Last weekend, 15-16th November, new British political party Left Unity held their conference. One of the proposals in particular caught the eye of right-wing bloggers such as Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, who posted a video of ‘Looney’ ‘Left Unity debating backing ISIS.’ The proposed amendment (which in fact called only to recognise Islamic State (IS) as a ‘stabilising force for the region’) hardly proposes full support, and it was roundly rejected in the vote, but it does throw up some interesting questions regarding a progressive Western response to the new pretended Caliphate.
The proposal argues that IS ‘theoretically has progressive potential’ as ‘an authentic expression of [its members’] emancipatory, anti-imperialist aspirations’ that would work towards dismantling the oppressive nation states imposed by Britain and France with the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916.
Much of the sectarian problems in the Middle East have been enflamed by the artificial nature of the states formed in the Agreement; the new borders were drawn to reflect British and French interests, and, as a result, have a flawed appreciation of the region’s ethnic and cultural distribution. As Henner Fürtig, director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at GIGA research institute in Hamburg says, the questions raised by the Agreement “haven’t been solved for a century and burst open again and again, in a cycle.’
So why would IS in particular be the answer to these questions? Restoring the Caliphate has been the professed aim of Salafi Jihadists for decades. Is anyone suggesting that Al Qaeda or Jabhat al-Nusra might also deserve to be labelled progressive?
“Restoring the Caliphate has been the professed aim of Salafi Jihadists for decades. Is anyone suggesting that Al Qaeda or Jabhat al-Nusra might also deserve to be labelled progressive?”
Is it because IS has not yet carried out any serious attacks on Western soil? They have certainly called for such attacks, so there seems to be no difference there, and let us not forget the atrocities they are committing in their own lands. Maybe, then, the proposal was made because they are the group closest to successfully re-establishing a non-Western-style state in the region. How pragmatic.
What IS are attempting to carry out – the dismantling of the borders in the Middle East – would surely be the greatest defiance of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. However, theirs is not the first reaction.
The twentieth century reaction was Arab nationalism – unquestionably an “authentic expression of… emancipatory, anti-imperialist aspirations.” However, this gave rise to militaristic regimes within the arranged borders. Opportunists and ideologues took power, such as the Ba’athist parties in Syria and Iraq, led by Hafez al-Assad and Saddam Hussein respectively.
A principal aim of Ba’athistm is to establish one Arab state. Al-Assad and Hussein attempted to suppress the differences between the demographics, rather than adjust to them, in their attempts to create their final one-state solution, often brutalising minorities and resistance groups. Sound familiar?
“The twentieth century reaction was Arab nationalism – unquestionably an “authentic expression of… emancipatory, anti-imperialist aspirations.”
These oppressive regimes were enabled by the destabilising Sykes-Picot borders, and thus so has the political situation that IS are taking advantage of, but it is masochistic to claim that all of the sectarian issues in the Middle East have arisen due to actions by Western governments. The Ottoman Empire, which lost the land during the First World War, committed genocides against Christian populations on several occasions at the start of the twentieth century. Nostalgia for the Caliphate is felt far less keenly by the minorities.
It is to these minorities, then, that we must look.
Arab nationalism does not have to take the form of Ba’athism. It is possible for smaller tribes in the region to gain autonomy. The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they do not have a state of their own; Palestinian Arab nationalism generally rejects the one-state idea, and would prefer self-governance; Lebanese nationalism, although not threatened directly by IS, also rejects pan-Arab statism. The Middle East is a collage of cultural identities, and this must be celebrated rather than homogenised.
“The Middle East is a collage of cultural identities, and this must be celebrated rather than homogenised.”
Supporting these groups, and others like them, would serve the dual purpose of dismantling Western-imposed borders, as well as liberating minorities from oppressive systems, including IS. Support in the immediate future must involve funding resistance to IS (a shame, then, that Left Unity also vetoed a proposal to support arming the Kurds), and, in the future, assurances to not exploit the area’s resources (Northern Iraq is particularly oil-rich).
Surely, though, given Britain’s propensity for acting cynically within its own economic interest, we ought to stay well clear? Taking this view would needlessly bridle itself by looking backwards at the transgressions of the past rather than form an organic, forward-facing, stance.
‘Progressive’ means not only opposing cynical Western powers, but also brutal local ones. Co-habitation of the planet with tyranny of any kind is impossible.
Image courtesy of Reuters via christianpost.com