Empowering Extremists

We Westerners, in the smug comfort of our technological complexity (which must surely equate to ‘superiority’ but whose inherent fatal flaw of resting on the quicksand of environmental degradation and cultural-historical blindness) cannot solve the international problems we face because we insist on rejecting our role in creating those problems.


It is “impossible to explain” anything “extracted from [the] large context of which it is simultaneously built and prisoner,” as Fernand Braudel noted. Washington war party fanatics worry about ISIS “terrorists,” while ISIS strategists proclaim their goal to be the freeing of the Arab nation from harmful boundaries brutally imposed by equally terrorist colonialists for the precise purpose of provoking internal upheaval so as to render Arabs impotent. How can anyone imagine that so long as the new Islamic State remains the sole voice for rejecting still quite effective colonialism and restoring the historical prominence of the Arab nation that the Islamic State will not achieve a certain popularity among frustrated Arab patriots. Yes, it is a state founded on terrorism, terrorism fully as evil as that of we practiced against America’s First Nations or that Israel practices against Palestinians, but what expanding power does not stress success over morality?

By focusing on our antagonist’s means rather than his goals, we condemn ourselves to misunderstanding the source of his power. The just-proclaimed “Islamic State” must be given credit for addressing the wrong of Mideast borders imposed by outsiders for outsiders. These borders are the symbol of a regional political system designed for the convenience, for the profit of the West, not the Arabs. The rapid expansion of the IS must be understood in the long historical context in which it was built.

The IS success must also be understood in the more recent historical context of what, even to educated Westerners–much less to Arabs, appeared to be exactly what George Bush called it – a “crusade,” yet another Western crusade against Islam, against politically active Arab patriots. The West ironically had the opportunity to escape from the dark shadow of the Neo-Con crusade when democracy broke out in Tahrir Square, but even the long, brutal occupation of Iraq was not quite bad enough to pull the West out of its cultural-historical blindness. One might have supposed, given the record of U.S. military failure in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq that Washington decision-makers would have jumped at the chance of supporting moderate Arab democrats who had no obvious desire to take an anti-American stance, but no, in the end we remained prisoner of our own biases and turned against precisely the sort of Arab force that could have offered an anti-terrorist alternative to the IS.

It is true that Obama, to his credit, called on the Iraqi regime to stop mistreating its Sunni citizens, but in the end Washington gave that regime weapons anyway, leaving Iraqi Sunnis nowhere else to go but the new, nasty Islamic State.

Prisoner of our biases, our historical blindness, whatever happens to the Islamic State, the problem of Arab demands for justice will not go away because those demands are not being addressed. Arabs are imprisoned in their history and will remain there, frequently and violently protesting that injustice, until outside powers or some extremist (by definition) domestic force gives them their freedom. We, obviously, will not become willing to allow the Arabs to break free as long as we remain prisoners of our cultural-historical blindness. And, so, we have only more violence to look forward to as we insist on behaving in ways that empower extremists.


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