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20 January 2011

War of Terror: Non-fiction: No end in sight

Non-fiction: No end in sight
Many books have been written on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many more are in the process of being written. But, written as they are by American or other western authors, they offer the western point of view. They do not offer the ‘other’s’ viewpoint, which is essential to make a balanced assessment of the situation.
Dr Shah Manzoor Alam fills this need as he examines the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and their impact with an Islamic perspective in his meticulously researched book, War on Terrorism. With the help of profuse references to websites, books and newspapers he has argued that the war on terrorism was a fig leaf to hide the ‘American Strategy for Global Dominance,’ (which is also the book’s sub-title). This book should therefore be compulsory read for students of history.
The book offers a fairly comprehensive history of the two wars and their background up to the end of George Bush’s presidency. It is a faithful chronicle of every notable event that occurred due to these wars including Bush’s claim that God had commanded him to invade Iraq; the chilling stories of Guantanamo, Abu Gharaib and Bagram; the desecration of the Quran and General Boykin’s anti-Islam tirade which showed that, despite Bush’s denials, his wars were against Islam and the US administration was guilty of the worst kind of perfidy, chicanery and betrayal.
The book’s introductory chapter itself is a treasure trove of rare information. It traces the rise in US arrogance to the end of the Cold War and offers a rare glimpse into the American mindset, US domestic politics and foreign relations. Particularly thought-provoking is the discussion on ‘Islamic extremism’ both in is internal and external manifestations.
The author posits that the former, which started with the Khariji uprising against the Caliph Ali, has since burgeoned into a struggle for supremacy among different schools of Muslim thought.
The latter comprises groups of ‘dedicated Muslims determined to resist injustice and aggression’ against Muslim societies. Zealots in this group perceive the western powers militarily united to dominate Muslim countries and ‘destroy Islamic civilisation.’ In support of his thesis he gives concrete examples of how the West provides the grist to their mill.
The author discusses the religious, ideological and geopolitical factors that motivated the most recent invasion of Iraq. According to Alam, the US perceived the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union as its victory. This victor complex fostered the feeling of unrestrained power. While at the same time neoconservative intellectuals advocated ‘regime change, benevolent hegemony, unipolarity, preemptive war and US exceptionalism’ which George Bush embraced as the pillars of his foreign policy and implemented them in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Afghans ‘welcomed’ the defeat of the Taliban but the US and NATO ‘missed the opportunity to win their hearts and minds when they shifted their focus from economic reconstruction in Afghan-istan to military action.’ This disillusionment has led to the revival of the Taliban.
In a critical examination of the ‘Genesis of the Iraq War,’ the author discusses the agenda of the Bush administration and how the US and Britain invented deliberate lies to promote it, such as the claim about the weapons of mass destruction (which were never found) and the British ‘dossier’ about Iraq’s capability to attack in ‘45 minutes.’
One chapter is devoted to the grisly details of how detainees were brutalised in Bagram, Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib prisons and attempts were made to break their faith in various ways including by desecrating the Quran.
The author has carefully avoided the more chilling details of the tortures that received much publicity in the US media at the time. Nor does he record that US troops laid the dead bodies of two Taliban they had killed such that they faced Makkah, before dousing them with petrol and lighting the match.
Alam underscores the view expressed by many western analysts, including a national intelligence estimate, that the ‘Iraq war has become a cause célèbre for terrorists’ and a ‘recruiting sergeant for Al  Qaeda.’
And when the tide of Iraqi resistance defied all repression, the Americans engineered sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shias. The demolition of the centuries’ old shrine of Imam Hasan Askari at Samarra triggered a chain reaction with attacks on various Sunni mosques and Shia shrines.
The two communities who had lived together for many years in Iraq were now at each other’s throats. The result of all this has been the total destruction of Iraq’s social and economic fabric. The elections that were held proved to be a farce and Iraq remains destabilised to this day.
The author has also highlighted the Judeo-Christian prejudices against Islam, but he is unequivocal in his condemnation of the senseless killing of innocent people by Muslim jihadists.
The book concludes with a call for flexibility and a change in the course of American foreign policy as it welcomes President Obama with great expectations. But with Obama now almost duplicating Bush’s Iraq policies in Afghanistan, the author may perhaps wish to write a companion volume.
Book Reviewed by By S.G. Jilanee
War on Terrorism or American Strategy for Global Dominance,  
(TERRORISM), By  Manzoor Alam, Vantage Press, New York, ISBN 978-0-533-16183-6, 407pp. $18.95