In the last few years,I have written twice about the Arab Spring. When it was in full bloom many analysts were calling it the unfurling of a democratic era in the Muslim world. Even then I wassceptical as, on a cautionary note, I had stated in 2011 that many masked robbers could be seen accompanying the caravan of Arab revolutionaries. The second time, I wrote that the Spring was withering away and even the most optimistic had to agree that the short-lived Arab Spring was no more. I then feared that the worst was yet to come. The democrat in me found the spectacle of tanks rolling over the bodies of supporters of a party that had acceded to power through ballot in Egypt repugnantly obscene. What disturbed me even more was the relative quiet in the case of Egypt and vociferous activism in the case of Syria,which in awayexposed the hypocritical side ofinternational players.
I had then aired my concerns that in Syria another Afghanistan was being re-enacted. The recipe of forging a tactical alliance with jihadis recruited through Saudi Arabia and bringing down a regime was simple and fruitful in the short term but,over the long run, it amounted to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. When consequently those jihadis become a pain the superpowers send troops to clean the country of the mess they create over there. We have seen this before and, when lessons are not learnt,history repeats itself even for very clever readers.
Globalisation is defined as the interconnectedness of the world where events in one part influence happenings in other parts of the world. The effect of a shrunken globalised village is that not only have finance, trade and culture become universalised but terrorism has also assumed the dimension of globalisation. Modern technological innovations have removed the barriers of time and space. A preacher sitting in the Middle East can fill the hearts and minds of anyone living in a western country with radical ideas and fantasies of an imagined world. The super powers, therefore, need to be more attentive to what they do in other parts of the world. The attention should be on two counts: one, the actions themselves and, two, more importantly, the perception of what they do in foreign lands. Iraq had already created a perception that the US thrusts its view of the world upon others and demands that others must see the world in black and white as well. Vietnam and Afghanistan had established that US policymakers do not necessarily get their decisions right every time. It, therefore, should have been more watchful when it decided to intervene in countries like Libya and Syria.
The Middle East has two problems that have been inherited from history. One, despite the illusion of modernity because of good infrastructure thanks to petrodollars, it remains tribal in essence and hence has preserved tribal feuds from bygone ages. Two, the religious divide along sectarian lines that the spread of early Islam engineered further exasperates the schisms between warring tribes. Political power,therefore, is contested by various contending tribes where the Shia or Sunni identity plays an important role in legitimising political opposition at the soft end and insurgency at the hard end of the continuum. Strongmen like Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi are the naturally evolved remedies of this situation. Like a lynchpin they maintain the delicate balance between warring tribal groups and warlords. Remove them and the whole structure falls apart. Nothing is more instrumental for the spread of terrorist groups than the chaos created by a sudden collapse of state structure.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is no doubt an authoritarian ruler. The eye specialist turned president can be castigated as an embodiment of 45 years of personal rule in Syria. But what are the alternatives if he is removed from the scene? We saw in Egypt that Hosni Mubarak was replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood and, ultimately, the army seized power. Why do we think that the same recipe will yield a different result in Syria? The secular Syrian leader enjoys the support of educated middle classes while opposition groups are mostly a ragtag of extremist outfits. Islamic State (IS) is just the culmination of the directionless, interventionist policy of the US-led coalition against the Syrian government.
The European governments compound their problem of security by following a politically correct idealistic policy towards new entrants in their societies. In the name of multiculturalism and human rights they have allowed radicalism to develop strong roots. Some political parties become apologists for radical groups as they treat them as their potential voting blocs. Others hesitate to take stern action again troublemakers as they fearthe alienationof certain communities. Faith schools keep mushrooming and organised groups spread radicalism among the vulnerable with no checks from by state.