In the aftermath of the barbaric and inconceivable atrocity in Paris, I am still benumbed at how an organisation, especially one supposedly with strong religious and moral credentials, could commit such an egregious act. No simplistic remedies will suffice. No strident rhetoric should serve as a pretext for intemperate action. Rather divine the essence of what drives supposedly intelligent youngsters to be radicalised to commit such heinous crimes and take appropriate action. But more importantly from a personal perspective what was the historical prelude to this shameful act.
I would like to make a trenchant observation. Unlike most pundits I cast my net much deeper than the shallows of the Syrian uprising or the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 albeit that both events cast a long shadow over the process of radicalisation of Islamic youths. No! I would like to cast my net as far back as the First World War. It was then that the British stoked the flames of Arab Jihad in order to ingratiate themselves with the Arabs. Their objective was to obtain fealty from the Arabs and their support in overthrowing the Ottoman Turks who were their overlords.
In the forefront of that agreement was none other than Lawrence of Arabia. On the defeat of the Central Powers, the British reneged on their promises and placed the Emir of the Hejaz in the invidious position of being obliged to enter into a Faustian Bargain with the Imam of Mecca. Like most pacts concluded within this region, the unintended consequences were never factored in. Whereas the Emir was entitled to rule the Arabian Peninsula in all aspects excluding those under the mantle of Sharia Law, the Wahhabists would in reality control all social conventions, mores and interactions. Hence the day-to-day lives of the populace were strictly governed not by a secular body but by a conservative religious organisation.
By its very nature, the Wahhabists were an ultraconservative, austere, puritanical and fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam. The Emir or Ruler of Saudi Arabia would forever be beholden to the religious Wahhabist authorities and their progeny, the religious police.
Within the rest of the Arab world, things were little better for the average person. With autocrats and demagogues in positions of power what choices did the average citizen possess? Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Muslim religion offered the only form of resistance to these despots. The more fundamentalist that they were, the less ability the omnipotent state was able to suppress them.
In their desire for a reliable source of oil, both the West and Russia indulged these autocrats & despots. Open support often accompanied by huge weapons deals served both to keep armaments manufacturing companies’ order books full, whilst simultaneously currying favour with these undemocratic regimes.
The first to buckle was the Shah of Iran. What the Persian populace desired was democracy. Instead they were bequeathed theocracy. Even the merest display of hair exposed from under an obligatory headscarf was a crime. Like Saudi Arabia, the religious police were a menace on the streets as their brand of extremism reigned supreme.
At this juncture in many Arab countries, such as Egypt and Afghanistan, the intellectuals and professionals, whilst nominally Muslim, were increasingly Western in outlook. Their attire spoke volumes for their relaxed social mores and customs. It is estimated that in these countries only 20% of its denizens wore traditional dress and followed the more austere dictates of the Muslim religion.
With rising frustrations against hopelessness driven by joblessness, rising anger was met by an immovable force in the form of the state repression. For the most part the ultimate benefactor of this confrontation was the extremist religious sects. It should not be surprising that many of the terrorists implicated in the 09/11 atrocity in New York City were Saudi Arabians. Simply put, such was their fanaticism that by even allowing infidels – non-Muslims – into Saudi Arabia, the extremists such as Osama bin Laden labelled the Saudi authorities as being anti-Muslim!
The long history of meddling in the political affairs of the Muslim countries by the West & Russia provides vivid examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. Take Afghanistan as a trenchant example. The Socialist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan – the PDPA – came to power in 1978 through a coup known as the Saur Revolution. This revolt ousted the government of Mohammad Daoud Khan. Hafizullah Amin, an avowed Marxist, and the organiser of the Saur Revolution, introduced several contentious reforms during his rule, the most notable being equal rights to women, universal education and land reform.
Schisms, defections, assassinations followed. In desperation, and to prevent their favoured Communist Afghan leaders from being deposed, the Soviet Union elected to support the Afghan military with boots on the ground. Sensing Russian vulnerability, the Americans provided military hardware to the so-called “peace-loving democratic pro-Western Taliban”!! Amongst these weapons supplied was the potent Stinger anti-aircraft missile. This mislabelling and misrepresentation of the Taliban would come to haunt the USA when the Taliban provided succour and a safe haven to the terrorists involved in the 09/11 atrocity.
From being American allies in the defence of Afghanistan against Soviet aggression, the Taliban transmogrified becoming enemy number one, the very antithesis of American values
Saddam Hussein of Iraq might have fitted the identi-kit of a murderer and demagogue, but were his detractors in Iraq any better? They were certainly not peace loving democrats in the American mould. Instead, after his overthrow, internecine religious strife erupted between the Sunni and Shia sects. It was in this milieu that Al-Qaeda was born. From them in turn, ISIS was conceived. With an even more extreme agenda, it intends to create a Muslim Caliphate across all Muslim countries.
