ISIS is a problem caused by the West

This isn’t about why I think the French deserved the loss of innocent lives. If you are hoping to read something like that, you will be disappointed. Go somewhere else.

This is about why I think why I think Western imperialism (direct or by proxy) and foreign policies are the reasons why ISIS rose to power. This is important. I believe that in order to truly solve a problem, we need know what caused it.

I’ll start with the latter – why ISIS is a problem caused by the West. I can think of two reasons.

First, the formation of unstable nations by the West.

The Middle East has been an area of strategic importance to the West because of its oil. The West would do anything to control it directly or through proxies. They would take any opportunity they can get to gain more influence in that region. So during First World War, the British and the French carved up the Ottoman Empire into nations and decided amongst themselves who would get to have greater influence over which newly created nations.

But here’s the catch. No one asked the people in that area which parts should go into forming which nations. The British and the French essentially took a ruler and drew a straight line between two points on the map. This is what they came up with initially:


Source: BBC

Over the years, the borders have evolved into what we now come to call Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait. But what’s wrong with that? The problem is that the region comprised three very different groups of people who can’t really agree with one another (that’s putting it mildly), namely the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. This is what the situation looks like today:

Is it any wonder that these countries, especially Iraq, are so unstable?

But why did ISIS only become such an issue now? Because in the past, the instability was kept in check by dictators through brutal means (e.g. Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad). With the fall of these dictators, ancient feuds resurfaced, instability erupted, allowing ISIS to gain ground during the chaos.

Would ISIS have become a problem if that region was divided into nations that had borders and less complicated ethnic and religious composition? I don’t know. But I think, though I can’t prove it, that it would have been less likely for a group like ISIS to have come to power.

Why? Because the complicated ethnic and religious composition resulted in oppression. For example, Syria was ruled by the Shias even though the Sunnis were the majority, leading to oppression of the Sunnis. As President Obama said in an interview with Vice News: “Where a young man who is growing up has no education and no prospects for the future, is looking around, and the one way that he can get validation, power, respect is if he’s a fighter. And this looks like the toughest gang around, so let me affiliate with them. And now you’re giving me a religious rationale for doing this.”

The second reason why I think that the West caused the ISIS problem is their use of people in that region to fight proxy wars.

ISIS grew out of al-Qaeda. According to the Wikipedia page: “al-Qaeda’s origins can be traced  to the Soviet War in Afghanistan (December 1979 to February 1989). The US viewed the conflict in Afghanistan, with the Afghan Marxists and allied Soviet troops on one side and the native Afghan mujahideen, some of whom were radical Islamic militants, on the other, as a blatant case of Soviet expansionism and aggression. A CIA program called Operation Cyclone channeled funds through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the Afghan Mujahideen who were fighting the Soviet occupation.”

How much money was channeled to these Islamic militants that eventually became al-Qaeda? Again from Wikipedia: “Aid to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan mujahideen leader and founder and leader of the Hezb-e Islami radical Islamic militant faction, alone amounted “by the most conservative estimates” to $600 million.” Not only that, “there is evidence that the CIA supported Hekmatyar’s drug trade activities by giving him immunity for his opium trafficking, which financed the operation of his militant faction.” Hekmatyar continued to work closely with Osama Bin Laden, who went on to form al-Qaeda.

But it’s not just the USA during the Cold War era. Even recently, the West have been using the people in the area to fight proxy wars. In trying to isolate the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the West had supported various rebel groups in Syria. The British MI6 and CIA had cooperated to transfer arms to Syrian Islamist rebels from Libyan stockpiles after the fall of Gaddafi in 2012. The group that eventually became ISIS is one of the beneficiaries of these transfers.

So the problem of ISIS and the resultant death and carnage certainly has roots in the actions of the West. As The Guardian puts it: “Endless western military interventions in the Middle East have brought only destruction and division.” The West needs to acknowledge that ISIS is a problem of their making. They had a very strong hand in the germination of this problem that has now come back to bite it in its ass. Only then can we even begin to hope that this problem can be solved.

