On Saturday, the world looked on in horror as we saw terrorism return to Paris after multiple horrific attacks left 128 dead. In the wake of such carnage most of us ask ‘how can people be evil enough to carry out these acts?’
Many will point to Islam and how yesterday’s terrorists only carried out these attacks because Islam has, apparently, ‘warped their mind’. While in part motivated by religion, it is narrow-minded to focus solely on this aspect and to understand why these serious terrorist attacks occur you have to analyse the situation, past and present, in North Africa and the Middle East.
France and Great Britain were heavily active in Iraq in Syria at the turn of the 20th century. Iraq came under Britain’s control, and Syria under France’s, after the defeat of the Ottomans in World War One and the resulting Sykes-Picot agreement. The French fought a long war against Syrian rebels seeking independence from 1925-1927. A rebellion also occurred in Iraq after two years of British control with both Shi’ites and Sunnis co-operating to fight against the British. The co-operation between the two Islamic groups was certainly out of the ordinary, and their co-operation did not last much longer after the revolt. Put simply, discontent with British rule gathered momentum and the originally peaceful protests escalated into violent revolt. Between 6,000 and 10,000 Iraqis would die in the conflict when faced with overwhelming British firepower. This conflict left a deep scar, but this could all be written off as a episode of the colonial period, never to be repeated, right?
Wrong. The West would again interfere with Iraq. In March 2003 a coalition of the UK and USA invaded the sovereign nation, under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to members of Al-Qaeda. In the aftermath of the invasion, the US dissolved the largely Sunni Iraqi army and excluded many of the country’s former government officials from participating in the country’s government. This helped to bring about a chaotic post-invasion environment with Jihadist groups beginning to emerge within the country from Summer 2003. The war resulted in an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis being killed, many being civilians. The marginalisation of Iraq’s Sunni groups by a U.S. backed government caused many protest and terrorist attacks, and to an extent culminating in the Islamic State of Iraq emerging in 2006 which would come to be known as ISIS in 2014. To me the most disturbing image I have ever seen of the Iraq invasion is from Michael Moore’s film ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’, where in a snippet of footage, in the aftermath of the initial invasion, a man holds a dead baby up to a television camera and asks ‘what was this baby’s crime?’ Much of the Iraqi populace would have been stunned as they saw foreign tanks roll through their neighborhoods. Families being torn apart by the loss of loved ones, combined with homes, schools and businesses destroyed, would have been even harder to swallow when the invasion was found to be unjustified. It is not surprising that the impact of the 2003 war is still being felt to this day, and the origins of ISIS, and its founding members, are from Iraq.
In Britain we have the luxury of not being able to imagine what foreign occupation looks and feels like. In our recent history we have never had foreign governments imposing their will on us and, despite the Blitz and multiple terrorist attacks by the likes of the IRA and Al-Qaeda, we have largely remained safe. In this bubble it is hard to relate to how Middle Eastern people, who have been exploited for the last century, feel. In our westernised world we feel anyone not on the side of our democracy is morally wrong. What we have to take in to consideration is that, to much of the world, we are the terrorists and nothing highlights this more than the U.S. drone program that operates across north and east Africa, as well as in the Middle East. A recent report has surfaced on how inaccurate the drone strikes are and that they often only kill civilian targets. A leaked document of an internal Pentagon assessment shows that during a five month time span in Afghanistan, nearly 90% of those killed by U.S. drone strikes were not the intended targets. Even when they killed an expected terrorist, most of the terrorist’s family died also; uncles, aunts, sons and daughters – anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. These people are classed as EKIA (Enemies killed in action) despite whether or not their identity was known. Just imagine your whole family killed by an unmanned plane, due piloted with an Xbox controller and a computer thousands of miles away. How would you feel? The hatred of those who have lost loved ones to drone strikes cannot even be described and it is no surprise why Islamic terrorism has grown so rapidly over the last decade, considering the suspect actions of the West.
Many with extremist views will blame the terrorist attacks solely on Islam, without even considering the actions of the West in Islamic countries. To ISIS, Islam gives many fighters from hugely different backgrounds a united ideology to strive towards. Their religion does unite them, but putting the blame solely on Islam as a whole is wrong. The original IRA and their future offshoots were motivated by atrocities and exploitation carried out by the British, yet the fact that the British were generally protestant, while they were Catholic, was still a significant factor. Yet the IRA have never widely been labelled as Catholic extremists, despite the obvious religious aspect in their motivations of creating an Irish republic which has seen Irish laws created as a result of their faith. By evidence of their name (Islamic State), ISIS are different from the IRA as they wanted to establish a new state completely seeped and modelled by Islamic doctrine. However, the reason people blame Islam for terrorism is because we don’t want to admit our huge mistakes in the Middle East. While there is an argument to make that Islam is the only mainstream religion to promise that martyrdom that grants rewards in the afterlife, it is still a largely irrelevant one. Religions far more peaceful in theory than Christianity and Islam have caused horrible violence, a specific example being Buddhist monks slaughtering Muslims in Myanmar since 2013. The core texts of Islam and Christianity, if followed literally, promote absurd violence and most people of faith only follow the parts they agree with. ISIS can use the Koran to justify their Jihad, while ordinary Muslims use it to condemn it. That is the paradox of religion: every single one is contradictory.
Last night we witnessed France being punished for the actions of all the countries fighting in the Middle East. It’s true that France has its own troubled history in the Islamic world, with a controversial relationship with its Muslim citizens over the last century and they have also joined the fight against ISIS. However they were firmly against the invasion of Iraq and they do not carry out drone strikes on the same scale as the USA . The reason terrorist attacks in places like yesterday trouble us so much is because we can relate to the French people and their culture, but drone strikes in the alien Middle East do not bother us, or gain as much media coverage, as we cannot identify with them. Terrorism is cowardly but we should always keep in mind the motives of the attackers and recognise how our governments may have contributed to the current climate of terror. ISIS are an evil that needs to be defeated, but the way in which we must combat them has to be carefully considered. A decade ago the main enemy of the free world was Al-Qaeda and now the forces combating the Islamic State need to make sure that, after their defeat, we do not have a further powerful terrorist group rising from the ashes.