Leaving Istanbul, Leaving the Muslim World
Massive residential complexes rose into the skies as endless rows of construction cranes hung overhead as we left Istanbul for Europe. Until that moment, I had thought such large-scale development only existed in China, but then again, Istanbul’s population rose by one million in the last four years and nearly doubled in the last 20 years.
With Istanbul booming and Turkey poised for a leadership position in the Middle East, one is compelled to wonder what the future holds for the war-torn region. After spending time in the Muslim world and trying to define my experience on the Syrian border, I found some valuable insight on the “war on terror” by Mehran Kamrava in his book The Modern Middle East: A Political History Since The First World War. I provide an excerpt below.
Mehran Kamrava: At least among a significant segment of the population, hopelessness and despair abound. Add to this the crushing poverty that pervades most urban centers of the Middle East and unresponsive and autocratic rulers, and a fertile breeding ground emerges for extremist ideologies and movements. Political groups that preach and practice the most brutal forms of violence – Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, the Gama’a in Egypt, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, and the followers of Osama bin Laden in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere – are a product of, and are in turn fueled by, the dire socioeconomic and political predicaments of their larger environments. For these and other similar groups, the potential pool of recruits is endless. The less a person has to look forward to in this life, the more likely it is that he or she will fall for promises of eternal glory in the afterlife. That such promises are based on blatant corruptions of Islamic precepts matters little to those who are desperate for quick remedies. The yearning for immediate action leaves little room for reasoned discourse over Islam or any other ideology. The realities are harsh, and state terror is ever-present. The best solution, the only solution, is to strike hard at the state or, better yet, at its powerful patron, the United States.
Suicide bombers, plane hijackers, and self-described holy warriors do not come out of thin air. Nor are they, despite what some in the West believe, manifestations of an ongoing or impending “clash of civilizations.” And again, despite what some in the West think, they do not represent supposedly innate violent tendencies within Islam. For a fringe but vocal minority in the Middle East, terror has become the only viable outlet. It has become an instrument of both political expression and self-actualization. The reason it often assumes an Islamic tinge is that the enemy – that is, the state – is secular and non-Islamic. The politicization of Islam dates back to the 1960s and 1970s, when one secular leader after another turned out to be corrupt, repressive, and incompetent. The state’s continued repression of Islam, as in Egypt and Algeria, or its shameless manipulation of the religion, as in Saudi Arabia, has only further inflamed those whose religious sensibilities are offended. These individuals have in turn manipulated Islam for their own purposes, this time toward violent, antistate ends.
The manifestations of political violence in the Middle East are often both dramatic and tragic. And as demonstrated by the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C., on September 11, 2001, they now have the potential to spill over into other parts of the world. But the problems that gave rise to the violence in the first place are rooted deep in the politics and economies of the region. Waging “war on terrorism” must entail addressing the economic and political problems that give rise to the likes of Osama bin Laden. Unleashing the full force of the state to combat terrorism, and even worse the full might of the American army, is only likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Photo: Istanbul, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2013