A Look Inside the Caliphate: A podcast about ISIS by Rukmini Callimachi

I started listening to this podcast a few weeks ago and I can’t get over how great it was. I was really disappointed when it ended at only 10 Chapters. I was hoping it would go further and that Callimachi would keep following up on the aftermath of ISIS in the Middle East.

I’d like to hear more about ISIS fighters that are returning to Western countries and trying to avoid prosecution. I’d like to learn more about how Western countries are dealing with this problem, like, for example, how the UK is stripping some ISIS members of their UK passports. I’d also like to hear more “human interest” reports from people on the ground that were affected personally by ISIS. I’d rather hear it in an interview and investigative audio format than read about it later. Somehow, it seems more real and it’s certainly more engaging.

The Caliphate podcast itself is well done, engaging, and informative. If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend it. I do need to warn you that most of the episodes contain descriptions of extreme violence, sometimes narrated by the perpetrators of that violence in interviews and sometimes by their victims. It starts out with interviews of an ISIS member who returned to Canada, Abu Hussayfa (nom de guerre), and then moves on to other topics, including scouring the front lines for documentation.

I suppose what intrigued me the most about the podcast is how normal “Abu Hussayfa” sounds, considering what he did in Syria. I was also interested in how he tried to justify and excuse his actions. That seemed to be a trend among the people interviewed, which isn’t surprising in and of itself. The religious justifications he chose to use were what I found interesting.

I was surprised to find out just how bureaucratic and organized ISIS was. I had this idea in my head that it was organized in the sense of being a good fighting group, but the fact that they kept careful financial records, criminal justice records, and had a hierarchical administration was unexpected. I suppose it’s hard to picture ISIS, on the one hand, destroying historical sites for being “haram,” and on the other hand acting like a modern bureaucratic state.

Anyhow, again, if you have an interest in the Middle East you should really find time to listen to this podcast.

Reading Response: Modernization in Egypt, 19th Century

A reading response I wrote for a graduate class, based on four articles or selections about modernization in Egypt.


 

In “An Irrigated Empire: The View from Ottoman Fayyum,” Alan Mikhail uses agriculture in Fayyum and the maintenance of dikes and dams to make a larger argument about the balance of power in the Ottoman Empire as a whole. Mikhail is arguing against Karen Barkey’s hub and spoke model which posits that all power is in the center and all resources flow through the center. Instead, Mikhail shows that Fayyum acted as its own power center with its own peripheries. One way he demonstrates this is by explaining Fayyum’s traditional role as the grain-supplier of the Hijaz region. Istanbul never attempted to reorganize this regional dynamic and instead supported it because maintaining Fayyum’s productive power was in the best interests of the empire as a whole. More importantly, Mikhail’s article challenges the top-down power dynamic associated with empires by showing that the Fayyumis, the peasants, were able to wield power of their own by using their agricultural production and local expertise as leverage. In Fayyum, the peasants, though at the bottom of the social and power structure, were able to manipulate that structure to their advantage.

Khaled Fahmy’s article “The Nation and Its Deserters: Conscription in Mehmed Ali’s Egypt,” while not making the same argument as Mikhail, plays to the same theme. Fahmy is arguing against the modern historiographical narrative that presents Mehmed Ali’s modernization of the Army as an expression of Egyptian nationalism. He shows quite convincingly that Egyptians saw military service as an onerous burden and went to great lengths to avoid being drafted. The draftees were subject to a modern medical examination to see if they were fit for duty. Understanding this, draftees manipulated the system through self-mutilation, forcing the government to make changes to its policies. While their resistance was not effective or successful, this shows that draftees, like the Fayyumis, understood and engaged with state institutions in ways that made them political actors, rather than passive recipients of top-down power.

