In 2013, I was working in Afghanistan on a 3 year leave of absence from The American University in Washington, DC, with one requirement left on my BA degree. I needed to finish my Arabic requirement and it seemed at the time, to be a great idea to quit my well-paying job as a defence contractor in Afghanistan, and flee indefinitely unemployed to Sana’a, Yemen to study Arabic. I assumed the immersion aspect of living there would provide a steep learning curve that studying Arabic in a US-school would not. So I quit my defence contractor job, and ran to Yemen.
I arrived just after Ramadan, walking through customs and immigration at Sana’a International Airport. I was terrified. I managed to survive without a major incident — for nearly 5 months. During this time I studied Arabic extensively, one on one with a young Yemeni woman named Samira. Samira was an amazing teacher who could break down Arabic in a way only someone with such an inability to learn foreign languages as me could understand.
I stayed in touch with Samira since I left in early 2014 — mere months before the Iranian-backed Houthis executed a military coup over the country and taking over Sana’a. Samira tended to lean towards critical of the US, but like most Yemenis I met while there, they separated the government from the people.
Additionally, a conversation over the topic tended to highlight her open mindedness. A disdain for America was not certain. This was particularly so as my relationship with her included my extensive experience and education on global topics versus her having never left Yemen.
In 2018, I messaged Samira — which was not unusual. We were chatting and she began to make statements that surprised me for such an educated person. She insisted that Israel controls the US and the US created and controls ISIL and Al Qaeda. The logic for this was based off the argument that there is no ISIL in Israel or the US — thus, that meant the US and Israel created and controlled ISIL. Additionally, Al Qaeda and ISIL were created by the US for the sole purpose of justifying military invasions of countries.
I asked her why it was okay for Iran to send troops to Yemen. She denied that was the case. I subsequently shared with her half a dozen articles from reliable sources stating otherwise. She ignored them. I reminded her of all the Houthi slogan graffiti and banners in Sana’a that stated in effect, “Death to America, Death to Israel”, which was verbatim, the Iranian mantra.
She responded saying “The slogan should be all over the world until the Americans stops their stupid policy and stop their aggressive policies against Muslims all over the world […] you have no idea now how much we hate America and Saudi and [the] Emirates.”
My heart sunk greatly, to think about how in just over three years of Iranian-backed proxy-occupation, it is highly likely that an entire nation of peoples, have become indoctrinated with the notion that the US created and controls ISIL and Al Qaeda. To think that my brilliant teacher has become so conditioned to believe this left a great hole in my heart.
I reached out to other friends of mine in the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region. A Tunisian and two more Yemenis. I asked them how popular this notion is. The response was resounding — the majority of the MENA Muslim world believed this; and they believe it do to a combination of lack of education, re-education and extreme sectarian politics.
The globalized world — and the US specifically, is greatly losing the information war with Iran. The ability for Iran to create a concern of a nuclear threat while they successfully usurp Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon is astounding. We are likely in the 11th hour of the chance to turn the tide in the information war. However, if Samira’s beliefs are any indication to where the likes of Iran’s proxy-states stand — it may be too late.
Brandon Scott has 18 years of experience in Intelligence, Security & International Affairs. He currently resides in the Near East. To learn more about Brandon Scott’s Yemen experience you can check out the blurb on his upcoming autobiographical book about it “Jebels & Janbiyas”