A Month Of Terror

In the last month the world has been beset by a series of attacks by ISIS. The worst attack was on October 31st when a Russian passenger jet was downed by a bomb over Sinai, in Egypt, 224 people lost their lives including 214 Russian people. This was followed by a suicide attack near Beirut, Lebanon where 43 people died, then France suffered its second worst case of mass murder on its soil this year when a group of Jihadists staged coordinated attacks in areas throughout the city, hundreds were injured and 130 people were killed.

ISIS’ recent attacks mark a shift in strategy in how the group operates. Up until recently Western intelligence agencies have viewed Al-Qaeda as the primary Jihadist threat to their own territory, regarding ISIS as an issue mostly confined to Syria, Iraq and Libya. One of the distinctions that was often drawn between ISIS and Al-Qaeda was that ISIS unlike its Jihadi counterpart prioritised accumulating territory in Western Iraq and Eastern Syria with the aim of establishing a functional state, whereas Al-Qaeda were far more interested in launching large scale attacks against Western cities. With these latest attacks ISIS appears to have superseded Al-Qaeda in its capacity to strike at foreign targets.
Following the horrific succession of attacks, there’s been much discussion regarding possible solutions to ISIS’ terror. All indications are that neither the French, US or British government have any interest in pursuing long term strategies that are conducive to significantly reducing the Jihadist threat. Neocons in Washington still advocate the sledgehammer approach, despite the obvious perils to such a plan and the fact that it’s been a large contributor to ISIS’ ascension. ISIS are an outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the war in Iraq had the effect of uniting the Jihadist movement and making it infinitely more powerful than it was prior to the illegal invasion. During the invasion and in subsequent years Iraq was replete with the kind of conditions that Al-Qaeda could capitalise on. The most salient one of course was the occupation and the war crimes which ensued. Al-Qaeda knew recruitment would soar with the presence of US troops in Iraq, but the way in which it benefited Bin Laden’s organisation probably exceeded all expectations. One study from 2007 concludes that since the invasion of Iraq, terrorism increased by a factor of seven, and also observed that public support for the United States plummeted in Muslim majority countries courtesy of the murderous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, an internal report from US intelligence agencies concluded that the occupation of Iraq greatly compounded terrorism and in 2010 the former head of MI5 stated that the Iraq war substantially exacerbated international terrorism. So without a doubt the US invasion of Iraq did not curtail the threat of terrorism, and with a high degree of probability directly increased it. The de-Ba’athification of the Iraqi government also had major ramifications. The policy led to thousands of Iraqi men, who were armed and militarily competent being completely humiliated and unable to provide for their families, inevitably this led to many of them participating in the insurgency. This destructive policy perplexed several officials in the US military: ” One of the most senior military officials in the United States, Admiral Mike Mullen states that the de-Ba’athification policy coupled with the disbanding of the Iraqi military created security problems, and unnecessary sectarian tension. The Admiral stated that that Iraqi military could have been used to help secure the country more quickly, but instead its disbandment contributed to the overall decay in security.”
Another factor is the installation of a highly sectarian, anti-Sunni prime-minister, Nouri Al-Maliki. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Sunni and Shi’ite muslims lived without any serious conflict, so much so that intermarriage between them was relatively common, of course no one is blaming the US entirely for the Sunni-Shia schism which goes back centuries but they certainly did revive it with their policies in Iraq. Al-Maliki’s government has played huge role in inadvertently empowering ISIS, during his tenure he reneged on many of his promises which included building an inclusive government, his government has also indiscriminately fired on protestors killing many civilians, and they deprived Sunni Arab cities from vital services, including electricity, he’s also showed reluctance to tackle the issue of Shi’ite militias which committed atrocities against Sunnis. Taking these factors into account it’s easy to see why Tony Blair and Barack Obama both acknowledge the war in Iraq was instrumental in ISIS gaining its power.
But Iraq isn’t the only country ISIS and Jihadists have exploited political strife for their own nefarious gain. Syria too presented many of the of the same conditions found in Iraq. A decidedly oppressive leader, Bashar Al-Assad who killed thousands of innocent civilians with indiscriminate bombing, a military which was ill-equipped to deal with the competence of Jihadist fighters, and recent foreign involvement from Iran, Russia, The US and France. Groups like ISIS seek out political instability like a moth to a flame. So therefore to deal with ISIS you have to combat the conditions that are advantageous to them. A diplomatic solution is urgently needed, but the prospect of that happening anytime soon seems remote considering the conflicting agendas of the states and groups involved in Syria. The US’ strategy in Syria has been motivated primarily by their two most loyal allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia whose interests align with regard to Syria. Both are insistent that Assad must go, and are determined to weaken their common enemy, Iran. The US knows that pursuing a diplomatic solution in Syria which would involve the Syrian government would likely exasperate both countries, especially only a few months after the Iranian nuclear deal. Ideally, the major players, the Syrian government, along with Iran and Russia would meet at the negotiating table with the US, France and Saudi Arabia and come to some sort of compromise which would result in the situation improving for the Syrian people. If eventually, there was an agreement that Assad will leave, it is imperative the Syrian government is not dismantled and that money is invested into rebuilding critical infrastructure. Self-evidently, ISIS are not in the business of negotiating, so it is abundantly clear that the territory ISIS has stolen must be reclaimed through force. The US and Russia appear reluctant to send in a large array of ground troops which is understandable considering what happened in Afghanistan after 1979 and Iraq in 2003. Bear in mind that neither case yielded a humanitarian outcome despite being framed as a battle against terrorists. The most effective way to weaken ISIS is to support the local ground forces who are already securing victories against ISIS. The Kurdish militants have proven to be one of the most effective ground fighters against ISIS, liberating Kobane and Tel Abyad; no doubt that ISIS would be infinitely more powerful if it weren’t for the Muslim fighters putting their life on the line to defeat the Jihadists.

