When crises occur, the immediate reaction is always to apportion blame, simplify arguments, take sides, get angry, and then do something…anything. The sensationalist press exacerbates this process, and since our politicians are so heavily influenced by media opinion, they often follow suit. Thinking outside the box is a definite no-no (see: Jeremy Corbyn).
The UK government’s reaction to the recent attack in Paris has therefore been just as expected. Events in France have given David Cameron and his Cabinet more ammo for the weapons they were already firing, while excusing them from tackling the more difficult questions. Increasing surveillance, dividing communities, turning teachers into thought police, strengthening anti-immigration sentiment; these are the orders of the day. Here’s a wider look at the causes of war in the Middle East and terrorism in the West.
We won’t be calling them by any other name on this blog any more – to do so indicates they hold the same beliefs as the mainstream Muslim community, which is not true. Daesh is nothing more than a handful of psychopaths and mercenaries indoctrinating vulnerable people who foster considerable problems; if born in the Middle East these might be the trauma of war and anger towards the West, if born in the West these might be general unhappiness and discontent, a lack of belonging, or other issues. We’ll get onto that later.
Daesh emerged from al-Qaeda in the early 2000s, assisted by the US fostering terrorists in its Iraqi containment camps. Al-Qaeda was formed as opposition to Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, funded by the US as a way to combat Soviet expansion. Similarly, the US also funded Daesh to fight the Syrian regime under Assad. The problem with funding jihadists is that they can be quite unstable, and tend to bite the hand that feeds them. Al-Qaeda perceive Daesh as too extreme, and Daesh hate al-Qaeda. Like so much in the Middle East, it’s complicated.
Saudi Arabia, which has officially denounced Daesh but still holds suspicious ties to the group, is otherwise known as ‘an ISIS that has made it’. Saudi Arabia is the source of Wahhabism, the radical form of Islam which encourages violence towards non-believers and upon which Daesh bases its beliefs, and whose growth in the Middle East and around the world has been funded by Saudi Arabia. Yet Western governments are very happy to fund the Saudis by buying their oil, selling them arms, and covering up their human rights abuses. Other nations complicit in supporting Daesh are Qatar and Kuwait, countries that Britain is equally friendly with.
Turkey deserves a special mention here because – according to very recent allegations – it is a pro-Daesh state masquerading as a Western ally. Yes, the country that just hosted the G20 summit is supporting Daesh – escorting them into Syria, providing them with weapons and giving them training. Turkey has also been persecuting the Kurds, who are fighting Daesh.
We know how Daesh gets its funding: from selling oil, trafficking heroin, and by taking cash donations from states, individuals and banks. Jeremy Corbyn has called for the UK to do something about Daesh’s funding. It doesn’t yet seem like we have much intention to tackle that though.
We’ve written before about how the rise of ‘extremism’ in Western countries can largely be attributed to changing values in society. We’ve forgotten the post-war consensus and now appear more interested in a few people getting rich and owning nice things. Neoliberal capitalism is seeing an end to civilian security and stability in Western countries. Inequality is rising. Poverty is deepening. There are no signs of any of this improving, and there’s little hope that our current batch of politicians will do anything.
This is especially true for today’s youth, saddled with larger and larger debt before even leaving education, with ever-decreasing chances of finding a secure place to live or stable job, and no community to support them. The young are labelled as ‘unproductive‘ by our leaders, even as the world goes through a quiet automation revolution that is fast seeing many jobs become obsolete. Criminalised, ostracised, victimised. Is it any surprise they are seeking alternatives?
Most young people find alternatives in peaceful opposition – the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, the Green Party, protest groups and alternative forms of currency and society enabled by the internet are all evidence of this. However, a small minority of vulnerable individuals, with no support from society and little motivation to conform, are swayed by Daesh propaganda, which can be very professional. Similar to grooming, the process of indoctrination can be quite gradual, with empty promises made that will be fulfilled in the holy land. Over 4,000 mostly young Europeans have been recruited, with 30,000 signed up worldwide.
We now know that all the Paris attackers identified so far are EU nationals. They were not ‘conservative Muslims’; they were in fact fairly typical for people of their age. They smoked cannabis, drank alcohol, were promiscuous, and until recently showed no significant interest in politics or religion. They are said to have ‘fallen in with a bad crowd’. They are young people who felt abandoned by society and left to find their own meaning in life. Daesh handed them ‘meaning’ on a plate, with the group readily accessible on social media and more understanding – in their eyes – than their own governments. They were given a cause; perhaps they didn’t fully understand it, but it was enough to motivate them to be involved in these atrocities.
While religion is not largely the cause of Daesh or the recent attacks, it is the excuse. Its abstract, unverifiable nature allows it to be twisted and bent to mean whatever you want it to mean. A worrying proportion of those in Muslim countries support Daesh. However, many Muslims in Western countries abhor Daesh, in doing so ignoring the parts of the Koran that are unsavoury. Some Christian groups in recent years have been just as extreme as Daesh. While religion does not pull the trigger, it does provides the ammo for those who want to use it.
To think beyond what is known to us through science is part of human nature, creativity, and our ability to discover new things. But to vehemently believe in something which cannot be proven, to impose those beliefs on children and others, or even to be violent against non-believers, is insidious and damaging to personal reasoning and society. Religion is simply absolute belief in something, which just like party politics, cults, and totalitarian dictatorships discourages critical thinking and logical reasoning.
Religion has provided us with common myths, ‘divine’ rules to guide society even in turbulent times, a source of comfort in difficult times, ways to deal with the idea of death, an answer to everything we don’t understand, and yes, sanctioned killing in the name of God – a very useful tool for leaders of societies. In modern Western society our laws guide us, science gives us answers, capitalism gives us common myths and fear of terrorism gives us reason for war. Neither approach is perfect; indeed the current pope seems to be more aware of the problems we face than Britain’s Prime Minister. This is not an argument for religion or modern society, but an argument for self-determination, for us to consciously choose how we want to live and find our own values again. To live for the common good without a guiding hand.
Most of the issues raised in this article are rarely if ever raised by the mainstream media, much less spoken about by politicians. However, the tide is changing. Jeremy Corbyn is speaking out on these issues with a very different tune than the one sung by the ‘consensus’ in Westminster. The public is weary of going into wars which can never be won, but as public memory is so short-term politicians are using Paris as an opportunity to force through more surveillance and take us into another war.
We can’t let fear guide us. We must learn the truth, not blindly trust what our leaders tell us. We must stand strong for peace, diplomacy, international law, and not rush headfirst into another doomed bombing spree. We must assume the solid determination of Antoine Leiris, who lost his wife in the Paris bombings, and who argued for us to hold on to our values and not react with hatred. We must create solidarity, not division. The latter is exactly what Daesh wants, and we can’t give it to them.
Featured image: Jérôme DEISS via Flickr
Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province, 87: Erwin Lux via Wikipedia
Kurdish YPG Fighter: Kurdish Struggle via Flickr
Green March: Alan Stanton via Flickr
Messages near the Bataclan: Duc via Flickr