Diplomacy by Other Means
“You may fight in the cause of Allah against those who attack you, but do not aggress. Allah does not love the aggressors.”—Qur’an, 2:190
That complacency changed in September 11th 2001 when in a well prepared and coordinated effort, four commercial airliners were hijacked in the North-East of the USA. One was flown to crash into the Pentagon; a second heading for Washington crashed short, apparently because passengers had tried to take back control; the two others deliberately crashed into upper floors of both towers of New York’s World Trade Centre, killing 3,000 people.
Understandably, outraged America wanted to find and bring the culprits to justice. As soon as it was established that the Taliban government in Afghanistan had provided shelter for those who had planned, a massive military operation swept them from power, to be replaced by a more western-democratic government, and the search for the leader Bin Laden continued.
Poor though relations between the West and the muslim world at this point, antipathy escalated. Suspicion that the “unfinished business” of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had resulted in them also harbouring terrorists, as well as ill-defined “weapons of mass destruction” being developed, the Second Gulf War in 2003. Although the main action was soon ended with the fall of Baghdad and the death of Hussein, unrest and guerrilla action continued over the next decade, despite massive investment into both Iraq and Afghanistan and the presence of Western, mostly American, troops.
Many, again mostly American, companies profited from the trillions of dollars spent, but little understanding of the fragmented tribal nature of both countries, let alone the sensitivities of strict muslims meant what were effectively alien occupations, resented by the bulk of a population resentful of their continued poverty, which contrasted with the relative wealth of collaborators, especially the corruption, from which many of them profited.
None of these interventions brought peace. The continued presence of major US forces, practicing their western ways in Saudi Arabia duelled resentment among extremists. This fuelled the short-lived Islamic State straddling Iraq and Syria, eventually overrun with help from the Kurds. Meanwhile, revolution had broken out against the Assad regime broke out in Syria in 2011. Because the Saudis had driven the Hashemites like Assad, the Saudis supported the rebels, only to be countered by support for Assad from Iran and Russia, following the old adage that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Not content with this mess, the Saudis also supported the Yemeni government on their southern border against Houthi rebels, because they were Shia “unbelievers” and also because the Saudis had annexed some of their provinces during their rush to dominate Arabia.
Gentle reader, if you are tiring of the relentless complexity, not to mention brutality, of all this, the real dilemma is that there is no simple cure, nor any single villain. We could blame the clumsiness of the US in seeing the world in terms of enemies and those who want to live like Americans. We could blame young muslim extremists for using brutal methods to display their contempt for Western culture. Both are true—to an extent.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.”—US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, February 2002
(to be continued)