a Russian commercial airliner was downed over Egypt’s Sinai last
October, Western media reported that
the Islamic State bombing was retaliation against Russian airstrikes
in Syria. The killing of 224 people, mostly Russian tourists on
holiday, was matter-of-factly treated as an act of war by a fanatical
group without an air force resorting to terrorism as a way to strike
Western militaries have killed infinitely more innocent civilians in
the Middle East than Russia has. Then why won’t Western officials
and media cite retaliation for Western violence as a cause of
terrorist attacks on New York, Paris, Brussels and Orlando?
the many hours of coverage of the Orlando attack on a nightclub on
Sunday that killed 50 innocent people, CNN was obsessed with any
scrap of information that could link the shooter with Islamist
extremism. Yet discussion for a motive never went beyond a
blind hatred for gays and non-Muslims and that the Islamic State said
a killer would get extra credit in paradise for slaughtering infidels
during Ramadan. No rational motive to carry out such a gruesome
attack was considered for a man who was employed steadily for nine
years as a security guard for one of the world’s largest and most
controversial security companies.
was the same throughout four hours of Sky News’ coverage of
the July 7, 2005 attacks in London. Only the briefest mention was
made about a possible motive for that horrific assault on three
Underground trains and a bus, killing 52 people. But the attacks came
just two years after Britain’s participation in the murderous
invasion of Iraq.
Minister Tony Blair, one of the Iraq War’s architects, condemned
the loss of innocent life in London and linked the attacks instead to
a G-8 summit he’d opened that morning. A TV host then read and
belittled a 10-second claim of responsibility from a self-proclaimed
Al Qaeda affiliate in Germany saying that the Iraq invasion was to
blame. There was no more discussion about it.
explain why these attacks happen is not to condone or justify
terrorist outrages against innocent civilians. It is called
journalism. The “why” is no mystery. It was fully explained by
Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the four London suicide bombers. Though
speaking for only a tiny fraction of Muslims, he said in a videotaped
recording before the attack:
democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities
against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes
you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for
protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel
security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing,
gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this
fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the
reality of this situation.”
Islamic State published the following reason for carrying out last
November’s Paris attacks:
France and all nations following its path know that they will
continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State
and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as
they partake part in the crusader campaign … and boast about their
war against Islam in France, and their strikes against Muslims in the
lands of the Caliphate with their jets.”
It’s a State of Mind
such clear statements of intent, we are instead served bromides by
the likes of State Department spokesman Mark Toner about the Brussels
bombings, saying it is impossible “to get into the minds of those
who carry out these attacks.”
reading isn’t required, however. The Islamic State explicitly told
us in a press statement why it did the Brussels attacks: “We
promise black days for all crusader nations allied in their war
against the Islamic State, in response to their aggressions against
still struggling to explain why it happened, Toner said, “I think
it reflects more of an effort to inflict on who they see as Western
or Westerners … fear that they can carry out these kinds of attacks
and to attempt to lash out.”
ascribed the motive to a state of mind:
don’t know if this is about establishing a caliphate beyond the
territorial gains that they’ve tried to make in Iraq and Syria, but
it’s another aspect of Daesh’s kind of warped ideology that
they’re carrying out these attacks on Europe and elsewhere if they
can. … Whether it’s the hopes or the dreams or the aspirations of
a certain people never justifies violence.”
9/11, President George W. Bush infamously said the U.S. was attacked
because “they hate our freedoms.” It’s a perfect example of an
Orientalist, Western view that ascribes motives to Easterners without
allowing them to speak for themselves or taking them seriously when
his motive behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, in his Letter to
America, expressed anger about U.S. troops stationed on Saudi soil.
Bin Laden asked:
“Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple:
Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.” (Today the U.S.
has dozens of bases in
seven countries in the region.)
why won’t Western officials and corporate media take the jihadists’
statements of intent at face value? Why won’t they really tell
their citizens why they are attacked?
seems to be an effort to cover up a long and ever more intense
history of Western military and political intervention in the Middle
East and the violent reactions it provokes, reactions that put
innocent Western lives at risk. Indirect Western culpability in these
terrorist acts is routinely suppressed, let alone evidence of
direct Western involvement with
government officials and corporate journalists might delude
themselves into believing that Western intervention in the Middle
East is an attempt to protect civilians and spread democracy to the
region, instead of bringing chaos and death to further the West’s
strategic and economic aims. Other officials must know better.
