Just like every year, a month ago New York hosted the beginning of the international political “rentrée”. Heads of State and Government, together with ministers, diplomats and civil society representatives, gather in this city to confront ideas, put forward actions and channel world governance.
This year, the agenda focused mainly on the need to fight against climate change and the preparation of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. However, along with these challenges requiring a case-by-case treatment, the greatest concerns turned to the Middle East, torn up and adrift, increasingly breaking up and dividing. In parallel to the lively gatherings and meetings, the quiet halls of the Metropolitan Museum held the superb exhibition “Assyria to Iberia”, which, apart from its scientific and artistic interest, rightly recalls the historical and cultural bonds held by this region with the Western world. It would be advisable that political and military officials dealing with this region visit the Metropolitan exhibition and learn the lessons taught by that period, for it would help them grasp the deep roots and interaction between the Middle East and Mediterranean countries. Speaking about Mesopotamia, current Iraq, means evoking our deepest historical legacy in which writing, State, diplomacy, religion, trade, in short, power and the basic elements of the Western public order find their roots. Recalling Ur, Hammurabi, the Sumerians, Babel, Nebuchadnezzar or Babylon should not be odd for a Western thinker or politician; however, that Mesopotamia, as highlighted by the French political scientist Bruno Étienne, “was devastated” in 1992 with the first American intervention, and completely disarticulated by the Second Gulf War.
The 2003 American intervention is undoubtedly the greatest strategic mistake in recent years and, to date, no one has taken any responsibility whatsoever for it. Paradoxically enough, we have seen, justly and rightfully, international trials convicting those responsible for the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, but we are still awaiting accountability for the involvement in a conflict which opened the Pandora’s box of the collective madness we are witnessing in recent years and recent days in the Eastern world. Mesopotamia is again in flames and divided, but not between two rivers as illustrated by its etymology, but between communities and sectarian groups manipulated and directed by interests alien to the common good of a prosperous, modern and united Iraq. In the West, it is stated that the international coalition, comprised mainly of Western countries with the tepid and contradictory support from some Arab and Islamic countries, is at war against the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”. We now have a new English acronym, “ISIS”, which we must not mistake for the Ancient Egypt goddess, and is the main goal of the recent operation. Faced with this situation, we must ask ourselves: are we really faced with a true State? ¿Does Isis have defined borders? Which is its true population? What is its political and social project? These questions have no clear answers. However, the West is involuntarily granting to ISIS an undeserved political legitimacy, which those fanatics are seeking. We are living through times of confusion. In recent years, we first called out to fight “Islamic fundamentalism”, continuing with the struggle against “radical Islamism” and al-Qaeda, satanizing jihadism, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, finally arriving to a military confrontation against ISIS or, in its latest denomination, DAESH, an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Al dawla al islamiya fil Iraq wal Sham), phonetically similar to a term meaning “trampled” or “crushed”, used scornfully by Syrian rebels and some Head of State or another. All these “isms” have changed over the last 20 years and the Western society has used them one after the other based on the crisis or conflict at stake. Those are largely Western denominations and reflect inaccurately the constructions of Muslim groups of fanatics and murderers. The same goes for the alleged leaders of those movements. We thought that with Osama bin Laden’s death or disappearance, the Satan of Satans, the threat had vanished, and yet we now see appalled how the list of intolerant leaders wanting to “destroy” the West just gets longer.
In this sense, the thoughts of Edward Saïd return to the limelight, since we see again the West reinventing its “orientalism” and wanting to depict in its own image a region with which it has a deep involvement, but which it must respect and allow to project its future by itself.
No one can justify or defend the atrocities of these extremists, but can the international community politically and ideologically disarm these radical and violent groups? They seek to spread terror and desolation and polarise the complex relationship between the Arab-Muslim world and the Western world. Must we play into their hands or should we pursue our own agenda in order to do away with the self-proclaimed prophecy of the clash of civilisations?
The first question is whether we shall succeed in eradicating the threat through military interventions. The answer is a complex one, since in some cases interventions are necessary and may even be effective as a way to prevent general instability. In any case, in order to have full legitimacy and the firm support of the international community, it is necessary to abide by international law and be backed by a Security Council resolution. All analysts, experts, diplomats and politicians agree on the fact that the military solution in this confrontation of ideologies and civilisations is doomed to failure and suffering. Therefore, it is necessary and urgent to put forward an integral political strategy and establish a true political, and not military, coalition, with all countries and players relevant in the region.
Today the Middle East is living again through a deep rearrangement. A century after the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration, we are facing a profound change of balances. The problem is that nobody has wondered or bothered to think about what will happen the day after the destruction, division and fragmentation of those territories is completed. It seems the necessary courage and bravery are lacking to put forward political solutions to these crises. We are aware that without a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and without making the two-state solution a reality, the instability and the feeling of injustice will linger in the region. It would be a paradox that the 194th State of the United Nations were to be Kurdistan and not Palestine. The fact that Sweden, an internationally influential European country, has taken the decision to recognise the Palestinian State should move the EU towards defending and upholding the process of double recognition of Israel and Palestine by the international community. Moreover, along with the specific Israeli-Palestinian problem, the region needs to develop a collective security system in which all states take on their commitment and responsibility with the maintenance of peace and the region’s sustainable development.
We are probably entering a time in which borders must be redefined and adjusted, and cooperation and solidarity mechanisms established. For such purpose, it seems urgent that international politics and diplomacy start to consider and put forward initiatives which could be inspired on European Helsinki model; where allies and enemies reached out for one another and set up rules and commitments to ensure peace and mutual coexistence.
Military interventions and diplomatic agreements do not suffice to bring these worlds back together. Above all, it is necessary to progress through proposals similar to the Alliance of Civilisations. The United Nations blatant silence and the underuse of its instruments and platforms are astonishing. Without succumbing to naivety, since the Alliance of Civilisations would not have avoided the tragic scenarios and the public and publicised throat-slitting of innocent people, it would have been quite appropriate to listen to its voice denouncing and calling out for solidary movements of people from various beliefs in favour of peace and coexistence. The Alliance of Civilisations can and must work in this direction and has now a great responsibility in backing all reconciliation processes.
Opinion leaders and many information media make us believe that our rulers are brave because they decide to go to war. This bravery blurs and vanishes when it comes to standing for peace initiatives. And, for now, everything suggests that the cowardice of making peace is greater than the courage of making war.