Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Piecemeal World War Three: This is as real as it gets

Last year in September, Pope Francis warned against what he called a "piecemeal" World War III, one that was fought with crimes, massacres and destruction. The warning came as he prayed at the burial place of 100,000 Italian soldiers, 60,000 of whom are unnamed, who died in World War I - a "shaken" Francis said the Paris attacks were a "piece" of that piecemeal 21st-century world war.

There can be no justification for what Islamic State did in Paris on November 13. It was a crime against humanity; nothing justifies such brutal murder of innocents.

But in responding with a simple question - "Why" - the West has demonstrated its strength as a champion of humanity.

One day after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the headline of a major mainstream newspaper read, "Why Do They So Hate Us?" That was the one ray of hope offered in a society that enjoys freedom and cherishes critical thinking.

And ergo, Why?

Contrary to the widespread perception, the atrocity committed by IS has less to do with Islam and Arabs than with what Samuel Huntington called the "clash of civilisations".

In 1992, in his lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, political scientist Huntington said, "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future."

The question of the cultural divide comes down to one single issue - identity.

Now consider the following facts:

l There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today, and less than 20 per cent of them are Arabs.

l Many well-respected Muslim clerics and leaders have come out and denounced Islamist violence. The head of Azhar, a top Islamic institution and the oldest university in the world, has condemned it. He has been joined by Iran's Supreme Leader and its president, Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti and its king, and the Sultan of Oman, among others. And yet, we hear the phrase "Allahu akbar" (God is Great) shouted by terrorists as they attack, shoot and behead innocent people.

l The IS has grown in leaps and bounds since the US-led coalition bombed Islamic countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, turning them into desolate wastelands unfit for human habitation. The local people were reduced to daily lives of hardship and privation unimaginable to those of us who live under peace. Those who have survived the shredding of their social fabric cannot remain three-dimensional human beings - something has to give. Their hopelessness, anger and hatred consume them. Drones kill people on a daily basis in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. All happen to be Islamic nations. What the world is witnessing is the reaction of those peoples, a collective thirst for revenge.

l Islamic State atrocities are not confined to attacking the "non-believers" of the West. The jihadis kill, rape, maim and loot their own Islamic brothers and sisters. The evidence is plentiful of mass graves and camps in which Muslim women and girls are imprisoned as sex slaves. Just last week, IS bombed a Beirut neighbourhood of predominantly Shi'ite Muslim residents, targeting Hezbollah for its support of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad that is fighting "Daesh" - the pejorative Arabic term for IS. Now being squeezed out of Syria by a concerted effort on the part of the West and Russia, Daesh is seeking "soft" targets outside of the war zone. So far these have included Beirut, Paris and a Russian plane downed over Egypt.

l Western Islamophobia, whether justified or not, has had the affect of marginalising Muslims in making them easy targets for recruitment by Islamic radicals. One Asean diplomat recently observed that systemic denigration of another religion arising from an absolutist interpretation of our own values will inevitably bring a violent response from that religion's peripheries. It is fair to say that the US and Europe are tangled in the knots of their own ideology, and blind-sided by it.

l Currently, people of the Islamic world are themselves facing a serious struggle over how to forge stable governance in their countries through peaceful means. Prevalent in the West, that blessing is still almost non-existent in the Arab world. So, a long-term solution to radical terrorism may be to work with the local regimes and civil societies to help them forge systems of governance in line with their own values and traditions. The rest of the world should be reminded that the scars of heavy-handed meddling can last a lifetime, or longer.

l Before their attacks on Paris, one of the terrorists had pledged to kill "the crusaders". Those words reflect an issue of entrenched "identity", exacerbated by history and present-day atrocities carried out by all sides. The most tragic thing is there is no sign that any side might be willing back down.

In 2014, standing at the Redipuglia cemetery in Italy, Pope Francis lamented that "War is madness."

He added that, "Humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep."

And yet while the world weeps for all the innocent lives lost in this piecemeal war of vengeful attacks, massacres and destruction, that madness prevails.

Pornpimol Kanchanalak, Special to The Nation, Bangkok


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