July 21, 2014
Tony Blair publicly denies any responsibility for the disaster that is overtaking West Asia. Blair and his publicity machine are attempting to blame the inaction of the present American administration and the British Parliament, which decisively rejected military intervention in Syria. Blair asserts that the war in Syria has expanded into Mosul and the territories of Iraq which are now under the control of the organisation that calls itself ISIS.
I suppose Blair is right about the geography, but not about anything else. As prime minister leading a Labour government Blair presented the British Parliament with a dodgy dossier claiming that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was in possession of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which could be deployed against Britain in a matter of 45 minutes. Parliament gave his government a free hand to support the war in Iraq, which George Bush had all but declared.
The war succeeded in removing Hussein and in demolishing and dismissing his army. Bush and his neo-con advisers had made no assessment of the political dispensation of Iraq and had no strategies for stabilising the region apart from some western fundamentalist shibboleths about establishing a democracy. Bush, famous for his malapropisms and floundering grasp of English expression, probably didn’t know the difference between the Sunni and the Shia — or perhaps he thought these were Arabic pronunciations of ‘Sonny’ and ‘Cher’. His armies and those of Britain under Blair’s democratic but deceitful diktat succeeded in killing the cat that had kept the rats at bay.
And now, Baghdadi and his murderous, crucifying crew have set up their Islamic State, the IS, and declared a Universal Caliphate, drawing fanciful maps aspiring to territories from southern Spain to South-East Asia and China. So not long then before the United States, Northern Europe, Russia and Australia fall under the suzerainty of the black flag?
Bush and Blair’s destabilising of the dictatorship of Hussein was only the second-last scramble in the region’s history. The coup which brought the Hussein entourage to power was the previous one and the defeat of the Ottoman empire in 1918, the dismantling of the Turkish Caliphate and the creation of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia by the French and the British, the ‘winners’ of World War 1.
Mythology tells us that TE Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia who had helped the Arab revolt against the Ottomans was a determining personality at the Cairo Conference in 1921 at which Winston Churchill and the French disposed of the Arab territories that they controlled after the World War 1. It was however Gertrude Bell, the daughter of a British industrialist and an adventurer who had extensively and courageously toured and mapped the uncharted territories of West Asia, who determined the fate of the countries that emerged from Cairo.
Both Lawrence and Bell were mindful of the promises that the Allies had given the Arab rebels before and during the War. They had been assured that they would be assigned Arab rule over Arab lands liberated from the Turkish Empire. The Hashemite Princes, kings without kingdoms, were now established as rulers of the territories now known as Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Prince Faisal was briefly crowned King of Syria and soon deposed by the French. With the help of Gertrude Bell, the young Sunni Prince was established as the king of the territory, which had a majority of Shia and Kurdish peoples, and from ‘Mesopotamia’ became ‘Iraq’. He ruled till 1958 when he was overthrown by a military coup.
The Caliphate that Baghdadi’s armies seek to set up is very different from the Caliphate that succeeded the death of the Prophet. The Caliph has been traditionally acknowledged as holding both spiritual and temporal power. Islam proclaims its universality and doesn’t accept the idea of nationalism, of belonging to a territory and owing allegiance to ‘king and country’. The Umma in the time of the Prophet was the civic council of Medina and consisted of the followers of the Prophet as well as of Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. Today the word has come to mean the universal community of Muslims alone, even though the newly declared Universal Caliphate doesn’t seem to acknowledge Shias as part of it.
The declaration of this Universal Caliphate is a fantasy enterprise. Though some disillusioned and brain-washed individuals may travel from Europe and other places to join the Caliphate, it is as likely to win over the transcontinental territories it claims as Santa Klaus is to shower me with a few Rolls Royces this Christmas.
The Saudi rulers, though Sunnis and Wahhabis and the supporters of this ISIS movement at its inception, are unlikely to countenance a Caliph who holds suzerainty over their Sheikhs, oil-fields and international wealth and influence in the Muslim world. There is no predicting whether it will be wiped out or whether it will, with some international support, set up a fragment of Sunni Iraq as a state. As a Caliphate and successor to the early Caliphs and the reign of Haroun-al-Rashid it doesn’t qualify.