An Essay on Conflict in the Middle East

An Essay on Conflict in the Middle East

When it comes to Islamic terrorism, the problem is not Muslims in general, or all Muslims, but Arab Muslim extremists in the Middle East. Significantly, the issue is specific ethnic groups from a particular part of the world (Sunni Arab Muslims from Syria, Iraq, and the Levant), rather than “Islam,” in and of itself.

Islam as an ethos and its terrorism are far more complicated than simply “Muslims attack non-Muslims,” though this is often how we perceive the issue. Many or most Muslims are being victimized by the same people that we in the West are; being forced into silence through violent intimidation, forced to pretend to be radical to survive because the Islamic State (ISIS) kills over minor deviation. [1]


Prior to the Iranian revolution, the population centers of Iran were beginning to look a lot like the West. [2] At that time, it was not uncommon for the upper-class families to send their children to schools in the West. I will not speculate about the extent to which this was contrived by the West, or by the CIA or commercial interests, but the revolution replaced a secular dictatorship with a religious one. The religious dictatorship does not seem any more inclined to share its wealth with the underclass than the secular dictatorship did.

In Syria, we are witnessing a similar revolution, only this time American foreign policy appears to endeavour to take the side of the people, even if it is not clear that the people will benefit in the long run. The entire Middle East has served as a pawn in struggles of the Cold War and others since, but its usefulness in that regard has diminished. So, too, has its usefulness for mineral resources.

With new discoveries of oil under the oceans, in Canada, in the arctic, coupled with reduced consumption in industrialized countries, the nations of the Middle East have seen their incomes decline sharply. [3] This has adversely affected countries elsewhere, such as Venezuela, but the Middle East is unique in not having many other income-producing activities to fall back on. [4]

Poverty, particularly when there are significant gaps between the richest and the poorest in society, is part of the formula for unrest. Importantly, populist movements may arise during times of unrest, often exacerbating the situation in certain manners and alleviating it in others. Such movements can, as we have seen recently, come in the form of non-traditional political candidates (Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders), or substantial swings in public opinion (Brexit), or revolutionary political movements (Communism in South America), or sudden returns to waning religious concepts such as the Iranian Revolution and the toppling of governments across the Middle East.

Furthermore, Islamist radicalism, at its core, is a principally Saudi Arabian ideology (one might call it an export). It is also largely a racial supremacist ideology. The radicalism of Iranian Muslims was a response to the radicalization of Saudi Arabia. They both abhor each other, and have for quite some time. (It is important to realize that the majority of Iranians are of Persian descent, and being lumped in with Arabs [just 2% of the Iranian population] is considered an insult. [5])

The issue is additionally not truly about ISIS or Islam itself versus the West, but certain ethnic groups in that region of the world (again, around and throughout the Middle East) versus each other, and it always has been to some degree. The West merely got caught in the crossfire because the West is—somewhat rightly, at least more recently—viewed as a creator of, and/or contributor to, the chaos.

A fair amount of people assume that ISIS, the Taliban, the Islamic brotherhood, and other radicals which preach their sanctimonious nonsense in Europe and America are “normal” or “typical,” when in fact nearly all of these individuals and their methods of thinking are relatively new.

The Middle East has been naturally divided by race, religion, ethnicity, and class for centuries. The entities we call countries in that section of the planet were an invention of Western powers at the end of the First World War. That the artificial structures left by the British and French (predominantly) are still in place is actually somewhat surprising. But the remaining cultural differences present many opportunities to bring parts of the Middle East tumbling down. The destruction is so momentous that finding fingerprints for who is to blame for it might be an arduous, if not impossible, task. In any event, there is enough blame to go around.

middle east

War Genesis

It started with the Palestinian situation in the late 1960s. While a nominal “Palestine” existed, it was not considered a major identity or even a nation. In fact, 80% of British Palestine is Jordan, and the ruling family of Jordan is not native to the region. Back in the early 1900s, there was a civil war in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi family won, which is why Saudi Arabia is called Saudi Arabia [6], and also why their brand of Islamic hatred was able to sit on massive stockpiles of oil to fund their decadent lifestyles while concurrently signal boosting the most insane of imams who would have been arrested or laughed at in pre-civil war Arabia.

