The Danger in Dealing With Islamists

Why it has always backfired on the U.S. and the West.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States made the first strategic mistake by contributing to the creation of the most dangerous Islamic fundamentalist revival to take place in the twentieth century, or "The Islamic Awakening,” as termed by prominent Islamist scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The American perception of Islamic fundamentalism was shallow and lacking an in-depth look at history, while also being short-sighted with a focus on short-term objectives.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter who emigrated from Eastern Europe, was preoccupied with the Communist threat, unaware that a revival of Islamic fundamentalism would also end up reviving historical horrors that are best forgotten. The CIA, in cooperation with Pakistani intelligence, conducted the biggest operation in its history, with a cost estimated at billions of dollars, to counter the Soviet threat through a revival of Islamic jihad. Pakistani president at the time, Zia ul-Haq, had stipulated that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) should be in charge of the distribution of money and weapons to fighters in the Afghani factions, while forbidding the CIA to enter Afghanistan via Pakistan. These restrictions basically meant that the Pakistani Intelligence was pulling all the strings. The ISI chose its allies from among fundamentalist Afghans such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as well as Afghan students at Wahhabi[1] schools, who were later called the "Taliban" due to their affiliation with Wahhabi schools in Pakistan. Through the ISI the so-called "Afghan Arabs" first emerged, and in later years they became the nucleus of al-Qaeda.

On March 15, 2005 the U.S. State Department website published a report denying any connection between the CIA and the Afghan Arabs or al-Qaeda, and placing the blame squarely on Pakistani intelligence. The report stated that the U.S. did not “create bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but rather helped the Afghans in their struggle to free their country― as did other countries including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Egypt and the United Kingdom. The United States did not, however, support the ‘Afghan Arabs,’ i.e. the Arabs and other Muslims who came to fight in Afghanistan for ulterior motives. The ISI made the decisions as to which Afghan groups it wished to arm and train, and it tended to favor the pro-Pakistan radical Islamic factions. The Afghan Arabs generally fought alongside those factions, which led to the accusation that they have been created by the CIA.”

Yet, this statement is not entirely accurate. In fact, the U.S. has played an indirect part in the creation of Taliban and al-Qaeda. Back then, a US-Saudi deal specified that in return for every dollar provided by Saudi Arabia in cash, the U.S. offered a dollar in the form of weapons, and both funds and weapons were submitted to the ISI. In his book "The Main Enemy: The Inside story of the CIA's Final showdown with the KGB,” Milt Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan between 1986 and 1989 who was in charge of covert operations in Afghanistan, referred to this deal: “In 1980, Zbigniew Brzezinski - National Security adviser to President Jimmy Carter – secured an agreement with the Saudi King, under which Saudi Arabia pledged to match the financial contribution provided by the United States to support Afghani efforts. Reagan-era CIA Director Bill Casey kept this agreement in effect for several years" (“The Main Enemy,” p. 219).

The same account was given by Major General Mohammad Yusuf, who was in charge of the ISI Afghan office where he managed the Pakistani classified aid program for the Afghan mujahideen. In his book "The Bear Trap: Afghanistan, the untold story” Major Yusuf mentions the US-Saudi financial pact: “For every dollar provided by the United States, another dollar was added by the Saudi government. The joint funds, which amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars, were transferred by the CIA to special accounts in Pakistan under the ISI supervision" (“Bear Trap,” p. 81).

No, the United States did not finance al-Qaida or the Afghan Arabs directly, but it created the phenomenon responsible for the emergence of bin Laden and al- Qaeda. CIA and Pentagon experts took a gamble on the circumstantial success of a lethal weapon: armed jihadist Islam. What's more, they bestowed the title of "freedom fighters" on the Mujahideen. Swiss journalist Richard Labévière called this dangerous game the "Dollars for Terror" in a 1998 book published in French under the same title. Labévière Stated that the U.S. was responsible for creating bin Laden with the approval of Saudi and Pakistani intelligence, not to mention the part it played in the emergence of fundamentalist Presidents such as Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, Sadat in Egypt, and Jaafar Nimeiri in Sudan, who were friends of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and who contributed to the phenomenon of Afghani jihad and to the revival of Islamic fundamentalism.

