Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation walks outside Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock
Among the avalanche of media commentary ascribing contemporary terrorism to some deformation of Islam by an extremist minority, one question is assiduously ignored: what, if anything, has the Western world done to contribute to the preconditions for the attacks we have recently seen in Ottawa, Sydney and now Paris?
For our political leaders the answer is easy: nothing.
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Echoing John Howard after the 9/11 attacks, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced last September when committing military forces to fight Islamic State in Iraq that: “… these terrorists and would-be terrorists are not targeting us for what we have done or for what we might do, they are targeting us for who we are; they are targeting us for our freedom, our tolerance, for our compassion, for our decency.”
Abbott’s rationale repeats the presupposition at the basis of Western government approaches: we are always the innocent victims of terrorism, never its perpetrator. We have nothing to explain, change or apologise for. By locating us on a moral summit from which we can look down on those who do not reach our giddy standards, we are reassured and can maintain our focus on violent fanatics and miscreants. Western state terrorism, after all, is not just taboo, it’s a non-subject.
While responsibility for acts of politically motivated violence rests squarely with those who commit them, it takes a willfully ignorant and dangerously naive view of global politics to believe that Islamists have no grievances worthy of our consideration — and rectification. This does not mean that we can put an end to anti-Western terrorism. That is far too ambitious given the revolt against the West dates from the period of European colonialism. Or that the West is always to blame for the terrorism it faces.
Our crimes and their grievances should be addressed to undermine the appeal that violent jihad holds for young, alienated Muslim men across the world. We may not be able to dissuade the deeply indoctrinated, but we would be foolish not to target the undecided — those who can be swayed either way.
Simultaneously, we can restore some of our own moral and political credibility, which has been severely tarnished in recent years. We are, after all, responsible for the predictable consequences of both our actions and inactions — even in the allegedly amoral world of international relations.
So, what are the most pressing issues? Here are eight that challenge Abbott’s claims about our “tolerance”, “compassion” and “decency”:
1. The torture of innocent Muslims by the CIA
Details about the torture of innocent Muslims by the CIA and their detention without trial at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have been partially disclosed in the US Congress. However, none of the torturers are to be prosecuted for their horrific crimes, only the whistleblower who exposed them.
2. The illegal invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Iraqi society
This particular atrocity was perpetrated by the US, UK, Australia and others in 2003, followed by a decade-long occupation of the country. It created the preconditions for Islamic State. There is no official acknowledgement of this (quite the opposite), nor the hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries caused by the war, or the war crimes committed in Fallujah (November, 2004) and elsewhere during the occupation. Such is the absolution afforded by righteous power.
3. The longest war in US history against Afghanistan (2001-15) achieved virtually nothing
… well, except for the immiseration of the population. Al-Qaeda has successfully re-spawned and relocated, while the Taliban is still a formidable political and military force in the country today and will remain so into the future. By outlasting us, they won.
4. The ongoing murder of innocent civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan by US pilotless drones.
A lot of secrecy surrounds these attacks, so there is little, if any, accountability for them, though plenty of popular anger that helps to maintain support for groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Dirty wars do not make many friends, but they do produce more determined enemies.
5. US and Australian governments enabling and cheerleading Israel’s attacks on Gaza’s population
In 2014 thousands of Palestinians were killed injured and made homeless, yet no protests or marches by Western politicians ensued. Instead, doubt was cast by the Australian government that the West Bank and Jerusalem were even “occupied” territory. Palestinians who eschew violence and pursue membership of the UN and the ICC to try and resolve the conflict are now to be “punished” by Israel and America for treading the diplomatic path.
6. Western support for corrupt, fundamentalist tyrannies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain
Despite what the populations of these countries must endure (beheadings, amputations, floggings, dictatorial rule, unfree media, few rights for women, etc), these are our favoured fundamentalists (and trading partners) and therefore beyond criticism, let alone invasion. None of this should come as a surprise. In the Middle East and central Asia, the West has a long history of supporting Islamic extremists at the expense of secular nationalists.
7. The ongoing bombing campaign by the USAF, RAF and RAAF against IS in Iraq
This will only enrage those who see the military power of the West yet again deployed against Muslims. As always, the bombings will produce revenge attacks in the West that, inexplicably, will shock us every time. The obvious lesson from Afghanistan and Iraq has not been learned: there are no military solutions to the many challenges the West faces around the world.
8. The charnel house that is Syria
With hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries over several years now, Syria is not seen to exercise the self-proclaimed moral conscience of the West. Like Palestinians, Syrians have little to offer the West and therefore do not count. There is to be no humanitarian relief for them, just more bombing campaigns that mysteriously keep killing innocent civilians.
By no means a definitive list, these eight factors significantly shape the view of many Muslims towards the Western world, including millions who live within its various political communities. We can never assuage the concerns of every fanatic in every country, but addressing legitimate grievances for which we bear direct responsibility is an unavoidable first step towards undermining the attraction of politically motivated, religiously inspired violence.