- - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The ruthless attacks against the airport and subway station in Brussels, killing at least 31 people and injuring hundreds, were crimes against humanity by any standard. Again, they pose the same question faced by the world community after Sept. 11, 2001: How to respond to terrorism carried out in the name of Islam?

The right answer would effectively end the growth of violent Islamic extremism. The wrong answer would lead to ever greater threats.

In my 1993 book, “Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat,” I argued that although the theoretical roots of this evil phenomenon date back to the first decades of Islam, it was only after the establishment of theocracy in Iran that Islamic fundamentalism became the global threat that it is today. While the differences between Shiite and Sunni fundamentalists are minimal, they have a common major objective: establishing an “Islamic rule” for the enforcement of “Shariah law.”

I also argued in the book that only democratic Islam poses the ultimate challenge to fundamentalist interpretations.

At the time, my book was cast as an exaggeration by an opponent of the Iranian regime. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the world saw the brutality of fundamentalism firsthand, but the United States nonetheless blundered ahead, making a major strategic mistake by invading Iraq.

As subsequent mistakes were made, Iran managed to dominate Iraq, a circumstance Tehran exploited to project itself as a growing power in the Middle East. Because Tehran is the heart of fundamentalism, the groundwork was laid for the emergence and spread of ISIS as the Sunni counterpart to Iran’s Shiite fundamentalism.

Fifteen years on, Europe is dealing with what could be its own 9/11. And Tehran is poised to seize the opportunity once again, free of the weight of sanctions with coffers already flushed with tens of billions of dollars in new money.

The solution to Islamic fundamentalism is not engagement with its godfather in Iran; it is exactly the opposite. And it must include unwavering support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria. After all, Mr. Assad’s brutality and Iran’s sectarianism are major contributors to the social landscape that has allowed ISIS to attract more Sunnis to its extremist ideology. Remove those conditions, and the ISIS ideology and tactics quickly collapse.

Last year, French President Francois Hollande said if the United States had not backtracked at the 11th hour in August 2013 from punishing Mr. Assad for his chemical attacks, the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack would likely have never occurred. Perhaps the November 13 Paris attack would not have happened either. And, now innocent blood has been spilled in Brussels.

Mr. Hollande was spot on. The West, specifically the United States, should concentrate its efforts on the ouster of Mr. Assad instead of looking in all the wrong places for help against threats like ISIS. Efforts at combating ISIS will be futile without toppling Mr. Assad.

The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his Iraqi puppets and Bashar Assad, have created fertile soil for ISIS to thrive, by killing, according to some accounts, 470,000 people in Syria and by marginalizing and alienating the Sunnis in Iraq.

Under Washington’s watch, Baghdad and Damascus have become killing fields for Iran’s Quds Force and its criminal militias. Without a viable alternative, Sunnis have been forced to choose between these criminals and ISIS. Replacing Assad and his Iranian backers with a moderate and inclusive government, would give the Sunni population a real alternative.

Let’s not forget that as Mr. Assad’s main enabler, the Iranian mullahs, weakened and more vulnerable after the sham parliamentary elections, had to concede to the cease-fire in Syria. A firm approach by the United States and its European allies can reinforce the shaky Syrian cease-fire, opening a way forward for the Geneva negotiations. Otherwise, the cease-fire will provide the opportunity Tehran seeks for another massacre of innocents in Syria.

There is no doubt that Mr. Assad’s removal would mark the beginning of a strategy that could finally lead to peace for all people in Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It would also remove a serious threat to Europe.

The United States and Europe face a historic decision. The victims of the horrific Brussels attacks will not have died in vain if these governments choose to pursue a genuine solution to the Syrian and Iraqi crises. Any other course of action will be judged harshly by history.

Mohammad Mohaddessin is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

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