Skipping over the World Wars, wherein the Mideast served as a proxy battleground for the major powers at the time [6:7:8], I will fast forward to the war of 1968, where the nations surrounding Israel began to realize that they were unable to best Israel militarily. So, what did they do? Well, they engaged in the typical Cold War Era tactic: have a proxy war to last endlessly and tie up the world’s political resources on the matter. If you think that the United Nations spending a disproportionate amount of time on it is an accident, think again. [9]

The situation there likewise caused a massive amount of turmoil in Lebanon. Yasser Arafat was exiled to Lebanon with a large number of Palestinian loyalists who effectively tore Lebanon apart. In southern Lebanon especially, they went on routine massacres of Christian Lebanese and Shiite Muslims (probably more so on Shiite Muslims; something people following the actions of ISIS would be familiar with). [10:11:12]

Eventually, this sparked off the civil war of 1975 when a group of Christians retaliated to years of murder by setting fire to a bus full of Palestinians. [13] (As an aside, and to clarify: the Saudis have been a source of discontent and chaos in Arabia for centuries, not just their modern state.)

What happened in Afghanistan, the existence of the Taliban, or Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the whole set of circumstances was just a side effect of the Cold War.

The United States desired to take down the Soviet Union at all costs, and that meant getting the USSR into a conflict and funding people with radical ideologies who would fight them. Despite what you might think, the USSR was forced into that situation. The details are long and not important, but U.S. support of the Islamic groups fighting there ensured their domination when the war finished. [14]

Recall that, in 1993, there were articles in U.S. newspapers which described Osama bin Laden as a hero [15], and after 9/11, even Mad Magazine made jokes about the fact that the U.S. armed and trained the folk which they were now fighting. All of the events that are transpiring presently began as a way of fighting the USSR in the 70s and before [16], and we are still living with the consequences.

So, it truly is somewhat the fault of the West. The people who suffer from those routine massacres in the Levant hate ISIS about as much as they hate the Americans for essentially putting ISIS in charge. From the point of view of Washington, these tactics were fair game since they had been exercised by the Soviets in South America (among other places). [17]

(Speaking of Iran and Afghanistan, Saddam was another individual propped up by the U.S. with the intent to “balance out” the Iranians. Iraq was effectively a modern country prior to Saddam’s rise to power. Afterwards, once his power took hold, Saddam devoutly spread his insane racial supremacism. He believed that Arabs were the greatest people on Earth, and that Iranians were lower than beasts. So, Saddam was essentially an Arab Hitler. In addition, and as another aside, the idea of Arab ethnic supremacy is chiefly Saudi propaganda.)

Then Saddam obtained approval from the U.S. to attack Iran and started the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted 8 years and was the longest conventionally fought war of the 20th century. That war destroyed both Iran and Iraq and set them back to being what they are today: two formerly developed nations falling into ruin. [18] The U.S. subsequently meddled in Middle Eastern affairs when it gave Saddam (some people never learn) Hussein the go-ahead to invade Kuwait. [19:20]

As I mentioned, it is a complicated situation, and the West has played some role in it, but the U.S. is also not the primary target. ISIS wishes to purge all of the non-Arab, non-Sunni Muslims. They consider them heretics.

Prior posts of mine on this led some to infer that I was claiming the Middle East as the source for all terrorist activities, and that, naturally, is nonsense, since such tactics have been employed throughout human history, before the current Arab states (or Islam) even existed as we know them today. To examine the entire history of war would be well beyond my intent here, but I think it fair to aver that the proxy wars of the Middle East are the nexus of many modern conflicts, and that those conflicts have spread to other parts of the world as well. [21]

The “Great Powers” of the 19th and 20th centuries have created an intractable morass which has resulted in a slow motion [22] war of civilizations that shows no signs of concluding. I may be butchering an old saying here, but, when elephants fight, only the grass gets killed. When the U.S. and the Soviets were the lone nuclear powers, it became clear to some that a “peaceful coexistence” must be strived for. As modern weapons of war become more “efficient,” nuclear and otherwise, I dread to think what might become of the world if that sort of thinking does not take hold again. [23]

Preemptively addressing some prior criticisms of my argument:

  1. I) “What about Al Shabaab, terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, et cetera (not Arab-related), or Boko Haram in West Africa, Ansaru in (black) Africa, and North African Islamist groups?”

For these items, I summarize my retort as:

I never stated that Arab Muslims are responsible for all terrorism, just most of it, and Saudi Arabia is at the heart of the issue. Moreover, everything in the listed subjects above can be explained by the spread of Wahhabism decades prior. Again, related to Saudi Arabia. Only just recently, 28 pages of documents were declassified concerning Saudi Arabian involvement in the 9/11 attack. Of course, the 9/11 hijackers themselves were from Saudi Arabia, but the involvement of the Saudi government had been denied previously. [24]

Next, regarding Islamic radicalism being a Saudi Arabian ideology:

  1. II) “Not sure that’s exactly right. Qutb was Egyptian, and was hugely important in developing the contemporary notion of offensive Jihad. That notion is central to Salafi-Jihadist ideology, which I think is the strain most responsible for current Islamic terrorism.”

