Last Friday seemingly out of the blue terrorism struck in Paris,and got worldwide attention. Terrorism is the weapon of discontented, perhaps deranged groups who feel their concerns are being ignored. They hope to create fear and distrust.
The question is sometimes asked "why do they hate us?" There are rational reasons overlooked by too many, but perhaps more importantly there is an emotional underlaying. Emotional responses can make a bad situation worse. Reflex action helped bring on this situation.
As a teenager I remember feeling a bit rebellious. Once I hit puberty and started feeling my oats there seemed to be a lot of people restraining what I felt were my rights. At university I remember reading "The Student as Nigger" which really painted a world of unreasonable discrimination and a conspiracy of big money. I was by no means a radical, but aware and sympathetic of a worldview of thinking quite opposed to the establishment. At the University of Guelph many students became riled up because our chancellor, a former provincial premier had done something supporting corporate interests (can't remember what horrible thing it might have been) and we should get him expelled. It didn't go far and a year or so later I gladly accepted him giving me my graduation degree. I didn't get a job right away and in fact had a difficult time getting settled, but eventually fit into the establishment and am reasonably happy about it. Fairly normal process for my generation.
Around the world to-day there is a great deal of youth unemployment. Many are aware of how unfair the world can be and look for explanations. In the Mid-East there have always been a few ready to offer explanations. Now they have a bigger audience and now in many cases they have modern tools. Rebellion among young people is normal and when combined with unemployment, alienation is inevitable. You can see it in all corners of the world, some results might even be considered productive.
The invasion of Iraq is often cited as the beginning of our current problems, but I think it goes back further, perhaps a lot further. At one time the Mid-East was one of the key centres of civilization including Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt. Arabs actually played a key role in the European Renaissance. A lot of things combined to shift modernization to Europe and I suppose many felt cheated. Europeans became colonial powers, sometimes in very authoritarian ways and other times as commercial powers.
Skipping a lot of history when we come to the First World War we can see some major shifts. Both the Arabs and the Jews were promised more political freedom. The Brits and the French, amongst others divided up the world and drew lines that suited them. The Ottoman Empire fell apart and ended up as only Turkey. Many different religious sects and ethnic groups found themselves stuck in unnatural groupings. Also at this time oil became critical to keep Western commerce fuelled and soon Mid-Eastern countries became critical oil suppliers.
As a management tool Westerners accepted dictators to work with. The masses of the Mid-East and elsewhere were basically kept ignorant with a well defined elite minority in control.
There were many basic factions. In the Muslim world there were two main groups--Sunni and Shiite with their own divides. The Kurds were spread over several nations including Turkey, Iraq and Syria. They had their own aspirations and their own factions. They are one of the awkward entities with some being very aggressive towards independence and others trying to work within the system. Americans have noted that from their point of view the Kurds are fighting on our side, except some have antagonized Turkey as well as Iraq and that is interfering with overall co-operations.
Iran, although a Muslim country (mainly Shiite) is not Arab. We overlook that a CIA coup replaced an elected head of state with a dictator. The CIA helped set up a secret police system. We supported Iraq when they tried to take advantage of the Iranian Revolution. Americans shot down a Iranian commercial jet. Iran was called part of the Axis of Evil. A great deal of mistrust although not every one hates everyone else. Our culture might have been different if the Persians had defeated the Greeks. As a Pope helped bring down the Soviet Empire, Ayatollah Khomeni helped displace a dictator. Religion is not only powerful, but can used in a political, even military manner and Muslims were not the first to discover this possibility.
Since 1948 Israel has carved a spot for itself, but to a great extent displaced Arab Muslims. Christians (at least some factions) complicate things by interpreting the Bible in such a way that they see Israel as the site of the Second Coming and that it is necessary for Jews to be in control. This may seem very trivial, but in fact it plays an important role in American politics. Supported by American money Israel has expanded further and feels they need to protect themselves from their neighbours and those in the occupied territories. Many Arabs and Muslims see a big conspiracy to keep them away from what is rightfully theirs. Some people feel Israel has tried to use the Americans to fight their wars.
