Blame the West's Interventions for Today's Terrorism
December 11, 2015
Stephen Kinzer / The Boston Globe & Reuters
Outside powers have been crashing into the Middle East for more than a century. At first we presumed that people there would welcome us. Ultimately we realized that our interventions were provoking violent turmoil. We took refuge in the illusion that this resentment would be confined to the Middle East. At least since the 9/11 attacks, it has been clear that this is fantasy. Acts of terrorism are the bitter result of outside meddling in the Middle East. They will intensify.
Blame the West's Interventions for Today's Terrorism
Stephen Kinzer / The Boston Globe
(November 24, 2015) -- Outside powers have been crashing into the Middle East for more than a century. At first we presumed that people there would not mind, or even that they would welcome us. Ultimately we realized that our interventions were provoking hatred and violent turmoil. We took refuge in another comforting illusion: that no matter how awful the reaction was, it would be confined to the Middle East.
At least since the 9/11 attacks 14 years ago, it has been clear that this is fantasy. Terrorism and mass migration are bitter results of outside meddling in the Middle East. They will intensify.
Interventions multiply our enemies. Every village raid, every drone strike, and every shot fired in anger on foreign soil produces anti-Western passion. Some are shocked when that passion leads to violent reaction. They should not be. The instinct to protect one's own, and to strike back against attackers, is as old as humanity itself.
Horrific terror assaults cannot be justified as any kind of self-defense. Their savagery is inexcusable by all legal, political, and moral standards. But they do not emerge from nowhere. In countries that have been invaded and bombed, some people thirst for bloody revenge.
It was never realistic for the West -- the invading world -- to imagine that it is an impregnable fortress, or an island, or a planet apart from the regions its armies invade. This is especially true of Europe, which is literally just a long walk from the conflict zone.
Now that Russia has joined the list of intervening powers, it too is vulnerable. So is the United States. We are farther away and protected by oceans, but in the modern world, that is not enough. Blowback is now global.
Violent intervention always leaves a trail of "collateral damage" in the form of families killed, homes destroyed, and lives wrecked. Usually this is explained as mistaken or unavoidable. That does nothing to reduce the damage -- or the anger that survivors pass down through generations.
A new terror attack inside the United States is likely. When it happens, how will Americans respond? If the past is any guide, we will clamor to fight the evil-doers. This will be described not as aggression, but as reaction and forward defense.
Terror groups do not emerge from nowhere.
A strategy based on invading or bombing might make sense if the number of militants were finite. It is not. Terror groups in the Middle East are attracting recruits faster than they can process them. Killing some creates more, not fewer.
Countries, nations, and peoples must shape their own fates. Often they do so by reacting to oppression. Religion kept Europe in the Dark Ages for a thousand years. Russians and Chinese accepted brutal Communist rule for generations. Violent extremism in the Middle East will end only when people who live there end it.
That cannot begin to happen until outsiders leave the region to its own people. The Middle East will not stabilize until its people are allowed to act for themselves, rather than being acted upon by others.
Watching cruel terror in Middle Eastern countries -- or in Western capitals -- is painful. It stirs our emotions. We want to avenge the victims, and imagine that in doing so, we will also be protecting ourselves.
Too often, though, we fail to realize that Western power, vast as it is, cannot smash cultural patterns that have existed for longer than the United States or any European nation. Emotion overcomes sober reasoning. It naturally intensifies after horrific attacks. That is dangerous. Emotion pushes us toward rash and self-defeating choices. It is always the enemy of wise statesmanship.
Fanatics are trying to draw the United States back into Middle East quicksand. If we fall into that trap, we will not only intensify the war that is raging there, but bring it home.
French, British Colonialism Grew a Root of Terrorism
Stephen Kinzer / The Boston Globe
(February 11, 2015) -- Europe is shaking with intensifying conflict between traditional populations and people whose families emigrated from abroad. France and Britain, two countries with long traditions of tolerance and stability, have been hardest hit. Violent Islamic militants have emerged in both countries and built followings that threaten to upset national life.
It is no coincidence that during the Golden Age of colonialism -- from about the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries -- France and Britain were the most rapacious conquerors. Much of France's wealth was squeezed from the sweat of colonized people from Polynesia to Senegal.
Britain prospered by suppressing and exploiting inhabitants in a global empire over which the sun never set. If these and other European powers had not crashed into countries around the world and sown the seeds of hatred, those seeds would not be flowering into the poisonous weeds that are now spreading across Europe.