But acknowledgement is just the start. After acknowledging the problem, I think the West can do two things.

First, it can stage military operations that halt the expansion of ISIS. As The Atlantic puts it: “Given everything we know about the Islamic State, continuing to slowly bleed it, through air strikes and proxy warfare, appears the best of bad military options… they can keep the Islamic State from fulfilling its duty to expand. And with every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.”

Second, and this is just as crucial, if not more so, the West needs to help the vast majority of Muslims improve their daily livelihood. The West needs to help the vast majority of Muslim get access to quality education, have adequate opportunities to earn a better living, and move into the middle class. At the very very least, the West needs to ensure that the Muslims in their countries feel safe and a valued community their societies. Doing this may not entirely remove all the reasons for Muslims to join ISIS, but not doing this will certainly drive more Muslims to join ISIS.

The West needs to face up to the fact that they are complicit in creating the monster that is ISIS, then they need to commit to their role in slaying it.

[Featured Image: ISIS flag]


7 thoughts on “ISIS is a problem caused by the West

  1. I’m not surprised when I see on local TV a convoy of Toyota trucks driven by fighters from ISIS. Where did they get the trucks from? My friend said this is Japan contribution to the USA war in Syria.
    USA and the Western powers is the main cause of the mess in the middle east today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Come on, get real..! History is an unending litany of “Do-ers” doing it to the “Done-to”. Frequently, some Done-to(s) manage a back-flip and in their turn, morph into Do-er(s) themselves. It’s not so simple anymore to determine where to draw the line when trying to allocate responsibility/blame.
    Having got that off my chest, I must say I am expressing a position a tad (..most certainly, more than just a tad…) too simplistically but I also must assure you, it is not in the least, intended facetiously.
    This is the same feeling I’m unable to shake having read your views/recommendations. The individual ingredients which went into this pot of stew is already inextricably mixed-in to ever be separated again. However, nothing, absolutely nothing , reduces culpability for uncivilized murder and cruelty. The existence of any contributory culpability has no bearing at all on the crime. Let’s not hope or imply that playing the blame game will in any way reduce the magnitude of the crime or the responsibility of the criminal.
    I’m inclined, convinced, to just focus efforts on removing every criminal, at every stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Notwithstanding the title, the post IS NOT about playing a blame game. It is about understanding how we got to this mess in the first place so that we can better get out of it.

      You suggest that we should “just focus efforts on removing every criminal, at every stage.” How do you suggest we go about doing this? Surely you don’t mean that we need only launch a ground offensive into the territories held by ISIS, right? Have you forgotten what happened the last time the West launched an offensive into a territory in the Middle East? That’s right. It created a power vacuum that resulted in a civil war which allowed ISIS to rise. Are you saying then that the West (or some global supercop) permanently occupies that area, policing the region? Who do you think should be that person to create that police state?

      Islamic extremism is like a hydra. Cut one head off, many grow back. Killing Osama bin Laden brought Abu Bakr al-Baghadi. Military action is necessary, but just as necessary are means to scorch the stumps as we cut the heads off. How to scorch the stumps? To do that, we need to understand why groups like ISIS are so seductive that so many Muslims are drawn to it like moth to fire. An article in The Nation by a journalist who spoke with captured ISIS militants gives a good idea: “They (Iraqi Sunnis) are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death from execution, or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government. They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe. This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.”

      Unless the West can work out a solution to help lift these disenfranchised Muslims out of poverty and instability, problems like ISIS will persist, no matter how much firepower, how much effort you put into removing every criminal. Because there will be an endless stream of criminals.

      But why should the West do it? Because they were the ones who created the mess in the first place. By arbitrarily drawing borders, by using Muslims as proxies in their various wars, by their thoughtless ground offensives to ostensibly remove dictators and promote freedom. They have a moral responsibility to clean up the mess they started.


