US-Saudi Alliance Fragments the Middle East (2/2)
The consequences of US meddling and Saudi Wahhabism have decimated Iraq and pitted multiple Middle East groups against the other, says independent journalist Rania Khalek
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. This is part two of my interview with Rania Khalek. In part one, we discussed her reporting on the Yezidis in Iraq. After suffering mass atrocities at the hands of ISIS the Yazidis now face oppression under the Kurds. In Part two, we discuss the Yezidis in the broader Middle East context. Rania Khalek is an independent Journalist and host of the podcast, Unauthorized Disclosure.
I’m just struck by how every time we talk about somebody’s suffering in that region, it’s just impossible to divorce it from its wider context, its history. I mean, we can criticize the Kurds for carrying out repression now but then of course we have to keep in mind that they face their own past of repression, too. Under Saddam and the repression that they suffered under Saddam was supported of course by the U.S. So, you have now just this constant cycle where people who are coming from their own past experiences of trauma and repression now committing it against others, against groups under their rule, like with the Yazidis and with the Kurds.
RANIA KHALEK: No, exactly, and at the end of the day, it kind of goes to the outside players who continue to meddle in the region. They just create a more violent, more toxic region where the conditions are fomented for more sectarianism, for more hatred, for more atrocities, one group against another.
And you know, I didn’t really get to this in my piece, but now you have a situation because of what happened with ISIS, and we can also say ISIS, the outcome of ISIS existing, is a direct result of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. You could say that Al Qaeda would never have come to Iraq. You never would have had ISIS had the U.S. not opened the floodgates when it intervened in that country in the way it intervened.
And so, now, you have a situation now where Yazidis and Sunni Arabs who were able to live together for quite a while in Sinjar next door, being not just neighbors, but also friends, now hate each other. Yazidis never, ever, ever, and this is actually not just true for Yazidis, I mean, I’m talking like minority communities in general in Iraq, they now kind of harbor this hatred for Sunni Arabs because of what ISIS did to them and in some cases, it was their neighbors who turned on them when ISIS came. So, people that they knew, people that were even friends with. And so, now there is this trauma and this distrust between Sunni Arabs and Yazidis and they probably won’t be able to live together for a very, very long time.
At the same time, the Kurdistan regional government is using the ISIS atrocities as a way to kind of like remove Sunni Arabs from areas just kind of calling them blanket, calling them all ISIS and removing them and burning down their villages as they did in Sinjar. And so, now you have a situation where it’s just like you said, one community after another keeps being pitted against the other. And at the end of the day, the region is less safe. The region is a less hospitable place for people to live, and I mean Iraq is honestly one of the most extreme versions of this that I’ve ever seen and it’s the outcome of decades and decades and decades of U.S. empire meddling in that region and just using one group against another.
It’s worse than any place I’ve ever seen in that respect. Syria, Lebanon, I mean Iraq really tops it all. And so at the end of the day, I think it’s really kind of a lesson in why the U.S. should not be involved in the Middle East in the way it has been.
AARON MATÉ: Rania, finally, you spoke to Yezidis who survived and witnessed unimaginable atrocities under ISIS. What was that like for you?
RANIA KHALEK: It’s the first time that I’ve ever had to sit down and listen to somebody tell me about how they were gang raped or about they were raped at all. I’m not a grief counselor and I don’t think that I’ve ever, ever, I mean I’ve never heard these kinds of stories before. It was really, really shocking to me especially speaking to the women survivors. The most, it was really, really shocking to me, the kinds of stuff they went through.
In one case, one woman told me that the ISIS wife of one of the men who bought her, she was sold seven times, and one of the men who bought her, his wife actually helped him rape her. So, you have women who participated in helping to rape people because of their identity, because they were sub-human to them because they were Yazidi.
Hearing these kinds of stories, honestly, it really felt like I was talking to Holocaust survivors. It was really, really shocking and I don’t think that level of, like I said, the Yazidi plight has received a lot of attention, but I don’t think their genocide has necessarily received the attention that it deserves because all I kept thinking was how angry it made me.
Because there’s an ideological basis, an ideological foundation for why ISIS did the things that they did. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t come from nowhere. Its ideology is based in Salafism and Wahhabism and it’s an ideology that is the state religion of the U.S.’s greatest ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.
And that’s something that Yazidis kept saying to me that I never, ever, ever see expressed in any articles that I read about the Yazidis is they always, always say, “How come Saudi Arabia is allowed to push these ideas everywhere.” That’s where this comes from. This is who did this to us as this ideology. And they mention the Saudis and they mention the U.S.. For some reason, this will be in other articles I have coming out about this issue, but I never, ever read about this. And so if anything, hearing the kinds of stories I heard, at the end of the day, as atrocious as they were and as traumatic as they were to hear, what made me angriest is that nobody’s talking about the ideological basis behind this, which is a fascistic ideology that is tolerated because it comes from America’s number one ally in the region.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, and really on this front I have to point out, for raising this issue in the same way that we’ve seen supporters of Israel call critics of Israel anti-Semites. I’ve recently been seeing some critics of yours paint your argument as Islamophobic for pointing to the particularly dangerous facets of Wahhabism in the Saudi Arabian version which I found a very interesting parallel. I don’t know, a brief comment on that?
RANIA KHALEK: Well, yeah, so I think that that’s a really great way you just put it is if anything, the people who want to defend Wahhabism have adopted a similar strategy as we’ve seen Israel’s most excited supporters take views against its critics, which is to call anybody who criticizes Zionism or Israel or the policies of Israel, an anti-Semite. And it’s really sad to me to see people taking that strategy and applying it to the issue of Islamophobia. Especially at a time when in America, Islamophobia is at its peak. It’s at its worst it’s ever been. We have a president right now who literally got elected on hatred for Muslims.
So, it’s not something that should ever be, I feel like it makes a mockery of Islamophobia to try and say that and austere strain of Sunni Islam like Wahhabism, to say that criticizing that is somehow Islamophobic. It’s absolutely absurd. And beyond that, I will tell you right now, it is not just, this is the fascistic ideology in the Middle East is Wahhabism and Salafi-like Jihadi style thinking, which comes directly out of Wahhabism.
And so for someone like me, who’s a Middle Easterner, who at the moment is based in the region, I can tell you right now this is a conversation here that people are having and they don’t see this being Islamophobic whatsoever, and it’s really absurd for people in the West to be projecting Western dynamics of Islamophobia onto a region that actually does have to deal with groups that want to impose, Sharia Law that want to impose Al-Qaeda style laws. Because we do have Al-Qaeda in this region that does want to impose this on people, that wants to wipe out minorities, that wants to wipe out secular people, that wants to wipe out anybody who doesn’t agree with them.
And so I think it’s just really, there’s a lot of conversations happening among progressives in the U.S. about how it might be Islamophobic to be criticizing, like I said, Wahhabism and Salafism, but from my vantage point in this region, it just looks so absurd and so disconnected from reality.
AARON MATÉ: The term that I think Max Blumenthal coined, correct me if I’m wrong is “Woke Wahhabism.”
RANIA KHALEK: Yeah, [laughs] “Woke Wahhabism.” I don’t think people understand. It’s so insane. Wahhabism literally preaches like, supremacy. It’s like the Middle East’s version of white supremacy is Wahhabism. It’s like these Al-Qaeda groups, these ISIS groups are the Middle East’s version of the KKK and of these white nationalist groups you see in the U.S., and so if anything, these are kind of similar symptoms of something I see happening around the globe which is this sort of rise of fascism, but we always have to remember that in the Middle East, in the context of the Middle East and even beyond the Middle East, Wahhabism isn’t rising naturally. Salafism isn’t rising naturally. Saudi Arabia has spent a hundred billion dollars plus over the past several decades with the U.S.’s approval and participation supporting this ideology in Muslim communities around the world. And this is something we need to be talking about or else we end up conceding the conversation about these issues to the far Right, which is just going to blanket brush every single Muslim as being a part of the Wahhabi style doctrine, which isn’t true.
And so, I think that this is a conversation that the Left needs to be having. It needs to be on the forefront of because at the end of the day, Wahhabism is really just a tool of American imperialism because the Saudis don’t do anything without America’s approval and without America participating in helping them do it. So that’s something to consider when we do have these conversations. “Woke Wahhabism.” [laughs].
AARON MATÉ: Rania Khalek, independent Journalist, co-host of the podcast, Unauthorized Disclosure. Her new piece for Alternate’s Grayzone Project is called In the
“Field with Yezidi Fighters, Tales of Genocide at ISIS’s Hands and More Conflicts to Come.” Rania, thank you.
RANIA KHALEK: Thanks, Aaron for having me on.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.