Taliban fighters (Photo: © Reuters)
Not since America’s humiliating defeat in Vietnam has that country faced such a comprehensive failure of objectives as in Afghanistan, where last Friday the NATO flag was lowered to mark the end of a 13-year war.
While the ignominious April 30, 1975 American retreat from Saigon was a public debacle, best captured by the scene of the last U.S. helicopter lifting off from its embassy in the South Vietnamese capital, the withdrawal from Kabul was a quieter but sorry ceremony.
The event marking the end of America’s longest war was held in a basketball gym inside NATO headquarters in Kabul.
As a brass band played and a colour guard marched, the U.S. commander, Gen. John F. Campbell, uttered words that sounded hollow to many.
“Our commitment to Afghanistan endures … We are not walking away,” he said.
Officially, the American-led NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is shifting to a support mission for training the Afghan army and police.
But the Taliban, predictably, saw the lowering of the flag as an admission of defeat.
In an e-mail to journalists, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, “ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible.”
Mujahid promised the Taliban would come back to power in Kabul.
If statistics from the last year are any indication of what is in store for 2015, the Taliban commander may be right.
In 2014 alone, the Taliban killed nearly 4,600 Afghan soldiers and policemen and murdered 3,200 Afghan civilians.
If this was the outcome in the presence of NATO, one can only imagine how things will fare in its absence.
And with elements of the Pakistan military on the border now free to help the Taliban, 2015 may very well become the year we see Mullah Omar back in power in the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
These developments, along with the rise of jihadi groups across the globe, do not bode well for Canada and its NATO allies, or for any country that shares our liberal democratic values, from India to Australia.
The nature of our mutual enemy, the international jihadist movement driven by the supremacist ideology of Islamism, is such that after enduring 13 years of war, it stands stronger than the day it attacked the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 9/11.
Instead of draining the swamps to cure the malaria, the West has been shooting down one mosquito at a time, refusing to admit the existence of this ideological swamp.
In a rare, candid admission of not knowing what motivates the jihadists, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, said:
“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”
He was referring to the Islamic State (ISIS), but ISIS is not the only example.
Pakistan is the original “Islamic State”, the mother lode of the pan-Islamist movement, while the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia together with the Muslim Brotherhood and its sponsor, Qatar, are all ISIS-like in varying degrees.
I wish I could say Happy New Year to you, but I can’t, for I feel 2015 isn’t going to be one.
Tarek Fatah is a Canadian writer, broadcaster and anti-Islamist Muslim activist. He is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State and the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
ISIS militants massacre Iraqis.
“We are ISIS.”
A startling statement? Yet this was the title of an article written by former Kuwaiti Minister of Information, Saad bin Tafla al Ajami, published by the Qatari newspaper al Sharq on August 7, 2014. He was not celebrating the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), nor the atrocities it is committing against civilians and minorities in Iraq and Syria.
He was reminding us that ISIS, while condemned by the majority of Muslims, is a product of an Islamic religious discourse that dominated our public sphere in the last decades – a mainstream discourse!
ISIS “did not come from another planet," he said. "It is not a product of the infidel West or a bygone Orient,” he insisted.
No, “the truth that we can not deny is: ISIS learned from our schools, prayed in our mosques, listened to our media… and our religious platforms, read from our books and references, and followed fatwas (religious edicts) we produced.”
He is right.
It would be easy to insist that ISIS does not represent the correct teachings of Islam. It would be very easy to do that. And yes, I do believe that Islam is what we, humans, make of it. Any religion could be a message of love -- or a sword for hatred by the people believing in it.
But the fact remains that the actions of ISIS have been ideologically mainstreamed long time ago: in mosques that curse "Christians-the Crusaders," "Jews" and "unbelievers" in every Friday sermons. By religious figures, who greet us every day through TV programs, preaching a message of hatred and intolerance against the ‘other’, regardless of whom this ‘other’ is. In schools that teach us that the penalty for converting from Islam is death; that Christians and Jews are "protected people," who should pay a tax to be left alone or they could face war. The fate of members of ‘other religions’ is left untold, but we can read it between the lines. In these classes we were never taught that a citizen has the right to choose his or her religion, or that a citizen is equal before the law regardless of religion or beliefs.
ISIS is the product of our religious discourse – a mainstream discourse.
It is a product of a political process. It started with the rise of political Islam’s ideology, propagated since 1973 by Gulf monarchies’ oil money and the Iranian revolution in 1979.
It is a product of a political strategy. State leaders take advantage of the phenomenon of political Islam, endorse certain Islamist groups rather than others, and forge political alliances with them. Their aim is political: to legitimize their rule in a religious sense or/and delegitimize that of their rivals.
The Machiavellian alliance comes with a price tag. In exchange for their support, Islamist groups are allowed to dominate the religious discourse with their ideology of hatred, exclusion, and intolerance – mosques, media and schools become a field to spread their ideology.
It is a product of political failure. States fail to fulfil their side of the social contract, unable to cover their citizens’ essential health, education and social needs. Islamist groups, flushed with money, fill the gap – with services packed in their ideological worldview.
It would be easy to insist that ISIS is a product of a foreign conspiracy. But even as we bury our heads in the sand, there is no hiding from the fact that ISIS is indeed our product. We mainstreamed it. And yet we seem surprised that it took the words of our religious discourse literally. Seriously?
Without acknowledging our responsibility, we will continue business as usual. Mosques will continue to curse the Jews, Christians and unbelievers every Friday. Preachers will continue to great us with their message of intolerance. And schools will continue to teach us that religion is the main marker of both identity and citizenship.
Just pause and think, ask yourself: How many women have been suppressed in the name of our religion lately? How many Pakistani Christians or Ahamadis have been targeted lately? How many Churches have been attacked in Indonesia and Nigeria? How many Egyptian Copts have been evicted from their villages? Their houses and shops torched? How many Sunnis are killing Shiites? How many Shiites are killing Sunnis? How many Baha’is have been brutally supressed in Iran? And how many British citizens have joined ISIS?
It would be easier to look the other way. It would be easier. But if we continue to blame the others, insist on our inaction and silence, it is we, we, no one else, who is letting our religion be hijacked by this fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
ISIS is within us. It is time to face the ISIS inside of us.
Dr. Elham Manea was bon in Egypt and is a Swiss-Yemeni political scientist, author and journalist. She also works as a consultant for Swiss government agencies and international and human rights organizations. Her research interests include gender and politics in Arab states, democratization and civil society in the Middle East, and politics of the Arabian Peninsula. Her most recent publication is "The Arab State and Women's Rights: The Trap of Authoritarian Governance" (London: Routledge Studies on Middle Eastern Politics), June 2011