By Johan Galtung
Kuala Lumpur, International Islamic University of Malaysia, 19 Aug 2014
Nothing good. But let us have a look at it in the standard peace studies way: Diagnosis – analyzing, Prognosis – forecasting, and Therapy – remedies, even solutions.
“Israel-Palestine” is the discourse Tel Aviv-Washington prefers. They have all the strong cards: overwhelming military power, political veto in the United Nations Security Council, the economic upper hand in interlocking economies – not just oil cash from Saudi Arabia-Qatar–and the idea of working for a solution with Washington as “mediator” – only the U.S. can bring the two together, gently or roughly–toward a sustainable peace.
A great distance from reality is needed to believe in that spin.
USA and Israel are interlocked by a much deeper tie: they came into being in the same way; flagging a divine mandate for a land without a people for a people without a land. Goes one goes the other.
Palestine is also part of something much bigger than itself: the Arab people with its tortured history of 500 years of colonialism and imperialism, and the religion of Islam. Two nationalisms, carried by Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, both potentially giving rise to a much bigger state, Arabia (not only Saudi), and to a region, the Islamic Umma, beyond an organization of the Islamic Community (of states).
USA is co-responsible for the current Israeli genocide in Gaza and seen as such by most of the world. Hate one hate the other.
Israeli expansion implies conflict with neighbors and their neighbors into the Arab-Muslim worlds. Your problems are my problems say the USA. So far. But one layer deeper is the US hyphenation of Judaism and Christianity to Judaeo-Christianity, leaving out the third Abrahamic religion. The stark reality is three religions hating and killing each other through millennia – but the hyphen, like in Israel-USA, calls for an alliance of 2 against 1. And that is a political program.
Add to this the three imperialisms suffered by the Arab nation: 1) Four centuries Ottoman Empire; 2) four decades English-French imperialism from Sykes-Picot to Nasser; 3) US-Israeli imperialism to make the Middle East region safe for Israel and democracy. However, democracy is rule by the consent of the ruled, not colonialism-imperialism by the consent – so far – of the demos in the rulers, USA and Israel.
The collisions are massive, involving ever more of the huge Muslim part of the world beyond the Arab part. How will this evolve?
More fear, more hatred; more terrorism, more state terrorism. USA-Israel will probably keep the military superiority for some time. But much else is happening. Both are heading downhill in the sense of losing the support they had. USA is losing its world hegemony – even within NATO where Germany de facto is siding more with Russia than with the USA over Ukraine – and Israel by its fall from the moral high grounds into the immoral abyss even among the many deeply touched by the shoa.
Israel aggravates its own situation by gluing the etiquette “anti-Semitic” to its increasingly numerous and powerful critics.
But where are the Arab and Muslim worlds heading? Not downhill.
The Ottoman Empire was a relatively benign Sunni “family of nations” with a caliphate also centered in Istanbul. No effort to recreate an Arabia ruled by Turkey is acceptable to the Arab nation. But also unacceptable is Sykes-Picot Western colonialism with four colonies or “mandates”; Iraq-Palestine, Syria-Lebanon.
Blindness, ignorance or stupidity is needed to be surprised at the Islamic State (IS). Sykes-Picot could not stand, but the US invasion from 2003 reified those artificial creations, one of them in the meantime divided by the UK into Israel – rump Palestine – Jordan. IS was highly predictable: extremist brutality bred by oppression, and a vision: An ottoman empire with a caliphate without a special role for Turkey.
Without Sykes-Picot no Balfour, without Balfour no Israel. The Ottoman Empire had no Israel. A problem of USA-Israel’s own making.
Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books 21 Aug 2014 points to a third of Syria and a quarter of Iraq, with a population beyond Denmark, quickly conquered, heading for Baghdad and Damascus – the capitals of two major Islamic dynasties.
Assad may fall, so may al-Maliki’s successor(s). Al Qaeda will join IS. Their problem is Iran and the Kurds, possibly with US-engineered wars that may unravel as such. We will soon see.
Imagine IS conquering Baghdad, what happens to the megalomaniac US embassy? IS uses Saddam Hussein assets like the Tikrit clan and his military. But Saddam reified Sykes-Picot as Iraq’s ruler installed by the USA till he turned against them in 1988 in the Arab-Persian Gulf.
Anyhow, stop the present IS and a new will emerge out of the same Arab nation holism and dialectic; much stronger forces in the longer run than USA-Israel on a downhill slope with the USA possibly heading for racist fascism at home and abroad. But how about Islam?
There ar two major factors in its favor.
The counter-cyclical pendulum between Christian and Islamic dominance – up for one means down for the other being so similar – is moving from the Christian-secular toward the Islamic pole. One factor is Islam’s message of togetherness and sharing, very attractive to the victims of egocentrism, greed and inequality in the Western world.
Add to that something similar to the IS factor: the long term move toward an Islamic umma, not a state system ruled by kings-emirs-sultans, even against the shahada.
And who created so much of that state system? The West, through its colonialism.
What we witness today is not only IS but all over Muslim youth trying to be the umma, uniting across even colonial borders, between Iraq and Syria–like the Tutsi bridge between anglophone, francophone and afrophone Africa. Be the future you want.
Solutions beyond USA-Israel going down and the Arab-Muslim worlds up? Yes: dialogue, searching together for how all four could become masters in their own house and only that. The challenge of the century.