It’s been more than a week since the horrific massacre in Paris – whose death toll could have been at least tripled but for the effective work of security guards at the Stade de France where a friendly match had just commenced between France and Germany….The lockdown this weekend of central Brussels may seem heavy-handed but obviously warranted given the disaffection clearly embedded in at least one of the Brussels neighbourhoods……
Given the long battle which raged around a flat in the St Dennis neighbourhood of Paris on Wednesday before some of the apparent perpetrators were brought down, it is quite amazing that only three deaths seem to have resulted (more so in Mali) but, sadly, many more innocent people in Syria have died as France has stepped up its bombing of ISIS targets in that country…..
Like most people I have not only followed these fast-moving events but have tried to understand the motives of those concerned….For me there are 3 basic questions –
- Who are these people, prepared to blow up people amongst whom they have lived?
- Why are they doing it?
- What does it take to get them to stop?
Although I have 7 years of living in muslim societies, the Russian cultural influence (for which read vodka) was still strong in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan – although ebbing particularly fast in the last country… where indeed there was a lockdown in the Pamir mountains just outside Tashkent in 2000 because of terrorist activities…
I have, since that time, had a certain interest in Islam – to the extent, for example, of reading both Among the Believers – an Islamic journey by VS Naipul (1981); and Desperately Seeking Paradise – journeys of a sceptical muslim by Ziauddin Sardar (2004)
Curiously, few of the articles I have read seem to deal with the first question. One exception is Scott Atran and Nafeeds Hamid’s highly detailed profiling in The New York Review of Books
that 90 percent of French citizens who have radical Islamist beliefs have French grandparents and 80 percent come from non-religious families. In fact, most Europeans who are drawn into jihad are “born again” into radical religion by their social peers.
In France, and in Europe more generally, more than three of every four recruits join the Islamic State together with friends, while only one in five do so with family members and very few through direct recruitment by strangers. Many of these young people identify with neither the country their parents come from nor the country in which they live. Other identities are weak and non-motivating.
One woman in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois described her conversion as being like that of a transgender person who opts out of the gender assigned at birth: “I was like a Muslim trapped in a Christian body,” she said. She believed she was only able to live fully as a Muslim with dignity in the Islamic State. For others who have struggled to find meaning in their lives, ISIS is a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that many of them will never live to enjoy.
A July 2014 poll by ICM Research suggested that more than one in four French youth of all creeds between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four have a favorable or very favorable opinion of ISIS.
Even if these estimates are high, in our own interviews with young people in the vast and soulless housing projects of the Paris banlieues we found surprisingly wide tolerance or support for ISIS among young people who want to be rebels with a cause—who want, as they see it, to defend the oppressed.
In another blog in the same journal a well-known Pakistani journalist (with a decade of personal experience as a guerrilla) looks at the divergent pattern of attacks on civilian targets by terrorist groups of the past decade and offers the obvious explanation for the attacks in the European heartland -
ISIS is now determined to launch attacks against those states that are waging war against it. Turkey has just given the US government permission to use some of its airbases for strikes against ISIS; Hezbollah is helping Bashar al-Assad fight ISIS.
The Russians are now bombing ISIS and other groups, while the French are crucial partners in the anti-ISIS coalition.
French warplanes bombing ISIS from runways in the Gulf states are about to get a fresh boost as the French government sends its only aircraft carrier to the Gulf.
ISIS’s message is thus clear—the group is waging an all-out deliberate war against all those countries that are lining up to fight it. Again, this is not an attempt to take down the Western order, in the way that al-Qaeda was trying to do, nor is it a reaction to the evils of Western heathens. It is a direct reaction to what is being done to ISIS by coalition forces.
A Turkish academic, Mehmet Ugur, offers a more nuanced approach in “Social Europe”
The background for this sad state of affairs is common knowledge. The emergence of a unipolar world system in the early 1990s has induced Western governments to push for unrestricted market dominance at home and abroad. Also, triumphalism has become the norm of foreign policy, which embraced military interventions aimed at regime change in contravention to international law and massive public opposition.
One component of the ‘regime-change’ strategy was to support and collaborate with non-state armed groups. The first pilot exercise was the direct and indirect (through the ISI of Pakistan) support that the American administration provided to the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s. The support took an ‘unintended’ form during the 2000s, when the Taliban were slicing off US aid to the failed state that the US intervention had left behind.
Then came the Iraq War, which created a large number of Sunni armed groups, including Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The latter joined other Sunni insurgency groups in 2006 to form ISIS. The recruitment ground for these groups consisted of Sunnis who lost jobs and livelihoods as a result of Western military intervention in Iraq. The link between Western interventions and the strengthening of terrorist groups was also evident after the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.
Under the nose of Western surveillance, Libyan arms depots were looted and weapons sent to Syria through a NATO ally – Turkey. The Times reported on an arms shipment on 14 September 2012. This is unlikely to have been the only shipment.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article in April 2014, in which he exposed a classified agreement between the CIA, Turkey and the Syrian rebels to create the “rat line” – the covert network used to channel weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria through Turkey.
The funding was provided by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with full knowledge of the US authorities.
My third question does beg some further questions – not least the obvious one of why I haven’t raised this question before in my blog…..I'm forced to recognise that our sense of moral outrage is relative and selective. Indeed even to pose the question is, for many, a concession to terrorism……..
Translate it to more everyday behaviour….confronted by a bully, do we concede? Surely not! That's the "lesson" we've drawn from appeasement...Not surprisingly therefore it is the basis of most of the pundits’ commentary……
I think, however, we need to go back to the first question and be willing to explore more the nature of the people we are dealing with….it is certainly not the German friend Camus was writing to in 1944…
And the scale of games being played by our so-called allies in the Middle East (if not Russia) should certainly make us think ten times before sustaining or strengthening some of our strange alliances
update; by a pure coincidence, I have just started to watch this 1985 film "Brazil" which, despite its opening humour, sends shivers down my spine. We've been at it for 30 years??????