Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai
“If killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists”. This is what the late leader of al-Qaida, Osama Bin Laden said in response to the accusation of terrorism by the west. “Terrorising the enemy” is part of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as long as you fight, inflict pain and terrorise the enemy of Islam, willing to fight back and not asking for peace, as stated in the Quran aya.
US analysts and media, who occupy most of the mainstream-reporting platform, tend to focus on the reaction of terrorists. They study and report their doings, profile, goals, and behaviour, the link between different terrorist organisations, and analyse their next steps rather than focus on the real igniting factor behind terrorism. Millions of books have been written about terrorist groups and their background. Countries, like the UK, promote CONTEST and community policing to domestically combat the Violent Extremism and radicalisation that leads to Terrorism (VERLET). The consequences of US foreign policy as it is enacted and perceived in the Islamic World are rarely highlighted as one of the major factors, perhaps the main cause, influencing, and indeed nourishing terrorism.
US Northeastern University Political Science Professor Max Abrahms, a terrorism theorist, told Al-Rai: “The U.S. has inadvertently contributed to international terrorism through the failed policy of regime change (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan) since the declared “war on terror”. Un-thoughtful change of regime in Iraq created a power vacuum that was filled by al-Qaida in Iraq and ultimately ISIS. Few Americans understand that removing Gaddafi in Libya created a similar power vacuum that has greatly benefited ISIS among other militant groups. Fewer Americans also understand that arming the “opposition” in Syria helped to significantly support ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and prolonged the so-called civil war. In these ways, the US counterterrorism strategy has backfired.
A unit in the “FBI counterterrorism division” and FBI special agents across the US involved in “home-grown violent extremism” concluded that US foreign policy is the main motive behind terrorist attacks as a retaliation for the hundreds of thousands killed in the Middle East.
If we look at the war in Syria, very often we find that the role of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad is falsely quoted as the one who has supported the rise of al-Qaeda or the “Islamic State” (ISIS), the flow of jihadists in Iraq to fight the US occupation forces and the opening of his prisons in Syria in 2011, (releasing jihadists from jail to radicalise the revolution).
For example, Major General William Caldwell, chief US military spokesman in Iraq, said in 2006 that Syria was one of many Middle Eastern countries that allowed an easy access to foreign fighters in Bilad al-Rafideyn. The ex-Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, threatened to cut ties with Assad because, he said, jihadists coming from Syria caused major killing among the civilian population and were doing their best to fuel a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia. Al-Maliki also accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of funding violence in his country. Also, Iran played a tactical role in sheltering, arming and offering logistics to al-Qaeda and anti-US militants as long as their aim was to fight the occupation forces in Iraq.
The allegations that Assad is behind the radicalisation of the Syrian peaceful revolution are misleading. The foundations for the war against Syria were laid in the 2000 (not in 2011) when “a $10billion 1,500km pipeline was proposed to link Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria to Turkey and give the Gulf countries a control over world natural gas”, with the goal to hit Russia’s gas and economy sectors by offering an alternative to Europe, via Turkey. Russia sells 75% of its gas to Europe and it would have been a major blow to President Putin’s sales of Russian gas outside Europe.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote, “Secret cables and reports by the US, Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative President Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.”
Also, in May2003, just as the US declared itself an occupation force in Iraq, US Secretary of Defense Colin Powell visited Damascus and threatened the Syrian President Assad. Syria’s response to the visit was “we want dialogue not ultimatums from Washington”. Powell demanded Assad’s full collaboration in stopping the flow of weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah, and to close Hamas and the Palestinian “Islamic Jihad” camps and offices in Damascus.
Moreover, after the 2006 war in Lebanon, Syria became the target because of its military support to Hezbollah. Assad opened his warehouses providing anti-tank guided missiles and long-range strategic missiles for Hezbollah to stop the Israeli invasion. It is after the 2006 events in Lebanon that Washington took the initiative to negotiate with Damascus with the aim of de-linking Syria from Iran and the “Axis of Resistance.” Tom Lantos, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Damascus and threatened President Al-Assad to join ranks with Saudi Arabia and the United States against Iran: “Sunni Muslims and not Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be in control in the region, and it is to the advantage of Damascus to know which side to be on.”
In a shocking revelation, US General Wesley Clark’s confirmed Syria was included in a list of targeted countries for U.S. military intervention on the basis of a five-year military roadmap drawn in 2001, just after Iraq followed by Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
And lastly, in August 2011, just during the first months of the revolution, the leader of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sent his lieutenant Abu Muhamad al-Joulani with a number of commanders and many scholars from different countries of the region to Syria to preach and recruit youths and formed al-Jabhat li-Nusrat ahl al-Sham, better known later as Jabhat al-Nusra, and later on, after its dispute with ISIS, al-Qaeda franchise in Syria.