In the second article by Fahmy, “The Anatomy of Justice: Forensic Medicine and Criminal Law in Nineteenth-Century Egypt,” Egyptian peasants are shown to have engaged with and used the new siyasa legal system instituted by Mehmed Ali to their advantage as well. The article presents a historical narrative that is similar to the one presented by Milan Petrov in “Everyday Forms of Compliance: Subaltern Commentaries on Ottoman Reform, 1864-1868,” which discusses the way that people in the vilayet of Danube engaged with the new nizami courts. In this article, Fahmy is arguing against the prevailing teleological narrative of a steady progression from “backwards” shariah law to “modern” secular law. He argues instead that the government introduced these legal reforms not for the purpose of enlightenment or justice, but to improve state control over the population. In other words, this wasn’t European light illuminating the darkness of Arab backwardness. It was a carefully thought out plan meant to enhance the efficiency of the state. Fahmy focuses on autopsies and how they were used by the state and understood by the average person. Generally it seems that people understood the benefits of autopsies as a means of ensuring justice in areas that the shariah did not address or did not address adequately.

Brown’s article, “Who Abolished Corvee Labour in Egypt and Why?” is the only article that takes away agency from the common people, who are depicted as a formless mob who act only when ordered to act. In his article Brown is making the argument that corvee labor was not abolished for enlightened reasons, but because it became more profitable for the peasants to remain on their lands to harvest crops after year-round growing became established. The peasants were always being used to serve the greater interests of the state (or the landholders, who in turn produced revenues for the state), and even after the supposed renouncement of corvee labor, there were projects that necessitated the use of forced labor, especially in terms of the maintenance of the irrigation system.

It is interesting how great a role the irrigation system played in influencing policies in Egypt. Egypt’s agricultural output was its greatest asset when it was part of the Ottoman Empire and served as a vital part of the Empire’s infrastructure. After Egypt was separated from the Empire, agriculture was still of vital interest to the state. There were apparently conflicting interests, however. How was the irrigation system maintained when Mehmed Ali depleted the countryside of men to fill the ranks of his army?

Unity, Support and Power: Failure of Palestinian Nationhood

Note: This is a paper that was written for a Modern Middle East undergraduate history course.  The paper was supposed to be five pages long, but I went a little overboard.  Even so, I don’t think I even came close to fully covering the topic, not that I really could in a semester, or in one short research paper.  Nonetheless, this paper received an A.

1948 Map of Conflicts in Palestine.

Zionist Military Operations Outside UN-proposed Jewish State, 1 April to 15 May 1948. (Source: Greenpolitics)

At the end of World War I, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the entire Middle East was in a state of flux. What used to be a single sovereign entity was carved up into modern nation states by the victorious European powers. At a conference in San Remo in 1920 Britain and France, according to an arrangement known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), drew the borders for four new states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. In 1922, Palestine was further divided into Palestine and Transjordan. These new countries were legitimized as mandates of the League of Nations, states that would be protectorates of European powers and eventually gain independence. Thus, Britain retained control of Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan and France retained control of Syria and Lebanon, directly and indirectly.[1]

Over the following decades, each of the mandate states threw off the shackles of colonialism and won independence, with the exception of Palestine. The pursuit of national independence for Palestinians has been impeded by a series of complications, starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917:

His Majesty’s Government [of England] view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.[2]

The Balfour Declaration is a letter that was issued by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. British government officials believed that the Jewish ‘vote’ needed to be won to ensure victory in World War I. If the British didn’t secure Jewish backing, the Germans would “buy them” and use them to influence Russia into signing a separate peace treaty with Germany, allowing the Germans to focus on the western front.[3] The Balfour Declaration was a response both to the fear of the supposed power of world Jewry and the sympathetic nature of some British government officials to the Zionist cause.[4] Zionist leaders did their best to encourage these feelings, resulting in the inclusion of the wording of the Balfour Declaration in the League of Nations sanctioned British mandate for Palestine in 1922.[5]

Contrary to the popular idea that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land, the area was well populated. At the beginning of the Zionist influx into the Palestine Mandate area, there were approximately 450,000 Arab and 20,000 (Arab) Jewish residents.[6] Direct British rule and British efforts to fulfill the obligations of the Balfour declaration combined with the influx of European Jews created a volatile situation that retarded the national development of Palestine. Instead of developing modern governing institutions like other newly formed Middle Eastern nations, Palestine’s residents spent the mandate period in conflict and constant competition between British, Jewish and Arab interests.