Origins of the recent atrocities
The radicalisation of the unemployed Muslim youths within France has gained traction in lockstep with the establishment of ISIS. Such youths imprisoned within the squalid banlieues. On a point of clarification, these banlieues or suburbs may be rich, middle-class or poor—Versailles, Le Vésinet, Maisons-Laffitte and Neuilly-sur-Seine are affluent banlieues of Paris, whereas Clichy-sous-Bois, Bondy and Corbeil-Essonnes are poor ones. However, since the 1970s, the phrase les banlieues has been increasingly used in European French to describe suburban low-income housing projects in which mainly foreign immigrants and French of foreign descent reside, often in perceived poverty traps
Feeling alienated from French society, this is the perfect breeding ground for all manner of anti-social behaviour. It is into this receptive fertile soil that the seeds of disenchantment with the supposedly degenerate Western anti-Islamic philosophy are being planted. Nourished by the hatreds bred by disaffected dissolute radical youths, these impressionable miscreants are steadily inducted into a terrorist cell.
Rational medium to long term solutions
An immediate requirement is cogent intelligence. This will expose not only the perpetrators but those most at risk of conversion. A thorough and fuller understanding of the process of radicalisation would afford the French the opportunity of devising counter measures, creating receptive alternatives and stalling further attempts at the recruitment of youths as “home-made bombs” or mobile IEDs – Improvised Exploding Devices.
The French Revolution should have been an enduring lesson in how not to obtain the loyalty and fraternité of one’s fellow human beings. Rather this will require a national dialogue without sanctimonious rhetoric or paying lip service to limp-wristed and effete solutions. Without the necessary political will and compromise, the French will face a generation of disaffected youths prepared to sacrifice themselves in the name of Allah.
In this situation a Donald Trump would exhibit a comprehensive display of ignorance. With cheery sanguine optimism and facile solutions, in his misguided beliefs he would propose the following:
- Expelling all Muslims from France despite the fact that the actual terrorists were French citizens albeit Muslim having been born in France
- Close the borders and build a huge wall around the country
- Bomb the sh*t / hell out of ISIS preferably with atomic weapons
- Invade Syria and smash ISIS without recalling the American experiences in both Vietnam and Iraq.
For such inane suggestions, such proponents should rightly be awarded the Badge of Stupidity. This prestigious award is reserved for those whose suggestions bear all the hallmarks of irrationality such as the following:
- Ignoring the unintended consequences
- Disregarding the realities of the solution
- Displaying haughty disdain for the practicalities
- Overstating the efficacy and costs of the proposed solutions
Whilst I appreciate the all-too human desire for immediate retribution albeit as a deterrent against further terrorist actions, the reactions should be restricted, measured and precise. Even a disproportionate response is preferable to a decision to invade Syria. The spectre of soldiers being exposed to crossfire with civilians being used as human shields should deter such a response.
In the modern human rights milieu, a heavy handed response with significant human casualties – collateral damage – will rapidly place the French as the poster-boys of the murderous Westerners.
By all means, let the French vent their frustrations against ISIS by bombing their military facilities. Even surgical military raids would serve as stark warnings of French displeasure at being attacked. By such stratagems, defuse French public anger but avoid by all means possible an intractable unwinnable war of attrition in a foreign country
Terrorism dressed in the guise of religion defies belief. It is an alien concept to the democrats and secularists of the West. Sanctity of human life trumps over all other considerations; hence the immense disbelief at the terrorists murderous deeds. Cocooned within these belief systems, the French have misjudged the anger and resentment boiling within the balieuse.
But buried underneath this seemingly avalanche of bad news, is the ultimate germination of a new future. What is the basis of my positivity? It is based upon a hunch, an understanding of the long-view of history and trends.
From the early 1960’s the levels of religiousness within the world have exhibited the following trends:
- Christian religions have displayed a steady decline in church attendance to the point where most northern European countries can claim only 1%
- On the other hand, the level of religiousness within the Muslim communities has steadily waxed gaining traction as it did so
I view the latter trend line as now being at its apex, a pinnacle, an inflection point.
Antagonists of my viewpoint will present the emergence of ISIS to contradict my understanding. A further example such as the rise of the Islamist political parties in Turkey could be yet another exemplar.
To counter this, I would be hard-pressed to supply contra-indications other than a marginal relaxation of strict Sharia laws in Iran.
No, it is none of these. Rather it will be the youth. With a preponderance of youth people, they will ultimately cast aside the chains of oppression and create a new society, more democratic and less theocratic.
Remember the adage: It is darkest before dawn.
A revitalised Arab Spring or a second Saur Revolution which this time will free the women from the bondage of patriarchal societies and unleash modern norms and mores on traditional hide-bound societies.
My time scale?
This century but probably before 2050.
This is a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the current good guys and bad guys operating in the murky political world of the Middle East. It contains more than a grain of truth. Hopefully it will convey the extreme difficulty in determining a country’s foreign policy position.
A briefing document on Syria……
President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning. But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State (who are definitely bad) and some continued to support democracy (who are still good). So the Americans (who are good) started bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad) which was good. By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they’re good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter. Getting back to Syria. President Putin (bad, as he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking IS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing? But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good). Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.
So a Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good) which is bad. Now the British (obviously good, except Corbyn who is probably bad) and the Americans (also good) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad). So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them good. America (still good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that mad ayatollah in Iran (also good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS (still the only constantly bad group). To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims (Assad and Iran) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as good (doh!). Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (might have a point) and hence we will be seen as bad. So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (good / bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, good ) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started? I hope that this clears it all up for you.