Where was the Islamic State born? In The New York Post, novelist Brad Parks offers a staggeringly precise, maybe even accurate, and captivating answer – one building on the memories of a former prison guard Mitchell Gray.
As a guy who knows Arabic, he worked in Camp Bucca, a detention facility in Iraq, near the border with Kuwait, created in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S. journalists used to be thrilled with things like Abu Ghraib, a prison near Baghdad where the U.S. Army tortured a couple of the very evil guys. But you have probably never heard of Camp Bucca, one named after a top firefighter who died on 9/11, because journalists have no instinct for what is going to be important.
It was just a detention facility. In order to complete the "regime change" in Iraq, the U.S. Army simply needed to keep some Iraqi warriors, especially killers but also some potentially dangerous guys at the most combative age, isolated from the war events. This is common sense; every army has to do similar things during wars.
None of the detailed policies were a matter of common sense, however. They were actually very problematic and the adoption of such policies shows how none of the people cared about the consequences of their acts and even if they did, they had an unscientific, superstitious way to decide what policies would lead to the best consequences.
To make the story short, Camp Bucca has served as a convention hosted by the U.S. in which Al-Baghdadi and his comrades made lots of plans and obtained contacts to all the other people who matter.
Which segregation is desirable
The bosses of the prison quickly decided that it was desirable to segregate Sunnis from Shiites, in order to keep the facility peaceful. Now, segregation is always controversial – for example, it's politically correct to say that segregation was never sensible in South Africa. However, when a justification is added that the segregation of Sunnis and Shiites makes the facility more peaceful, people often immediately and mindlessly start to endorse segregation. Peace is so great, isn't it?
Try to think about these matters a little bit more rationally. Is it true that you bring them more peace if you separate Sunnis and Shiites? I think it is true in the short run: most of the ongoing fights disappear. However, it may be wrong in the long run: people who learn to co-exist with different ethnic and religious groups – who are trained to behave decently in their presence – may be more peaceful and tolerant for the rest of their life. Clearly, the former argument was more important for those who wanted to do their daily job more conveniently.
But there is a bigger problem with the logic leading to the recommendation to segregate Sunnis and Shittes. What is it? Well, I am convinced that the whole idea of trying to make the prison more internally peaceful is flawed! You simply don't want to allow potentially dangerous chaps to get bored or to have lots of time for some of the "luxury" planning one can do if he doesn't have to plan how to protect his health against inmates! It's actually good when dangerous prisoners spend their time with more mundane worries such as which fellow inmate will break their mouth tonight.
So I think that in this case, the U.S. should have insisted on the (characteristically American) co-existence of the Shittes and Sunnis in the facility. They would sometimes hurt each other, get assured that there was no consensus about politics or religion, and the good U.S. guards could have saved a Sunni or a Shiite from the violence of the opposing camp and get the credit for that.
Moderates vs radicals
But the more lethal segregation was one according to a different observable: the degree of moderation of the inmates. The moderate Muslims could have gotten "infected" by the radical Muslims. Now, this segregation had much less immediate impact on the comfort of the guards – decisions about such segregation are clearly meant to be a matter of strategic planning. Is it wise to segregate then?
First, you must notice that the very idea that the Muslims may be divided to moderate and radical ones is extremely problematic. The very fact – an implicitly admitted fact – that moderate Muslims may be expected to be infected by the radical Islam after a few months in a detention facility and join the other side proves that the boundary between the moderates and the radicals is fuzzy, debatable, unreliable, and probably not too useful as a concept.
Islam is not just a religion: it is a political ideology that wants to control every aspect of the individual and collective life. The true difference between "moderates" and "radicals" is mainly in the degree of enthusiasm and excitement in these ideas – their relative importance in a person's values and lifestyle. The moderates and extremists differ by a continuous quantity, not so much by some discrete features of the ideas themselves.
But you may always define the moderates in some way. They used a cool methodology to "define" moderates. They left a man in a seemingly empty room with an issue of Maxim, a softcore magazine for adult men. If he resisted to look into the magazine, he was identified as an extremist (he could have been a gay, too). People ignoring Maxim were classified as bigots (or f**gots; they missed those 10%-15% of inmates, as Gene would quantify them). Similarly, people were left with a computer opened on a TRF web page about quantum mechanics. If they immediately contributed a comment about the need to eliminate observers or introduce classical observers, the prisoners were identified as anti-quantum zealots. Or at least they should have been. ;-)
More seriously, the usage of Maxim to identify moderate Muslims may sound amusing but this methodology does measure some quantity, much like other measurements do. You may say that it is a quantity dividing the moderates from the extremists, if you define the notions in this way. You may adopt any definitions you want and these adjectives are arguably undefined to start with. However, problems emerge once you start to use this information about their being moderate in some way. Is the application of the adjectives justifiable or "right"?
What the information was used for was nothing else than additional segregation. Moderates were separated from the radicals. Some moderate imams were hired to lecture the moderate inmates (I doubt that this kind of "education prescribed by your prison guards" is too effective). More precisely, people who have looked to a Maxim lived together; more problematically, the people who refused to open a Maxim were living together, too.
The second group was the more dangerous one. The policymakers knew that. What they didn't do was to care about their concentration and their future. In effect, Americans have kindly organized a contest picking the "best of the best" Islamic fanatics (and those who refuse to look into a Maxim are really the best ones: no true Muslim would probably be creative enough to invent such a clever litmus test) and paid them all the scholarships during a multi-month or multi-year brainstorming workshop in which this Islamist "elite" was expected (or should have been expected) to create something important.