The major conflict between the two groups was based on the meaning of the Balfour Declaration. The Zionist interpretation of the Balfour Declaration was that it intended the creation of a Jewish state that, as Chaim Weizmann (Chair of the Zionist Commission and later first president of Israel) said, would be as Jewish as England is English.[7] Critics of the Zionists interpreted the Balfour Declaration’s goal as the creation of a Jewish cultural center inside an independent Arab state. The ambiguity was introduced into the document to give the British room for diplomatic maneuvering, but in the end, all it did was complicate their position in Palestine. They were never able to resolve the contradiction inherent in their promise.[8]

The confusion in policy created by the Balfour Declaration led one senior British official to say, just prior to leaving the country, that Britain had “nothing but fluctuations of policy, hesitations…no policy at all.”[9] The British alternately supported Jewish development of a national home and Arab national aspirations in a precarious balancing act intended to maintain the status quo. This remained true until their withdrawal from Palestine in 1948, twenty five years later. When the last British High Commissioner departed Haifa, there was no formal transfer of powers to a new local government because there was no government in Palestine. When the mandate ended, the Jews and Arabs were left to struggle for supremacy.[10]

The internal struggle for power in the years and months leading up to the end of the British mandate for Palestine and the subsequent war that started on May 15th, 1948 with the end of British mandatory rule between Jewish and Arab irregular forces from the surrounding nations saw the birth of the state of Israel and the failure of the Palestinians to establish a nation. The reason for the success of the Jews over the Arabs boils down to three key differences: unity, external support and military power. The Jews entered Palestine with a unified goal, if not a unified ideology. They enjoyed wide support from Jewish and Christian communities around the world, as well as the backing from Britain guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration. They also took advantage of their ties to Europe to advance their military prowess, which proved decisive in the 1947-1948 conflict with the Arabs, also known as the first Arab-Israeli War. The Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, were completely unprepared for the task ahead of them.

During the early years of the mandate, the Arab notables felt it was only natural that they should govern the land they had lived on for centuries.[11] They were convinced that at some point the British would come to their senses and stop supporting the Jews. In the meantime, the Arab notables in Palestine did what they could to maintain their social status, including working with the British mandate authorities, who supplied them with positions of authority.[12] For example, the British created the office of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and assigned al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni to the role. Later the British created the Supreme Muslim council, which Husayni headed.

The reliance of Arab leadership on the British caused them to mostly work with, rather than against, the mandate government, which also meant that they were indirectly supporting the Zionist occupation of what they considered to be Arab land. The Arab notables attempted to negotiate with the British privately while condemning British support of Zionism publicly, all the while working to ensure there would be no disruptive mass political demonstrations that could destabilize their social and political positions.[13] The need to stay on good terms with the British undermined the authority of the Arab notables in the eyes of the public.[14] Further complicating the Arab political atmosphere in Palestine was the constant rivalry between the two prominent families in the region: the Husaynis and the Nashashibis. Their attempts to create rival power bases in Palestine prevented Arab unity. The inter-Arab rivalries and reliance on the British, together with the need to suppress popular movements to maintain their positions, caused the Palestinians to never be capable of forming a unified front, which effectively neutered the Palestinian political body and Palestinian aspirations of nationhood. It would be fair to say that the goals of the Arab leadership (to maintain their positions) did not match the goals of the Palestinians, but due to the Ottoman top-down power structure, the average Palestinian had no way to directly influence the decision making process until later in the mandatory period, when guerilla leaders like al-Qassim began to rally popular support.

Compounding the problem was the lack of any meaningful external support for the Palestinian Arabs. To start with, none of the Arab political institutions formed in mandate Palestine were recognized by any international authority, not even by the Arab states, who took it upon themselves to speak for the Palestinian Arabs.[15] But, their motives weren’t entirely pure either. Throughout the mandate period, the surrounding Arab states had, despite repeated requests, failed to supply the Palestinian Arabs with arms, food, or any financial support. The Arab states each had different agendas in terms of what they wanted to accomplish in Palestine, but the rights of the Palestinians themselves probably ranked very low on their list of priorities. Most of the surrounding states were solely interested in land grabs to increase the power of their respective states in terms of inter-Arab regional politics.[16]