A Century of Intervention Begins
few might even know the mostly hidden history of duplicitous and
often reckless Western actions in the Middle East. It is hidden only
to most Westerners, however. So it is worth looking in considerable
detail at this appalling record of interference in the lives of
millions of Muslims to appreciate the full weight it exerts on the
region. It can help explain anti-Western anger that spurs a few
radicals to commit atrocities in the West.
history is an unbroken string of interventions from the end of the
First World War until today. It began after the war when Britain and
France double-crossed the Arabs on promised independence for aiding
them in victory over the Ottoman Empire. The secret 1916 Sykes-Picot
accord divided the region between the European powers behind the
Arabs’ backs. London and Paris created artificial nations from
Ottoman provinces to be controlled by their installed kings and
rulers with direct intervention when necessary.
has followed for 100 years has been continuous efforts by Britain and
France, superseded by the United States after the Second World War,
to manage Western dominance over a rebellious region.
new Soviet government revealed the Sykes-Picot terms in November 1917
Izvestia. When the war was over, the Arabs revolted against British
and French duplicity. London and Paris then ruthlessly crushed the
uprisings for independence.
defeated a proclaimed Syrian government in a single day, July 24,
1920, at the Battle of Maysalun.
Five years later there was a second Syrian revolt, replete with
assassinations and sabotage, which took two years to suppress. If you
walk through the souk in Old Damascus and look up at the corrugated
iron roof you see tiny specks of daylight peeking through. Those are
bullet holes from French war planes that massacred civilians below.
put down a series of independence revolts in Iraq between 1920 and
1922, first with 100,000 British and Indian troops and then mostly
with the first use of air power in counterinsurgency. Thousands of
Arabs were killed. Britain also helped its installed King Abdullah
put down rebellions in Jordan in 1921 and 1923.
then faced an Arab revolt in Palestine lasting from 1936 to 1939,
which it brutally crushed, killing about 4,000 Arabs. The next
decade, Israeli terrorists drove the British out of Palestine in
1947, one of the rare instances when terrorists attained their
to the Empire game, Germany was next to invade North Africa and the
Middle East at the start of the Second World War. They were driven
out by British imperial forces (largely Indian) with U.S. help.
Britain invaded and defeated nominally independent Iraq, which had
sided with the Axis. With the Soviet Union, Britain also invaded and
the war, the U.S. assumed regional dominance under the guise of
fending off Soviet regional influence. Just three years after Syrian
independence from France, the two-year old Central Intelligence
Agency engineered a Syrian coup in 1949 against a democratic, secular
government. Why? Because it had balked at approving a Saudi pipeline
the U.S. favored. Washington installed Husni
a military dictator, who approved the plan.
Syria Then and Now
the major invasion and air wars in Iraq and Libya of the past 15
years, the 1950s was the era of America’s most frequent, and mostly
covert, involvement in the Middle East. The Eisenhower administration
wanted to contain both Soviet influence and Arab nationalism, which
revived the quest for an independent Arab nation. After a series of
coups and counter-coups, Syria returned to democracy in 1955, leaning
towards the Soviets.
1957 Eisenhower administration coup attempt in Syria, in which Jordan
and Iraq were to invade the country after manufacturing a pretext,
went horribly wrong, provoking a crisis that spun out of Washington’s
control and brought the U.S. and Soviets to the brink of war.
put 50,000 troops on the Syrian border, threatening to invade. Soviet
premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened Turkey with an implied nuclear
attack and the U.S. got Ankara to back off. This sounds eerily
familiar to what happened in February when Turkey again threatened to
invade Syria and the U.S. put on the brakes. The main difference is
that Saudi Arabia in 1957 was opposed to the invasion of Syria, while
it was ready to join it
two months ago.
the 1950s, the U.S. also began its association with Islamic religious
extremism to counter Soviet influence and contain secular Arab
nationalism. “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy
war’ aspect,” President Eisenhower told his
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Supporting political Islam
rather than secularism may be the biggest U.S. blunder ever in the
region. After the Cold War, religious extremists, some still tied to
the West, became themselves the excuse for U.S. intervention.
U.S. regional ascendance in the 1950s, Britain and France weren’t
through. In 1953, an MI6-CIA coup in Iran replaced a democracy with a
restored monarchy when Mohammed Mosaddegh, the elected prime
minister, was overthrown after seeking to nationalize
British-controlled Iranian oil. Britain had discovered oil in Iran in
1908, spurring deeper interest in the region.
years later Britain and France combined with Israel to attack Egypt
in 1956 when President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had taken over from
the ousted British-backed King Farouk, moved to nationalize the Suez
Canal. The U.S. stopped that operation, too, denying Britain
emergency oil supplies and access to the International Monetary Fund
if the Brits didn’t back down.
represented the final shift in external power in the Middle East from
the U.K. to the U.S. But Washington couldn’t stop Britain from
trying and failing to assassinate Nasser,
who had sparked the Arab nationalist movement.
