Ayman, when I mentioned spending time in Turkey, my point wasn’t that I was on the front lines of the conflict or anything. Obviously, I know we’ve never been at war with Turkey.
My point was that I saw the conflict from an entirely new perspective once I was outside of the sheltering walls of the United States. It was the first time I’d ever traveled abroad, and I saw the effects of the conflict in a more realistic way instead of thinking of it in the abstract.
The thing about the United States is that even though we’ve been at war for 17 years, unless you make an effort to keep up with what’s happening in the Middle East, you could easily ignore the conflict completely as if it isn’t even happening. There is virtually no sign of it in the US.
Al Qaeda was the pet project of Osama bin Laden, a young man who was raised in a luxurious home of grace and plenty thanks to the efforts of his father, who built his billion-dollar fortune out of abject poverty and was said to have been illiterate. Interestingly, this makes bin Laden’s family a capitalist success story, and a testament to the very system bin Laden tried by every art to dismantle.
When he was 22, bin Laden took up arms against the Soviets in Afghanistan, fighting alongside the US-backed mujahideen — or “freedom fighers” as they were called in the US — who ultimately succeeded in banishing the Soviets from their homeland.
Still, bin Laden was under no illusion that a common goal equals a friendship, and he despised the US for our support of Isreal and what he saw as geopolitical strong-arming on Muslim soil.
He further resented the US when his efforts to prevent us from carrying out the Gulf War in Muslim holy lands went unheeded by the Saudi royal family, with whom his own family was intimately connected. In response to a subsequent verbal attack he made against the family, the Saudis promptly revoked his citizenship. This infuriated bin Laden and his hatred and resentment of the US continued to fester.
Al Qaeda was the manifestation of bin Laden’s puritanical rage, the by-product of his wounded pride, the outlet through which he shrieked indignantly at the world, demanding violence against the US in response to what he saw as a war against God and, by extension, all Muslims.
After the 9/11 attacks left 3,000 Americans dead, the government commenced scrambling like a beetle for intel about who was responsible. Before the “5 Ss” (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) could even be established, the lid was clamped tightly down and the American public — who, after all, might still have terrorists in our midst — was effectively locked outside in terms of information.
From there, Operation: Fuck Everybody was launched. We tore through Afghanistan in search of bin Laden and did not find him. We are still there now, actually, despite the fact that 9/11 happened 17 years ago, the Afghans had nothing at all to do with Al Qaeda, and bin Laden has been dead for nearly a decade.
Still, had we limited our military campaign to Afghanistan, innocent though Afghanistan was, everything might have turned out different. Instead, we spun around and invaded Iraq.
I’ll briefly point out, just for the record, that the majority of the American public opposed the untoward treatment of Iraq, and even those who approved of it at the time have since changed their minds. It’s regarded even among neocons high up in the US government as a blunder, a mistake, and they only put it so nicely out of kindness for the party members responsible for initiating the illegitimate war.
The rest of us see it as a deliberate abuse of our power and resources by an untrustworthy government that was willing to sell us all out for some unspoken goal we weren’t even allowed to know about. Bush had became persona non grata among his own public by the middle of his second term in office. I was a child then but even I recall that people were even putting anti-Bush bumper stickers on their cars, so deeply did they resent him for plunging us into the geopolitical quagmire of the Iraq War.
Ironically, this unexpected aggression toward Iraq worked in Al Qaeda’s favor by soiling the US’s image on the world stage. No longer could we feign innocence in the face of death and disaster in the Middle East. Instead, bin Laden’s fanatical hatred against the US, once regarded as extreme and borderline delusional, now appeared valid. It was the end of American Exceptionalism. The honeymoon was over, the dream shattered. And there was no one to blame but ourselves.
Had it not been for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and total ruin of the nation, Al Qaeda likely would have faded into the irrelevant wilderness. Instead, it has grown out of the chaos in Iraq and elsewhere, spawning ISIS and any number of other militant groups and spreading hatred of the West like wildfire across a land ravaged by decades of war, tyranny, and oppression while the Tigris and Euphrates, to this day, run red with the blood of innocents.
I would assume that’s what people are referring to when they say the United States created Al Qaeda and ISIS. The accusation is, on its face, a conspiracy theory. It’s not like the CIA staged the entire thing because they have to drink the blood of Muslims to stay alive or anything. But the movement against the West certainly wouldn’t have been what it is today had we not inadvertently fanned the flames.
Call me crazy, but I personally happen to think the upheaval in the Middle East is ultimately healthy and necessary, and I say that as someone who has agonized over the suffering in the Middle East, suffered recurring nightmares from learning about it and lost night after night of sleep to grief that I felt very deeply.
You might think: “Oh well, you poor thing. How horrible that must be for you, who suffers not at all from this and who stands to lose nothing from the war.” But then, if you do think that, perhaps it’s only because you don’t understand how easy it would have been for me to agree, and just dismiss the whole thing as unimportant.
The reason I believe the conflict might turn out to be beneficial to the Middle East in the end is that its modern-day arrangement was set up by the British French imperial powers after the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago, and it was done in a way that would ensure the region remained too volatile to reunite into a new Islamic empire that would again threaten British/French interests in the fertile region.
Once the civilians living in the Middle East have succeeded in ridding themselves of the burdensome arrangement forced on them under the British and French Sykes-Picot agreement, only then can they begin recreating their borders in a way that reflects their interests. The only way this can happen is if the West stays completely out of it this time.
Preserving the current arrangement in the Middle East, on the other hand, is only prolonging the inevitable. And despite everyone’s best intentions it will do nothing to bring long-awaited peacetime to a weary region that has little else to look forward to.