Losing Middle East, one great city at a time


Mosul is free. It has been liberated at last, just as the rest of Iraq had been by the same coalition of the willing. Congratulations all around. So what if the ancient city had to be wrecked, to be liberated and saved from the clutches of Daesh (the so-called IS).

A CNN television crew that swept through what looked like a spooky, city of ghosts in the final hours of the battle became emotional enough to note that it looked unnatural like an alien landscape, like the set of a war movie. Only life is more surreal than fiction. Not a building captured by television cameras stood intact or betrayed human existence. It was indeed a city of ghosts.

Estimates suggest that the long battle to liberate Mosul may have cost thousands of lives, not to mention billions of dollars that are now needed to rebuild the city that has had a ringside view of Islamic history.

Amnesty International and other rights groups have warned that the tactics used by Iraqi government and its Western allies in the war violated humanitarian laws and amounted to war crimes. The activists also accused Daesh of “flagrantly violating humanitarian law by deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way.”

But, hey, who gives a damn what a bunch of stuffy humanitarians think any way? What matters is victory, no matter what the cost.

As long as terror is defeated and our ‘boys’ win, it matters little, if Iraq’s second largest city has been reduced to dust. Mosul’s fabled Al-Nuri Mosque, built by the great Nur Al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, who mentored Salah ad-Din Ayyubi (Saladin), the legendary Arab-Islamic hero and victor of the Crusades, has been reduced to rubble.

Apparently, it was because of its historic import that Al-Baghdadi, the pretender to the so-called caliphate, chose the great mosque to make his only appearance in 2014 and preach to the faithful. That may be why the 12th century mosque was recently destroyed along with its famous ‘hunchback’ minaret. Everyone blamed Daesh terrorists. They blamed a US airstrike.

Given the eventful history of the terror group as well as the illustrious record of the US-led coalition, you cannot put anything past either of them. But whoever targeted Mosul’s historic mosque, they had an uncanny sense of history. They chose the night of 27th Ramadan, believed to be Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Power) by the Muslims; the night the holy Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to destroy it.

It is not just Mosul. There is a long procession of such fabled and historically rich cities and countries which stand ruined today all over the Middle East. From Baghdad to Aleppo to Mosul and from Palestine and Iraq to Syria to Libya — the region considered the cradle of civilization — it is the same story. The Middle East has become a graveyard of great civilizations.

History has been repeating itself across the region, with a pattern and frequency that is both frightening and fascinating. Maybe it is merely a conspiracy of circumstances. However, there is a clear method in the madness being repeatedly unleashed across this ancient land, obliterating its celebrated centers of learning and art and culture.

That extremists, by their very nature, support and revel in such mindless destruction is a given. The destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas at the hands of Afghanistan’s Taliban was a profound tragedy and was seen as such around the world.

Similarly, the destruction of priceless heritage and artifacts in cities and historical sites like Palmyra with its Roman ruins under IS was not just a collective loss, it was a crime against humanity. It takes ages to build and create heritage like what proudly stood for more than 2,000 years in Palmyra. It’s nothing short of an atrocity to deliberate destroy it.

More than anything, the greatest atrocity that the fringe has inflicted on the Islamic world is its claim to speak for Islam and its followers. With their control over vast territories stretching from Iraq to Syria, they came closest to persuading many around the world that casual brutality and bestiality that they inflicted on their victims was sanctioned by religion. Their deadly antics targeting innocent civilians, most of them Muslims, like slaying them on camera or burning them alive made us all hang our heads in shame.

Yet they are nothing compared to the ‘shock and awe’ that the world powers have visited on countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of freedom and fighting terror.

Iraq, once one of the Middle East’s richest and most developed nation, lies in ruins, not to mention more than a million lives lost and the monster of sectarian conflict that the invasion unleashed across the region.

Next door, Syria has been at the heart of one of the longest running and catastrophic conflicts in history. What started as a legitimate people’s movement against Baathist tyranny soon got hijacked by world powers.

As a result, one of the world’s oldest countries has been totally flattened with more than half of its population living as refugees in neighboring countries. Libya, another oil-rich nation, has been in free-fall since Qaddafi was driven from power and lynched.

It is the same story everywhere. I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories. But you have got to be blind as a bat not to see the deliberate destruction of these ancient cities and countries, one after another, under some pretext or the other, only to offer to rebuild them later, with their own hard-earned resources of course.

First, they create these monsters to wreak havoc in Muslim lands and then they come forward to help you get rid of them, for a price of course.

Who created Al-Qaeda and its latter more fearsome version, Daesh? Who brainwashed, trained and armed these extremists? The truth is out there, if you have the stomach for it. And when they run amok and turn on their own masters, you know who to blame! Of course, meanwhile little or no attention is paid to the real drivers of this conflict or ‘terrorism’, until another deadlier version of Daesh surfaces.

It is a familiar game. Look at the current crisis unfolding in the region. Supporting this side with a lucrative arms deal and rooting for the other side with a defense pact, you keep them guessing which side you are on, successfully playing both sides as you go along. In the end, no matter which side wins, it is good for business. You know the routine.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award-winning journalist. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com