Lessons not learned

The poison is basically the ideology of jihadism which has not been contained into the war zone in Syria and Iraq


The Islamic State (IS) poison is spreading worldwide, due to the inability of the West to learn historic lessons. That was one of the ideas suggested at the Valdai Club conference in Moscow.

The Valdai Club is one of the venues when Russian experts regularly meet their colleagues from all over the world to discuss the sordid state of global affairs, as in the East and West;it almost never touches upon the Middle East.

But this time, the Middle East has been viewed as a case, when regional problems are poisoning all of the world.

The poison is basically the ideology of jihadism which has not been contained into the war zone in Syria and Iraq, and gets back to the countries that maybe were all too happy to export their jihadi fighters to far-away lands.

At the height of hostilities, there were up to 60,000 of IS fighters in the Middle East, including citizens of 80 countries besides Syria and
Iraq themselves. Russian involvement in Syria has helped to liberate up to 90% of the population, now back to the government’s control. American efforts in Iraq left only one area in rebel hands.

But there are still about 20,000 relatively active terrorists in both nations. Also, the foreign jihadis began to trickle back home as early as in 2016, the speakers at the conference claimed.

Some of the returnees have launched terrorist attacks at home, but others are doing something even worse — infiltrating legal structures, like non-governmental organisations or parliaments, and trying to do relatively legally what they did in Syria and Iraq, step by step.

What did they do on the occupied territories? Simply speaking, they imposed, by brutal force, their preferred lifestyles on the terrified people.

They banned things, from bright clothes to watching television. And that is something the world does not know how to deal with. The question is why?.

Why are the British and the Germans actively discussing several cases of returning jihadis (citizens of the mentioned countries), who just cannot be legally barred from entry, not to say jailed?

My answer, inspired by several Valdai Club speakers at the conference, is: That’s because we have yet another case when real monsters have been used by certain governments in their attempts to crush
certain regimes, like the Bashar  Al-Assad regime in Syria.

If destroying Al-Assad comes first, then you cannot really say that jihadism is absolutely unacceptable, since it’s only second on your scale of priorities. All the ambiguities span from that conundrum.

It’s a small wonder that a lot of Russian political writers today begin to reassess their previous negative attitude towards yet another war, with its striking similarities to the Syrian situation.

That’s the Russian war in Afghanistan, ended 30 years ago, in mid-February 1989.

Back in the 1990s, our predominant political thinking was that the Afghan war was a tragic mistake of the Soviet government, at best.

But now, a lot of people tell us that while the Afghan regime of 1980s might have been a Soviet client and too communist in its fervour, it still was much better than its opponents, the Taliban and other jihadis, supported by the West (and China, and many others) just to bleed the Soviet Union.

Today, from 76% to 92% of Afghans say, in various surveys, that their best ruler in decades was Najibulla Ahmadzai, the one executed by the Taliban after the Soviet Union withdrawal in 1989.

He was a ruler of a modern city population and middle class, especially of university or college graduates, just like Al-Assad in Syria is today.

The jihadis in both cases were, or are, drawing their mass support from the much less enlightened parts of their nations.

But still, the West in the 1980s was actively supporting the “brave resistance fighters” in Afghanistan, because bringing down the Soviet Union was more important than fighting the terrorist ideology.

Likewise, bringing down Al-Assad was a task more important than exposing the inhuman monsters fighting his regime.

I’m reluctant to say that it was this ambiguity that gave birth to the current global jihadi movement, corrupting the Muslim world from within. Surely the process was, and is, a bit more complicated.

But in any case, you can always make complicated things simple. You can simply and clearly say that there is such a thing as absolute evil.

That evil is terrorism, as in murder of the innocent, and that evil is subjugation by force of whole societies to the whims of fiery maniacs.

Nobody in the world can use that evil for attainment of any goals, however important these goals may seem.

And, by the way, the maniacs do not have to belong to the Muslim world at all. Extremism, as we know, may span from any religion or political teaching.

  • Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories, as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.