The Russians have stepped in to protect their interests. They feel comfortable with dictators and also fear Islamist extremists. They are said to want a warm weather port. Assad rules with the backing of a minority group, the Alawites and initiated the current crisis by refusing to compromise. He even used chemical weapons and created a crisis that was resolved only when the Russians pressured him to dispose of the chemicals. The Russians have taken not only to attacking ISIS, but more with other anti-Assad groups, some of whom are considered American allies. They have also co-ordinated with the Iranians.
One other factor has been climate change. Westerners do not seem conscious that drought has been a big problem in both north Africa and Syria that have caused the price of food to go up and rural jobs in particular to diminish. One of the outcomes has been increased urbanization with dissatisfied youth. The Arab spring had its origins in these dynamics. It doesn't take a lot of people to cause a lot of trouble. In Libya, Egypt Yemen and Syria the Arab Spring didn't work out quite the way we visualized and in Tunisia there have been a lot of difficulties that so far have been overcome.
Not sure all the different voices have been captured in my brief narrative, but when you stir everything together you are bound to come up with a lot of anger. The invasion of Iraq was done from ignorance. Iraq had precious little to do with 9/11 and in fact they feared Al Queda more than we did. We didn't allow for their own fear of letting their neighbours know they didn't really have weapons of mass destruction. We didn't understand that Saddam Hussein the dictator controlled a variety of ethnic groups that didn't always like each other and although brutal, modernized his country more than others in the same area. Once the decision was made it was made sloppily. All members of the Baath party were locked out of good jobs. We didn't send enough troops to control different groups from fighting each other.
Even while Paris has caught the spotlight we didn't pay as much attention when a terrorists hit Lebanon just a few days before. Not proved yet, but ISIL is claiming they bombed a Russian jet plane over the Sinai Peninsula.
What to do now? Bear in mind the terrorists want us to be afraid and can predict there would be some repercussions. They might have hoped that Russia and France at least would step back from attacking them, but that seems unrealistic. A big concern right now is refugees and they have become a very big political issue in both Europe and North America. It is true there is a real risk that at least a small part of the millions of refugees are already radicalized and that some more might become so.
But there is also a risk if they are not accepted. They too are driven by fear and have left their homes and run for their lives. Where will they go? Who will they blame for their dilemma? For some countries they represent a solution to a demographic problem (they don't have enough young people to take care of them when they get old). Give them a chance and they can contribute, but otherwise they will become like barbarians at the gates. Let us not forget we are all complicit in their situation in a myriad of ways. Let us all realize there will be many more refugees in the future.
I noted in another blog how a Syrian immigrant fixed my auto tires better than an established mechanic.
Should we pool our resources more effectively to fight ISIS? The hangup seems to be that many of those in the area are reluctant to get involved or alliances are tangled up with pro Assad and anti Assad, pro and anti Kurds. The Russians complicate the situation. Sorting out the alliances seems critical and is heartening to read some steps are being taken. The Canadians under Justin Trudeau were about to withdraw from air attacks to transfer our efforts to emphasizing military training and diplomacy. The decision has been made more difficult and he could not be faulted for beefing up our military efforts, but hopefully in a purposeful way.
The Palestinian situation is an excuse for some, but solving it would take a lot of steam from many of the extremists and their sympathizers. Again fear plays a role, but also so does bitterness. The United States as a prime supporter needs to look long term what is in their mutual best interest--a workable two state solution. I hope that Canada will play a more balanced approach than the previous one of backing every outrageous settlement expansion.
The Kurds until recently have been overlooked or seen as an unavoidable nuisance best to ignore. It is a very knotty problem involving several countries. Many just think they should be given independence, but that is easier said than done. I prefer we don't increase the number of nations, but rather consolidate what we have. We all seem to have a tribal loyalty and although we are inter mingling more than ever that loyalty is still fairly intense for many. Turkey, Iraq and Syria have national interests tied in with the Kurds. Canada may not be the perfect example, but we have made accommodations between English and French that not everyone likes, but have kept us both working together.
It is easy to sort through other people's choices and decide what makes the most sense, but emotions play a a very big role. Forgiveness may seem trite, but the idea benefits both parties. South Africa set an example that perhaps can be improved upon.
An irony I learned from Facebook (thanks Samia) is that the terrorists were stopped from placing a bomb inside a football stadium where the French president was in attendance and although the bomb ended up exploding outside the stadium it is likely thousands were saved. The guard who stopped the terrorist from going inside the stadium was a Muslim.