Of course, al-Qaeda did not content itself with funds and weapons obtained from Pakistani Intelligence but had its own resources, receiving funds from wealthy Arabs and particularly from Saudi Intelligence, under the supervision of Prince Turki al-Faisal. As a result, the organization had substantial funds at its command. Ayman al-Zawahiri confirmed this fact in his book "Knights under the Banner of the Prophet" issued in December 2001, where he mentioned that al-Qaeda had funded Afghan jihad with two hundred million dollars in the form of weapons only in the span of ten years. It is also a well-known fact that al-Qaeda had funded the Taliban takeover of Kabul in December 1996, and killed off Taliban strong opponent Ahmed Shah Massoud.

As expected, magic turned against the magician, and the attempt to blow up the World Trade Center in 1994 should have been a warning to the U.S. of the seriousness of the phenomenon which was partly of its own making. But the American response was lax, even as more terrorist operations followed, with the most serious being the bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998, which left in its wake hundreds of mostly poor Africans dead and wounded. Yet, the Clinton administration dealt with the matter rather leniently, firing several missiles at al-Qaeda camps with little impact that failed to stop the escalating savagery of the militant organization. A few years later, the events of September 11, 2001 took place shaking the United States and the whole world, and revealing the extent of the danger posed by Islamic jihadist organizations.

With the onset of war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, American Think Tanks started to look for non-military alternatives to deal with the Islamic phenomenon and with the countries that export Islamic terrorism. Thus, the notion of an agenda of democracy was put forward in the era of Bush Jr. A connection between tyranny and the rise of religious extremism was suggested, along with the argument that internal repression of the Islamist phenomenon had resulted in the phenomenon being exported to the West. With an agenda of democracy, came an inevitable question: what if democracy actually allowed Islamists to gain power? The answer was provided by Condoleezza Rice, who expressed the U.S. conviction of the importance of dialogue with Islamists in the Arab region, and confirmed that the US did not fear the prospect of an Islamist arrival to power. Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the State Department, confirmed that the U.S. did not fear the arrival of Islamists to power as a substitute to the repressive Arab regimes which have muzzled their people, thus triggering the outbreak of terrorist acts, provided that Islamists gain power through democratic means and adopt democracy as a means of government.

In February 2004, the Rand Corporation issued a report titled "Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, resources and strategies,” which was among a number of significant reports that recommended the Islamists’ participation in government. The report recommended the initiation of a dialogue with moderate Islamists, and classified the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate group.

However, the prospect of Islamists’ participation in government with U.S. cooperation was unlikely to happen in the era of Bush who, after launching two wars on two Islamic states, was a hated figure in Islamic countries. This agenda was much more likely to be achieved in the era of Barack Obama, who does not believe that an Islamist ideology poses a danger to the U.S. and does not view the prospect of an Islamist takeover as a threat.

As the Obama administration, the CIA and the Pentagon were in favor of the participation of moderate Islamists in government, a need arose for a non-Saudi, Arab agent, since Saudi Arabia was an agent of jihadist, Salafi[2], Wahhabi and Talibani Islam. The choice fell on Qatar, the small and wealthy state seeking to play a role in the region, and which also embraces the Muslim Brotherhood Baron Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Over the years, by means of huge funds, and through the Al-Jazeera channel, Qatar had played a part in increasing the discontent towards the old regimes, meanwhile promoting and paving the way for an Islamists takeover of the region. Qatar has funded several institutions and Think Tanks that address the subject of Islam and democracy or advocate for the participation of Islamists in government. For several years, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Radwan Masmoudi and other friends of the Muslim Brothers and Qatar have been active in the U.S. and Europe promoting the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in government through ballot boxes. In a single year, ten major conferences were held in the U.S. and Europe, sponsored by universities and renowned Western Think tanks, to discuss the participation of Islamists in government—which raises the question: where did the considerable funding required for these conferences come from?

After the collapse of the old regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Qatar turned its attention towards supplying its Islamist allies with massive funds to enable them to gain power through sham, dishonest elections. Saudi Arabia joined the foray by funding Wahhabi Salafi movements to preserve its influence in the new era.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. was willing to deal with Islamic governments in the region, and U.S. officials made subsequent visits to the region. The warm welcome given to Senator John Kerry in the Muslim Brotherhood Cairo office signified the new deal, and Salafi Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a candidate for the presidency, described Kerry’s visit as a herald of victory and good tidings. It was not surprising, then, that Qatar was the first country that Rashid Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Party Al-Nahda, visited after winning the elections, and that the second was the United States.

