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The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

The independent student news site of San Marcos, California

The Cougar Chronicle

An Interview with Professor Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Historian of the Middle East

An+Interview+with+Professor+Ibrahim+Al-Marashi%2C+Historian+of+the+Middle+East

First off, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Could you start by introducing yourself and the general focus of your work?

My name is Ibrahim Al-Marashi, and I am a professor of history. The area I work on is the modern history of Iraq—but with specialties ranging from the history of climate in Iraq, how climate change and the environment interact with the peoples of Iraq, and the history of the Greater Middle East. I have lived in Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, and have been to every country in the Middle East proper.

What events are you specifically focused on at this moment? And where can people find your work?

Right now, I’m writing articles for Time magazine, and it’s for a column called Made by History. [The column] shows how history is responsible for elucidating the headlines. So if you go to Time magazine, Made by History, you can find my articles on the Houthis of Yemen as well as the history of the group Hamas—so two H’s. Otherwise, I write for the Middle Eastern news organization Al Jazeera and my more academic works can be found at academia.edu.

Regarding the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, what do you think are some of the areas or events people should be more attuned to? And what do you think has lacked coverage in the mainstream media?

The events of October 7 didn’t happen in a vacuum. It didn’t happen overnight. There was a long historical trajectory that led to this latest surge in violence. So [we need to] appreciate the long history that led up to this conflict after World War II; and on another level, that this conflict between Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs, is a very recent one. Throughout most of history, these peoples have lived together side-by-side in relative harmony.

Do you feel like there’s anything that’s completely buried [in the media] or not getting nearly as much coverage as it should be right now? Any specific events?

Well, the problem is that the story was more or less buried for the last couple of years—the situation particularly in Gaza. And we see the consequences when there is a humanitarian crisis [like the one now], and there was absolutely a humanitarian crisis before October 7. You see, why does terrorism occur? Terrorism occurs because a story has been buried. Terrorists specifically leverage the mass media to force the world to pay attention to them. They don’t care if you see them as villains or victims, but they want you to pay attention to them.

Regarding the United States’ history of interventions in the Middle East, what can history reveal about where things could be headed and what steps should be taken to avoid a broader conflict?

This is relatively straightforward.

Number one: the US in its attempt to pivot to Asia more or less let Middle Eastern conflicts simmer, and then they boiled over. You can’t just pivot to one region and forget the other. So the first thing the US needs to do is reinvest in Palestinian-Israeli peace (which they more or less gave up on).

Number two: the US needs to find a way to make peace with Iran because that’s another issue that’s related.

Number three: the US needs to invest in the reconstruction of Yemen and Gaza. If you let these post-conflict zones kind of exist in a stage of bare survival, that’s what leads to further terrorism down the line.

Regarding Yemen, in what specific ways do you think the United States has failed?

The US failed by siding with Saudi Arabia and allowing Saudi Arabia to conduct a merciless air war on that country since 2015. Not only did they side with Saudi Arabia, but they also provided Saudi Arabia with intelligence, with the weapons. That was a huge mistake. That was a civil war that could have ended if the US wanted it to. They chose not to, and now the US is witnessing the consequences. The Houthis that are attacking shipping now [in the Red Sea]—who the US is bombing now—became strong because of a civil war that the US turned a blind eye to.

Media tends to paint a lot of these resistance groups [that are part of the so-called “Axis of Resistance”] as being simply Iran proxies. But could you clarify, for those who don’t know, what the real relationship is between Iran and these resistance groups?

That is one of the major arguments in my papers. All these groups have their own agenda, and they will always prioritize maximizing their interests over Iranian interests. These are alliances of mutual convenience. The word “proxy” is misleading, because each group that we’re looking at [in most cases] existed independently of Iran. Iran and these groups approached each other and made an alliance of mutual convenience. Even the Lebanese group, Hezbollah—which is often cited in history as an Iranian creation—existed even before the Islamic Republic of Iran and the 1979 Revolution. It just existed in a different form.

So when we talk about proxies, it’s better to say that these are alliances with non-state actors that are more or less working with Iran because they have shared interests.

Just this morning, I was reading that Channel 4 and Sky News, among other news outlets, have found no evidence to back up the claims of UNRWA’s involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. These claims were alleged in an Israeli dossier, which is now being referred to by some as another “dodgy dossier.” Since this dossier was released, the United States along with over a dozen of UNWRA’s major backers suspended funding for the agency. Can you speak from your own experience regarding the 2003 dossier [which plagiarized from Al-Marashi’s work to justify the invasion of Iraq] as to why it is so important for the media to conduct independent investigations into claims such as these?

That is a really good question! Because I didn’t know that term is being used, but sure enough…

It is!

That’s brilliant. Thank you for that; that’s really good reporting, so I have got to investigate this.

Well, you know, the United States has not been able to independently verify any of the claims Israel is making. They don’t have evidence to support them.

It’s a really good question because I’m sending an article to print about the relevance of the Dodgy Dossier with the most recent plagiarism scandal dealing with Harvard’s president, who had to resign over allegations of plagiarism. So I’m really glad you brought this up, because in terms of “dodgy dossiers”, we’re seeing more than 20 years later how dossiers can [mis]lead nations. How dodgy dossiers can be weaponized.

So when you’re talking about the case of UNRWA being affiliated with the attacks and Iraqi WMDs, both at the end of the day proved non-existent. I think that is the ultimate lesson to take away, and I’m really glad that the plagiarism of my research hasn’t led to the invention of a term that could be invoked in the present.

What do you make of the rise of fascism both in our country and around the world? And what impact do you think a Trump or Biden reelection would have on US foreign policy?

This rise is a reaction to globalism, and I think it was only a matter of time in an age of globalism with a monoculture. These kinds of intense nationalisms emerge as a way of asserting difference in the face of globalism. The problem is it seeks to assert its identity in many cases through the use of violence, and this is what’s happening around the world. Now remember, violence can be communicated in the form of the potential for violence (in itself as a form of violence). So these very aggressive nationalisms kind of communicate a form of violence in that anyone who is not like us is a threat to us and they are to be eliminated.

And who are those to be eliminated in our country when you have attacks on the media? Journalists. When, in this day and age, journalists in America are referred to the Nazi-era term, Lügenpresse (lying press), that doesn’t bode well for a democracy when democracies need independent media.

What do you make of how irrational ideas such as bombing Iran are used by the far-right to weaponize political discourse and pressure politicians like Biden to take more aggressive stances on foreign policy rather than a more nuanced approach?

You brought up a fascinating scenario and it’s this: Biden is encouraged to bomb Iran, but I can tell you for a fact bombing Iran would lead to a much more intense conflict that, during an election year, I think, would undo Biden in an election.

Well, it won’t happen, but they will always call for it…

Exactly, and no matter what Biden does—see all the actions that have happened over the last couple of days—it will never be enough. Because how do you determine [that] the threshold for vengeance has been met? You really can’t. You see, no matter what Biden does, that’s a catch-22. Always [his] critics will say it’s not enough, and they’ll weaponize that all the way into the elections.

What do you think could be done to reframe the narrative and get more people to realize that that is just never a good idea?

You know, the Biden administration had four years to re-enter the Iran deal, and the way to reframe the narrative is this: the Iran deal worked. You never had these proxy attacks when Iran was part of that deal. That’s the way to reframe it. This is the time more than ever (before going into an election) of re-entering that Iran deal.

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