1958, the U.S. landed 14,000 Marines in Lebanon to prop up President
Camille Chamoun after a civil conflict broke out against Chamoun’s
intention to change the constitution and run for reelection. The
rebellion was minimally supported by the United Arab Republic, the
1958-61 union between Egypt and Syria. It was the first U.S. invasion
of an Arab country, excluding the U.S.’s World War II intervention
in North Africa.
to 2003: Interventions Post Colonial
1954-1962 Algerian rebellion against French colonialism, which Paris
brutally tried to suppress, included Algerian acts of terrorism.
Exhibiting the same cluelessness displayed by State Department
spokesman Toner, the French attitude towards the uprising was
expressed by an exasperated French officer in film The Battle
of Algiers when he exclaimed, “What do you people want?”
the 1960s to the 1980s, U.S. intervention in the region was mostly
restricted to military support for Israel in the 1967 and 1973
Arab-Israeli wars. From an Arab perspective that represented a major
U.S. commitment to protect Israeli colonialism.
Soviet Union also intervened directly in the 1967-70 War of Attrition
between Egypt and Israel when Nasser went to Moscow to say he’d
resign and have a pro-Western leader take over if the Russians didn’t
come to his aid. In backing Nasser, the Soviets lost 58 men.
Soviets were also involved in the region to varying degrees and times
throughout the Cold War, giving aid to Palestinians, Nasser’s
Egypt, Syria, Saddam’s Iraq and Moamar Gaddafi’s Libya — all
countries and leaders charting an independent course from the West.
the 1970 Black September conflict between Jordan and Palestinian
guerrillas, the U.S. had Marines poised to embark in Haifa and ready
to secure Amman airport when Jordan repelled a Syrian invasion in
support of the Palestinians.
the 1980s the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein in his brutal, eight-year
war with Iran, supplying him with arms, intelligence
and chemical weapons,
which he did not hesitate to use against Iranians and Kurds.
President Ronald Reagan also bombed Libya
in 1986 after accusing it without conclusive evidence of a Berlin
bombing ten days earlier that killed a U.S. soldier.
U.S. returned more directly to the region with a vengeance in the
1991 Gulf War, burying alive surrendering Iraqi troops with
bulldozers; shooting thousands
of soldiers in the back as they withdrew on the Highway of Death, and
calling for uprisings in the Shia south and Kurdish north and then
leaving them to Saddam’s revenge.
never recovered fully from the devastation, being crushed for 12
years under U.N. and U.S. sanctions that then U.N. Ambassador
Madeleine Albright admitted contributed to the deaths of half a
million Iraqi children. But she said it
was “worth it.”
sanctions only ended after the 2003 full-scale U.S. and British
invasion of the sovereign Arab nation, an assault justified by bogus
claims about Iraq hiding stockpiles of WMD that could be shared with
Al Qaeda. The invasion killed hundreds of thousands of people and
left Iraq devastated. The invasion also unleashed a civil war and
gave rise to the terrorist group, the Islamic State in Iraq, which
later merged with terrorists in Syria to become ISIS.
this century of intervention, Britain, France and the U.S. managed
the region through strong alliances with dictators or monarchs who
had no regard for democratic rights. But when those autocrats became
expendable, such as Saddam Hussein had, they are disposed of.
Biggest Invasion Yet
most Americans may be unaware of this long history of accumulated
humiliation of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities in
the region — and the resulting hatred of the West — they can’t
ignore the Iraq invasion, the largest by the West in the Middle East,
excluding World War II. Nor is the public unaware of the 2011
intervention in Libya, and the chaos that has resulted. And yet no
link is made between these disasters and terror attacks on the West.
secular strongmen of Iraq, Libya and Syria were targeted because they
dared to be independent of Western hegemony — not because of their
awful human rights records. The proof is that Saudi Arabia’s and
Israel’s human rights records also are appalling, but the U.S.
still staunchly stands by these “allies.”
the so-called Arab Spring, when Bahrainis demanded democracy in that
island kingdom, the U.S. mostly looked the other way as they were
crushed by a combined force of the nation’s monarchy and Saudi
troops. Washington also clung to Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak
until the bitter end.
under the pretext of protecting the Libyan population, the U.S. and
NATO implemented a bloody “regime change” in Libya leading to
anarchy, another failed state and the creation of one more ISIS
enclave. For the past five years, the West and its Gulf allies have
fueled the civil war in Syria, contributing to another humanitarian
West’s motive for all this meddling is often pinned on oil. But
obedience is a strong factor. Hans Morgenthau wrote in Politics
Among Nations (1968), that the urge of empires to expand “will
not be satisfied so long as there remains anywhere a possible object
of domination – a politically organized group of men which by its
very independence challenges the conqueror’s lust for power.”
Ali, in his 2003 book Bush in Babylon, writes about Gnaeus
Julius Agricola, the Roman general responsible for much of the
conquest of Britain in the First Century:
one of his visits to the outer reaches of [Britain], Agricola looked
in the direction of Ireland and asked a colleague why it remained
unoccupied. Because, came the reply, it consisted of uncultivable bog
lands and was inhabited by very primitive tribes. What could it
possibly have to offer the great Empire? The unfortunate man was
sternly admonished. Economic gain isn’t all. Far more important is
the example provided by an unoccupied country. It may be backward,
but it is still free.”
of this long history of Western manipulation, deceit and brutality in
the Middle East is known to Americans because U.S. media almost never
invokes it to explain Arab and Iranian attitudes towards the West.
people of the region remember this history, however. I know Arabs who
are still infuriated by the Sykes-Picot backstabbing, let alone the
most recent depredations. Indeed fanatics like the Islamic State are
still ticked off about the Crusades, a much earlier round of Western
intervention. In some ways it’s surprising, and welcomed, that only
the tiniest fraction of Muslims has turned to terrorism.
Islamophobes like Donald Trump want to keep all Muslims out of the
U.S. until he figures out “what the hell is going on.” He says
Muslims have a “deep hatred” of Americans. But he won’t figure
it out because he’s ignoring the main cause of that hatred – the
past century of intervention, topped by the most recent Western
atrocities in Iraq and Libya.
out the political and historical motives renders terrorists as
nothing more than madmen fueled by irrational hate of a benevolent
West that says it only wants to help them. They hate us simply
because we are Western, according to people like Toner, and not
because we’ve done anything to them.
and its Western enablers likewise bury the history of Israel’s
ethnic cleansing and piecemeal conquest of Palestine so they can
blame Palestinians who turn to terrorism as motivated only by hatred
of Jews for being Jews.
asked several Israelis why Palestinians tend to hate them. The more
educated the Israeli the more likely the answer was because of the
history of how Israel was established and how it continues to rule.
The less educated my respondent, the more likely I heard that they
hate us simply because we are Jews.
no excuse for terrorism. But there is a practical way to curb it: end
the current interventions and occupations and plan no more.
Psychology of Terror
course, anger at the West’s history of exploiting the Middle East
isn’t the only motivation for terrorism. There are emotional and
group pressures that push some over the line to strap on bombs and
blow up innocent people around them. Thankfully, it takes a very
unusual type of individual to react to this ugly history with ugly
acts of terror.
also plays a part. We’ve seen waves of defections as ISIS has
recently cut fighters’ pay in half. Anger at Western-installed and
propped-up local rulers who oppress their people on behalf of the
West is another motive. Extremist preachers, especially Saudi
Wahhabis, also share the blame as they inspire terrorism, usually
against Shia. And there is the social and economic repression of
large Muslim communities across European cities.
into the psychology of why someone turns to terrorism is an
unenviable task. The official Western view is that Islamist
extremists merely hate modernity and secularism. That might be their
motive in wanting to backwardly transform their own societies by
removing Western influence. But it’s not what they say when they
claim responsibility for striking inside the West.
ignore their words and dismiss their violent reaction to the long and
ongoing history of Western intervention may shield Americans and
Europeans from their partial responsibility for these atrocities. But
it also provides cover for the continuing interventions, which in
turn will surely produce more terrorism.
than looking at the problem objectively – and self-critically –
the West ludicrously cloaks its own violence as an effort to spread
democracy (which never seems to materialize) or protect civilians
(who are endangered instead). To admit any connection between the
sordid historical record and anti-Western terrorism would be to admit
culpability and the price that the West is paying for its dominance.
still, letting terrorists be perceived as simply madmen without a
cause allows the terrorist response to become justification for
further military action. This is precisely what the Bush
administration did after 9/11, falsely seeking to connect the attacks
to the Iraqi government.
contrast, connecting terrorism to Western intervention could spark a
serious self-examination of the West’s behavior in the region
leading to a possible retreat and even an end of this external
dominance. But that is clearly