      • Why my comment inferring you are engaging in the blame game? Above, in your own words, you have once again reiterated the position you took in your original article:

        “…Unless the West can work out a solution to …………
        But why should the West do it? Because they were the ones who created the mess in the first place.……………………………….. They have a moral responsibility to clean up the mess they started.”

        What of the rest of sorry humanity (… including those existing on it’s fringes..) ? What of those who started and continue to this day to perpetuate a twisted, evil practice of one of the greatest, most significant religion the world has come to know? Why do I understand and even agree with much of what you have quite eloquently expounded BUT nevertheless am NOT prepared to accept what you continue to profess as your beginning and your end points.?

        I suggest another read of my first response and if it helps, I am prepared to retract my final sentence. It is really an afterthought of mine not at all core to the point I was making. However, it has (unintentionally) become a lightning rod attracting your challenge that I provide my alternate solutions and the complicated, elusive political/military strategy to rid ourselves of this scourge of religious extremism. Permit me to be clear, I do NOT have that solution and it will serve no purpose whatsoever to pretend that I have. BUT, THAT was NOT the message I intended NOR the one I conveyed.

        In fact I agree with the main body of your statements on most events and the circumstances you have described. What most definitely I take issue with is your laying of both the blame and the responsibility of solutions to correct the consequences SOLELY & SQUARELY on the West. Have the very perpetrators of mass murder and misery, no share of this impossible (..impossible, in my opinion..) ? Have they no culpability or even responsibility for their heinous actions.? It’s one thing to say I have been wronged; quite another to indiscriminately maim and kill in retaliation. But I am now indulging in the blame game myself.

        Nevertheless, it is indeed timely but I have come across someone who I am in almost complete agreement with. I see that you have too. Sulaiman Daud.


      • @Ian: Seems like WordPress doesn’t allow me to reply to your reply of my reply…

        It was never my intention to say that ONLY the West and no one else needs to be part of the solution (see my next post). But the West NEEDS to be part of the solution. If they aren’t, then there is no way the ISIS problem can be solved. That was my main point. This isn’t playing a blame game. It’s simply the reality. And why should they do it? Not only because it affects them, but really, because they started it so they have the moral responsibility to do more than the rest of us who are collateral damage. That does not absolve us from the responsibility of being part of the solution. Just that the West, as one of the main protagonists of this conflict, need to bear greater responsibility.

        Actually, I intended to write this post and the next as a single post. But realised that it was too long so split it into two. If I had kept it as one, then perhaps it wouldn’t have been that confusing.

        And yes. The last sentence in your first reply was… rather extreme. I am glad to know that that isn’t the main thrust of your argument but… you know… last sentence tend be the sentence that sums up what you have written and thus imply that it’s the main thrust of what you are writing.

        Just as how I believe that the West need to be part of the solution, along with Muslims (and of course everyone else, but those two are the main protagonists in this conflict so they bear the most responsibility). And not just by military means. Otherwise… we will be stuck with ISIS for a very very long time… that is the main thrust of my post.


  3. Religion has been hijacked by a few cowards and innocent people have died. It makes no difference what the terrorists say – they claim they are fighting for some cause. Which religion teaches its followers to kill innocent people for whatever cause or belief ?

    Religion has nothing to do with terrorism. The Muslims must isolate their greatest enemy – it is not the West or the Americans or the Israelis; ISIS is Islam’s greatest enemy. We need courageous Muslim leaders to come out globally and declare that ISIS is not an Islamic organization; it is a terrorist organization!


  4. @rench00,
    I understand and it does make sense to me. One suggestion however, with such controversial headlines you have employed, you may want to consider having prefaced your 1st article as 1 of 2 – even I would have held back my guns until I read your 2nd article.

    The likely impact my last statement is acknowledged; but I cannot in all honesty, resist suggesting your last 2 paras of your 1st article are exactly why my perceptions were what they were.

    All said, I am glad that we both find we are, after all, not as far apart as we both initially thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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