houses & scattered buildings surrounded by high walls made of this mud bricks. The walls are always perfectly level and sometimes have a smooth coat of mud covering them, other times exposed brick. The houses are one or two stories, and when they are being built you can see the scaffold system made out if what looks like bamboo poles… scary enough looking to make even the laziest OSHA inspector shit his britches.
|Roadside brick factory.|
In the countryside you see people living much like people lived in biblical times. Small mud brick houses, livestock and children in the same courtyard, the only modern things in evidence are the ubiquitous 3 foot florescent lights that hang above the doorway, a satellite dish, sometimes a small Indian made Tata pickup truck that we used to call “clown cars” because they look like ¾ scale version of a regular vehicle. Once in a while you’ll see an air conditioner. (I’m sure many, many more mud huts have air conditioners these days seeing as we left many thousands of LG air conditioner’s laying around in our hasty retreat.) These people tend flocks of sheep, heard camels, grow crops or scoop up the salt that rises from the desert floor – pack it into 50lb bags, and set it by the road to be picked up by the salt trucks –( this is women’s work mostly.)
One of my convoys rumbling through a small Iraqi town.
It is these people that we fail to understand. We fail to grasp just how a country, or a region becomes “radicalized”, I have an idea, and maybe it will help you understand the complexity of why we are seeing what we are seeing, and hopefully help you see that hating a religion because of the actions of some who subscribe to it is not helpful, and will never lead to a solution.
In rural Iraq, life revolves around the Mosque. The Mosque is where all of the social activities, news, rumor spreading and praying takes place.
|A roadside temporary masque, used during the Shiite pilgrimage to Karbalah.|
|Rural shopping center.|
|Roadside tire shop.|
Everything in rural Iraq emanates out into the countryside from the Mosque. Much like churches in rural America in days past, religion is the center of life. Many rural Iraqi’s are illiterate, and ALL that they know about the world outside is fed to them from clerics. The perceptions they have of the West are the perceptions that are fed to them, and here is the real crux of the issue – these clerics aren’t giving religious messages, they are giving POLITICAL messages, cloaked in religion. The message is that the west and Israel want to destroy them. We want to eradicate Islam, and make them subjects, we want to steal their resources, rape their women and make them all Christians. It’s that simple. The hard question is why? And why in this world of instant information and satellite dishes can’t the people themselves see that this is not true?
In many places they have.
“The Arab Spring” was a direct result of social media and the ability to communicate, to organize and to mobilize quickly. As a result, they effectively overthrew two huge and longstanding regimes in the area. The cellphone video and social media frenzy that was set off by a Tunisian fruit seller committing suicide in protest of his repressive government lit a spark, and the rising flames were fanned by the information superhighway. This, I believe is cause for hope.
The problem is, when a very large and very powerful dictator is deposed, a huge vacuum is formed, and something is going to fill that vacuum.
In Egypt, it was initially the Muslim Brotherhood, which of course was cause for much hand-wringing in the west, but Egypt, unlike other countries has a very well educated populace, it is country that makes a large part of it GDP off of foreign travel. They know westerners, they are a fairly secular society & after a few whiffs of the bullshit the Brothers were laying down, and a few seasons without many dollars flowing in, Egypt is self-correcting. Which is not say it is becoming “Western”, but becoming a country that wants to coexist with, and entertain, the rest of the world.
Libya didn’t fare as well. Into the vacuum that was left by Kaddafi came thugs. While not as religiously fervent or as sickeningly violent as ISIS, there is corruption and unrest there that makes the early days of “free” Russia look like nirvana.
While we’re on the subject of the USSR, do you really think Ronnie Reagan shouting at Gorbachev from Checkpoint Charlie to “Tear down this wall” ended the Soviet’s reign of shittyness? It didn’t. America hasn’t created a lasting regime change through force since 1945, and the only reason the Japanese are (or were, before the Chinese and Koreans supplanted them as the electronic manufacturers to the world) making everything better, cheaper and faster than we are these days is because we invested in them. The Marshall plan, both in Japan and Europe are how you effect lasting regime change. Simply stated, you insert something better into the vacuum you created and you nurture it, and supervise it. We left the Emperor intact, we didn’t try and impose our religion or culture on the Japanese.
You don’t install an in-fighting cadre of self-promoting Sheiks and then skedaddle like we did to Iraq.
There are numerous great books written about the fiasco that was our failed and completely incompetent attempt to rebuild Iraq.
Into the vacuum we created in Iraq we left two things – a mountain of dead bodies and a decade of ill will.
|We also left tons & tons of garbage.|
The average Iraqi, unless they were a die-hard Baathist, knew that Saddam was no good. His reign of terror and the outright murder of countless of his own citizens was well known, but Saddam, like all good dictators was smart enough to make his people dependent on him. Everything from food to petrol was subsidized in Iraq. It was a complete welfare state. Uncle Sam marched in there and told millions of people that the free bread and the cheap imported goods were over. It was time to pull themselves up by their sandal-straps. Simultaneously, we were killing their neighbors, vaporizing what was left of the infrastructure and disrespecting their culture & religion. This does NOT foster a sense good-will or elicit feelings like -“oh gee I love these Americans and their kooky ideas”!
So into that resentment filled vacuum come “fanatics”.
Clergy with a POLITICAL agenda, and the ear & loyalty of country folk & of the repressed Shia, who had long suffered at the hands of Saddam and his Sunni Baath party. Also disaffected were the minority Sunni, who in the decade since the US invasion, had been repressed by the puppet government WE installed, and hunted by the Shia militias we paid and armed... it was a perfect storm, we had managed to marginalize, and make victims of everyone!
This created a jihad against the freshest, and most decadent enemy there was, us. The evidence of our lack of piety, of our decadence was everywhere. On their satellite dishes, in their cities & on their roadways.
|Iraqi's selling us pirated American movies and TV shows at COS Scania, south of Baghdad, Iraq.|
We were an easy and hateable focus for a people who pride themselves on modesty, piety and chastity. Every single Iraqi had had at least one bad experience with us.
ISIS rose to the top of the jihadi hit-parade because of their stunning ability to kill people in spectacular fashion, and their savvy use of the internet and social media. To a certain segment of the population, the young, religious and dissatisfied, ISIS is more energetic, more dynamic and more attractive by a long-shot than any puppet regime we could have installed and then abandon. They appeal to the core of what many an Iraqi feels deep down in their soul - that they have been wronged by the west, and victimized for decades by Sadam and that Allah will bless them if they wage jihad. These ideas, this plan has been sold to them by religious leaders using their piety and their faith to achieve a POLITICAL end.
Religion is just the delivery mechanism, and the fuel that feeds the fire. The exact same way Christianity once did during the Crusades.
We, buy into the belief that it’s a religious thing, and we serve THEIR ends.
Our penchant for over-dramatizing, and generally missing the point in this country is old news. While "The Donald" and every other political hack talks about banning Muslims, and generally panders to the American peoples fear - (remember- fear is how they control you, you dummies.)- our reactions are feeding into their political agenda.