“We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”
– United States president, Barack Obama,
Wed. Feb. 18, 2015
In a speech on Wednesday, United States president, Barack Obama, said that the United States was not at war with Islam, but rather was fighting against “people who have perverted Islam.” He was referring to groups known as “ISIS” and “ISIL.” The acronyms stand for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” and the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” respectively.
Mr. Obama’s Republican Party opponents are pressuring him to single out Islam and attack “Islamic extremism.” The Republicans are criticizing Mr. Obama for being too careful in his rhetoric. The mainstream American media have focused for months on atrocities being committed by ISIS and ISIL in the Middle East, and also by the Boko Haram group in Nigeria, Boko Haram being described as a Muslim group.
There were two world wars fought in the twentieth century. These were World War I between 1914 and 1918, and World War II between 1939 and 1945. In both cases, the principal antagonists were Great Britain and Germany, and what they were fighting each other for was control of the rest of the world, which is to say, control of the raw materials/natural resources which they required for their industries and factories. France was an ally of Great Britain’s in World War I, as were Russia and the United States to a lesser extent. In World War II, Russia and the United States were again British allies, while Japan and Italy were German allies. France was again a British ally, but the Germans wiped out the French early in World War II.
After World War II, the power configuration of the world began to change. The leading antagonists in the world became communist Russia and the capitalist United States, who both wished to control the aforementioned raw materials/natural resources, and the Third World peoples in whose countries most of these materials/resources were located. China, which experienced a communist revolution led by Mao Tse-tung which took power in 1949, slowly became a serious world power, while Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany were allies of the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
At what point petroleum became the most important raw material/natural resource in the world we cannot really say, but a lot of this petroleum is located in the so-called Middle East, and most of the populations of the Middle Eastern countries are Islamic in their religious faith. An important oil producing country, Libya, is also Islamic, but is clearly located in North Africa, as distinct from the Middle East. Another important oil producing country, Nigeria, which is located in West Africa, is partly Islamic.
Within Islam itself, there is a grave rivalry between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of the religion. The most powerful Shi’ite nation is probably Iran, while the wealthiest Sunni nation is Saudi Arabia, which is a United States ally. The Americans are very hostile to Iran, whose leaders have been known to threaten Israel, the United States’ most important military ally in the North Africa/Middle East region. The United States’ most important economic ally is Saudi Arabia, which is the largest oil producer in the world.
Before we proceed, led us explain why this is relevant to Belizeans. After the Vietnam War, the United States dropped their military draft and structured their military, the most powerful in the world, as a professional one. This meant more opportunities in the American military became available for poor Belizean immigrants, who serve in the United States military and have fought in American wars over the last three decades in unknown numbers. But Belizeans who fight in America’s wars are doing so on a professional basis: they don’t really know what the issues are.
This brings us to Iraq, a classic example of issue confusion. Iraq has a majority Shi’ite population, but when Saddam Hussein ran the oil-rich country, he did so as the head of a political party which was controlled by Iraq’s minority Sunni population. Iran was being controlled by the Shah of Iran, an ally of the United States, when Saddam first came to formal power in Iraq in July of 1979. Saddam had been the power behind the throne in Iraq, so to speak, for several years before he actually became president. Later that same year of 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution chased the Shah from Iran and installed a seriously anti-American government. The United States responded by encouraging and financing Saddam Hussein to wage war against Khomeini’s Iran from 1980 to 1988. There were huge amounts of casualties in that war between Iraq and Iran, two countries which were basically Shi’ite.
In 2003, the United States decided Saddam had gotten too big for his britches. The Americans invaded Iraq, overthrew Saddam, and ended up installing a government which was Shi’ite, which is to say, friendly to Iran and hostile to Saudi Arabia. You see the confusion? The United States ideally wants a government in Iraq which is hostile to Iran and friendly to Saudi Arabia.
The matter of Syria, a neighbor of Iraq, complicates the situation significantly. The Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria is basically pro-Shi’ite, hence the various rebellions in Syria are financed by Sunni Saudi Arabia, and what you see now in ISIS and ISIL is the product of initiatives financed by Saudi Arabia. There are important elements in ISIS and ISIL which would have to be considered pro-Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein, you will remember, was hanged by the Shi’ite government in Iraq which was installed by Washington. Now, Washington’s major Middle East ally, Saudi Arabia, is financing Saddam Hussein loyalists. ???
The brutality of the violence in the region, and it should be noted that the ISIS group has reportedly now entered Libya, has to do with the astronomically high oil stakes involved. In this essay we have tried to give you an idea of how political power, which basically has to do with our mortal bodies, is mixed up with religious faith, which theoretically attends to our eternal souls, in the oil-rich Middle East and North Africa.
In the Christian West, we tend to think that politics is completely separate from religion. It is not, but Western democracies make it a point to ensure that Christianity does not appear to decide the direction of their governments.
Coming out of World War II, planet earth absolutely seemed to be in an ideological struggle between capitalism and communism. There is a different dynamic in effect today. In 2015, the whole concept of terrorism includes religious faith to an extent which requires careful study. Extremist Christians now want the world scenario to be described as a “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam. In his secular capacity, President Obama seeks to control the Christian fanaticism in American politics. In Syria, Iraq, and Libya, meanwhile, political power, petroleum wealth, and religious faith have become so entangled as to create a violent, bloody instability which grows worse from day to day.