“Salafism” is a toned-down, censored, Sunni-approved term. It is Wahhabism. Al-Wahhab was Arabian, and the Saudis are Wahhabists. [26] So, yes, I truly do think that it is chiefly a Saudi-forged ideology. Consider that Saudi Arabia is a far richer country than Egypt due to its greater oil resources. Moreover, Sayyid Qutb was born in Egypt, and while he was an influential thinker, his brother, Muhammad Qutb, moved to Saudi Arabia, where his ideas became more widely known. It is considered a possibility that it was there in Saudi Arabia where these ideas first influenced people of action (as opposed to thinkers) such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, and, indirectly, Osama bin Laden. [25] As an analogy, consider that Marx and Engels were both of German birth, but their ideas found fertile ground in Russia.

           III) “There is violence in Malaysia by Muslims against Buddhism.”

This is an oversimplification.

What this refers to was a conflict between Buddhists and Muslims, started by the Buddhists, and it has not been relevant in decades. Though, one can find many more recent examples of Buddhist attacks on Muslims (e.g., “2016 Mosque Burnings,” “2014 Mandalay Riots,” “2013 Anti-Muslim Riots in Central Burma,” “2012 Rakhine State Violence/Riots”). [26] Granted, terrorist attacks and riots are not the same as mutual religious conflict. That is akin to comparing a riot to ethnic genocide.

Regardless, minor conflicts between minuscule groups of Buddhists and Muslims do not compare to, say, Wahhabist radicals going on Bronze Age-style pillaging sprees and forming a separatist movement large enough to claim territory and create a refugee crisis. So, the difference is a matter of degree or scale (e.g., a few dozen people dying per year in small-scale mutual religious skirmishes versus thousands upon thousands dying monthly in an ongoing and violent war of domination). Because Wahhabism brands other forms of Islam as apostate (in the Christian world, they might be called “backsliders”), the door is opened for Muslim-on-Muslim violence. [27]

Furthermore, as has been observed throughout history, young people look for signs of hypocrisy in their parents as a part of growing up and going out on their own. It is not uncommon for teenagers and 20-somethings to seek extreme versions of their traditional family belief systems as a way to surpass their parents, at least until these growing pains subside. For Muslims, Wahhabism and other extreme forms present just such a position, and because of its nature, there are limited options to “grow out of it.”

Finally, I might add that there is no group in the world which is innocent of oppression.

Oppressive behaviour is a quirk (or, perhaps, hallmark) of tribalism.

Article written and researched by Krista Milburn.

Artwork by Andy.


Resources (Last Accessed July 20, 2016):

[1] Muslim-on-Muslim Violence

[2] Life under the Shah: What Iran Looked Like Before the Islamic Revolution

[3] What’s behind the drop in oil prices?

[4] Which economies are most reliant on oil?

[5] Saudi Arabia profile – Timeline

[6] Middle Eastern During World War I

[7] Middle East during World War II

[8] Proxy war

[9] Asymmetric warfare and

[10] Yasser Arafat

[11] Yasir Arafat’s Timeline of Terror

[12] After 2 Decades, Scars of Lebanon’s Civil War Block Path to Dialogue

[13] Today in Middle Eastern history: Lebanon’s Bus Massacre (1975)

[14] How Washington Funded the Taliban

[15] This Mind-Boggling Profile of Osama Bin Laden Came Out Exactly 20 Years Ago Today

[16] Eisenhower proposes new Middle East policy

[17] Soviet Policies and Activities in Latin America and the Caribbean

[18] U.S. Secretly Gave Aid to Iraq Early in Its War Against Iran

[19] The First Iraq War Was Also Sold to the Public Based on a Pack of Lies

[20] Gulf War Documents: Meeting between Saddam Hussein and US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie

[21] Pakistan

[22] Massacres Galore

[23] Doomsday

[24] In 9/11 Document, View of a Saudi Effort to Thwart U.S. Action on Al Qaeda

[25] Muhammad Qutb’s Islam: the Misunderstood Religion

[26] Wahhabism

[27] Anti-Muslim Violence


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Krista Milburn

Krista Milburn is an interdisciplinary researcher, criminology student, and advocate for women and men with an interest in a variety of fields ranging from sociology to biology and genetics. She spends most of her time writing on sex and gender issues and general problems related to crime and the human social world.