In the past, the U.S. had supported Afghan jihad and reaped a bitter harvest in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001; but its support of a Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist takeover through ballot boxes in the Middle East would produce a harvest that is far more bitter for the U.S. and the entire world. These movements believe in the value of empowerment -- that is, to make a show of embracing democracy when they are in a vulnerable state, and when empowered, to pursue their ultimate plan which is the establishment of a new Islamic Caliphate. This may very well spark a third World War launched from the Middle East against Israel, the U.S. and the West in general, possibly taking a religious form, i.e. Islam versus Christianity and Judaism. That scenario effectively means that the United States is contributing, unknowingly, to the revival of the Islamic Caliphate, and the ensuing religious wars.

Starting with Hassan al-Banna and ending with the current leader Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood has never denied its quest to revive the Caliphate. On January 2, 2012, the Arab Newspaper As-sharq al-Awsat published statements made by Mohamed Badie confirming that the Egyptian president will not represent the highest authority in the country, implying that the highest authority would be religious. Following Badie’s meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader and P.A. Prime Minister, Haniyeh announced that Hamas has become a jihadist movement affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The U.S./Muslim Brotherhood/Qatari agreement supposedly guarantees that the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel would be maintained, the rights of women and minorities would be protected, Iran would be held at bay, and that the fate of the government would be decided at the ballot boxes. But who can really guarantee that these commitments will be honored? Did Hamas hold on to democracy after gaining power? Recent statements published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm seem to actually confirm these doubts, as Dr. Ahmed Abu-Barakah, legal adviser to the Justice and Development Party (the political wing of the Brotherhood) said: “The United States and its aid can go to hell,” adding that, “One of our parliamentary goals is to terminate the U.S. aid, because it is a means used to manipulate our affairs.” Deputy Brotherhood leader Dr. Rashad al-Bayoumi said in remarks quoted most recently by the German Agency that the movement will pursue legal action against the peace treaty, adding, “I am not bound by [the treaty] at all, and we may submit it to the people or its elected parliament to give their say.” He stressed that members of the movement will never sit with Israelis, and will not deal with them (Al-Masri al-Youm, January 2, 2012).

The game of dealing with Islamists is a dangerous game that can backfire with terrible repercussions. There are precedents: In 1928, the British intelligence supported Hassan al-Banna to counteract the popularity of al-Wafd party, and in return, its camps were attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1951 and 1952. Israel Security Agency, the Shin Bet, Played a part in creating Hamas as a means to counteract the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian leftist organizations. It was later rewarded with waves of terrorism that have yet to stop. Richard Labévière in his book "Dollar for Terrors" stated that the Shin Bet had provided support to Hamas to thwart PLO activities. He quoted former Israeli military governor of Gaza, General Saagaf, who said, “We offer financial assistance to some Islamic movements, as well as help in the construction of mosques and schools to establish a counter-force to the leftist and nationalist groups that support the PLO.”

Sadat was killed at the hands of the Islamists he supported, and prior to that, King Faisal, the prominent founder of Islamic fundamentalism, met the same fate. Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq was also killed, while Jaafar Nimeiri was exiled to Egypt where he died. The horrific events of September 11 in the U.S. were committed by those who received U.S. help in Afghanistan, while London lives under a continuous threat posed by the fundamentalists it shelters, and Europe is at risk of seeing its Muslim minority being either seduced or provoked by fundamentalists.

It should be pointed out, again, that to support an Islamist takeover of the Middle East will prove to be a wrong strategic choice on the long run, and even worse, it may be a launching point to a third World War which would be led by the same Islamists who seem to be the new allies of the U.S.

[1] Wahhabism is an Islamic religious movement. It was developed by an 18th century Muslim fundamentalist theologian (Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab) (1703–1792) fromNajd, Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abdul Al-Wahhab advocated purging Islam of what he considered to be impurities and innovations. Wahhabism is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

[2] A Salafi  is a follower of a Sunni Islamic movement, Salafiyyah, that is supposed to take the Salaf who lived during the patristic period of early Islam as model examples. Salafism is commonly associated with literalist and puritanical approaches to Islamic theology. The term Salafi has become particularly associated with Muslims who espouse violent jihad against civilians as a legitimate expression of Islam.

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