In order to understand the hype surrounding the phenomena of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, we need to understand the prevailing global economic order and its prognosis. What the pragmatic economists have forecast about the free market capitalism has turned out to be true; whether we like it or not. A kind of global economic entropy has set into motion. The money is flowing from the area of high monetary density to the area of low monetary density.
The rise of the BRICS countries in the 21st century is the proof of this tendency. BRICS are growing economically because the labor in developing economies is cheap; labor laws and rights are virtually nonexistent; expenses on creating a safe and healthy work environment are minimal; regulatory framework is lax; expenses on environmental protection are negligible; taxes are low; and in the nutshell, windfalls for the multinational corporations are huge.
Thus, BRICS are threatening the global economic monopoly of the Western capitalist bloc: that is, North America and Western Europe. Here we need to understand the difference between the manufacturing sector and the services sector. The manufacturing sector is the backbone of the economy; one cannot create a manufacturing base overnight. It is based on hard assets: we need raw materials; production equipment; transport and power infrastructure; and last but not the least, a technically-educated labor force. It takes decades to build and sustain a manufacturing base. But the services sector, like the Western financial institutions, can be built and dismantled in a relatively short period of time.
If we take a cursory look at the economy of the Western capitalist bloc, it has still retained some of its high-tech manufacturing base, but it is losing fast to the cheaper and equally robust manufacturing base of the developing BRICS nations. Everything is made in China these days, except for hi-tech microprocessors, softwares, a few Internet giants, some pharmaceutical products, the Big Oil and the all-important military hardware and the defense production industry.
Apart from that, the entire economy of the Western capitalist bloc is based on financial institutions: the behemoth investment banks, like JP Morgan chase, total assets $2359 billion (market capitalization: 187 billion); Citigroup, total assets $1865 billion (Market Capitalization: 141 billion); Bank of America, total assets $2210 billion (Market Capitalization: 133 billion); Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas and Axa Group (France), Deutsche Bank and Allianz Group (Germany), Barclays and HSBC (UK).
After establishing the fact that the Western economy is mostly based on its financial services sector, we need to understand its implications. Like I said earlier, that it takes time to build a manufacturing base, but it is relatively easy to build and dismantle an economy based on financial services. What if Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani (the ruler of Qatar) decides tomorrow to withdraw his shares from Barclays and put them in some Organization of Islamic Conference-sponsored bank, in accordance with Sharia?
What if all the sheikhs of Gulf countries withdraw their petro-dollars from the Western financial institutions; can the fragile financial services based Western economies sustain such a loss of investments? In April this year the Saudi finance minister threatened that the Saudi kingdom would sell up to $750 billion in Treasury securities and other assets if Congress passed a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible for any role in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. And $750 billion is only the Saudi investment in the US, if we add its investment in Western Europe, and the investments of UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in the Western economies, the sum total would amount to trillions of dollars of Gulf’s investment in the US and Western Europe.
Notwithstanding, we need to look for comparative advantages and disadvantages here. If the vulnerable economy is their biggest weakness, what are the biggest strengths of the Western powers? The biggest strength of the Western capitalist bloc is its military might. We have to give credit to the Western hawks they did which nobody else in the world had the courage to do: that is, they privatized their defense production industry. And as we know, that privately-owned enterprises are more innovative, efficient and in this particular case, lethal. But having power is one thing, and using that power to achieve certain desirable goals is another.
The Western liberal democracies are not autocracies; they are answerable to their electorates for their deeds and misdeeds. And much to the dismay of pragmatic, Machiavellian ruling elites, the ordinary citizens just can’t get over their antediluvian moral prejudices. In order to overcome this ethical dilemma, the Western political establishments wanted a moral pretext to do what they wanted to do on pragmatic, economic grounds. That’s when 9/11 took place: a blessing in disguise for the Western political establishments, because the pretext of “war on terror” gave them carte blanche powers to invade and occupy any oil-rich country in the Middle East and North Africa region.
No wonder then that the first casualty of “war on terror” after Afghanistan had been Iraq; and what did the corporate media tell us about invading Iraq back in 2003? Saddam’s weapons of mass “deception” and his purported links with al Qaeda? It is only a coincidence that Iraq holds 140 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves and produces more than 3 million barrels per day of crude oil.
Then again what did the Western mainstream media tell us about the Libyan so-called “humanitarian intervention” in 2011? Peaceful and democratic protests by the supposedly “moderate and secular” Libyans against the Qaddafi regime and the Western responsibility to protect the supposedly democratic revolutions and civilian lives? Once again it is only a coincidence that Libya holds 48 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and produces 1.6 million barrels per day of most easily extractable crude.
Fact of the matter is that monopoly capitalism and global neo-colonial economic and political order are the real issues, while Islamic radicalism and terrorism are the secondary issues and itself a byproduct of the former. That’s how the mainstream media constructs artificial narratives and dupes its audience into believing them: during the Cold War it created “the Red Scare” and told its audience that communism is an existential threat to the free world and the Western way of life; the mainstream media’s naïve audience bought this narrative.
Then the Western powers and their Saudi and Pakistani collaborators financed, trained, armed and internationally legitimized the Afghan “freedom fighters” and used them as proxies against the Soviet Union.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union they declared the former “freedom fighters” to be terrorists and another existential threat to the free world and the Western way of life. The audience of the corporate media again bought this narrative.
Then again, during the Libyan and Syrian civil wars the former “terrorists” once again became freedom fighters – albeit in a more nuanced manner, this time around the corporate media sells them as “moderate rebels.” How on earth could you label a militant holding a gun in his hands as “moderate and peaceful?”
