In his memoirs Hüseyin Kamil, advisor to the Ottoman sheikh-al-Islam, wrote “The sight of the graves of the young Turkish men around Yemen is such as to terrify and leave no tears left to shed.’ Those graves belonged to troops martyred on the Hijaz-Yemen front in the First World War; 300,000 according to some sources, one million according to others.
It is nearly 100 years since the First World War ended. Yet the number of troops killed in fighting in Yemen continues to grow. But now it is very different than 100 years ago.
Soldiers and historians regard the Ottoman-British War, which included Yemen, as a war in the traditional sense. Wars in the past were prosecuted between states, with uniformed national armies, navies and air forces. When armed conflicts took place, there would be various norms and rules such as official declarations of war or neutrality, peace agreements and “the law of war.”
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new form of war began to spread. This new type of war – which began in Bosnia and the Caucasus – is now troubling various Middle Eastern countries, including Yemen. The fighting between the Yemeni Army and the Houthi in the province of Amran last month is an instance of this new kind of war.
This new form of the scourge of war is known as “Postmodern Warfare.” Although they are not exactly the same, these new wars share some characteristics:
· They are not waged between states, but more commonly as domestic conflicts.
· Problems of identity are generally important factors.
· They often take place between two sides that are unevenly matched in terms of order and equipment. Therefore they are regarded asymmetrical.
· The idea that only soldiers die in war has disappeared, because people regarded as civilians also take up arms to fight.
· In contrast to traditional wars, savage and bloody methods are employed.
Since the mid-1990s, 95% of armed conflict has been not between states, but within them. Apart from the Iran-Iraq War in 1979 and the Georgian-Russian conflict in 2008, almost all wars have had postmodern characteristics.
The regions where postmodern wars take place are generally countries that were colonized by the West. There are several ethnic groups there, and economic problems accompanying intense competition between tribes. State authority in countries that have these postmodern wars is weak. That weakness leads to a failure to establish a national identity. A group that regards itself as different to others in ethnic and sectarian terms can easily enter into conflict on the grounds that its identity is not recognized by the state, or that it is not being treated justly. For that reason, “postmodern wars” are also referred to “wars of identity.”
While traditional wars are raged for geopolitical or ideological reasons, postmodern wars are generally waged because of cultural discord between rival identities. Wars of identity are generally based on people classifying themselves on the basis of religion or ethnicity, as with al-Qaeda and the Houthi in Yemen. An extraordinary zeal and cruelty prevails, as reflected in the images of mass executions by ISIS militants. These wars are quite prolonged, as in the three and a half-year long civil conflict in Syria. In addition, the concept of victory in traditional war is seldom encountered in postmodern war.
Small skirmishes, ambushes and attacks on military and non-military targets are the main tactics in wars of identity. These tactics are often employed by al-Qaeda, the Houthi and other tribes and groups in revolt in Yemen. The rebels try to distract the army from its own operations by attacking oil and gas pipelines. Re-establishing security means it takes a long time to repair damaged pipelines, meaning the country experiences serious problems in meeting natural gas and oil demand.
As in the examples of Syria and Iraq, barbaric tactics such as roadside bombs, suicide attacks and detonating cars packed with explosives are frequently employed. Rather than defeating the other side, these terrorist actions merely serve to entrench the opposing sides and strengthen otherwise fragile bonds within the same identity.
Unless measures are taken and long-term solutions brought in, the wars of identity in Yemen will continue, cause more deaths and destabilize the country even further.
Yemenis need to be told that in the Qur’an, God wishes Muslims to live together as one without conflict. Every opportunity must be taken to explain that the struggle is not between Sunnis and Zaidis, but between terrorists that draw strength from fanaticism, ignorance and violence; and compassionate, loving people of good conscience who believe in God.
In verse 116 of Surah Hud says “… Why were there not, among the generations before you, persons possessed of balanced good sense, prohibiting (men) from mischief in the earth?“
Believers are the virtuous people described in God’s verses. While terrorists seek to achieve their aim through violence, believers know that true success and peace can only be obtained by clinging tightly to the religion of God.
Adnan Oktar's piece on National Yemen: