You may have heard that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has seized control of a large part of Fallujah, Iraq. Meanwhile, in Northern Syria, Isis, as it’s known, is not only ostensibly fighting with President Assad’s regime but others also opposed to it: the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front. In fact, BBC reports, a member of National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces said, “Isis is an extension of the Assad regime.”
Also, you may have heard that in December, al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islamd, a division of the Islamic Front, massacred between 20 and 100 Alawites, Druze, Christians, and Shiites in Adra, Syria, complete with beheadings and the attendant necrophilia we’ve all grown to know and love with Sunni Islamist extremists, according to Russian journalists.
Meanwhile, you may also be aware that the United States hasn’t pressured Saudi Arabia as hard as it could to stop funding al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist extremist groups. It’s usually assumed that’s because we’re dependent on them for oil and that we’re united in opposition to Iran. “But there is another compelling reason why the Western powers have been so laggard in denouncing Saudi Arabia and the Sunni rulers of the Gulf for spreading bigotry and religious hate,” wrote Patrick Cockburn at the Independent on December 10, 2013. Cockburn explains.
Al-Qa’ida members or al-Qa’ida-influenced groups have always held two very different views about who is their main opponent. For Osama bin Laden the chief enemy was the Americans, but for the great majority of Sunni jihadists, including the al-Qa’ida franchises in Iraq and Syria, the target is the Shia. It is the Shia who have been dying in their thousands in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and even in countries where there are few of them to kill, such as Egypt.
In fact, writes Cockburn
Pakistani papers no longer pay much attention to hundreds of Shia butchered from Quetta to Lahore. In Iraq, most of the 7,000 or more people killed this year are Shia civilians killed by the bombs of al-Qa’ida in Iraq.
Suppose a hundredth part of this merciless onslaught [described above] had been directed against Western targets rather than against Shia Muslims, would the Americans and the British be so accommodating to the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emiratis?
In the post-bin Laden age, the United States and the West are generally not the principal enemy of Sunni Islamist extremists and thus they’re not as concerned about Saudi-financed extremism as they should be. The American public, meanwhile, turns a deaf ear to the atrocities and just chalks it up to those crazy Arabs. If the West were concerned about Shia, Cockburn writes
Instead of the fumbling amateur efforts of the shoe and underpants bombers, security services would [then] have to face jihadist movements in Iraq, Syria and Libya fielding hundreds of bomb-makers and suicide bombers.
This, asserts Cockburn
… gives a sense of phoniness to boasts by the vastly expanded security bureaucracies in Washington and London about their success in combating terror [and thus] justifying vast budgets for themselves and restricted civil liberties for everybody else.
Should Sunni Islamist extremists return to bin Laden’s concept of the “far enemy” ― the West as opposed to Middle-Eastern tyrannies ― though, watch out, writes Cockburn.
All the drones in the world fired into Pashtun villages in Pakistan or their counterparts in Yemen or Somalia are not going to make much difference if the Sunni jihadists in Iraq and Syria ever decide – as Osama bin Laden did before them – that their main enemies are to be found not among the Shia but in the United States and Britain.
Cockburn isn’t totally devoid of optimism, though.
Only gradually this year, videos from Syria of non-Sunnis being decapitated for sectarian motives alone have begun to shake the basic indifference of the Western powers to Sunni jihadism so long as it is not directed against themselves.