For a long time the colonial enterprise was lavishly profitable. Imperial powers in Europe extracted vast amounts of wealth from weak countries. When the adventure finally ended -- Britain gave up India in 1947, France lost Vietnam in 1954 and Algeria in 1962 -- all still seemed well. It was assumed that sins of the past would be forgotten, and that countries that committed them would move painlessly into a new era.
One legacy of empire, however, was the more or less free admission of former colonial subjects to the motherland. This immigration greatly enriched both French and British societies. It also brought the seeds of future strife. Cultural conflicts set in motion by colonialism have spiraled into anger and violence.
The two brothers who massacred cartoonists and editors at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo last month were of Algerian descent. So was the gunman who killed seven people in the Toulouse area two years ago. All were born in France to parents who lived through the savage French-Algerian War. Without that war, or without France's colonization of Algeria, it is unlikely that any of them would have made their way to France.
In Britain, the 11 men arrested last year as they planned suicide bombings were from Pakistan -- which Britain ruled for generations as part of India. The hatemongering British cleric Anjem Choudary, whose latest outrage was blessing the recent immolation of a Jordanian pilot in Syria, is also of Pakistani descent.
Britain's other leading Islamic radical, Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the United States and sentenced last month to life in prison for terrorist crimes, was born in Egypt, which Britain dominated for more than 70 years.
Many factors, personal as well as political, shape the twisted terrorist mind. Religious fanaticism and resentment over social exclusion are among the most potent. Nonetheless the legacy of colonialism lurks behind the current wave of violence in Europe.
This legacy has not plagued every former colonial power. Belgians massacred Congolese by the millions, but no Congolese terror group has emerged to take revenge. Portugal has not been hit by terrorist "blowback" for its depredations in Angola and Mozambique. Yet the existence of large groups of immigrants from formerly brutalized lands can easily lead to conflict.
Many people in the former imperial powers were barely aware that those immigrants arrived with deep beliefs of their own. They presumed their new citizens would quickly see the superiority of European values -- and abandon their own. That meant there was no urgent reason to care for their welfare or help them integrate.
Cast adrift in unfamiliar and sometimes hostile societies, some of these immigrants -- or their children -- have become outraged at what they see as Europe's hypocrisy. They connect that hypocrisy to past European claims that their colonial invasions and occupations were aimed principally at "civilizing" the people they oppressed.
If France, Britain, and other European countries had resisted the imperial temptation -- if they had never sent armies to places like Syria, Iraq, India, or North Africa -- they would not be facing the terror that afflicts them today. History does not always punish aggressors quickly, but one day, long after the truly guilty have passed from the scene, the punishment may come.
Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.
And It's Not Just the West:
German Vice Chancellor Warns Saudi Arabia Over Funding Extremists
BERLIN (December 6, 2015) -- Germany's Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Saudi Arabia on Sunday to stop supporting religious radicals amid growing concern among some lawmakers in Berlin about the funding of militant mosques by the world's biggest oil exporter.
The unusual criticism of the Gulf state follows a report by Germany's foreign intelligence agency, which suggested that Saudi foreign policy was becoming more "impulsive".
The German government rebuked the BND agency for making such suggestions about Saudi Arabia, an important business partner that is involved in international talks to find a political solution to the Syria crisis.
"We need Saudi Arabia to solve the regional conflicts," Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Social Democrats (SPD) who share power with conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, told the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag.
"But we must at the same time make clear that the time to look away is past. Wahhabi mosques are financed all over the world by Saudi Arabia. In Germany, many dangerous Islamists come from these communities," he said.
Saudi Arabia follows the ultra-conservative Wahhabi form of Islam and is seen by some outsiders as a cause of the international jihadist threat.
It has cracked down on jihadists at home and cut militant finance streams but some groups, including Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda, follow an extreme interpretation of the Salafi branch of Islam of which Wahhabism was the original strain.
Germany is worried about growing support for Salafism. The domestic intelligence agency says the number of Salafists has risen to 7,900, up from 5,500 just two years ago.
Another senior Social Democrat, Thomas Oppermann, also homed in on Saudi Arabia, saying Wahhabism offered a ideology for IS insurgents and contributed to the radicalization of moderates. "We don't need or want it in Germany," he told the Welt am Sonntag weekly.
Germans are worried about a possible attack on their soil, especially after the bombings and shootings in Paris on Nov. 13, which killed 130 people.
Responding to an appeal from France, Germany is sending reconnaissance jets, a frigate and 1,200 military personnel to join the fight against IS insurgents in Syria but it is not joining US, French, Russian and British air strikes.
The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany said military action was not the way to stop insurgency.
"We have sown the seeds of war and it has resulted in terror and refugees," Aiman Mazyek told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung, referring to the war in Iraq which Germany opposed.
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