ISIS are not a reaction to US & British imperialism or oppressive dictatorships in the Middle-East, they’re an exploiter of it. By and large it’s predominately Muslims who are their victims, not Westerners or Christians. But many of the powerful commanders of ISIS are shrewd strategists. They’re aware that one of the major grievances people in the Arab world have is the amount of suffering Western powers have caused since the collapse of the Ottoman empire. One of the ways ISIS try to appeal to people is to portray themselves as liberators from Western imperialism and the complicit Arab dictatorships. The bulk of people in the Arab world however have vehemently rejected ISIS, and while they may see Western involvement in the region as an impediment to peace, they certainly do not view ISIS as a solution. One of the arguments used in an attempt to refute the claim that US or British foreign policy contributes to the rise in extremism is that 9-11 predated the Iraq war, the inhumane detention camp in Guantanamo and the use of UAVs. Such arguments display a remarkable ignorance of history. US meddling in the Middle-East far predates 9-11, their support of countless dictatorships to secure the resources of the region for their gain, their support of the Zionistic regime which kills Palestinians with impunity, the shooting down of a civilian passenger jet while supporting and assisting Saddam while his regime was gassing Iranians, or the bombing of a pharmaceutical facility in Sudan which is estimated to have killed a lot of people. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief the war against the Iraqi people started years before the 9-11 attacks with the sanctions imposed on Iraqi people which were permitted by the UN security council. The sanctions had a devastating impact on the civilian population killing thousands of people, and led to two UN officials resigning because of their disgust at the effects they were having on the Iraqi people. There’s a reason people are so eager to believe the fundamentalists when they cite religion as a motivation but so resistant to listen when they claim they’re inspired by the countless atrocities committed by the US and Britain as they have done on numerous occasions. The former involves no introspection of any kind, and feeds the racist clash of civilisations narrative which gained popularity after 9-11, by blaming it solely on religion we can wash our hands of the possible role our governments have played in creating the extremism. The latter would involve a realisation that our own governments have been committing acts of terror for decades and we have a moral responsibility to implore them to stop.

