There is no Clash of Civilisations in Mesopotamia
There is no Clash of Civilisations in Mesopotamia
It is a curious thing to consider the looming spectre of the Clash of Civilisation today. The appearance of the spectre isn’t scholarly, or scientific, but is betrayed by familiar and simplified soundbites which seem to echo throughout brain dead megaphones. The echoes pronounce what is now a tautology that the Middle East and the West are set on a predestined path towards crusade reenactments. Armed militias on the fringe of American private security forces arm and train with intention of taking their own fight against ISIS. The St George’s Cross adorns figures of nationalists who find their counterparts across Europe, the presence of such networks indicates that the spectre is more than abstraction, though the associated doctrine is still considered to be an anachronism at best by the majority.
Proponents of the Huntingtonian doctrine aim their vitriol not solely at the so-called Islamification of the West, but also at their own governments. It was under the much cherished rubric of Liberal Democracy that the free movement of goods, capital, services and all importantly labour was conceived. It was elite representatives of Western powers who hammered out the Geneva Convention as a reaction to the crisis of European displacement following WW2; establishing international standards for the treatment of refugees. In Germany in the late 19th century, under the guidance of Otto Von Bizmarke, the first welfare state was established offering citizens unemployment insurance and state pensions. These institutions and conventions form some of the most important pillars of Western civilisation -- however the extent to which the European population can accept the realities of such policies has been tested continuously since their inception.
As proposed by Francis Fukuyama in his infamous ‘End of History’, heading into the new millennium Liberal Democracy was to be the universal standard of governance that all states should at one time or another naturally gravitate towards. Whether in the classical Liberal idea of elevating the individual to a status in which he can exist for his own sake -- rather than the sake of the collective, the state, the cult or the community, equipped with certain inalienable rights -- there need be a transference of nation state power to supra-national centres is still up for debate. But the history of the European Union has its base in Liberal ideology. What can be said is that one may find it difficult to reconcile the dichotomy between the incompatible civilisations doctrine with the free movement prescribed in the White Paper of 1985, as well as the geopolitical co-operation and alliances between the West and the Middle East which have endured for so many decades up to this point.
The fault lines in the latest saga of violence and political disintegration in the Middle East are not drawn between East and West as the megaphones might suggest. What we see are sectarian battles which follow some legitimate calls for political reform contained within the Muslim world. To the clash of civilisations mindset it is difficult to comprehend such realities as that Britain and the US are traditional supporters of extremist Islam, or that the vast majority of victims of Islamic terror are indeed other Muslims. How can this sit within the concept of ‘us VS them’? I does not, yet the concept is very real in the minds of many across the cultural divide.
Britain specifically has a love hate relationship with Mesopotamia or the Levant since the region was carved up by the British and the French after 1918. In Iraq a rather strained relationship between the Hashmites and the British based on the roughly aligned agenda of ousting the Ottoman empire as the dominant power in the Islamic world, along with the subsequent affinity between influential individuals such as King Faisal and Lawrence of Arabia, led to the British imposition of the Hashemite dynasty as rulers of the then British mandate. With King Faisal being a foreign Sunni (whose roots are in the Arabian peninsula), and former proclaimed King of Greater Syria -- who was swiftly deposed by the French -- some trace the on-going conflict between Sunni and Shia in the country back to the British decision to impose Sunni rule in 1922.
We also see that the intention to secure access to the region’s oil reserves is not a new strategy. In 1925 Britain signed an oil concession deal with the Iraqi government which put the majority of proceeds in the hands of the Turkish Petroleum Company which was half owned by the Anglo-Persion Oil Company. The intransigence of the King, and the Hashemite’s propensity to quell the democratising forces which sought to restrain monarchic and imperial power in Iraq led to bloody revolts and the emergence of a National Socialist dictatorship.In Iran the parallels are stark, with the British appointed Shah suppressing nationalist movements -- famously retaining power after the assassination of democratically elected prime-minister Mossadegh -- to the extent that revolution erupted. The regimes produced in 1979 after decades of indirect British rule in both countries were two of the most brutal in modern history. One an extreme Shia theocracy led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The other a secular National Socialist dictatorship inspired by an admiration for German fascism and Stalinism, led by Saddam Hussein. The Western response to these events was to support the new Baathist regime in Iraq in a conflict against Iran which would last almost a decade and consume roughly one million lives. In doing so, the west provided logistical, political and military support on a grand scale for the same dictator whose existence couldn’t be tolerated by the Bush and Blair regimes less than two decades later.
The British considered the Shah and Faisal as their allies within the region able to grant access to valuable resources in return for the political assistance of the British Empire. The support for Saddam Hussein rested largely on the desire to dissolve the new Islamic Republic in Iran and thereby regain access to Persian oil reserves. Supporting Hussein never did yield the desired results. The Islamic Republic still remains, and after the Iran Iraq war Saddam had become more belligerent than the west had expected, disregarding a serious US ultimatum by invading Kuwait.
Two wars, led by the US, were thus waged against Iraq. The first gulf war expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait as Hussein attempted to expand his sphere of influence in 1991. Bush the 1st’ call for an Iraqi insurrection led to a brutal suppression by Iraqi forces against the population which went unabated by the US. Some put the death toll of this event at 300,000 and many commentators criticise the Bush regime for using rhetoric which encouraged rebellion, but offered no means of support for those people engaged in the uprisings. The decision to remove Saddam from Kuwait, but not to depose the regime altogether, was certainly conscious. The desire of policymakers at the time was to keep the Baathist regime in power enough that it could continue to present a threat to Iran, which was still significantly hostile towards the US.
To illustrate the significance of US hesitation in ‘91, it is worth mentioning the position of Christopher Hitchens who was a fierce opponent and critic of Baathist Iraq for many years. Hitchens believed that the fascist and totalitarian nature of Saddam’s regime, which was responsible for a hideous legacy of crimes, had no place in the modern world. He vehemently supported the deposition of the dictator by means of a US led invasion on these grounds. The great regret as expressed by the late polemicist was that the US neglected to take up the opportunity to achieve this goal in ‘91, leaving the Iraqi people poised to endure over a decade more of insufferable cruelty. When debating in favour of invasion, Hitchens would often conclude that Saddam had to go and that it was shameful that this hadn’t been realised sooner.
The latest invasion of Iraq in 2003 ushered in a new era for the country which ended with the recent catastrophic events beginning in 2014 which, regretfully, Hitchens didn’t live to see. Whatever the intentions were for the Western powers committed to the war on terror, the creation of an extremist group larger and more powerful than Al-Qaeda was tantamount to the war’s most obvious failures. Much like the war on drugs, which grants power to drug cartels and has seen no reduction in recreational drug use, the war on terror appears only to have strengthened extremist groups; in both cases policy has produced the exact opposite effects of those intended.
In the current struggle for power in the region which sees Syria now pulled into the sinkhole of destruction, the fault lines cannot be considered cultural -- at least not in the Huntingtonian sense. The alliances forged between Western powers, the Gulf states and Turkey against Assad’s regime shows no sign of Islam taking up opposition to the West, nor does it show that the West would naturally ally itself with states which display western attributes or characteristics. We are not seeing modern secularism clash with the great bastions of theocracy, instead secular dictatorships have been the target in Iraq, Syria and Libya and the alliance to this end is made up of the West and the theocratic Gulf region in the Middle East.
I don't want any gay people hanging around me while I'm trying to kill kids.