There is a crisis of violence in the Middle East, but much of it is the creation of the United States government and those individuals and businesses that profit from it.
By Zachary Markwith
When witnessing the brutal images of ISIS in western media it is helpful to keep in mind the symbiotic relationships between the violence of the United States government, its client states like Saudi Arabia and Israel, and non-state groups. Recently, Hillary Clinton reminded the world that the U.S. backed the Taliban in the 1980’s against the Soviet Union. Joe Biden also publically acknowledged that some of our allies in the Gulf States have funded ISIS. Some commentators are of the opinion that groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS and others are western constructs used to justify U.S. military presence in the region. Whether this is true or not, they gain support among some as reactions to western invasions, wars, and occupations. Recent documents obtained under the freedom of information act indicate that the so-called Caliph of ISIS, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, was captured during the U.S. assault on Fallujah and detained in 2004 at Camp Bucca. If these reports are to be believed, they exemplify how U.S. conflict in the region, the destruction of a nation and its people, and the mistreatment of detainees can create someone like Baghdadi. Whoever this man is, we should also be asking ourselves how radicals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney came to power.
Be that as it may, it is truly a wonder that our government and media are so concerned with civilian deaths at the hands of ISIS. There was little concern for civilian deaths during the two U.S. wars in Iraq, as well as during the intermittent period when draconian sanctions were imposed. It is estimated that over 3 million Iraqi men, women, and children were killed as a direct result of these wars and sanctions. There was and is little concern for civilian deaths when the U.S. employs mercenaries to fight proxy wars in Libya and Syria, the fighters of which are sometimes responsible for the same crimes ISIS commits. Moreover, there is growing evidence that some of these factions have broken off to join ISIS with American arms in hand. There was also of course little concern in the U.S. media for the lives of Muslims and Christians in Palestine this past summer when our ally Israel killed 2000 people. There is also barely a comment when the Saudi government persecutes minority religious groups, women, and others, including with public beheadings. There is little concern, even among western liberals, for the civilian deaths in countless Muslim majority nations through Barack Obama’s ever-expanding drone wars. The cruel violence of ISIS pales in comparison to the violence of the U.S. government and its allies in the Middle East. The violence of ISIS is easily captured in graphic images and videos repackaged for western consumption, but U.S. violence in the region is so pervasive and commonplace that we barely notice when it is kept out of public view. With that said, both are sustained and garner support in relation to one another.
There should be a response to protect all individuals and groups in Iraq and Syria ISIS is targeting, including Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Shi’a, Sunnis, Sufis, and others. In our estimation, those most capable of defending these peoples are the Iraqi and Syrian governments, as well as Iran. How can any intelligent person expect the United States government and its allies to promote peace in the region when they have been responsible for the deaths of millions in the past generation alone and continue to kill more everyday? There should also be a response to protect all individuals and groups from U.S. military violence and the violence of our allies. In the West, violence in religious garb scares us, but secular violence—even on a much larger scale—is somehow tolerable.
The western corporate media now largely identifies Muslims with the violence and images of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk. This is necessary to justify our military presence in the region, the cost of our wars to taxpayers, and control of land and resources. These almost exclusively negative portrayals impact the peoples of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen the most, but western Muslims are beginning to suffer consequences as well.
The recent killing of three Muslims in North Carolina, as well as a Somali Muslim teen and others, illustrate that the violence this Islamophobia generates has come home with tragic consequences. If the negative depictions and generalizations of Muslims abroad are not challenged it will only get worse for Muslims living in the West. The mainstream media is most culpable, including FOX, CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS, which are closely linked with other businesses that profit from war, as well as U.S. intelligence agencies. To this one must add certain powerful segments of Hollywood that create and celebrate films like American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty. There is also the Islamophobia industry that consists of institutes, think tanks, Christian and Jewish Zionists, and pseudo-experts like Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Robert Spencer, and Pamela Geller. There are also major ideologues in academia that promote the clash of civilizations thesis, such as Bernard Lewis and the late Samuel Huntington.
Many of us are easily swayed through our positive sentiments and sympathies for those who are suffering. Those who profit from war pit liberals against conservatives. The U.S. government and media use the suffering of women, children, LGBT people, religious minorities, and others to bomb those very people we want to help. Even if we could counter the violence of ISIS with violence, where is the sympathy for those people who have suffered in the U.S. wars in Iraq, Israel’s occupation and wars against Palestinians, or the Saudi government’s repression of its own population? The oppressed everywhere do need our support, but this almost never comes through modern wars, wherein the vast majority of casualties are inevitably civilians. Moreover, despite collaborating at the highest levels, the U.S., Saudi, and Israel have successfully polarized and pitted so many secularists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims against each other. Wherever we stand on the religious and political spectrum we must not allow those in power to deny the humanity and rights of anyone.
There is a crisis of violence in the Middle East, but much of it is the creation of the United States government and those individuals and businesses that profit from it. Those of us who live in the United States who are concerned about violence in the Middle East must begin by questioning the violence of our own government and the support we extend to it through the two party system and its chief representatives, as well as our tax dollars that go to the Pentagon and foreign military aid. If this country is really of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln claimed, then we the people have the right and duty to take it back from the corporations. Those in power use our own good intentions against us and other human beings just like us in the Middle East. It is time to no longer allow them to define Muslim nations and their peoples as terrorists and to no longer define the United States and its people as a terrorist state. Peace to one and all.
“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands tremblings under our violence, I cannot be silent.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Zachary Markwith is a doctoral student and instructor in Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He earned an M.A. (cum laude) in Religion at the George Washington University and a B.A. in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies and Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Zachary has given talks and contributed to publications on Islamophobia, nonviolence, and interfaith relations and is the author of One God, Many Prophets: the Universal Wisdom of Islam.