It would be remiss to examine ISIS without a focus on the ideology which inspires its most fervent commanders. The type of Salafi doctrine espoused by ISIS is rejected by most of the Muslim world, and the reason it’s gained such prominence is not despite popular misconception because the Muslim world gives it some sort of legitimacy but rather because there’s a lot of money invested in it to ensure it spreads around the world. While there’s no direct evidence the Saudi Arabian government has funded ISIS, it’s nevertheless true its ideology bears a lot of resemblance to that of Jihadist groups.
The Wahhabi ideology it subscribes to isn’t just purveyed domestically, but billions have been spent to generalise it around the world. Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative, strict, sectarian ideology that is named after Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who formed a dynastic alliance with the house of Saud in the 18th century. Al-Wahhab considered himself a purist and wanted to return Muslims to what he considered the original principles of Islam. Initially, Wahhabism’s influence was restricted to parts of Saudi Arabia, but with the collapse of the Ottoman empire it spread to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. The discovery of petroleum near the gulf in 1939 acted as a catalyst for the global spread of the ideology, and the with the 1973 oil crisis and burgeoning oil prices, Saudi accumulated astronomical profits which were then allocated to the expansion of Wahhabi ideology, billions spent on media, schools, the building of hundreds of universities and mosques and the expansion of the ideology. Saudi Arabia supported the Jihadists during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, supplying them with considerable financial support. The movement would however split in 1990 when the Saudis allowed US troops to be stationed on their territory to fight Iraq. This disillusioned many of Salafists who then supported the overthrow of the Saudi monarch.
ISIS and Saudi Arabia may not be indistinguishable but their similarities are too hard to overlook. Only days after the horrific attacks Saudi announced the sentencing to death of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh who is alleged to have committed blasphemy. The kingdom is notorious for its high rate of beheadings, and in the last year it’s executed at least 175 people. To make matters worse it’s also terrorising the poorest country in the region, Yemen and has created a humanitarian catastrophe with their indiscriminate bombing and blockade of ports. This murderous war is being supported by France, the United States and Britain. In fact, France and Saudi agreed a contract worth billions in October, and days following the attacks the US state department approved a deal worth 1.29 billion with the aim of replenishing Saudi’s weapon supplies. The leading Western powers can not reconcile their rhetoric of despising Jihadist terrorism with supporting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states whose ideology resembles that of Jihadist groups.

Inevitably, as is the case after most terrorist attacks political opportunists are keen to exploit the emotional reaction of the public. Edward Snowden caused a considerable amount of embarrassment to the NSA, and the political elite of Washington when he supplied journalists with classified material which would later reveal to the world the extent of US and British surveillance. This attack presented them with the opportunity to vilify Snowden and propagandise to the public about the necessity of mass surveillance. CNN, a propaganda outlet invited ex CIA director on to express his desire to see Snowden “hung by the neck, until he’s dead”. John Brennan, the current CIA director, who is a pathological liar also implied Snowden bore some responsibility for making the job of intelligence agencies more challenging in thwarting attacks. A fantastic editorial from the NYTimes completely falsified their claims, but the purpose of the lies are to stoke fear to increase public support for the NSA’s policies, despite the rebuttal from the Times it’s very likely to have succeeded considering the submissive role most of the media play when it comes to the words of government officials.
Refugees have also been thrown under the bus since the attacks, especially in the US where presidential candidates Donald Trump and Jeb Bush have expressed utterly prejudiced remarks about them and the house passed a bill to suspend Obama’s program to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. Their views are sadly in line with many American people. The US is a country that has a long history of racism. Bear in mind, that the vast majority of Americans supported the racist and criminal war against Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of people. There is a also a majority of support when it comes to the use of UAVs, despite the fact it’s killed thousands of civilians and exacerbates terrorism. In someways you can attribute the prevalence of these appalling views to the most powerful propaganda system in the world, but it’s still no excuse. Attacks against Muslims have also increased since the Paris attacks, which is precisely what Jihadists want as they’ve explicitly said. The strategy of terror attacks is to engender a backlash against the minority Muslim populations in Europe and the US with the hope of polarising society. Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept: “In a statement published in its online magazine, Dabiq, this February, the militant group the Islamic State warned that “Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.” Weeks earlier, a massacre had occurred at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The attack stunned French society, while bringing to the surface already latent tensions between French Muslims and their fellow citizens. While ISIS initially endorsed the killings on purely religious grounds, calling the murdered cartoonists blasphemers, in Dabiq the group offered another, more chilling rationale for its support. The attack had “further brought division to the world,” the group said, boasting that it had polarized society and “eliminated the grayzone,” representing coexistence between religious groups. As a result, it said, Muslims living in the West would soon no longer be welcome in their own societies. Treated with increasing suspicion, distrust and hostility by their fellow citizens as a result of the deadly shooting, Western Muslims would soon be forced to “either apostatize … or they [migrate] to the Islamic State, and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens,” the group stated, while threatening of more attacks to come.” Politicians are also using the attack to justify more intervention in Syria. Neocons like John Mccain want to intensify the US’ intervention by sending thousands of American ground troops into Syria, and in Britain the Tories are pushing for another vote on military escalation. It’s the least bit surprising then to see the stocks of defence contracters soaring following the attacks in Paris.

