From the horrific beheadings in Iraq and Syria to the death of thousands of civilians in eastern Ukraine and Gaza, the world has gone mad again. As we have seen in the periodic and violent bursts of history in the past, this period of insanity resembles the massacres of Bosnians and Muslims in the Balkans and the mass killings of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in the mid-1990s. The world system is unraveling at its seams and the powerful players appear unable or unwilling to stop it. It is tempting to come up with a simple cause and a single narrative to explain the ongoing carnage in the Middle East and the rest of the world. One can cherry-pick any group or issue to justify his or her position. The game of simplistic blaming goes like this: if you are a Sunni, blame the Shiite. If you are a Shiite, blame the Sunnis. You can blame the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar or any another country of your choice for all the evils in the Middle East. Depending on your point of view, people take turns in putting the blame on any one or all of these countries to explain away the violent outburst of recent history.
ISIS terrorists put the blame on Western imperialism and claim to correct it with a self-declared Islamic caliphate. They carry out their barbaric crimes in the name of Islam and Muslims without any justification. Israel puts the blame on Hamas, which the Netanyahu government equates with ISIS in Syria and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Pro-Iranian groups accuse Saudi Arabia and its proxies. American neo-cons see the Islamists as the main problem. The anti-Erdoğan Turkish commentators and their foreign networks point fingers at Turkey for anything that goes wrong in the region. The Saudis blame Iran and its sectarian and ethnic nationalism for the destruction in Iraq. The list goes on. These wildly contradictory accusations often end up obscuring the causes rather than clarifying them. They serve as a smoke screen to deflect attention from the real issues. And more often than not, they dictate the particular agenda of a state or interest group. The reality is that the issues are much more complicated than can be reduced to one or two reasons.
Take the example of ISIS. The rise of ISIS was preceded and prepared by the failure of the international community to act in unison and decisively in Syria. Months of hesitation and wavering gave the Assad regime and its primary supporters the time and the political space they needed to consolidate Assad's power. The result has been the death of more than 200,000 people, millions of refugees and an immense political and security vacuum, which was filled by ISIS and its likes. A similar mistake was repeated in Iraq where the Maliki government brought that country to the verge of total destruction before the watchful eyes of the world's powers. Its sectarian and exclusivist policies created divisions that went beyond the Iraqi borders. It is only after four years of mayhem that the world has reached a consensus on the urgent need for a post-Maliki Iraq. But in the meantime, ISIS and its supporters have made so many advances that they now practically control half of Iraq with huge arsenals of weaponry and ammunition as well as new recruits.
It is easy to put the blame on one country or factor in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Ukraine or Nigeria. But it is the collective failure of the international actors that has created the political and security vacuum that has undermined numerous regional and international initiatives to stop the bloodshed in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, Egypt and elsewhere. It is a fatal mistake to think that one can protect one's own interest at the expense of others' national interests and strategic priorities.
The way out of this conundrum is to forge a new regional and global consensus to get rid of the Assad regime in Syria and establish an inclusive and effective government in Iraq. After three years of intense war and immense destruction, the key players including the U.S. and the Gulf countries are finally coming to an agreement on these two central issues. ISIS terrorism must be stopped but this cannot be done without removing the Assad regime and establishing a national unity government in Syria.
In Iraq, Haydar al-Ibadi has a chance to form a new government that will address the concerns of Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen and other Shiite groups. Once the Sunnis and other resistance groups in Mosul see some light in Baghdad, they themselves will get rid of terrorist elements that have infiltrated and taken over their cities. It all requires a concerted effort with a vision of regional security, stability and prosperity. But time is of the essence here. Any further delays in reaching this consensus will give the troublemakers more time and space to continue with their acts of division and destruction.
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