The attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead have left a country in disbelief. Such needless loss of life has to stop. Even as the anger dissipates there is a hunger for some sort of resolution. Many feel that air strikes to obliterate ISIS on the ground are justified. There is a lot of support for Francois Hollande’s and France’s severe military reaction. But is this the best way forward?
The genie is out of the bottle when it comes to such extreme fundamentalism. There are probably thousands of native European operatives ready and willing to carry out similar attacks. A bombardment of ISIS on the ground in Syria will only create martyrs and serve to swell the ranks of these extremist groups. As a collective community how do we reverse such indoctrination? Shutting down a major city like Brussels whenever there is a security threat is hardly a practical solution.
Why are so many Muslims marginalised and living in some of the poorest conditions in cities all over Europe? Nationalised is a state of mind both of those who feel it and of those who don’t. Why and when people feel assimilated into a nation depends on many variables. There is no doubt there is blame for this problem on both sides of the divide. Many Islamic communities exist in Europe as a result of European colonisation in the past, which puts their relationship with other Europeans on unequal ground from the start. Failure to integrate and abide by the cultural laws of the land has not helped either. Suspicion and mistrust have been fuelled by European forces aiding a very questionable American foreign policy in the Middle East, which has led to growth in Islamic extremism.
A solution has to be found where the Islamic peoples of Europe can live equally side by side with their neighbours without feeling marginalised of threatened. There is no excuse for extreme terrorism in our society but to wipe it out, we first have to understand why it has happened.
America’s ludicrously poor foreign policy in the Middle East has led to the rise of the Islamic State. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan led to a destabilising of the region as a whole and the growth of extremism. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS was formed by the Sunni Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the U.S invasion of Iraq. The Shia and Sunni Muslims have been at odds for centuries. When the Americans pulled out they left a Shia Prime Minister in charge who implemented openly sectarian policies against the Sunnis. Sunnis for their part had oppressed, tortured and killed Shia Muslims during the Saddam years.
It is not surprising that support for ISIS grew rapidly among the Sunnis when the Americans withdrew from Iraq. It also found support in Syria where a primarily Sunni population were already fighting against an oppressive Shia regime under Bashar al Assad . Unfortunately, ISIS has implemented an equally tyrannical regime in those areas of Iraq and Syria it now controls. European leaders have been slow to do anything about American foreign policy in the Middle East, which time and time again has proved to be divisive and inflammatory. Europe has to start standing up to the United States. It is not just their poor foreign policy; they are responsible for numerous war crimes.
If we are to avoid the recent carnage that happened in Paris and Turkey in the future, we have to be categorically clear that we are fighting a war on two fronts. A war against Islamic extremism and a war against American aggression. One thing a country such as Ireland can do, is to stop the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. Ireland is supposed to be a neutral country and we should start acting like one. Being less complicit in American aggression does not mean support for ISIS. We can show our support for the people of Syria by providing humanitarian aid and taking in as many refugees as is practically possible.
The question of who is funding ISIS must also be dealt with. There are rich individuals in the gulf that are directly funding ISIS, a practise which must be stopped. A few well organised operations to this end by European special forces might pay far more dividends in the long run then air strikes in Syria. Some Arab leaders’ opposition to the Assad regime in Syria has led to funding for ISIS in the past. Saudi Arabia and Qatar originally funded opposition freedom fighters in Syria believing these rebels would cause the downfall of Assad. Much of these funds and weapons found their way into the hands of the Islamic State. Some were captured from anti-government forces in Syria and some rebels simply joined ISIS. There are those who believe some gulf states are still providing funding to ISIS.
If we are to achieve peace, we must get away from the rhetoric of for or against. Being against air strikes in Syria does not mean support for ISIS. Strategic air strikes against ISIS are necessary to disable their forces but not a bombardment that kills women and children and feeds extremism. This complex situation has to be handled carefully with measured reaction and not angered revenge. The majority of Muslim people, be they in Europe or elsewhere are not extremists and just want to live a peaceful life like everyone elsewhere.
Tighter policing of our towns and cities is necessary but also tighter policing of the internet and social media over which many young Muslims are being brainwashed and recruited. But more than anything else we have to communicate and be inclusive. If our existing Muslim citizens and those who are arriving in their thousands fleeing ISIS are welcomed and helped, it will help to reverse the tide of hatred and suspicion.
Intolerance cannot be fought with intolerance. Hate cannot be fought with hatred. Some may be sceptical of what they might believe to be pacifist jargon but it’s crystal clear that a western policy of aggression over the last half century has not worked. If we try to deal with this complex problem now in an intelligent and humane way, it will be less likely that future generations will murder each other with air strikes or with guns at rock concerts.
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