The terrorist attack on November 13 in Paris was the response to France’s joining the air campaign against ISIS.
This assault has released intense emotions and created hatred for Muslims. Donald Trump, one of the Republican presidential candidates, has even suggested registering American Muslims.
Our world has become too small and humanity too interdependent and intermingled for us to walk the road of hatred and rejection. Instead, we should try to understand why movements, such as ISIS, come into being and how we could develop viable policies to insure that the carnage doesn’t spill over to our shores.
After 9/11, President George W. Bush declared war on terror. Washington’s policy has failed. Then, al-Qaeda operated out of Afghanistan and ISIS didn’t exist. Today, al-Qaeda operates in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and ISIS trumps al-Qaeda in radicalization and brutality.
Arab history indicates that the region’s rebellions are based mainly on domestic grounds and to a lesser degree on foreign influence. They are caused by centuries of despotic rule and socio-political stagnation. It’s the urge for change that’s fueling them.
When the desire for evolution grips the populace after long periods of extreme repression and lack of progress, the resulting struggle is violent, cruel, and long-lasting. In 370 BC, Plato warned, “Indeed, any extreme is liable to produce a violent reaction; this is as true of the weather and plants and animals, as of political societies.”
Over the centuries, while momentous occurrences have taken place in Europe, the Islamic world has remained socially, politically, and religiously inflexible.
Beginning in the 14th century, the Renaissance initiated Europe’s transition from the medieval to the modern world. The reformation in the 16th century instigated battles of ideas that further advanced Europe’s intellectual faculties to higher levels of perspicacity.
The Thirty Years War in the 17th century initiated another important phase in European progress. This destructive war led to the Enlightenment and secularism and freed the mind to innovate political, educational, and, most importantly, religious doctrine. Out of these historic events emerged secular governance, modern jurisprudence, economic progress, and technological innovation.
As the Christian domain pressed forward, the Islamic world crawled under greed, corruption, and tyranny. The Ottoman Empire, the only remaining Islamic power, was defeated in World War I. Its possessions in the Middle East, which constituted most of today’s Middle Eastern Arab states, became British and French protectorates. The two victors of World War I subdivided the region into separate states according to their own preferences and in disregard of tribal and religious differences.
After World War II, when the Middle Eastern Arabs gained their independence, their colonial masters made sure that their local sycophants inherited state powers. The rule of men continued uninterruptedly. This narrative is the catalyst to today’s mayhem in the Arab world.
The centuries of dictatorship and socio-economic immobility in Arab countries have broken down the trust between elites and oppositions. Channels of nonviolent engagement between them have collapsed. Tension among them has reached destructive levels. Rulers use increasingly harsher methods to suppress the people’s longings for change. The oppositions respond with growing brutality in their effort to bring about the political, social, and economic changes they believe are needed to transition their countries into the modern age. As is evident in Syria and Iraq, violence remains the only medium for change, a condition that has plunged those countries into devastation.
The ruthlessness of these wars should not surprise us — especially when we consider that those nations’ development is trapped somewhere between the 12th and 15th centuries.
Besides, brutality has always been a hallmark of civil wars.
The role of religion in this merciless confrontation shouldn’t be a puzzle either. History reveals as to why the Arab insurgency claims to be following fundamentalist Islam. The war in Iraq and Syria will likely last long — eventually incorporating other regional states, including oil-rich countries. Both sides are eager to offer their adherence the most powerful and long-lasting motivation. Historically, nothing has been more powerful than the idea of fighting for God. That was true in medieval Europe and is the case in today’s Middle East. Islam deeply occupies the minds of the populace. It is often understood and practiced as it was in the 9th century when its reinterpretation was frozen by a decree that an Islamic council of the time had issued.
Over the last 60 years, the Arab oppositions ran out of theoretical models on which to base their movements and justify their demand for change. In the late1940s and early 1950s, most Middle Eastern reformers accepted Western democracy as a foundation for their revolution.
When the West sided with their political and economic elites, they turned to communism for a philosophical basis and the Soviet Union for political support. In the late 1980s and early 90s, communism collapsed and the Soviet state split up. Disappointed by modern, secular models of governance, Arab oppositions turned to Islamic fundamentalism. With Islam, they thought to have found a stable and permanent base. Thus, politicized Islam was borne.
Politicized Islam does not aim to revive Islam for Islam’s sake. The vast majority of Muslims have never left Islam to warrant a return to it. Politicized Islam is the political manifestation of a radical case of opposition. It is an extreme political reaction to perpetual injustice. Politicized Islam is not a religious movement. It is a religiously based political agenda. Like any radical expression, politicized Islam is a fanatical form of opposition to repression.
In the post-World War II era, Western leaders, despite their close relations with the regions rulers, have neglected to use their influence to induce Arab rulers to gradually change their repressive ways of governance. Had they done so, today’s catastrophic situation could have been avoided.
By cronyism, corruption, and oppression, the elites in Iraq, Syria, and Libya have caused civil wars to descend upon their people. The stress and destruction of war has also propelled tribal and religious divisions to the foreground, making the situation even more complex.
Civil wars are to be left to the people involved. Outsiders cannot solve and should not interfere in them. Foreign involvement in such wars makes the meddling party subject to retaliation.
The civil wars in the Middle East and North Africa do not threaten Western interests. If the West wishes to curb terror attacks on its territory, it must let the Arabs solve their problems by themselves. Avoiding terror assaults in democratic societies will always be difficult. If Washington continues interfering in those insurgencies, we, the American people, must be on guard not to overreact under the stress of such attacks.
We must not allow terror to compromise our values and way of life.
Observing Europe’s failure to assimilate its minority populations, I warned in an article on January 29, 2015, “… the direct danger to the West, especially Europe, does not necessarily come from homegrown Islamists. The threat comes mainly from the alienated and embittered men and women from the West itself.”
I believe I can imagine President Hollande’s pain. However, warmongering is not the answer to the calamity in Paris. My advice to Mr. Hollande and all European leaders is to persuade their people to acknowledge their minorities as their own and to let them participate fully and equally in their national lives, no matter how they look or pray.
As the misfortune in Paris demonstrated, marginalization of minorities leads to hatred and the desire for revenge.
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