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Laith Saud

Let's situate terrorism in its historical context

Exactly 13 years ago, the Iraqi state was completely dismantled by US-led invasion [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 March, 2016

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Comment: The recent emergence of non-state terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, has its historical roots in state terrorism inflicted on Iraq exactly 13 years ago, writes Laith Saud.

This past week, we were again sadly reminded of the preponderance of terrorism in our day and age.  In Iraq, 41 people were killed in a suicide attack claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS).  This attack comes on the heels of much more reported Brussels attacks, which killed 34, and Istanbul attack, which left 5 dead. 

Western media has treated terrorism in the Middle East with abject apathy. The hypocrisy is poignant; but the logic of ‘how to deal with’ terrorism has also been problematic.  Many in the West seem to believe that terrorism is endemic to Islamic doctrine – of which IS is the most ‘literal’ – and indifference to terrorism in Muslim-majority societies is an extension of that belief.  But very few policymakers seem interested in tackling the more serious – and real – causes of terrorism: war, occupation, and the military-industrial complex. 

If Western societies really abhor terrorism, which I believe is the case, then they should demand serious and substantial shift in policy and discourse in Western democracies.

The Iraq War: where it all unfolded

This past month marked 13 years since the US-led invasion of Iraq began; the defining moment where terrorist organisations started to emerge. George W. Bush and a cadre of neo-conservative policy wonks lied to the American people and the world in order to invade oil rich Iraq and topple its regime.  Then, the US-led occupation completely dismantled the Iraqi state and dissolved its military and police force. Since then, chaos ensued, killing up to one million Iraqis.

It is common for neo-conservative apologists to debate anti-war activists on the issue of whether President Bush lied.  For the record, the Bush administration did lie and was fraught with war criminals.  But the advantage to reducing the Iraq war to an issue of lying is two-fold: First, it is difficult to prove intention over intellect. 

When confronted with all of the evidence, Bush apologists simply claim that US intelligence was incorrect or that George Bush was simply a stupid leader.  Stupidity is harmful but not criminal.  The second advantage is it deflects attention from the occupation itself. 

We do not need to prove that the Bush administration lied to demonstrate that war crimes were committed.  According to international law, an occupying power is responsible for the security and stability of occupied land.  Such powers must ensure that people are not forcibly moved from their homes – a phenomenon that continues until today, as well as respect the law of the land and protect cultural property. 

The brutality of Bush-Blair invasion and occupation of Iraq has inspired the emergence of IS, which today carries on with and spreads this brutality across the globe, most destructively in Iraq and Syria. 

We rightfully feel rage, indignation and a sense of transgression at the hands of nihilistic terrorists who kill innocent people, coming from every part of the world and subscribe to all or no religion. Nevertheless, we have failed to address the root of the current trend. 

The Iraq war is the primary catalyst for the rise of IS. Having said that, we should hold those who instigated the Iraq war to account.  In doing so, we would be saying that all lives matter, that the law is universal, and that we hold humanity above power.  Such a statement would be a severe blow to terror and its narrative.                          

Syria and Europe 

This same logic extends to Syria.  For five years now, we have watched the Syrian people being mass murdered by a ruthless regime through weaponry supplied by international powers. While we debate ‘Islamic extremism’, Muslim ‘assimilation’ and patrolling Muslim neighborhoods, we never have a serious discussion about the dissemination of weapons of both mass and minor destruction. 

If Western societies really abhor terrorism, which I believe is the case, then they should demand serious and substantial shift in policy and discourse in Western democracies.

Many Europeans, including heads of states and government officials, cringe at the thought of bringing in refugees.  Meanwhile, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have absorbed millions.  But Europeans feel these people are a ‘threat’, as if these human beings were not themselves fleeing danger.  In fact, the international community has a legal obligation to prevent on-going wars and humanitarian catastrophes. War and destruction is a major source of terrorism and if we wish to destroy ISIS, we must extinguish the flames of injustice and madness that cultivate it.

A New Way Forward

Terrorism concerns all of us, precisely because it does not discriminate.  But I humbly suggest we begin to imagine a new way forward; rather than divide humanity along rigid ethnic and sectarian lines, let us acknowledge the universal nature of the crisis and, consequently, the universal view of humanity that must be spread in order to overcome it. 

Laith Saud is a writer and scholar. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University and co-author of An Introduction to Islam for the 21st Century (Wiley-Blackwell). Follow him on Twitter: @laithsaud

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 


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