By : Sandra Bloodworth
When I sat with my dying father almost ten years ago, he raged about the destruction of the historic Iraqi city of Fallujah by US troops. Their atrocities had left an ancient city in ruins and reduced its population to little more than 30 per cent of its former number. His hatred of the US was visceral – and he was not Arab, he was not an extremist or even mildly radical. He simply knew injustice and barbarity when he saw it. And he knew the US and its Western allies had a long history of such outrages around the world.
Imagine how Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry felt. A young man in his early 30s, al-Badry was detained by the marauding US troops for being no more than what is now described by his biographers as “a street thug”. Actually, we don’t have to imagine. We know that this once-peripheral figure is now known to the world as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State carrying out atrocities against minorities in northern Iraq.
It is horrific what is happening under his tutelage. But the roots of such violence and rage have been planted and nurtured by Western imperialism.
The West has spent a century arming and giving political support to war lords, dictators and any butchers who could be bribed or bullied into defending Western interests. The US has organised or backed coups to ensure democracy could not endure. It has supported jailings, torture, killings and terror inflicted by the regimes it funded.
In 1991, the US bombed Iraq. US pilots slaughtered thousands of fleeing Iraqi conscript soldiers as they withdrew from Kuwait. They called it a “turkey shoot” to emphasise the criminal disregard for human life. The soldiers’ bodies, some still alive, were mercilessly bulldozed into the sands along what was dubbed the “highway of death” running from the south towards Baghdad. Then the US and its allies imposed sanctions as a “peaceful” way to bring down Saddam Hussein. More than a million deaths was the result. Madeline Albright, then US secretary of state, responding to the fact that 500,000 of the dead were children, later said “we think the price is worth it”.
On 11 September 2001, two aircraft flew into the World Trade Centre in New York. Anyone who dared to point out that al Qaeda, the organisation behind the attack, was a predictable response to the West’s crimes was declared an enemy of all that is good and wholesome, excuse mongers for an unspeakable crime.
And so the so-called “war on terror” unleashed a war of terror against Muslims around the globe. The world’s democracies rushed through draconian laws which trashed basic human and civil rights. Any hint of radicalism among Muslims has brought vociferous denunciations of moderate Muslims for failing to contain extremism.
The left has always argued that the war of terror, the history of the West’s crimes against the Arab world, and the 2003 invasion and subsequent US occupation of Iraq – in the context of unflinching support for any atrocity inflicted on the Palestinians by the terrorist state of Israel – would breed terrorism and extremism.
The rabid Islamophobia of the war of terror has blighted the lives of millions not just in the Middle East but in the West. Women’s right to wear their chosen religious clothing pilloried in the name of secularism, and even banned in the heartlands of Europe, heaps humiliation on outrage.
Have the sanctimonious politicians, religious spokespeople and media ratbags who demand moderation and subservience on the part of Muslims forgotten the images from Abu Ghraib in Iraq when US soldiers subjected prisoners to obscenities? Have they not thought of how the existence of Guantanamo Bay, the associated “rendition” of men charged with nothing, and its regimes of torture and inhumanity might cultivate rage, and the kind of alienation which feeds organisations such as ISIS?
They did not need to listen to the left. In 2006 the New York Times reported that an opening section of Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement, a report from the top intelligence agencies in the US, “cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology. The report ‘says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse’, said one American intelligence official.”
What do Western governments care? A cycle of state terror, extreme responses, and attacks on basic human rights all strengthen their grip on power. In spite of such warnings, Iraq was ravaged by US invasion. The promotion of the sectarian government of Maliki predictably fuelled the Sunni uprising which enabled ISIS to make its dramatic gains.
In the West, Muslims are treated like criminals, marginalised by constant media and government Islamophobia. Is it any wonder that some conclude that they may as well join marginal, extreme organisations? It’s not hard to see how government demands for grovelling denials of extremism from religious and community leaders, and laws which clearly target Muslims as if they’re all criminals, create fertile ground from which extremist groups can recruit. Being moderate simply results in humiliation and ongoing discrimination.
In July, 1.5 million Palestinians faced yet another pulverising onslaught from Israel. No unqualified outrage about that genocide from the West, unlike the response to the plight of thousands threatened by the Islamic State. Palestinians are accused of bringing it on themselves by exercising their perfectly legal right (endorsed by the UN) to defend themselves against the crimes of their oppressors. Such sickening hypocrisy fuels the cynicism from which extremist responses grow.
ISIS commits unspeakable crimes, but they mirror the barbarity of the West. More hypocritical lectures about the need for Muslim moderates to crush the extremists in their ranks, more attacks on democratic and human rights, and ramping up Islamophobia – all will predictably feed ever more alienation, extremism, and tragedy.