June 2, 2015 Abdul Haqq

The Flying Elephant in the Room

Daesh’s rapid expansion across swathes of Syria and Iraq caused grave concern for a considerable period of time due to the barbarity inflicted upon its enemies. Not a single country recognises the legitimacy of the so-called state – and rightly so. However, this does then beg the question as to why nobody, except other extremist entities and sympathisers, accept its claim of successfully establishing a caliphate.

Would the political landscape change irreversibly if a bloc of influential countries decided to unite, legitimise and support Daesh with a series of treaties and trade deals? How would other states react? In fact, are there existing precedents where such a worrying scenario emerged and if so, how did it occur? These are serious questions that should not be ignored.

Have we learned from past events?

We only have to look at relatively recent events between Russia and the Ukraine to witness responses from the developed world. Russia’s aggression resulted in flagrant violations of international and sovereign laws.[1] The initial US and European responses were bellicose but, as anticipated, became tamer as the conflict progressed. Apart from sanctions, which continue to have a muted degree of success on the Russian economy, nothing more effective appears to have been done.[2] Sanctions, therefore, remain the sole and weakest option in the West’s diplomatic repertoire.

In contrast to the above scenario and, remaining with the not too distant past, reference can perhaps be made to the birth of South Sudan in 2011 as evidence of successful international negotiations and diplomacy. Numerous countries applauded the establishment of the world’s 193rd sovereign state.[3]  However, upon closer inspection of what actually preceded this new country’s birth, it is relatively easy to see parallels between South Sudan’s fight for independence and ISIS’ political ambitions:

‘Sudan has long been beset by conflict. Two rounds of north-south civil war cost the lives of 1.5 million people… The military-led government of President Jaafar Numeiri agreed to autonomy for the south in 1972, but fighting broke out again in 1983. After two years of bargaining, the rebels signed a comprehensive peace deal with the government to end the civil war in January 2005.’[4]

Unlike the South Sudan rebels during the period described above, Daesh do not appear to be open to any type of diplomatic negotiations or dialogue whatsoever. It remains an illegitimate and extremist entity for a number of reasons; among them being the lack of official religious and political endorsement from recognised scholars, leaders and the Muslim world in general. In the absence of such a mandate, the so-called state’s claim to legitimacy as a caliphate remains erroneous. That said, if as intimated earlier, some countries decided to unite as a bloc to recognise and support ISIS on the basis of western, democratic protocols – similar to that witnessed with South Sudan – that would provide it with a degree of legitimacy, albeit from a secular perspective. It is unlikely that Daesh would ever accept such a premise for its legitimacy, i.e. recognition via western, non-Muslim apparatus; however, this is not the point. In the eyes of such state actors, legitimacy would be granted from their perspective, using similar principals upon which other states were established. They would then be in a stronger position than most to conduct business with Daesh.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander – or is it?

Let us continue to explore this worrying scenario by now examining how other western-backed regimes or governments obtained legitimacy in the past.  In another article, ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place,[5] I referred to the Thatcherite government’s tacit approval and support for the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 80s to mid-90s. I will not, therefore, revisit that subject on this occasion. Instead, it is prudent to shift focus to a more sensitive legacy that continues to be a key factor of Middle East conflict today: that of the orchestrated displacement of thousands of Palestinians, culminating in what is recounted by many as ‘Al-Nakba’ – ‘The Catastrophe’ – when the state of Israel was established and legitimised by western governments in 1948.[6] British and subsequent US support was considered sufficient enough a mandate for its establishment.[7]  Evidence for this can be witnessed in the British Royal Commission of Inquiry’s conclusion (known as the Peel Commission,) recommending the partition of Palestine.[8]  Unsurprisingly, Palestinians rejected the report at that time and continued to revolt, to their detriment:

Between 1936 and 1937, the British killed over 1,000 Palestinians; 37 British military police and 69 Jews also died.[9]


A two-state solution continues to be touted by the US and West as the only alternative for peaceful co-existence between the Jewish and Palestinian populations.[10] It is a proposal that maintains traction, even among sections of the Arab world.[11] In contrast, Benjamin Netanyahu and his present government continue to maintain their obstructive stance towards this solution.[12]

As the world worries about the hegemonic ambitions of ISIS, we would do well to remember that there is an elephant in the room but unlike Dumbo, the friendly flying character – who is fictitious – this one is more ominous and real. [13] Those involved in trying to change the Middle East’s political landscape by applying ill-conceived policies and practices can no longer ignore the devastation that has been wrought in that region. The double standards implemented across the Middle East have contributed to the heightened security status many of us now face within our own societies.  Tony Blair has finally resigned as Middle East Peace Envoy [14] and hopefully, other statesman holding similar positions of influence will also take their leave.  Indeed, they are the creators of some of today’s monsters. If the hovering elephant and its surrounding issues had been addressed more emphatically and fairly in the past, there would be no beasts to fear. We would then be assured of a more peaceful sleep – as opposed to the living nightmare many of us now have to endure.



[1] Shaun Walker: ‘Russia celebrates anniversary of Crimea takeover and eyes second annexation’ The Guardian, 18th March 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/18/russia-celebrates-anniversary-crimea-takeover-eyes-second-annexation

[2] European Newsroom: ‘EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine Crisis’ 29th April 2014: http://europa.eu/newsroom/highlights/special-coverage/eu_sanctions/index_en.htm

[3] Mike Pflanz: ‘South Sudan independence: Juba celebrates the birth of a nation’ 9th July 2011: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/south-sudan/8627647/South-Sudan-independence-Juba-celebrates-the-birth-of-a-nation.html

[4] BBC News: ‘Sudan country profile – Overview’ 30th April 2015: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14094995

[5] https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place/

[6] Al Jazeera: ‘Series on the Palestinian ‘catastrophe’ of 1948 that led to dispossession and conflict that still endures’ 29th May 2015: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

[7] Ibid

[8] Encyclopedia.com: ‘Peel Commission Report (1937): http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3424602147.html

[9] Al Jazeera: ‘Series on the Palestinian ‘catastrophe’ of 1948 that led to dispossession and conflict that still endures’ 29th May 2015: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

[10] Change.Org: ‘President Obama: US Must Prioritize Two-State Solution and a Return to Serious Negotiations’ – obtained from site on 28th May 2015: https://www.change.org/p/president-obama-us-must-prioritize-two-state-solution-and-a-return-to-serious-negotiations

[11] Joshua Teitelbaum: ‘The Arab Peace Initiative: A Primer and Future Prospects’ Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009: http://jcpa.org/text/Arab-Peace-Initiative.pdf

[12] Mehdi Hasan: ‘The two-state solution is dead: Just ask Israel’s own ministers’: Al Jazeera, Opinion, 27th May 2015: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/05/state-palestine-israel-zionist-150527070943455.html

[13] Eric Page: ‘Helen A. Mayer, Dumbo’s Creator, Dies at 91’ New York Times, 10th April 1999: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/10/arts/helen-a-mayer-dumbo-s-creator-dies-at-91.html

[14] Ian Black & Peter Beaumont:‘Tony Blair resigns as Middle East Peace Envoy’ The Guardian, 27th May 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/27/tony-blair-resigns-as-middle-east-peace-envoy-reportwrite my essay

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