By the time hostilities broke out in Palestine after the November 1947 announcement of the UN Partition Plan, the Arabs felt a distinct sense of abandonment. They had no effective leadership and they had been isolated by the surrounding Arab states. According to Rashid Khalidi,

The Palestinians entered the fighting which followed the passage of the UN Partition Resolution with a deeply divided leadership, exceedingly limited finances, no centrally organized military forces or centralized administrative organs, and no reliable allies.[17]

According to a Haganah Intelligence Service – Arab Division executive, the average Palestinian had come to the conclusion that they could not hold their own against the Jews.[18] HIS – AD further reported that most of the Arab public would be willing to accept the 1947 UN Partition Plan and lacked a desire to engage in a war with the Jews because of a lack of weapons and internal organization.[19] Many were unwilling to fight because if they died, there would be no compensation for their widows and/or orphans.

 

Ghandhi & Terrorism: Tackling the “Mad Idea”

With globalization being so popular an idea these days, we often seem to forget that nations do have sovereignty over their own territory.  That sovereignty comes with the ability to live in ways that don’t necessarily agree with our own values, expectations or religion and to create law systems that have a foundation on something other than a mirror of our (US) constitution.  One example that comes to mind right away is the shocked reaction that everyone had when Egyptians decided they wanted to replace Mubarak’s tyranny with a government based on Islamic values.

I mention sovereignty because it seems to me that most of the world’s problems come from unrealistic expectations that ones’ own way is not only the best way, but the only way.  If anyone doesn’t want our way, we use it as an excuse to force it on them for their own good while exploiting them for economic gain.  In India, that behavior led to a revolution that, thankfully, wound up being more peaceful than it would have been due to the hard work of a man named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma.  In the Middle East, Western meddling planted the seeds that would eventually grow into global terrorism on a grand scale.

Tying Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent non-cooperation into modern day problems with terrorism was the focus of a class I took over Winter Session.  It was 3 weeks of class, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, that culminated in an oral presentation and a 10 page paper after having read 3 books on Gandhi’s philosophy and 1 on the rise of religious terrorism.  It was difficult, but educational.  Looking at the paper now, I wish I’d had more time to directly compare Gandhi’s goals with bin Laden’s goals, and to compare their use of religion as a tool to achieve an end.  Instead, I tried to explain the mentality of religious violence and how meeting that violence with more violence only perpetuates the cycle and, even worse, justifies and empowers the terrorist ideology of hatred.  In a way, meeting violence with violence is cooperating with the terrorists, and after you read this you might have a better understanding of why.

[Sources and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]

The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City

The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City

On August 15, 1947, India acquired independence from the British Empire. The country’s road to freedom was paved not with violence, but with Satyagraha, a method of non-violent non-cooperation employed and promulgated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Mahatma (Great Soul) who expanded on this unique style of civil disobedience in South Africa.[1] The word Satyagraha is a Sanskrit composite formed from satya and agraha. Satya implies love and agraha firmness, which is synonymous with force in terms of the force born of “Truth and Love or Non-Violence…”[2] Gandhi didn’t claim to have invented Satyagraha. Rather, he just named it. Gandhi was certain of the existence of Satyagraha prior to his use of it by the very fact that the world still lived on, despite the constant warfare. He cited Satyagraha as the force that amiably dissolves the quarrels of millions of families daily and emphasized that the only reason it’s not mentioned in history books is because history itself is a record of the disruptions of Satyagraha, or ahimsa, which is the natural course of nature.[3]

Mahatma Gandhi successfully used Satyagraha to fight for Indian rights in South Africa. He used it again to win independence from the British Empire for India. Dr. Martin Luther King adapted Gandhi’s ideology to his own movement and successfully fought for equal rights for African Americans. Without using weapons, Gandhi’s Satyagraha has been proven to work. So, does that mean it has applications for today’s modern war on terrorism? And how would we go about making the changes necessary to effectively employ this force against the ‘enemy’ and bring about a peaceful resolution of conflicts?

Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India

Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India

Gandhi said, “…if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, believing ourselves to be strong…we grow stronger and stronger every day.”[4] Satyagraha is an ideology of empowerment that places emphasis on maintaining the moral high ground through “self-help, self-sacrifice and faith in God…”[5] Naturally, this is something one must do oneself for it to work properly, which is why Gandhi said that Satyagraha is for self-help and declined the assistance of foreigners in fighting for India’s freedom, except insomuch as he wanted their attention and sympathy.

Gandhi believed that the process of Satyagraha could only happen if one maintained a total absence of violence, both in one’s actions and one’s thoughts. For Gandhi, a “struggle could be forceful…but it could not be violent,” so willing self-sacrifice played a key role in achieving one’s goal.[6] Through non-violent self-sacrifice a movement gains both public sympathy and the admiration and respect of the aggressor, eventually inducing a change of heart and an amiable resolution to conflicts.

Most importantly, by not using violence, Satyagraha creates solutions that break the cycle of violence. Gandhi said, “A non-co-operationist strives to compel attention and set an example not by his violence but by his unobtrusive humility.”[7] The moment violence is used the means become corrupted, which invariably leads to a corrupted end. Gandhi used this argument to counter the call for violent revolution against the British in India. He said that “by using similar means we can get only the same thing that [the British] got” and compared gaining morally pure rule through violence to planting weeds to grow roses.[8]

A violent response escalates the level of violence used. Gandhi believed that winning independence through violence would leave India just as bad off as it already was, because it would mean that violent people would be assuming control of the country.[9] He did agree that he would rather have bad home rule rather than suffer under a foreign master, but Gandhi’s goal was to achieve a free India that could initiate a new government with clean hands.[10] To do this, Gandhi believed that India had to break with modern secular Western society. He described the materialism of Western civilization as a sickness.[11] Britain’s industrialization, and all industrialization, relies on the exploitation of other countries. Engaging in industrialization would pollute India and India would become no better than the former masters’ whose yoke she had thrown off.[12]

1993 World Trade Center Bombers

1993 World Trade Center Bombers

According to Mark Juergensmeyer, the advent of modern Western society has devalued religious belief, replacing theology with secular morality and the Church with the nation state. Social identity has shifted from religious affiliation to national citizenship. Some religious activists believe that “secular society and modern nationalism can [not] provide the moral fiber that unites national communities or the ideological strength to sustain states buffeted by ethical, economic, and military failures.”[13]

In an interview with Mahmud Abouhalima, convicted of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mark Juergensmeyer asked him what it was that secular America was missing that caused it to not understand him and others like him. Abouhalima answered, “the soul of religion.”[14] He went on to compare secular life to an ink pen that was missing its ink. He said, “An ink pen, a pen worth two thousand dollars, gold and everything in it, it’s useless if there’s no ink in it. That’s the thing that gives life…”[15]

Western societies may see secularization as a positive process, a freeing of the population from archaic dogmas, but people like Abouhalima and even Gandhi were adamantly opposed to separating religion from life.[16] Without religion, Abouhalima would have no meaning in his life, and Gandhi would not have had the strength to free India. Thinking in those terms, any encroachment of Western society in the modern Middle East may be viewed by the locals as not only unbeneficial but harmful, and potentially as an attack on fundamental values and religion itself, which for Muslims constitutes a large portion of their everyday life and culture.[17] Gandhi believed that all change has to come from within to be lasting. It cannot be forced upon people, and attempting to use violence through sanctions that cause hardships or through rhetoric and demonizing will have no effect but to draw sympathy to the victimized, even if their cause is wrong.[18]

2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City

2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City

In today’s War on Terror, responding to terrorism with acts of violence empowers the terrorists by cooperating with their ideology of hatred, by affirming that the secular West is indeed evil and intent on destroying the religion and culture of the average person. Mark Juergensmeyer wrote that “many secular political leaders have described [the War on Terror] as a war that must be won—not only to avenge savage acts as the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, but also to allow civilization as the modern West has known it to survive.”[19] In a war between civilizations where the existence of each civilization’s future is at stake, only one can remain at the end of the conflict. The sort of rhetoric being used to promote the War on Terror is one of absolutes and only further justifies the teachings of terrorists: that the US must be defeated for Islam and Islamic culture to survive. The immediate response after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City was to launch a retaliatory attack, but has that attack actually solved anything? Did we not in fact validate the terrorists’ ideology of hatred by destroying the lives of the innocent along with the accused through long-term warfare?

