On Defining Our Enemies

Iran? Shiite militias? After months of focusing on our new and exclusive enemy ISIS, the Western leadership and media are shocked, shocked! to discover that the conflict in Iraq and Syria has allowed an Iranian advance almost to the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. The front lines of the Muslim religious and civil war have dramatically changed, but our surprise is entirely self-inflicted.

Robert W. Merry, a “longtime Washington political reporter and publishing executive” writes:

Back in October 2006, the National Security Editor at Congressional Quarterly, Jeff Stein, took to asking national security officials and members of Congress if they knew the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East. He wasn’t looking for arcane doctrinal disquisitions, merely if they could say who was on which side and what each wanted. He discovered a sump of ignorance in Washington officialdom on the subject, hardly one of only limited significance to the country at the time.

Our “expert” Merry goes on to clobber Senator Marco Rubio for his supposed ignorance regarding the Middle East; he then talks about “the Shiite nations of Iran, Iraq and Syria” (notwithstanding the fact that the latter is about 60% Sunni and 13% Shia), and ends up saying that we should help Iran against ISIS. This is what passes for knowledge of the Middle East in America and the West, where we project our ideas on the Middle East and see conflict there either as lack of democracy (nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan), or dictator versus people (Saddam Hussein vs the Iraqi people, Muammar Gaddafi vs the Libyan people, Bashar Assad vs the Syrian people), or we see only one enemy: a terrorist, jihadist or radical group (then Al-Qaeda, now ISIS).

It is funnily absurd that when religion is disappearing in the West, our atheist leaders have suddenly become theologians and purport to know what Islam is, who are real Muslims, and who have hijacked what they call “the religion of peace.” These self-anointed Islamic experts have the gall to define as “not Islamic” someone like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s Caliph, who apparently has a PhD in Islamic Studies. Talk about hijacking, or about Disney cartoons.

Topping off this wholesale stupidity, some of our pundits believe they have discovered a correct definition: radical Islam, the reason being that if Obama and Kerry don’t want to mention it, then it should be the correct name. But their discovery is nearly worthless as a basis for strategy. What should be clear is that there is Sunni Islamism and there is Shia Islamism, that they are fighting each other to the death in the entire Middle East, and that both of them see the West as their enemy. Talking about a foggy “radical Islam” and focusing on ISIS and forgetting Iran is not only erroneous but dangerous.

Besides the extreme complexity of the Middle East, its cast of medieval culture and characters, of Islam as a political religion that has no limiting principle, and the constantly changing alliances and enmities, one more factor complicates the explosive mix: our postmodern reluctance to confront reality. Therefore our desperation for a semantic escape: “war on terror,” “contingency overseas operations,” “violent extremism,” “radical Islam.”

The underlying reality is this: the Muslim civilization is in a state of religious and civil war that we in the West haven’t seen for almost four hundred years, a war similar to the Thirty Years’ War between two religious sects and two groups of countries led by Saudi Arabia and Iran. The only difference is, the main forces on both sides are also waging war against the West in a way that will increasingly include Muslims who live in the West.

If we don’t recognize this, we can’t understand why Muslims are killing each other from Egypt to Pakistan, or the rise of Iran together with its Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist proxies, or Iran’s quest for domination of Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, or Saudi Arabia’s historical support of the most extreme forms of Sunni Islam such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, or the confluence of thousands of young American and European Sunni Muslims in Syria to fight for ISIS, or the reluctance of the Sunni monarchies and Turkey to confront ISIS because in doing so they would be helping Iran, their main Shia enemy, when it already has its eyes on Jordan!

At this very moment, the battle for the territorial division of the artificial states of Iraq and Syria is entering its final phases:

In Iraq, on one side is the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS) and on the other are the Iraqi Shia army, the Iraqi Shia militia, and the Iranian Shia military contingent, all led by the Iranian hero General Qasem Soleimani.

In Syria, hundreds of thousands of fanatical Iranian Shia Revolutionary Guards and Shia-Alawite fighters led by Bashar Al-Assad face equally fanatical Sunnis of the Islamic State. If Iran wins the battle for Iraq and Syria, it will not only have a common border with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel, it will also be the hegemonic power in the Middle East. This unprecedented fact can only get much worse: Obama is making a deal with Iran so that this new Middle-Eastern hegemon, the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism, will also be a nuclear power.

Obama is telling this to Israel and the Sunni monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Qatar, and Kuwait: you are on your own.

ISIS is not a terrorist entity, and neither are the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Iraqi Shia militias or the Yemeni Houthi Shia militias. Or, if you prefer, they are all terrorists because in a civil and religious war every fighter is a terrorist. ISIS is just the most radical expression of Sunni warmaking, and the same applies to Shia warriors on the other side. They all see themselves as jihadis or holy warriors.

But what if radicals are a tiny minority within Islam? What if Islam is really a “religion of peace”? That is not the case either. The Muslim world is in social and political turmoil. There have been more than 25,000 Islamic attacks in the world since 9/11. Just in the month of January 2015, there were 266 Muslim attacks in 28 countries, from Afghanistan to Algeria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Dagestan, France, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, and Yemen. There are now more than 18 million Muslim refugees in the Middle East, and there could be up to 10,000 European Muslims fighting in Syria and Iraq by the end of the year.

Just try to understand Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against writer Salman Rushdie, who at the time was living in Great Britain, as a document of a religion of peace:

“I would like to inform all the intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book entitled ‘Satanic Verses’ … as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, are hereby sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Moslems to execute them quickly, wherever they find them, so that no one will dare to insult Islamic sanctity. Whoever is killed doing this will be regarded as a martyr and will go directly to heaven.”

Vladimir Dorta, 03/24/2015