Imagine where America’s wealth would be if at the beginning of the 20th century Mexico had seized control Texas/Oklahoma, Japan had grabbed up California, England the northeast, Spain the south, and the rest of the country was divided into small emirates.
What would the response of Americans have been? Certainly there’d be resistance and rebellion. There would be attacks on occupying forces and/or collaborators with the colonial process by proud, well-armed Americans willing to resist external control “by any means necessary.” There would be bloody battles and excesses of brutal violence where both foreigners and their U.S. collaborators would be killed. The response would surely be called “terrorism” by Mexico, Japan and England.
This impossible scenario puts into perspective the confusing rise of ISIS which most commentators simply write off as a mob of pathological killers motivated to act because “they hate our freedom.”
In the historical perspective supplied by the U.S. analogy, they are much more than that.
In fact ISIS is a sophisticated resistance organization that is well funded and administered. It not only resists foreign domination by any means necessary, it also provides day-to-day assistance for those impoverished by colonial process. In so doing it secures allegiance from many of those under its sway. These often prefer ISIS’ ministries to that of the U.S.-backed government, for instance, of Iraq. In many places ISIS provides health care, food subsidies, schooling and care for the elderly that is unattainable in Bagdad. These are just some of the reasons why thousands of Europeans flock to the ranks of the “Islamic State.”
More particularly ISIS might be seen as the militant wing of the Arab Spring that began throughout Arabia at the end of 2010. That movement in turn was Arabia’s latest response to the European balkanization of the region that took place with the end of the Ottoman Empire following the First Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War I) which concluded in 1918.
It was then that the European powers in a major act of “divide and rule” carved up Ottoman Arabia, renaming it the Middle East. The Europeans hewed out from a region previously governed by caliphs, sultans, and kings, modern “states” that in most cases never existed before.
In this way, the French colonized what they called Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Tunisia, Cyprus, and Lebanon. The British controlled Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, and Oman. Italy governed Libya.
After the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II), the U.S. took over as the stabilizer of the colonial New Arab Order. It maintained in power obedient feudal clients resistant to democratic movements. They ruled on condition that they grant access to oil, trade and seaports. If not, they would be removed. The result was enrichment for both the colonial powers and their royal clients, but impoverishment for the vast majority of local populations.
In this perspective ISIS represents today’s impoverished Muslim Arabs seeking the autonomy of the Middle East. Their goal is Arabia for the Arabs. ISIS is struggling to wrest its control from Europeans and Americans who have dominated the area since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
So it is a shallow mistake to write off ISIS forces as a mob of pathological killers with whom negotiation is impossible. To do so is to take one faction of a highly disparate group and universalize it as though it were the entire body. It’s like identifying Christianity with its most extreme faction, the Ku Klux Klan or the Tea Party for that matter.
In other words, there are sane ISIS factions with whom negotiations are possible. It is the task of diplomacy to identify them and to isolate the Klan and Tea Party elements depriving them of support. Bombing is futile.
The problem is: such observations presume a willingness on the part of neo-colonial westerners to cede colonial control and allow Arabia to belong to Arabs. And that in turn means weening western economies from dependence on Middle East oil.
For the arrival of that willingness and weening we should not hold our breath.