Madanlal Dhingra

Madanlal Dhingra

In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, an Indian student in England, assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a political aide to Lord George Hamilton, the Secretary of State for India. According to Sankar Ghose, “Winston Churchill regarded Dhingra’s last words “as the finest made in the name of patriotism…”[20] Gandhi had a completely different opinion of Dhingra: “It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk, a mad idea can also do so… Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind. He gave his body in a wrong way, its ultimate result can only be mischevious.”[21] Gandhi, a man so religious that his last words after being shot by an assassin were “Hē Ram (Oh God),”[22] was absolutely opposed to violence in any form, for any objective, which makes it all the more surprising that terrorism today is most often tied to extreme religious views. In his own way, Gandhi was an extremist, but he was an extremist who used and advocated extremes of peace and love to achieve what he considered just ends. Today’s religious extremists are not so different from Gandhi, in that they go to extremes to ensure that their views are made known. In fact, Osama bin Laden’s goals were not that different from Gandhi’s.

In 1991, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, prompting a coalition force of Middle Eastern and Western nations (including the United States) to engage in military operations in defense of Kuwait. Military operations began on January 16th, 1991 with air and missile attacks on targets in both Kuwait and Iraq. After an unavoidable ground war, Iraqi forces were put into full retreat. On February 27th, 43 days later, President Bush declared a suspension of offensive combat. During the war, Saudi Arabia was used as a launching point for allied offensives against Iraq.[23] After the war ended, the US presence in Saudi Arabia remained, further outraging some religious conservatives that consider Saudi Arabia to be the holiest of Islamic lands, being home to both Mecca, where the Ka’aba resides, and Medina where the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community. The Ka’aba is the center of the Muslim world. Muslims believe that the Ka’aba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. One of the five pillars of Islam is pilgrimage to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’aba.[24]

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

Among those angered by the continued presence of US troops on Saudi soil was Osama bin Laden, head of the Al Qaeda network. On August 3rd, 1995, he issued a message called “an Open Letter to King Fahd,” outlining grievances against the Saudi monarchy, notably calling for a guerilla campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. In July 10, 1996, a British newspaper (The Independent) quoted bin Laden as saying that Saudi Arabia had become an American colony. He also stated that the real enemy of the Saudi people is America. In August of 1996, bin Laden issued a document known as the “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The two holy mosques he references are Mecca’s Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, where US troops were stationed, and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Osama bin Laden considered Israel to be a US puppet regime, so fault for occupying Jerusalem was transferred to the United States. In a CNN interview in 1997, bin Laden began to solidify his message with demands that may sound familiar to anyone familiar with India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire. He said:

We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation…. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God’s word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries…. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country.[25]

Almost a year later, he goes on to make the following demands:

For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. We–with God’s help–call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it… in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.[26]

Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi both had similar goals. Both felt oppressed by foreign powers who meddled in local affairs, to the detriment of the native populations, and in both cases as a result of something Gandhi warned of: the need to exploit other countries to support the industrialization of modern Western culture.

The implied conflict for the survival of civilizations and the perceived attack on religion causes some religious activists to use violence to try to bring attention to their stated goals. From Gandhi’s teachings, we know that he could have in no way supported the terrorism of today to attain independence from foreign oppression, but it is reasonable to believe that he would have empathized with Osama bin Laden’s goal.[27] When Gandhi condemned Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie, he didn’t condemn his goal; he instead called him a patriot and condemned the means he used. This is where terrorists like Osama bin Laden differ from Gandhi, in the means they use to reach their ends. The results of the two methods have been drastically different. Where India gained the sympathy of the world and won her independence through Satyagraha, Osama bin Laden’s use of violence has escalated out of control. Osama bin Laden himself has met a foul end and the Middle East has not been freed of foreign influence.

