The pursuit of imperial ambitions at all costs has undermined democratic forces in the Arab world in favour of deadly extremism, writes JOHN ELLISON
The two previous articles have asserted that the British government’s Prevent strategy (aimed mainly at discouraging domestic terrorism motived by Islam and succeeding in alienating many Muslim people) is seriously hampered by its pretence that British and US foreign policy has nothing to do with the proliferation of reactionary Islamism.
In the Middle East and elsewhere long-term Western policy, led by the US, has systematically backed pro-Western autocratic Islamic governments who have promoted harsh Islamic law and has also directly supported “medieval” Islamic movements against secular nationalist governments.
The war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in early 1991 was a punishment for invading Kuwait — backed by huge funding from Saudi Arabia, it engendered Islamic anger.
By allowing bases for half a million US troops within the country’s own borders the Saudi royals were labelled betrayers of Islam and created a fresh stimulant to jihadist groups.
The Saudi rulers had simply bent the knee to the US, which they depend on for survival. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden deserted the regime, which had nurtured him, moving first to Sudan and later on to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The Saudis, assisted by global financial deregulation, spread the messages of Wahhabism from north Africa to Central Asia in order to strengthen their own support base.
Mark Curtis in his formidably analytical Secret Affairs (2010), from which much of this article is drawn, wrote: “All the evidence points to Britain’s continued toleration, and tacit support, of the Saudis’ ‘Islamic’ foreign policy,” adding: “It was the same for the US.”
During the early 1990s militant jihadists who had been trained in Pakistani and Afghan camps for the long war against Soviet occupation, returned to their various homelands and began to take on their own governments.
In Algeria it precipitated a civil war that cost a hundred thousand lives. In Bosnia in 1992, Europe for the first time experienced jihadist war when Bosnia-Herzogovina’s declaration of independence gave raise to a conflict between Bosnian Serb forces (allied to Serbia) and Muslim-Croat forces — some 4,000 jihadist volunteers there were funded by al-Qaida, the Saudis and various Islamic “charities.”
Curtis says that Britain supplied arms to Muslim and Croat forces and also, at least, “acquiesced in” the movement of volunteers into the country. Some participants in the Bosnian war were flown in from Afghanistan by bin Laden, said to have visited Bosnia several times.
Among the volunteers were two Saudi nationals who in September 2001 crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
A former Indian intelligence officer has asserted that around 200 Muslims of Pakistani origin living in Britain were funded by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — with the complicity of the British and US intelligence agencies — to travel to Pakistan for training and then on to Bosnia into action.
Also, al-Qaida one-off attacks were stepped up. In the US in 1993 came a first bomb attack on the World Trade Centre. More such attacks followed in Riyadh (1995), Dahran (1996) and several US embassies in Africa were also targetted (1998).
In March 1999 came a large-scale Nato bombing of Serbian forces at war with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was claiming independence for the province of Kosovo as part of “Greater Albania” in the region. At this stage the KLA — earlier regarded as a terrorist organisation by the US and Britain — became the good guys.
This civil war had begun three years earlier and was “helped” by a Saudi donation of £800,000 to build in Bosnia a specialist base from which guerillas would be sent into Kosovo.
Many KLA fighters were simultaneously trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and also in Albania, where a staging centre for jihadists was located. The former Indian intelligence officer quoted before reported, according to Curtis, that Pakistani militants who had fought in Bosnia were later diverted to Kosovo.
Then in September 2001 came the barbaric al-Qaida suicide attacks on New York and Washington. The pretext was now in place for the US to do what it wished in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet of the 19 attackers all were Arab, 15 were Saudi nationals and the leader, Mohammed Atta, was Egyptian — none were Afghan.
Moreover, it was later reported by the Times of India that, prior to the atrocity, the director of Pakistan’s ISI had ordered the wiring of £80,000 to Mohammed Atta.
In June 2004 the interim report of the US 9/11 commission was to acknowledge that Pakistan had assisted the Taliban leadership in hosting bin Laden — but there was no Western punishment for Pakistan. Nor was there one for Saudi Arabia, which for the past three decades had supported a range of Islamist groups while remaining a staunch ally of the West. In other words, the US continued to prefer to maintain its alliances with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which had far more responsibility for 9/11 than the Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers who it proceeded to remove from power through intense bombing in alliance with Afghan warlords on the ground.
Then came the calamitous invasion and occupation of Iraq in spring 2003. There was no sign of significant resistance from jihadist groups until the occupation began. In August al-Qaida suicide bombings by foreign jihadists began.
In The Occupation (2007) Patrick Cockburn refers to two separate studies of foreign fighters, which revealed that they were motivated both by Islamic fundamentalism and by hatred of the US occupation and were intent on returning the Muslim world to the pure Islam of the 7th century — they regarded as infidels both the occupiers and all who did not subscribe to their beliefs.
The Arab Spring of 2011, an eruption of protest against various Arab dictatorships was, as Cockburn points out in The Age of Jihad, driven by both democratic aspirations and by Islamic militancy. In Libya the Nato bombing campaign in support of rebellion against the unpopular dictatorship of Gadaffi, ended his rule while leaving a vacuum in which rival governments and militias operated and in which Islamic militancy thrived.
By 2015 many “infidels,” such as black migrant labourers, were being murdered and refugees were, in desperation, fleeing the country.
In Syria the Arab Spring had also become a nightmare as the rebels against President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Shi’ite Alawite rule included Sunni Islamist extremists, who regarded Shi’ite people as heretics to be eliminated.
Before long, Cockburn notes, armed opposition to the Syrian government was “almost entirely dominated by Isis and the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate.” Their violent jihadism has been aided by an increasingly aggressive Turkey and, more covertly, by Israel.
More tragedy followed with the spillover of the Syrian civil war into Iraq, where the sectarian and endemically corrupt Shi’ite-controlled government was unable to resist the rise of Isis and control of a large swathe of western Iraq and eastern Syria.
The US and Britain, by removing governments seen as a threat to Western interests, have stimulated directly the growth of Islamic extremism, a situation that will continue as long they buttress the Islamic regimes of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia plus Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman.
By 2001 the flames of jihadist extremism were high. Western interventions that came since then in Iraq, Libya and Syria have only fuelled the flames. Israel’s territorial expansionism with increased settlements in the occupied West Bank has done nothing to dampen them.
It is in this context that the Prevent strategy seeks to reduce the impact those flames have on the domestic front and is understandably condemned as stigmatising, Muslims by spying on them.
An effective Prevent strategy would come when Western governments start listening to those among voters who demand a change in current foreign policy.