Having said that, the contribution of countries of the region in supporting the insurgency against the occupation forces in Iraq is still insignificant comparing to the devastating effect of the US invasion itself, the change of regime in Iraq and the US double standards that provoked participation by foreign fighters from all over the world.
Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi was in Kurdistan prior to 2003 with Ansar al-Islam. Zarqawi stood out only when Secretary Powell highlighted his name in February 2003 to further justify the occupation of Iraq. At that time, Zarqawi was not even holding the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq. The US military foolishly inflated and overemphasised Zarqawi’s role in the insurgency, using media propaganda and thereby attracting more fighters to his group: “Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will – made him more important than he really is, in some ways”, said Col. Derek Harvey, a US intelligence officer in Iraq.
These are among the results of the US foreign policy, of illegal intervention in Middle Eastern affairs pushing countries and groups towards reaction and confrontation. They are rarely raised and, one suspects, purposely not mentioned.
But that is not all. There are important facts researchers try to avoid. To mention a few:
- The occupation of Iraq because of the alleged existence of weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This lie is never highlighted, even though the rumour was proved false before the invasion. This invasion, based on a lie, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
- The US embargo in the 90s killed at least half a million Iraqi children for lack of food and medicine, and Madeleine Albright the then US Secretary of State, went on record to justify this as “worth it”. This is one of the biggest wars on record, and the casualty figure is much greater than the number of those killed in five years of war in Syria.
- US President Barak Obama is the only person authorised to launch a drone attack and kill “terrorist operatives” abroad. In 2010, 75 drone attacks in Pakistan killed 650 people. Dawn News Agency in Pakistan estimates that there are 123 civilian deaths per one militant killed. In Yemen, there were 170 militants killed along with around 1800 civilians by drones. The American administration calls it “collateral damage”. Also, more than 30.000 civilians were killed in the US war in Afghanistan. The above are only limited examples of the causes and effects of the west’s foreign policy as triggers for terrorism.
The role of the media is also one which makes it a major contributor to the growth of terrorism and its recruitment. Posting falsely attributed sensational images of war, manipulating children’s messages, calling jihadists “moderate rebels” when they auto-proclaim themselves as Mujahedeen-fi-sabil-Allah, all this has the effect of misleading readers by offering false data, reflecting a kind of undeclared “political wishful thinking”.
There is no need for readers to go and meet jihadists from al-Qaeda to understand their message or contact ISIS websites or publications, and risk prison back home for accessing jihadists material or propaganda. Western media is offering enough material already to channel ISIS and al-Qaida propaganda material aimed towards recruitment. How easy it is to defeat a state (Iraq or Syria)! How incompetent Syrian / Iraqi armies are! All these narratives brand terrorist like invincible militants and therefore can be later used by home-grown jihadists to fight the west at home, making the counterterrorism argument a more difficult case to argue and implement.
It is not necessary to be a radical or even non-radical Muslim (living in the west) to understand the outrage of any ordinary person living in the Middle East, who is seeing innocent people killed by those who say they want to export and promote a pluralistic society with shared values.
In the west, governments say, “respect for the international law and human rights standards must be an integral part of efforts to counter terrorism”. George W. Bush asked once: “Why do terrorists hate us?” His answer was “because “they hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, and our freedom of speech”. Is this true? Are western values hated because these freedoms are observed and respectfully implemented in the Middle East? How can they be, whilst killing half a million children by embargo, exterminating hundreds of thousands of innocents by war, invading sovereign territories by claiming falsely the existence of weapons of mass destruction? And when drones cause massive “collateral damage”? Are human rights respected by torturing men in prison (Abu Ghraib) or by covering up the widespread extent of waterboarding?
Instead of being responsible for the death of at least one million one hundred and seventy thousand persons (of which 800.000 civilians who have died as an indirect result of the wars in the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq), spending 4.79 trillion dollars on war itself and on attempting to counter terrorism, why not spend sufficient time and much less money rethinking and reviewing this dreadful foreign policy which actually forces people, especially the young, to “do something” to fight against it? What about controlling, modifying, even ceasing this confused message the west continues to send to the Middle East? Important and fundamental values are being continually violated, pushing youths into the arms of terrorist organisations and alienating whole populations.
The vast majority of the Muslim populations see the weakening and dividing of Islam as a deliberate US goal. Faced with this, the balance of the population agrees with nearly all of al-Qaeda goals: to change US behavior in the Muslim world, to promote Islamic governance, and to preserve and affirm Islamic identity (world Public Opinion Poll 2009).
Frustration over the unwanted U.S. military presence in the Middle East and the consequences of US invasions and resulting wars drives people to respond with violence and extremism. Grievances against the West’s excesses are legitimate, but cannot be the sole scapegoat and justification for terrorism. It is time to face the consequences of the west’s interventions overseas, accurately state the reality of these actions and the chaos they have produced, so that all the participants in this world problem can learn from history.
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