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:
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]