In a world where news of fresh disasters is the norm, anything positive is worth cheering about. Especially when it comes from Donald Trump’s White House.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s departure from the world was widely welcomed, even though I have no doubt that some of his murderous acolytes who profited from his reign regret his death, and the manner of his demise. Even liberals have stifled their joy as the American success may enhance Trump’s electoral chances next year.
They say we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Me, I would happily dance on Baghdadi’s grave except for the fact that his remains have been dumped into the sea. Just consider how many thousands he slaughtered in his mad quest to carve out a “caliphate”. In addition, he and his sex-starved jihadists raped and enslaved tens of thousands of women and girls.
The Yazidis were easy targets for Baghdadi’s bloodthirsty horde: peaceful and largely unarmed, they were hunted down, and their women distributed and sold among soldiers of the militant Islamic State group. Had not the remnants of this ancient community been rescued by Western forces, Baghdadi would have succeeded in carrying out his genocidal plans.
But it was his so-called jihad against the treasures of antiquity the region is so rich in that infuriated all civilised people everywhere. The savage destruction of the reliefs and statues at the Mosul Cultural Museum, and dynamiting of the ancient desert city of Palmyra must count among the greatest crimes against our cultural heritage. Nineveh and Nimrud were also laid to waste.
Nevertheless, Baghdadi’s relentless war on culture and history still makes my blood boil when I think of it. The unravelling of his “caliphate” became inevitable as soon as he took and held territory.
This is the kind of hubris he shared with Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, the dreaded terrorist group in Sri Lanka. He, too, sought to carve out his own territory, and like the IS, collected taxes and organised a rudimentary nation state.
But countries don’t hand over land to separatists without a bitter fight. The American Civil War took hundreds of thousands of lives before the secessionist southern states were finally defeated after several years of carnage. And the bloody civil war that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 only succeeded because the two wings of the Pakistani state were separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory.
Ideologues like Baghdadi and Prabhakaran, intoxicated by early victories, forget that states are able to raise funds and armies, and buy arms at a level ragtag guerrilla forces simply can’t. The Vietcong were helped by the Chinese and the Russians; the Afghan Taliban by Pakistan, the US and Saudi Arabia; and initially, the IS was allegedly armed by an evil coalition of Western and Middle Eastern states. Once this assistance was withdrawn, the defeat of the IS was just a matter of time.
There has been no shortage of nasty killers who strutted on the world stage for a while before going to meet their maker. Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Pol Pot spring to mind. But perhaps because his cruelty and viciousness are so recent, Baghdadi appears to be a special case. His cynical use of religion to justify his murder, rape and loot attracted many brainwashed young Muslims from across the world to his black banner.
What is it about the caliphate that is so seductive to millions of Muslims? This archaic institution was relevant in the early days of Islam when Muslims enjoyed some semblance of unity. But those days are long gone. Perhaps some believers think the restoration of a caliph and the emergence of a caliphate would somehow bring back the glory days when Islam ruled a large part of the known world.
But these pipe dreams prevent Muslims from doing the hard work needed to catch up with the rest of the world. Instead of focusing on education and economic growth, they indulge in fantasies and conspiracy theories. So when a Bin Laden or a Baghdadi arrives, they think he is Saladin reincarnated to lead Muslims to regain their lost empires.
Terrorism is no substitute for toil, just as fantasies cannot replace facts and figures. Both show how far behind we are.
By arrangement with Dawn...