In some sense, what America has done for these Al-Baghdadis was analogous to the Harvard Junior Fellowship that I enjoyed some years ago. These people didn't have to worry about their material well-being or attacks by other Muslims and they were placed in a small enough space, expected to interact with other selected minds. Wonderful!
So what did they do? They were communicating and thinking and planning and dreaming. And once they left the prison, they started to act in the real life. They called all of their important friends – all the important names, villages, or phone numbers were written on the elastics of their boxer shorts. We were not told whether the conception of ISIS took place while these bigots' boxer shorts were on or off but we probably do not care much. ;-)
The opportunity to interact that these "top minds" of extremist Islam were given was generous and extremely irresponsible. These are the people who should have been treated as a potential threat in the future. Instead, the focus was on their ideological influence on others. It's important as well but this "P.R." is much less important than what PC Americans believe. The extremist guys themselves – and their acts – are much more important than their chat with random other people.
Al-Baghdadi, a new Nelson Mandela
The article in the New York Post makes it very clear that this is not how they were treated at all. Generally, the prisoners must have been dealt with respectfully. Nelson Mandela (and Václav Havel) used to be prisoners, too. So some of the guards were effectively encouraged to look for new leaders among the prisoners! At least in the case of Al-Baghdadi and a few others, they have surely found them. Congratulations.
This "plan to look for new glorious Mandelas" is an amazingly preposterous combination of many threads of the politically correct mythology. The very idea that one should look for great people among the prisoners "because" we know examples of great (?) people such as Mandela who have been arrested is insane. Every child knows that the average people in the prison are more evil or more harmful to the society than the average people outside. So why would you think it's a good idea to start a search for candidates selectively in a prison? If some prisoners become this successful, good for them, but they will remain exceptions and it's totally wrong to try to make such exceptions less exceptional.
Moreover, the comparison with Mandela is delicate because a part of this analogy is inaccurate but a part of it is accurate and should strengthen a sensible person's certainty that it's unwise to encourage prisoners' political careers. Why? Well, there are differences: Mandela didn't really hate anyone too much, he was a peaceful guy. The Islamists are not.
But there are also similarities. Like the Iraqi folks, Nelson Mandela was arrested for a very good reason: He was working to overthrow the government of South Africa! Moreover, he made it clear that his new regime would be deeply influenced by Marxism. I may agree he was basically a nice guy but I would probably grant him life in prison, too. What has changed was the world around him. Marxists who undermine whole prosperous states and who want to replace them by dysfunctional, politically correct multí-culti entities have become fashionable.
About 27 years later, Nelson Mandela got out of the prison and was able to build or complete his remarkable political career as an old hero of a sort. And the same comment applies to Al-Baghdadi, too! But there's still one more difference that should be clear to a Bucca prison guard. Mandela had been imprisoned by someone else, a South African government in the 1960s. So you may adopt the attitude that this government was bad which is why it's good to support their prisoners. But the inmates in Camp Bucca were arrested by your close colleagues, probably because they're more dangerous or more evil than the average men. That's why you shouldn't be assuming that they're more desirable politicians than the average!
Al-Baghdadi, the Caliph, has spent about 10 months in Bucca. He was a nicely behaving, politically correct prisoner which is why he was released in December 2004 as "not a real threat". Sorry but his being "nice" in this sense was no good news. To be as well-behaved as Al-Baghdadi is almost as dangerous as not to look into Maxim. Something is suspicious, something dangerous may be going on. So the U.S. has released this guy. Everyone agrees that it would be great if that decision could be retroactively modified. I don't claim that all well-behaved prisoners should be kept in the prison indefinitely. But in similar cases that look like "potential ideologues" (and he had been a cleric of a sort), one should be aware that the good behavior may be a part of a grander ploy.
Some other "Who's Who" important people in ISIS clearly did look like dangerous prisoners in Bucca. However, it was implicitly assumed that they would be kept in prison by the new Iraqi regime. Needless to say, this expectation turned out to be wrong, too. All of them were freed. I would add that it wasn't just a matter of bad luck that the expectation turned out to be failing. It was more or less guaranteed that any independent Iraqi regime was going to have vastly different opinions which kinds of apparently "political prisoners" should be held in prison. And if you envision a new regime that is meant to be anti-Saddam, it's pretty much guaranteed that radical Islamists will be at least partly tolerated because they were a major anti-Saddam group, too.
The common sense attitude is that these people were dangerous from an American viewpoint, so it was America that should have guaranteed that they wouldn't be freed in order to become dangerous. You just can't expect other countries – whose opinion about the danger is understandably different from yours – to do this job for you.
America is a great country where lots of things work. Many of them have worked from the beginning because they were copied from the British Empire. Others were fixed or improved later, or during the 250-year history of the U.S. When America fights, it's probably still more likely than not that it fights on the "right side" of the wars even though the record was mixed or worse in recent 20 years.
However, when it comes to the social engineering, the detailed plans to help other nations to change their regimes, the small decisions on the path towards the peaceful existence, America's record seems to be a failed one. If you look how the birth of ISIS was encouraged in Bucca and what sorts of breathtakingly naive PC mythologies and lack of common sense have contributed to the disaster called ISIS, you can't be surprised. Saddam was bad but the ISIS is worse and the negative sign of the change isn't a coincidence.
Please, America, don't try to social engineer other nations because you totally suck at this activity.