Washington and the Islamists
During the Cold War, the US acted on the premise that Islamists and other religious currents around the world backed it in its conflict with the Soviet Union. When volunteers coming from all over the Islamic world converged on Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet occupation, this premise seemed true.
For a while, 9/11 seemed to have damped down relations between Washington and Islamists. But in many cases, strong relations persisted between America and various Islamic groups, both in power and in the opposition. Washington continued to help the Islamists, even those in the opposition, in the hope that they may promote its interests if they accede to power.
What impact would this have on the future of Arab revolutions that are currently demanding freedom and democracy? Would it be possible for religious currents to hijack these revolutions, twist their objectives, and then use them to promote American interests, rather than the interests of their nations?
In direct or roundabout ways, Islamic extremists have a long history of helping the US and promoting its world hegemony. They do so by repressing their own people and isolating them from the outside world. They do so by distorting the image of Islam through their rhetoric, deeds and dress code. They do so by disrupting the natural course of relations between their countries and the rest of the world. They do so by drawing their people into pointless conflicts, conflicts that in the end allow Washington and its Western allies to have greater influence on Islamic regions.
To understand what is going on, we have to look behind the rhetoric. Take, for example, the Iranian mullahs, who used to denounce the United States as "the Great Satan". How often do you see Iranian demonstrators railing against US policies in the region? And yet, the US has done a lot to promote the prospects of the Iranian Islamic revolution. If you doubt that, consult Robert Dreyfuss's 1981 book Hostage to Khomeini, which makes quite a few shocking revelations about the nature of US-Iranian relations. In that book, Dreyfuss concludes that the Carter administration actively helped the Islamists bring down the Shah and continued to make deals with them behind the scenes.
A similar story has also unfolded over the Iranian nuclear programme. According to the Iranian ambassador to the UK, Iran helped the US establish calm in Iraq ahead of elections in that country. Also, in response to a US request, Tehran played a crucial role in defusing the crisis involving Shia leader Moqtada Al-Sadr.
Iran's interest in helping the US is understandable, for it is hoping that the Americans would look the other way as it builds its nuclear capabilities and expands its influence in the region.
Since the US invaded Iraq in April 2003, Iran has been hedging its bets. Occasionally it would help the US occupiers, but with a view to promoting its own agenda. Or it would threaten to destabilise the entire region, also to gain concessions from the Americans. At one point, the Iranians sponsored a meeting of a group called the "The Organisation for Honouring the Martyrs in Iran", which ended up in a recommendation to send hundreds of suicide bombers to attack Western citizens living in Arab countries.
The Americans know all of this and yet they had no qualms asking Tehran for help, first with regard to Moqtada Al-Sadr and later on during the disturbances in Najaf and Karbala. And yet, it is not uncommon for American officials, such as Adam Ereli, the State Department's deputy spokesman, to deny Iranian involvement in Iraq. If Washington and Tehran agree on one thing in Iraq, it is to eliminate any armed resistance in that country.
The Americans keep open direct and indirect channels of communication with Islamists in our region. If in the opposition, Washington grooms them for power, so as to gain future friends. And it uses them to pressure the ruling regimes and keep them in line. If in power, Washington either tells them to do its bidding, or threatens them with sanctions and international isolation until they do so.