Friday, November 20, 2015

Terrorism, and what not to do about it

There may be many things wrong with religion, such as Deuteronomy 7:1-4 and the thread of misogyny that runs through the Abrahamic religions, but being religious doesn't make you a terrorist, including being a Muslim. There are estimated to be 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Only a very small proportion of them are terrorists but they make up a large proportion of the victims of terrorism and of the refugees from the mess in Syria and Iraq. Yet in the current panic about terrorism, some regard every Muslim as a suspect.

People, mostly male, who become terrorists are likely to have huge chips of their shoulders which they blame on others for a variety of reasons. They are unhappy, resentful people who'll justify their anger and hatred with one of a variety of negative -isms, including jihadism, patriotism, tribalism, nationalism and sexism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as "The unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." What was "shock and awe", the assault on Baghdad in 2003, but state-sanctioned terrorism, most of it committed by nominal Christians, led by those two pious idiots, Bush and Blair?

IS, or Daesh, is a bigger organisation than Al-Quaeda, Al-Shabaab or Boko Haram, largely thanks to Syria's Bashar Al-Assad's destructive regime and to the mess left in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In the absence of any effective governance, widespread lawlessness and the availability of illegal weaponry has allowed a few charismatic leaders to recruit fighters to their toxic cause. Sponsorship by wealthy benefactors also contributes. Many of its foreign recruits are from areas of social deprivation; under-educated, under-valued, under-employed, and ripe for enrolment into an organisation that tells them you're all right and everyone else is wrong.

France may like to crow about "Liberté, égalité, fraternité!" but it has housing estates full of Muslim citizens who will tell you that they don't feel that they're treated equally. Al Jazeera has reported that by 1904 5,000 Muslims were working on the shop floors of Paris, in the soap factories of Marseilles and in the coalfields of the north. Muslim soldiers fought and died for France during the First World War, and Muslim members of the resistance helped liberate Paris in 1944. "Born as North Africans, many would die for France. But how much did post-war France care about their sacrifices?" Not enough. Young Muslims, like the young woman who blew herself up in Paris last week, have grown up to face social deprivation and unemployment with an understandable sense of grievance. Maybe you should be surprised that more of them haven't become terrorists.

And what about the UK? We don't have the same pool of disenfranchised Muslim youth, though there are pockets of deprivation, but bombing IS isn't going to help matters. There'll be more anti-UK rhetoric and reaction, more refugees, and more anti-Muslim nonsense spouted in the right-wing press and nationalist political groups and parties. In other words, it'll stir the pot of violence and hatred even more. Act in haste, and reap the consequences.

Click here to watch the Al Jazeera series on French Muslims.


Anonymous said...

Although are probably right in much of what you say about the past, I don't see that you have offered an alternative to the bombing of Isis. The Irish problem was eventually resolved through diplomacy. It is feasible that the same result could come about in respect of the Taliban. But there is no way that we could ever reach some sort of agreement with Isis. Their objective is to destabilise the West, starting by killing as many as they can in a totally random way. Our only hope is to take hem out wherever we can find them. I agree that bombing the towns where they base themselves risks killing many innocent civilians who they are preventing from leaving to find safety. But our drones have already proved themselves extremely effective in locating these terrorists and my hope is that increased use of this technology will locate and kill the top echelon of Isis. Once this is done I think the rest can be mopped up by ground forces and well directed air power. The analogy of killing the head of a snake to remove the danger is apposite.

M Nelson said...

I'm sorry that you've chosen to remain anonymous. I don't usually post comments without a name. I made an exception this time.

There was an interesting discussion about this on today's Dateline London on BBC News 24. The Arab writer Abdel Bari Atwan referred to the same pool of dissatisfied young French Muslims as I did. Polly Toynbee dismissed the idea that the UK should bomb IS as a gesture that wouldn't necessarily do much good. There's no appetite for British boots on the ground, or American ones, leaving adjoining states, such as Turkey, to send in their troops. However, as Turkey is bombing the Kurds, the only group that's been successful at fighting IS so far, their contribution is unlikely to be constructive. Your analogy sounds good but in the current mess, while Russia supports Assad, the Turks attack the Kurds and the Arab states avoid any confrontation, I can't see this ending with any kind of clear victory. If Assad is defeated, Syria will be even more at the mercy of opposing militias, just as Libya and Iraq are, and the chaos will suit IS, whichever way it goes.

As for drones; opinion is divided, but while innocent civilians are killed they're not as surgical as you suggest. Some of those involved with their use by the US say that they drive recruitment to IS.

It's natural to want some sort of resolution to the problem of IS and other terrorist organisations, but I don't think there is a simple answer. Going back several steps, instability in the Middle East and Africa has a lot to do with population increase, climate change (a drought in Syria forced many into the towns, where there was little for them, and fuelled discontent), and military interference, mostly by America. The first two problems aren't being addressed while terrorism distracts the major powers from setting an effective agenda. I don't like sounding pessimistic, but no one seems to be being realistic.