Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

The West is combating terrorist groups in Mali while supporting them in Syria, indicating the true nature of its intentions, writes Jeremy Salt

Al-Ahram Weekly

The French bombing of Islamist extremists and terrorists in Mali contrasts nicely with France’s support for Islamist extremists/terrorists in Syria. French President François Hollande says Mali had to be stopped from becoming an Islamist terrorist base on “Europe’s doorstep”. Mali is 3,237km from France, and Syria is 3,322km from France, so the doorstep difference is 85km.

Yet, while blocking “Islamist terrorism” in Mali, France is promoting it in Syria through its support for the Islamist groups fighting to bring down the secular government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. In the past two weeks alone they have fired rockets at Aleppo University, killing nearly 90 students on the first day of their semester examinations, and set off bombs in towns across north and central Syria, including in Salamiya, killing more than 40 people.

The population of Salamiya is largely Ismaili — heterodox Muslims who will have no place in the Islamic emirate that the armed groups want to set up. But let us not call the men who do this terrorists. According to the British newspapers, they are rebels whom the Syrian government simply chooses to call “terrorists”.

About the same time Aleppo University was being bombed, three men were arrested in England on suspicion of the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” in Syria. What led to their arrests was the seizure of a British photographer in Syria by a takfiri group that included Bangladeshis, Chechens, Pakistanis and at least one Briton, a doctor taking time off from his job with the country’s National Health Service to wage jihad in Syria.

If the British government was alarmed, it was not because of the Syrians being killed but because of the threat to Britain itself from these home-grown takfiris. Good heavens, they might come home and do there what they are doing in Syria, and that can’t be allowed to happen.

Like the French, the British attitude to terrorism is massively hypocritical. Politicians like Hollande, Fabius, Cameron and Hague express their outrage at crimes committed by the Syrian government or army while remaining silent in the face of atrocities being committed every day of the week by the armed groups. When British hostages are killed in Algeria it is “cold-blooded murder”, according to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. When 90 students are butchered in Aleppo, he has nothing to say.

The media plays its part by snapping up the claim that it was the Syrian government that organised the bombing of its own university, and within a day the story is forgotten anyway. The Syrian army had it right when it issued a statement saying the university was targeted as an act of revenge against the people of Aleppo for refusing to support the armed groups. We know this is true because even the armed groups have admitted it. Suburb by suburb, they are now being cleared out of Aleppo, Damascus and other cities. All they can do now is bomb, fire their weapons and commit massacres.

The Military Council set up to coordinate the activities of the armed groups exists only in name. There is no coordination at the political or armed level. The armed groups are following their own leaders. They reject the authority of the new council formed in Doha. This matters not at all because this council has quickly proved to be as useless as the Syrian National Council (SNC) earlier set up in Istanbul. It has no support on the ground, and the idea that somehow it can turn itself into an alternative government for Syria is laughable.

Events in North Africa are bound to affect how the governments that have sponsored these groups read the situation in Syria. No one knows how much money Doha and Saudi Arabia have already poured into this anti-Alawi, anti-Iran and anti-Shia operation, but much of it has ended up in European bank accounts. Many of the figures bribed to betray the government in Damascus have taken the money and taken off, never to be seen again.

Referring to Bashar Al-Assad and his government, Hague said that “their failed leadership is now the prime cause of the instability and crisis in Syria”. In fact, the prime cause of the death and devastation in Syria is the intervention by Hague and his friends. Hague even had the gall to say that the situation in North Africa would have been much worse had not Britain, France and the US intervened in Libya, when the exact opposite is the case. Libya is connected to Mali and Mali to Algeria as surely as the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone. Behind the ponderous Churchillian rhetoric and the gravelly voice, Hague comes across as a very silly man.

While fighting Islamic “extremism” or “terrorism” in Mali, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, the US, the UK, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been fuelling it in Syria. They will never admit it, but the only barrier against Syria being turned into a Taliban-style state in the heart of the Middle East is the government they are trying to destroy. Transition to a democratic order is not even remotely on the cards as long as the Western governments, the Gulf states and Turkey continue to back the armed groups — the “terrorists” as they don’t like to call them.

The French are now speaking of the “reconquest” of Mali. Britain and the US are slowly joining in. What is at stake is not just the rise of an Islamist “terrorist” state in North Africa, but also Mali’s phenomenal mineral wealth, which takes us back to Libya and why it was attacked. We still have to surmise the real reasons. Was it for oil? Was it to prevent former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi taking Africa out of the hands of the IMF? Was it to lay hands on the 137 tonnes of gold bullion stored somewhere in Tripoli, present whereabouts unknown? Or was it a combination of all these?

What we can say is that the “dictator” in Libya was simply the way in. The recent actions of Western governments across the Muslim world, often, unfortunately, with the collaboration of so-called Muslim governments, duplicate 19th-century imperialism at the high-water mark.

As for Syria, the International Crisis Committee (ICC) has described the humanitarian crisis created there as a result of outside intervention through the sponsorship of armed groups as “staggering”. More than 600,000 Syrians have fled into surrounding countries, and another two million have been internally displaced. Palestine in 1948 and 1967 and Iraq in 2003 have been replicated. Rape and sexual violence inside Syria is “horrific”, says the ICC. Frustrated at what they say is a lack of support from the outside, the armed groups are fighting among themselves, and, most recently, fighting the Kurds for control of territory close to the Syrian border.

There is widespread looting of public and private property, including factories, and profiteering from the sale of wheat to Turkish middlemen. According to a US State Department intelligence report, “warlords are a reality on the ground now… A failed state is the most likely outcome of the current conditions unless adjustment [is] done.” People are moving from one ruined city or town to another in attempts to get away from the violence. In Lebanon and Jordan, refugees are being flooded out of their tents by winter rains.

So what do we say in the face of this endless Western meddling? Vive la France? God Save the Queen? Hail the Chief? How many times will the peoples of the Middle East have to go through what we have seen in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and what we are now seeing in Syria before they realise that dealing with the West is always the kiss of death? How many countries will have to be destroyed before they wake up? No matter how much they may hate a dictator, a government or a system, they have to sort out their problems amongst themselves.

Behind the siren slogans of civilisation, liberation, democracy or humanitarian concern, what they get is always going to be much worse once the West gets its foot in the door.


The writer is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

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