Paris: why peace needs a chance
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The attacks in Paris were the latest in a string of atrocities carried out in recent weeks by the so-called Islamic State. The nihilistic targeting of civilians is the calling card of ISIS. It was not just seen in Paris, but the day before in Beirut as well, where 43 people were killed in a rush-hour bomb, which ISIS also claimed responsibility for. The same is true for the 19 killed in Baghdad on the same day as the Paris bomb, and the 224 people killed on the Russian plane in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
We should remember all these victims. While Barack Obama spoke about the events in Paris as an “attack on all humanity”, the attacks in Beirut and Baghdad did not warrant such outpourings. The Beirut bombings were often described as being against "Hezbollah targets". In Baghdad, "Shia communities". The Paris atrocities were an attack on the West itself, whose wars are usually conducted far away.
The majority of victims of the group are in Syria and Iraq, and they are mostly Muslims. This is important to remember, because there will always be people attempting to spin reality into a black and white conflict between backward Muslims and their crusade against the advanced civilisations of the West.
Following the Paris attacks, it took just a day for France to start bombing IS targets in Syria. There are certainly many people who see no other option to military action. But it's this background of war, primarily wars instigated by the West, that has allowed ISIS to develop into what it is today.
The savage war that destroyed Iraq created a huge amount of anger in the country, and desperation. The Western backing of a hugely corrupt army meant that ISIS were able to clear them away with relative ease – and take their weapons. ISIS were also able to strike a chord with disenfranchised Sunnis who had been let down and oppressed by their Western-backed Shia rulers.
Then there’s Syria, where the bullets and barrel bombs of Assad, now backed by Russia and Iran, have radicalised huge numbers. ISIS are just one set of players on the proxy battlefield of the country, and are just one of the opposition groups targeted by Assad and allies. The deal struck by Turkey and the United States about joining the mess of a war in Syria allowed Turkey’s increasingly draconian Tayyip Erdogan to attack Kurdish areas, and the same forces that were fighting both Assad and ISIS. Recent terrorist attacks on the Turkish peace movement have brought little condemnation from Erdogan, who instead has shamelessly, offensively, been trying to shift the blame to the PKK and HDP.
And perhaps the biggest support for ISIS, financially and ideologically, comes from Saudi Arabia. But, as with 9/11, we excuse our brutal ally and look the other way.
Bombs will increase the power of ISIS. Bombs don’t just hit “bad people” – the US air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria had already killed at least 450 non-combatant deaths, including 100 children, by last summer – and recent Western military interventions have done little but create a string of devastated countries with areas ripe for extremist control. The cycle of war and bombings is making the situation ever worse, and this new round of military action will make Paris and elsewhere more vulnerable in future.
And none of this should be seen in isolation. Just last week, the UK hosted Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the butcher of thousands of opponents and figurehead of the Egyptian counter-revolution. Saudi Arabia is conducting a brutal war on Yemen, with tens of thousands of casualties that are rarely seen on our screens, but is still feted in the West as a key regional ally. We continue to support Israel to the hilt as it continues its brutal war on Palestinians. But there were no Facebook check-ins for these people – they are collateral damage, people who it is impolite to cause a fuss over. Such policies are also a sure fire way of generating whole new layers of extremists. But when that happens, you can bet that history won’t be to blame.
While we look at the causes of these events, we must also come out against the inevitable backlash against Muslims and refugees that some people will attempt to create. The thousands of Muslims from places like Syria now trying to find peace in Europe are escaping, in part, the very forces responsible for the recent bombings – a fact willingly overlooked by those blinded by racism and Islamophobia.
There are no political magic spells to be cast that will stop ISIS, but we can at least try to remove the muck in which it grows. The cycle of death and destruction by the West and its allies, and of the Islamic State and similar groups, won’t get us anywhere but deeper into an increasingly unstable, dangerous world.
As we mourn the innocent lives lost in Paris, and perhaps fear what might happen next, we need maturity. Good people need to stand up in the name of peace, and resist the temptation for bloody revenge.
Photo credit: US Army (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)