Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Muddle East

Some have responded to the recent Paris atrocities by saying, “So what? The People of the Middle East are suffering far worse at the hands of the West.”

You can feel bad for the people of Paris and still point out the hypocrisy of allowing Syria to be torn apart without a whimper of public protest, or 300 African schoolgirls disappearing with only moderate protest, or so many other appalling events around the world that do not excite Western news media.

Once we start down the road of justifying the unjustifiable because something even worse happened somewhere else where do we stop?

And when we start taking sides, we become blind to the fact that it is not just one side fueling the flames. Russia, the US (and allies), and local Islamic states all to varying degrees are fueling the conflict, providing weapons and money to back their very narrowly-defined very short-term interests. What is the role of Iran or Saudi Arabia in stoking up conflict? What is Turkey doing? Would the Syrian crisis have ended peacefully long ago if the Assad regime had not been guaranteed outside support?

The US and other Western countries blundering into this whole sorry mess is just one part of the equation. That on its own can’t explain all the instability. You think the Russians would have learnt from the horrible mess they got themselves into in Afghanistan, but no.

In the current Middle East conflict, it is very difficult to make sense of anything if you support any side as all sides have made terrible decisions.

Trace through the sequence of events in Egypt, as just one example:
  • Arab Spring protests – huge crowds in the streets, soldiers who refused to take orders to mow them down
  • a democratic election returning a Muslim Brotherhood government
  • follow-on protests as the government failed to meet expectations
  • a military coup

Some of this you can put down to Western interference. The Arab Spring protests were genuine as far as I can tell, as were the protests against the newly elected government. Where Western interference kicked in was the fact that the military coup was tolerated where such a takeover in most other parts of the world would be condemned. So it is a mistake to explain all problems in the Middle East through a lens of Western imperialism. It is a factor, but not the only one.

Looking more widely, putting everything down simply to Western malevolence does not explain the deep animosities between the different strands of Islam who are doing each other far more damage than they are doing to foreigners. Nor does it explain the roles of Russia and other regional powers like Iran and Turkey.

Beware the logic fail of “enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The biggest enemy in this conflict is lack of moral clarity arising from taking a side and sticking with it.

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