Monday, September 22, 2014

Islamic State is a creation like Frankenstein's monster

"We've seen this before. Extremists, foreign fighters returning home, responsible for terrorist attacks in our region." Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop issued this warning to the United Nations Security Council last Friday regarding the threat posed by Islamic State beyond its caliphate.

But if earlier warnings were heeded, the crisis of the Islamic State monster could have been averted. Three years ago, Arab voices warned "we've seen this before".

From Syria, Mother Agnes-Mariam warned that the Arab Spring had been "hijacked by foreign Islamist mercenaries, with strong support from Western countries". In newspaper columns at the time I warned these Salafists were exploiting the sectarian fault lines to impose a theocracy, not a democracy.


Such warnings were ignored and these militants morphed into the monster we now know as Islamic State, or sometimes as ISIL.

Although the US-Saudi-Qatar alliance intended their pipelines of weapons and funds to reach the Free Syrian Army, their "intelligence" must have shown what local Arabs already knew: the pipelines were leaking. These dangerous toys would land in the hands of Al Nusra Front, the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda, and ultimately Islamic State, which now reigns supreme.

For veteran Arab advocates, this pattern is a deja vu: the West aids and abets mercenaries to emasculate a monster, until the mercenaries become the next monster that the West needs to "degrade and ultimately destroy". But we are rarely asked to diagnose the causes of wars in our ancestral birthplace because the bloodstains may lead to the US and its regional allies. Instead, we are asked about who is bleeding on the streets.

We need to feed the shock horror stories as if it was a scoreboard of "team Australia" versus "unwelcome visitors". But it should be no shock at all. As in the 1991 war on Iraq and the 2001 war on terrorism, Muslims and Arabs are conflated into one malevolent monolith. They are wedged between two media imperatives: the toxic talkback that poisons our airwaves with stories on Muslim villains, which in turn fill pages with photos of Muslim victims.

We roll our eyes as we roll out the same ugly examples. Last Thursday, a senior Imam leading a group of Hajj pilgrims was detained by Customs at Sydney Airport for a "routine baggage check", which caused him to miss his flight. The Grand Mufti Dr Ibrahim has received a written death threat depicting bleeding swords. Again, graffiti on mosques, egging of homes, threats by mail, and drive-by bigotry have confirmed that some see this as open season to terrorise Muslims and give them a "taste of their own medicine". Again, an Islamophobia register has been opened.

While one motorist flaunting a black flag threatened to slaughter Christians at my children's Catholic school last Tuesday, another peace-loving Muslim offered a bouquet to express his disgust.

As Prime Minister, Tony Abbott needs to send a blunt message to the perpetrators: "Have a good, long, hard look at yourselves," because team Australia is about kicking goals, not kicking Muslims who are your fellow team members. Unlike Bob Hawke in 1991 and John Howard in 2001, he needs to condemn bigotry immediately (previous prime ministers did condemn bigotry, but weeks after they were repeatedly requested to do so).

Within Arab conversations, cynicism prevails about the predictable pretext to war: "We will save you from the monster (that we created)." It is borne out of cyclical and sickening patterns.

Here's a reminder: On December 20, 1983, US special envoy Donald Rumsfeld did a handshake deal with Saddam Hussein when Iraq fought against Iran after the Islamic revolution. On  August 2, 1990, Hussein flexed his muscles into Kuwait and had to be, ultimately, destroyed.

Between 1986 and 1989, the CIA funnelled $500 million in weapons into Afghanistan when Osama bin Laden fought with his mujahideen militants to successfully expel the Communist Russian invasion during the Cold War. On September 11, 2001, bin Laden's militants, having morphed into al-Qaeda, flexed their muscles into the United States with terrorist attacks. They then became public enemy No. 1. number one

Since 2011, the US-Saudi-Qatar donors have aided and abetted the anti-Assad mercenaries. In 2014, the Islamic State monster flaunted US equipment that it had seized and now needs to be degraded.

Unless we stop history repeating itself, we are doomed to witness yet another Arab leader crowned then crushed in 10 years. The familiar narrative evokes Mary Shelley's haunting tragedy about Dr Frankenstein, who creates the monster for his own benefit. When the monster turns on him, Frankenstein hunts him down to exact revenge.

Although the story is nearly 200 years old, the current war testifies that the moral remains unheeded. The modern name for Frankenstein's monster in US foreign policy is blowback. It is an ironic name because the Arab landscape is treated as a barbecue with many burners. As the flame knobs are continually upgraded and degraded, blowback is inevitable and thousands of innocent civilians will continue to be scorched in the process. While fictitious Frankenstein made one mistake with a tragic ending, the factual Frankenstein keeps cooking up monsters then counter-monsters, and needs to be told: khalas (enough).

Joseph Wakim is founder of the Australian Arabic Council.

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