This article originally appeared on Jacobin
Jacobin is happy to feature an interview with journalist David Barsamian and Professor Noam Chomsky. In it, Chomsky explains the roots of ISIS and why the United States and its allies are responsible for the group’s emergence. In particular, he argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq provoked the sectarian divisions that have resulted in the destabilization of Iraqi society. The result was a climate where Saudi-funded radicals could thrive.
The interview also touches on Israel’s most recent massacre in the Gaza Strip, putting it in the context of the vital role Israel has always played for the United States. Chomsky then turns to today’s racist scapegoating of Guatemalan immigrants, tracing the conditions that lead them to leave their homes to the Reagan administration’s brutal destruction of the country.
Finally, Chomsky shares his thoughts on the growing movement for climate justice and why he thinks it is the most urgent of our time. The full exchange will be broadcast by Alternative Radio.
There are few voices more vital to the Left than Professor Chomsky’s. We hope you read and share the interview widely.
THE MIDDLE EAST IS ENGULFED IN FLAMES, FROM LIBYA TO IRAQ. THERE ARE NEW JIHADI GROUPS. THE CURRENT FOCUS IS ON ISIS. WHAT ABOUT ISIS AND ITS ORIGINS?
There’s an interesting interview that just appeared a couple of days ago with Graham Fuller, a former CIA officer, one of the leading intelligence and mainstream analysts of the Middle East. The title is “The United States Created ISIS.” This is one of the conspiracy theories, the thousands of them that go around the Middle East.
But this is another source: this is right at the heart of the US establishment. He hastens to point out that he doesn’t mean the US decided to put ISIS into existence and then funded it. His point is — and I think it’s accurate — that the US created the background out of which ISIS grew and developed. Part of it was just the standard sledgehammer approach: smash up what you don’t like.
In 2003, the US and Britain invaded Iraq, a major crime. Just this afternoon the British parliament granted the government the authority to bomb Iraq again. The invasion was devastating to Iraq. Iraq had already been virtually destroyed, first of all by the decade-long war with Iran in which, incidentally, Iraq was backed by the US, and then the decade of sanctions.
They were described as “genocidal” by the respected international diplomats who administered them, and both resigned in protest for that reason. They devastated the civilian society, they strengthened the dictator, compelled the population to rely on him for survival. That’s probably the reason he wasn’t sent on the path of a whole stream of other dictators who were overthrown.
Finally, the US just decided to attack the country in 2003. The attack is compared by many Iraqis to the Mongol invasion of a thousand years earlier. Very destructive. Hundreds of thousands of people killed, millions of refugees, millions of other displaced persons, destruction of the archeological richness and wealth of the country back to Sumeria.
One of the effects of the invasion was immediately to institute sectarian divisions. Part of the brilliance of the invasion force and its civilian director, Paul Bremer, was to separate the sects, Sunni, Shi’a, Kurd, from one another, set them at each other’s throats. Within a couple of years, there was a major, brutal sectarian conflict incited by the invasion.
You can see it if you look at Baghdad. If you take a map of Baghdad in, say, 2002, it’s a mixed city: Sunni and Shi’a are living in the same neighborhoods, they’re intermarried. In fact, sometimes they didn’t even know who was Sunni and who was Shi’a. It’s like knowing whether your friends are in one Protestant group or another Protestant group. There were differences but it was not hostile.
In fact, for a couple of years both sides were saying: there will never be Sunni-Shi’a conflicts. We’re too intermingled in the nature of our lives, where we live, and so on. By 2006 there was a raging war. That conflict spread to the whole region. By now, the whole region is being torn apart by Sunni-Shi’a conflicts.
The natural dynamics of a conflict like that is that the most extreme elements begin to take over. They had roots. Their roots are in the major US ally, Saudi Arabia. That’s been the major US ally in the region as long as the US has been seriously involved there, in fact, since the foundation of the Saudi state. It’s kind of a family dictatorship. The reason is it has a huge amount oil.
Britain, before the US, had typically preferred radical Islamism to secular nationalism. And when the US took over, it essentially took the same stand. Radical Islam is centered in Saudi Arabia. It’s the most extremist, radical Islamic state in the world. It makes Iran look like a tolerant, modern country by comparison, and, of course, the secular parts of the Arab Middle East even more so.
It’s not only directed by an extremist version of Islam, the Wahhabi Salafi version, but it’s also a missionary state. So it uses its huge oil resources to promulgate these doctrines throughout the region. It establishes schools, mosques, clerics, all over the place, from Pakistan to North Africa.
An extremist version of Saudi extremism is the doctrine that was picked up by ISIS. So it grew ideologically out of the most extremist form of Islam, the Saudi version, and the conflicts that were engendered by the US sledgehammer that smashed up Iraq and has now spread everywhere. That’s what Fuller means.
Saudi Arabia not only provides the ideological core that led to the ISIS radical extremism, but it also funds them. Not the Saudi government, but wealthy Saudis, wealthy Kuwaitis, and others provide the funding and the ideological support for these jihadi groups that are springing up all over the place. This attack on the region by the US and Britain is the source, where this thing originates. That’s what Fuller meant by saying the United States created ISIS.
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