The way I see it, Islamic State, like its predecessor, al Qaeda, is also a hobgoblin to create an atmosphere of fear in order to justify an interventionist policy in the energy-rich Middle East. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is quite different from its so-called affiliates in remote and disparate regions such as Libya and Sinai.
Only thing that differentiates Islamic State from other ragtag jihadist outfits is its sophisticated weapons arsenal that has been provided to it by NATO and bankrolled by the Gulf Arab states during the Syrian proxy war; another factor that gives a comparative advantage to Islamic State over other jihadist outfits is its top and mid-tier command structure, which is comprised of professional, ex-Baathist military and intelligence officers from Saddam era.
Any militant outfit that lacks Islamic State’s weapons arsenal and its professional command structure cannot claim to be affiliated with it merely on the basis of ideological affinity without any organizational and operational link. Moreover, Islamic State is not a terror outfit like al Qaeda; it has overrun one-third of Syria and Iraq, therefore, it’s an insurgent organization.
In order to sustain their crumbling “war on terror” narrative, the Western powers now make a distinction between “the green, yellow and red terrorists” – green militants, like the Free Syria Army, whom the NATO overtly supports; yellow jihadists, such as the Army of Conquest that includes the Saudi-supported, hardline Islamists like Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaeda-affiliate al-Nusra Front, whom the NATO covertly supports; and the red terrorists like the Islamic State which is a by-product of the hypocritical Western policy in Syria and Iraq.
In the last 15 years of the so-called “war on terror” the Western powers have toppled only a single Islamist regime of Taliban in Afghanistan and three Arab nationalist regimes — Saddam’s Baathist regime in Iraq, Qaddafi’s Afro-Arab nationalist regime in Libya and they are now desperately trying to oust another anti-Zionist, Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Some of the high-ranking American and British security officials, like Dennis Blair of NSA, Eliza Manningham-Buller of MI-5 and Alastair Crooke of MI-6, have conceded on the record that bringing down the possibility of incidents of terrorism to a zero-level in a highly militarized world is simply not an option.
Terrorism is only a crime, a heinous crime but a crime, nevertheless; it is not an act of war. Those who treat it like an act of war have ulterior motives. It is the job of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent and minimize such incidents from taking place, however, as the above mentioned security specialists have stated in their reports that just like any other crime the incidents of terrorism can be brought down significantly by implementing prudent and long-term security and foreign policies, but complete elimination of terrorism is simply not a possibility.
Crimes like murders, thefts, robberies and rapes do occur in all societies; in the ideal, prosperous and peaceful societies the rate of such crimes is low, while in the impoverished and conflict-ridden societies the rate of such crimes is high. But there will always be criminals like Anders Breivik and Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech massacre-fame who would unleash a reign of terror in any given society.
Notwithstanding, the phenomena of militancy and insurgency has less to do with religious extremism, as such, and more with the weak writ of the state in the rural and tribal areas of the developing countries, which has further been exacerbated by the deliberate weaponization of certain militant groups by the regional and global players.
The Maoist insurgency in India, for instance, has claimed 2,866 fatalities since 2010; and they are Hindus, not Muslims. Whether it’s Islamist or Maoist radicals, such insurgencies are only the reactions to wealth disparity and uneven development that has mostly been limited to the urban centers while the rural hinterland languishes in abject poverty, and the law enforcement and the state’s security apparatus does not has a presence in the insurgency-prone areas.
The root factors that have primarily been responsible for spawning militancy and insurgency anywhere in the world is not religion but socio-economics, ethnic diversity, marginalization of the disenfranchised ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious groups and the ensuing conflicts; socio-cultural backwardness of the affected regions, and the weak central control of the impoverished developing states over their territory.
After invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and when the American “nation-building” projects failed in those hapless countries, the US’ policy-makers immediately realized that they were facing large-scale and popularly-rooted insurgencies against the foreign occupation, consequently, the occupying military altered its CT (counter-terrorism) doctrines in the favor of a COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy. A COIN strategy is essentially different from a CT approach and it also involves dialogue, negotiations and political settlements, alongside the coercive tactics of law enforcement and military and paramilitary operations on a limited scale.
All the regional militant groups like the Taliban, Islamic State, al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria; and even some of the ideological affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State, like AQAP, AQIM, Islamic State in Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, which have no organizational and operational association with al Qaeda Central or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, respectively, are not terror groups, as such, but Islamist insurgents whose cherished goal is the enforcement of Shari’a in the areas of their influence, like their progenitor, the Salafist State of Saudi Arabia.
Finally, I fail to see the reason that why do the Western powers have been blowing the Islamist insurgencies in the Middle East out of proportions, which have been anything but the consequence of their own ill-conceived wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria? What is it that the insurgents want and the so-called “liberal interventionists” cannot accept as a matter of principle? Is it the enforcement of Shari’a, or the barbaric Hudood-style executions that have earned the Taliban, Islamic State, al Shabaab and Boko Haram the odium of the international community? If that is the case, then why do the Western powers overlook the excesses committed by Saudi Arabia where Shari’a is the law of the land and Hudood-style executions are an everyday occurrence?
This contradiction speaks volumes about the sheer hypocrisy and double standards of the Western powers: that, when it comes to securing 265 billion barrels of Saudi oil reserves and 100 billion barrels, each, of UAE and Kuwait that together constitutes 465 billion barrels, i.e. one-third of the world’s proven crude oil reserves, they are willing to overlook the excesses that have been committed by such Medieval regimes but when it comes to negotiating with the Islamist insurgents to reach political settlements and to let up on all the violence and spilling of blood in the region, they stand firm against the so-called “terrorists” as a matter of principle.
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and energy politics. He blogs at Petroimperialism.