Monday, January 20, 2014


 ISIS fighters mount a show of force in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, January 2, 2014 -photo by Reuters Yaser Al-Khodor

The little USA Today articles in our local paper, that give some nod to the turmoil in the Middle East, have been hard to follow.   There keeps popping up, when the fighting in Iraq and Syria is the subject, a litany of terms for the groups causing all the trouble.

                Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] *USA Today’s emphasis
                Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS]        
      Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria
                Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

We can leave behind the Sunni / Shiite division.  These groups are all Sunni, and in fact, what is being referred to is basically one and the same group.  The term the media seems to like the most is the first, ISIL, the “Levant,” being a hundreds-of-years-old, Westerners’ term for the fertile crescent area of present day Iraq and Syria, and a bit beyond.  I remember “levant,” from a time when I lived in southern France, as the name they gave a moist, gentle breeze coming from the Middle East side of the Mediterranean.   The term obscures the fact that Iraq and Syria together have been stirred up into a fierce Sunni rebellion.

We need to admit that these current Islamic fighters are a force born out of our occupation of Iraq--the Al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI].  Al Qaeda never was present in Iraq until our Iraq War.  Our war radicalized Iraqi Sunnis, and was an invitation for some international Islamic fighters to join in.  Now paradoxically they are complemented by, and themselves are part of as refugees, Sunni fighters in Syria that we have been supporting and arming to depose the Syrian [Shiite] government, our current enemy of the day.
 The Middle east borders were a product of the World Wars
{ words from John McCutcheon song "Christmas in the Trenches" }

They don’t acknowledge the border between Iraq and Syria, considering it one Islamic state [which historically has some validity.]   They call it al-Sham, and themselves Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.  All in Arabic of course.  Their cause has been strengthened by the civil war in Syria, in which we unwittingly have taken their side.  They’ve just taken over the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and the Iraqi [Shiite] government we helped install may suffer significant further loses.  And in Syria the battles rage on in stalemate.

t is more complicated than this synopsis [see references below].  The predominantly Syrian Sunni group, al-Nusra, is sometimes allied with this Islamic militia, and shares in its terrorist tactics.   There are many more factions.   All armed and dangerous.   At times our friends, at times our enemies.   We continue to erroneously believe that we can get these factions to point their guns in the direction most favorable to our policies.  And we’re now at the point of sending lots of Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles to the Iraqi government to help them quash what we helped create—these more potent Sunni fighters.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”   -- Dr. Martin Luther King

“Modern technological mass murder is not directly visible, like individual murder. It is abstract, corporate, businesslike, cool, free of guilt feelings. But this big business of death and even genocide is all the more effective because it involves a long chain of individuals, each of whom feels himself absolved from responsibility.” – Fr. Thomas Merton

We live so far away from the Middle East we talk about it using words like Levant, fertile crescent, gentle breeze.  Shouldn't there be a natural extension of the Good Book's Matthew 25?   When did we see you hungry and not give you to eat, thirsty and not give you to drink, blasting each other apart in war and not stop selling you bombs …   

Please continue to pray for the conversion to peacemaking, and contact this fairly neutral site, and the Catholic Relief Services site, to take further action.

Illumination by Kathy Brahney

References ---

“ISIS is also known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" and the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham", al-Sham being a historic Arabic name for the "Fertile Crescent" area and referring to a region comprising areas of modern Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.
Levant, a Western term, refers to the same geographic area of the Middle East.”

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