Gandhi believed that violence created a cycle, saying “Who lives by the sword must perish by the sword, and if the Asiatic peoples take up the sword, they in their turn will succumb to a more powerful adversary.”[28] That teaching is just as applicable today as it was during his fight with the British. In 1998, when the US launched retaliatory missile strikes on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, the attack “provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots.”[29] The attacks also increased bin Laden’s image as an underdog and damaged the United States’ international reputation. In July of 2002, an Israeli plane bombed the home of Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehada, wounding 140 people and killing 11 people, 7 of which were children. Another Hamas leader, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, responded by opening up targeting of terrorist attacks to all Israelis, including women and children.[30] Violent actions only led to an escalation of the level of violence employed by each side. The only way to ‘win’ is by breaking the chain of violence. An example is the 1998 Omagh bombing by a fringe element called the “Real IRA”. The bombing occurred during peace talks that would stop the violence in Northern Ireland. Rather than retaliate with more acts of violence, the guilty parties were arrested and tried using the existing legal system.[31]

So, what is the solution for stopping violence in the Middle East today? Rather than dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, the violent actions, the US should instead tackle the source of the problem. Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005 understood this and “spoke about the necessity of dealing with the social and economic grievances that fueled the anti-American disaffection in the Middle East and elsewhere as a way of undercutting al Qaeda support.”[32] Colin Powell was expressing an idea that Gandhi emphasized himself, in regards to responding to terrorism. Gandhi described Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie as being like a drunkard, caught in a “mad idea.” It’s that mad idea that we need to tackle: the belief in the Middle East that the United States is incapable of good and morally unambiguous behavior.

The first step is to stop responding to violence with violence. Violent action only succeeds in causing the conflict to escalate. That’s not to say that nothing should be done in the face of violent terrorist attacks. Even Gandhi didn’t believe in inaction.[33] Gandhi believed that no one had a complete view of the truth and the very existence of a conflict was the proof. He believed that every conflict was an “encounter between differing “angles of vision” illuminating the same truth.”[34] The key, then, is to take the moral high ground and understand that a response of violence will be satisfying in the short term, but will yield no real results.

The second step to solving the problem would be to address the problem of public opinion of the United States in the Islamic countries. After many years of duplicitous behavior on the part of the United States, finding a way to positively engage the Islamic community may be difficult without inciting suspicion and distrust, so it would be a gradual progress, in much the same way that Satyagraha was a gradual progress. The first efforts would have to be in areas that are politically and religiously neutral, such as providing medical care, basic literacy education in English and Arabic, building homes for the homeless, and acting in advisory capacities for social programs that would address other needs of the country. It’s a small step, but small steps add up and 30 years of providing education to the poor will mean more to them than bombing their fields to smoke out suspected terrorists. Additionally, we could take the biggest step towards having a friendly relationship with Islamic countries by respecting their sovereignty and allowing the people to determine their own futures through their own elected governments. Additionally, we could remove the US troop presence from Islamic countries and allow the people to fight for and affect their own social reforms. That would mean more to them than having the reforms handed to them with the help of Westerners. As Gandhi said, lasting change has to come from within.

One of Gandhi’s favorite quotes from Tolstoy sums up this policy best:

…if we would but get off the backs of our neighbours the world would be quite all right without any further help from us. And if we can only serve our immediate neighbors by ceasing to prey upon them, the circle of unities thus grouped in the right fashion will ever grow in circumference till at last it is conterminous with that of the whole world.[35]

 


[1] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 1, p. 3.
[2] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 6, p. 77.
[3] Ibid., p. 79.
[4] Ibid., p. 78.
[5] Ibid., p. 81.
[6] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[7] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 15, p. 59.
[8] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 10.
[9] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[10] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 7, p. 102.
[11] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[12] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 22, p. 249.
[13] Ibid., Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 229.
[14] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 70.
[15] Ibid.
[16] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 171, pp. 364-365.
[17] “Introduction to Islam”, describes Islam as a comprehensive way of life.
[18] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 18, p. 220.
[19] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror In The Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 233.
[20] Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi, Chapter 10, p. 98.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’: book”.
[23] “1991 Gulf War chronology”.
[24] Rosemary Pennington, “What Is The Ka’aba?”.
[25] Osama bin Laden, “Osama bin Laden v. the U.S.”.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 10, pp. 132-134.
[28] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 71.
[29] Barbara Elias, “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired”.
[30] James Bennet, “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home”.
[31] Henry McDonald, “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing”.
[32] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 234.
[33] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[34] Ibid., p. 3.
[35] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 46, p. 112.

