War-On-Terror Policies Partly Fuel Islamic Radicalism
By Saritha Prabhu
January 23, 2015
After the terrible Charlie Hebdo massacre, Islam is again in the hot seat. Many in the West — including here in Middle Tennessee — are asking: Why do so many young Muslim men, particularly in the West, turn to violence and Jihadism?
Asking these questions can be an outlet for the fear experienced by many. But the problem is that Islamic terrorism is often talked about as if it happens in a vacuum. To try to understand some components of it is not to condone it, or support it, or be an apologist for it. But a wide-angle lens would be helpful in discussing it.
The Paris massacre was mainly about the Kouachi brothers “avenging their prophet,” as they said, for the satirical cartoons. But their radicalism didn’t begin with the cartoons. As The New York Times reported last week, the seeds of the brothers’ Jihadism started 10 years ago with the Iraq War and the Abu Ghraib reports.
And this, you find, is a common factor in the stories of most Muslim jihadists in the West. The Paris killers, the Boston bombers, the Fort Hood jihadist and many others said the same thing. Our war-on-terror policies after the 9/11 attacks — the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, drone strikes — have fuelled and exacerbated Islamic Jihadism in the West and elsewhere.
To be clear: These policies didn’t cause or create Jihadism as a whole. Jihadism, of course, existed before the Iraq War, and experts say has metastasized since then. But the post-9/11 wars and counterterrorism policies have certainly inflamed many disaffected Western Muslim men — and women — and made them more susceptible to the calls of extremists on the Internet.
A common theme emerges when you read reports on Islamic jihadists in the West: Many young Muslim men see Islam and its followers as under attack by the West, especially in the last decade, on multiple fronts: Iraq, Afghanistan, drones in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere. And Palestinian suffering also contributes to this.
If you talk to an average, educated Muslim-American family here, as I have, they are likely to say: The Islam we follow doesn’t teach the killing of innocents, and jihadists don’t speak for Islam, but it’s also true that we’re angered over the Iraq War, over the drone strikes that have killed innocent civilians, over the injustices in Palestine.
Is some of their anger justified? You could say so. But no amount of anger, of course, justifies terrorism, and most Muslims in the West understand that. Again, to be clear: My argument (as a non-Muslim) is not to justify Islamic Jihadism in the West, but to try and understand some roots of it.
The world’s media also often mourns in selective, often racially biased ways. It mourns, as it absolutely should, the victims of terrorist attacks in the West, but shrugs off as collateral damage the thousands of innocent drone victims.
In recent weeks, I found myself silently thinking that yes, I mourn the cartoonists’ deaths and the French Jewish victims targeted for their religion, but I also mourn the civilian drone deaths.
Parallel to all this, of course, is the war within Islam — the ongoing Shiite-Sunni conflict, the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS, Boko Haram, etc.
Also, there seems to be a disconnect in how some Muslims in the West understand the Western values of free speech. So, it is a mess all right.
Since the 9/11 attacks, we’ve been caught in a strange whack-a-mole game. There are no easy answers; violence begets violence; and “us” and “them” are caught in a never-ending vortex. Gandhi’s observation comes to mind: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Saritha Prabhu of Clarksville is a columnist for The Tennessean.