Another century of war?

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

As of this writing, French police had arrested some 30 people suspected of involvement in the Nov. 13 terror attack on Paris which left at least 129 civilians dead and 300 injured. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility, and France has described the attack as an act of war.

In the outskirts of Paris, in pursuit of the suspects, the French police stormed a house in a predominantly Muslim community. Heavily-armed Belgian policemen also raided several homes in a commune west of Brussels populated mostly by Muslims. The raids occurred at almost the same time as the air strikes by the French air force against the IS group’s stronghold in Syria.

While the raids were justifiable given the brutal killings that targeted civilians, and the public outcry to arrest and prosecute those responsible for what has been described as the worst terrorist attack on France since the second World War, there are already indications of another, even worse backlash against Muslims in general. (The January Charlie Hebdo incident in which terrorists killed several staff members of the magazine had already demonized the Muslim community.)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, vowed to expel from France “radical imams” and to electronically keep watch over the thousands of Muslims in France’s watch list of suspected extremists if he regains the presidency in 2017.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has also declared that the government would shut down all “mosques where hate is preached,” and declared that “This is just the beginning… The response of the Republic will be total…”

In the United States, several states have announced that despite a contrary Federal policy, they would no longer accept refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, apparently on the assumption that terrorists are likely to be among them.

Indeed, among the likely consequences of the Nov. 13 coordinated attacks on civilian targets is another surge in anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, and violations of civil rights — or exactly what the intent of the attacks was, among others. As Professor Paul Rogers of the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, northern England, points out, one of the aims of the killings was “to further damage inter-communal relations, not just in Paris but across Western Europe and further afield.”

Intensifying Islamophobia, says Rogers, “suits [IS] in its quest to attract more recruits from recent diasporas (Muslim migrations) and more established migrant communities, many members of whom now feel thoroughly insecure and greatly worried and even fearful of the hardening of attitudes towards them.”

Rogers suggests two other aims of the Paris atrocity: one was to demonstrate that like al Qaeda, IS has now gone international. Even more crucially, another was “to provoke and incite France and other states to intensify the war against IS — in Syria, Iraq, and anywhere else that it, or its affiliates, are [making] progress.”

IS, says Rogers, “wants war. It presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the ‘crusader west.’ This message, though pernicious and dangerous, is currently being encouraged by the progressive withdrawal of all Middle Eastern states from active involvement in the air strikes against [IS] in Syria.”

Rogers notes that “the sustained air assault of the last fifteen months, with close to 10,000 targets hit, has not pushed ISIS into retreat. In the first eleven months of the air war, to July 2015, the US-led coalition killed 15,000 IS supporters. By October, that had risen to 20,000, yet a Pentagon source said that the total number of IS fighters was unchanged at 20,000-30,000.”

US intelligence sources say that “there has been a surge in recruits to [IS] in spite of the air war and the losses. In September 2014, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined from 80 countries; a year later the figure had risen to 30,000 from 100 countries.”

“It is possible,” said Rogers, “that French and British political leaders and others will respond with care and forethought, rather than rushing into a more intensive war. But it is unlikely. The appetite to face up to the problems of the 14 years since 9/11 is absent, notwithstanding the efforts of a minority of analysts to point to the realities of this period.”

As of the middle of the week, Rogers’ words were becoming prophetic. The French government launched air strikes against IS strongholds in Syria and called on Russia and the US to join a coalition to “destroy” IS. Instead of destroying it, however, intensifying the attacks could lead to IS gaining more recruits from among young Muslim men to whom the attacks would seem to confirm that, indeed, the West is in a “crusade” against Islam, and only IS could defend the faith. In short: the air war has been strengthening IS; intensifying it in retaliation for the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris could make it even stronger.

The results of the so-called “war against terror” are plain to see. “Afghanistan now faces a growing Taliban presence involving widespread control of many rural areas; Libya is a chaotic mess of competing militias and a growing Islamist presence; Iraq has seen over 30,000 civilians killed since the beginning of 2014 alone, and substantial parts of the country are now under [IS] control.”

The reason for this chaos, and the growth of terrorism itself, lies in the dominant Western countries’ encouragement and support, in furtherance of their economic interests, for the groups they now describe as terrorist. The US encouraged Osama bin Laden and his fellow Mujahideen in their campaign to oust the pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Bin Laden organized al Qaeda when he was discarded by his former patrons. IS, it has also been alleged, was organized, armed and supplied by the US and the UK and its allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to destabilize governments, such as those of Syria and Iran, that they perceive to be hostile to US and Israeli interests. Its presence and growing power in those countries and in Iraq is also a convenient excuse for continuing Western intervention in the Middle East.

“Across the Middle East and north Africa,” continues Rogers, “close to 300,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands injured, while many millions more have been forced from their homes. Add the chaos and suffering in Syria and the spread of IS ideas in Afghanistan, the Caucasus and north and east Africa, and the terrible, large-scale failure — of western politicians, regional leaders and the wider world — is clear.

“Will [the attacks on] Paris make them rethink their policies? No, that is highly unlikely. There is simply neither the wisdom nor the independent and able leadership anywhere across the western world for that to happen. Instead, and at least for now, further tragedies will unfold.”

In short, unless the leaders of the western countries re-evaluate their policies and devise a new approach to combatting terrorism, a repeat of the Paris attacks, whether in France or elsewhere in the western world, is more than possible. When that happens the western countries will respond as usual, intensifying the bombings and further alienating the Muslims resident in their territories, thus assuring that the violence will continue in what is turning out to be, as the US war historian Gabriel Kolko warns, another century of war.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in Business World
Nov. 19, 2015

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