 

Works Cited

<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY <![endif]–>”1991 Gulf War chronology.” 3 September 1996. USA Today World. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Bennet, James. “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home.” 23 July 2002. The New York Times: World. Web. 23 January 2012. .
bin Laden, Osama. “Osama Bin Laden V. The U.S.: Edicts And Statements.” n.d. PBS Frontline. Web. 17 January 2012.
Elias, Barbara. “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired.” 20 August 2008. The George Washington University: The National Security Archive. Web. 22 January 2012.
Gandhi, M. K. Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). New York: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.
Gandhi, Mahatma. The Essential Gandhi. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2002. Print.
“Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’:book.” 29 January 2008. hindustantimes: news. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Ghose, Sankar. Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1991. Print.
“Introduction to Islam.” 2000. islam.com. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Juergensmeyer, Mark. “Gandhi vs. Terrorism.” 2007. Mark Juergensmeyer: Global Studies, UCSB. Web. 16 January 2012. .
—. Terror in the Mind of God. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print.
McDonald, Henry. “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing.” 8 June 2009. The Guardian. Web. 23 January 2012.
Pennington, Rosemary. “What Is The Ka’aba?” 22 October 2008. MuslimVoices.org. Web. 22 January 2012. .

US Government’s Illegal Torture Policies in the Middle East



A friend of mine came across this documentary and passed along the link.  I’m studying Middle Eastern history as my major, so he thought it would be relevant to my interests.  It’s 79 minutes and the audio gets steadily further and further out of sync with the video, but hey, it’s free, and it’s worth the information you’ll glean from it.


What I saw in this video is nothing more than what I expected.  I have little faith in the US government anymore.  I mean, seriously.  They can’t fix our economy.  They can’t stop giving tax breaks to huge corporations.  They can’t take care of Americans.  They can’t do anything but blow up other countries to hide their own deficiencies.  It also bothers me how caught up most people are in glorifying war and the military in this country.  I think Americans are losing sight of what this country is supposed to be about.  War isn’t a destination.  War was a means of achieving a free society where people have inviolable rights.  All people.  Not just the ones we like.  War is not glorious, and just because someone is from another country, they don’t lose their human rights.  They’re still human beings.  Why would we take someone for whom we have no evidence of wrongdoing and then treat them worse than we treat serial murderers, rapists and child molesters in the US?


I can understand the situation that was created in these prisons and it’s completely absurd to blame the front-line soldiers.  In the military, there’s a whole other culture, distinct from regular American culture, and there’s a separate legal system and even a different way of thinking about things.  For the most part, you do what you’re told, even when things start to spiral into the absurd, because that’s what you get trained to do: follow orders.  When soldiers question orders, they’re reprimanded, disciplined and sometimes humiliated in front of their peers.  They can lose pay, rank or status.  So, there’s a lot of pressure to just follow orders, and I’m sure first-hand experience with public humiliation makes it easier to take the first step towards severe humiliation of prisoners whom your told have no rights and are something less than human.


So, things just get done because that’s what was ordered, and because everyone else is doing it.  What I’m describing is just based on what I remember from my experiences in non-combat units.  I can’t imagine the added pressures involved in dealing with people that you’re told are enemy combatants.  This whole situation seems like something Stephen King would have cooked up for a horror novel, rather than reality.  In the end, though, the unit commander should be ultimately responsible for the actions of the unit, both good and bad.  A common saying in the Army is that “shit rolls downhill,” meaning from the top of the chain-of-command to the bottom, but it should also roll back up when something goes wrong like this.


Instead of trying to find ways to justify unwarranted violence and illegal torture, our politicians should be finding ways to stop blowing up other countries, defend our own, and fix our financial issues.