The ‘Caliphate’s’ charisma and brutal state-building
The Islamic State Caliphate’s lightning advance across swathes of Iraq with strong Christian and Yazidi populations has led to 100,000 Christians fleeing to Kurdish protection along with between 50,000 to 100,000 Yazidi, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The Yazidi are followers of an old religion, wrongly claimed by the so-called Islamic State Caliphate, formerly ISIS, to worship the devil. Pope Francis has urged world governments to take action against the jihadist militants and US President Barack Obama ordered air strikes against the Caliphate.
President Obama was hesitant at becoming involved, but continued IS atrocities pressured the administration to act.
Finally, the danger to Christians in Iraq has been recognised. Christians have been in danger under the so-called ‘democratic’ pro-Western regime of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Thousands have already fled Iraq and today’s fugitives are the remnants of a once-flourishing community.
The fate of Christians in Syria was similarly ignored when the West supported Sunni insurgents fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad without considering their leanings or plans.
There is an international responsibility to protect minorities. Only plurality, and respect and tolerance of minorities, maintains regional stability.
The US has decided to support Mr al-Maliki’s Iraq government.
The success of IS in attracting support is because of its determination and ability to convince supporters beyond its brutality and ruthlessness. But how can such a brutal group attract support? It must have causes which have broad appeal including a cocktail of general frustration with the situation in the Arab world, a wish for self-determination and rejection of Western domination.
Frustrations probably date back from the mid-19th century when some Arab states were European protectorates or had limited sovereignty with control by European powers. Other countries, such as Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, were created by European powers at the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire between 1918 and the 1920s.
Promises given to the Arab insurgents against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War were never kept.
The Arab world failed to develop a self-confident identity despite Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser's ambitions to create a United Arab Republic in the 1950s and 1960s, and the creation of the Arab League - an association of Arab states.
European and later the US domination of politics is thought and believed by some Arabs to be the underlying reason for their insufficient economic, social and political success - despite their oil and gas wealth in some parts. There is a perception that they are being kept inferior.
This perception, which is to a wide extent correct, has some similarities with the mental state of Germany’s population following the injustice of The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 which ended war between Germany and the allied powers. Germany was purposely reduced and humiliated after the First World War. It was blamed for the war and had huge limitations imposed on it and was forced to make reparation payments. Some of the grievances were legitimate and this led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.
The word Caliphate dates from the early days of Islam, when the Caliphs controlled a world stretching from Spain to central Asia. It provided the basis for a high culture and the development of science such as modern mathematics.
The outbreak of the IS fundamental emotions was probably triggered by the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, with Western-style democracy rejected as a new form of paternalism.
This background creates a very dangerous situation and intolerance towards minorities is a typical symptom. A radical group, adapting an ideology, can be successful in such a situation.
The Western perception that all today’s problems can be solved by democracy is an illusion. Robust and accountable institutions have to be adapted to specific cultures and have to emerge. There is a need to look at the Arab world from their perspective and avoid paternalism.
Jordan, for instance, is a successful country, despite its extremely difficult position between Israel and the Arab world and a total lack of natural resources and wealth. Jordan has a well-rooted, open-minded monarchy with respect for minorities.
The Kurds need supporting. It is also necessary to help protect Christian and Yazidi minorities, although this was ignored in the rush and delusion to install democracy without considering minorities.
What is really important is to help the Arab world regain a healthy self-confidence and avoid enforcing Western-style institutions. Countries like Jordan can be a role model.
Playing political chess is dangerous, especially if the chess players do not, or do not want to, understand the culture and needs of the region. Only a self-confident culture respects minorities and strives for peace.
Only such an approach will halt the success of the IS. History shows that should the present Caliphate be defeated, it is likely a successor will appear in due course. Control of the Arab world by such ideologies cannot be ruled out.
The danger of the IS Caliphate is not terrorism but the creation of a radical, fundamentalist and expansionist, aggressive Arab world.