They were stark differences in how the attacks on Paris were reported on compared to the ones near Beirut and over Sinai. Following the attack in Sinai the sentiment arose from several people that while the loss of life was tragic the victims somehow made an idiotic decision to holiday in Egypt, a place which has suffered a lot of political violence lately. This despite the fact thousands of tourists travel to Egypt each year without being killed, and the bombing of a passenger jet is extremely rare. Now, extend the same logic to France which has recently suffered from Jihadist terror. If anyone even hinted at stupidity on the behalf of tourists in Paris they would be rightly castigated and considered extremely tactless for saying such a thing. But such words about the victims of the plane crash over Sinai were common on many websites reporting on the horrific attack. Tourism is an integral part of the Egyptian economy, and the solution is not scaring prospective tourists from visiting Egypt in the future, but ensuring the security threat is reduced. There was also the suggestion that the attack on the Russian passenger jet was a result of Russia’s entrance into the Syrian civil war ” On a BBC panel discussion the Telegraph’s Janet Daley referred to the crash as “a direct consequence of Russia’s involvement in Syria”, adding: “Putin has perhaps incited this terrorist incident on Russian civilians.” Ms Daley however did not apply the same reasoning when the innocent French people were murdered “If there is any need to argue about these matters, it should come at some other time,” she wrote, because “the French people did not deserve this”, and “it is wicked and irresponsible to suggest otherwise” this glaring hypocrisy pervades most of Western media; stating that Russian intervention may provoke a retaliation is seen as perfectly rational position, but stating that the French bombing of Syria may also provoke the same sort reaction in their country is perceived as rationalising or somehow excusing the violence. The victims of the bombing near Beirut were victim to dehumanisation from Western media. Several outlets described the attacks as one on a “Hezbollah stronghold”, implying it was militarily motivated when in fact it was an attack on civilians who were mostly Shia Muslims. Perhaps even more shocking was a Republican candidate running for senate saying “I support any attack made against Hezbollah or ISIS. That includes the attack launched today against Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

In Ireland the Paris attacks led to renewed discussion about what support we should lend to the militaries of Western states, and whether the use of Shannon makes our government complicit in some of the monstrous crimes the US government has committed. In the the days after the attack French president Francois Hollande invoked article 42.7 of the Lisbon treaty, which calls on EU member states to aid and assist France in whatever way they’re capable of. Irish defence minister, Simon Coveney and other Irish minister have insisted than any possible deployment of Irish troops will not compromise Ireland’s policy of militarily neutrality which is overwhelmingly supported by the Irish people. However, there are a number of issues with Coveney’s claim which are documented here by Ryan Mccarel. What’s also been raised is whether the use of Shannon airport by the US military increases the security threat to our country. It’s highly probable that it does, we know that many extremists harbour a lot of hostility for the US for their wars in the Middle-East, and would likely see our association with the US military as a form of complicity. Despite this, it’s very unlikely Ireland would be prioritised in an attack because our army are not involved in the wars in Syria or Iraq. France and Russia were both targeted because they’ve been intensifying their bombing of Syria in the last few months, while ISIS may detest all people who abhor their ideology, the fact remains that they have limited resources and they will likely prioritise attacking countries they’re at war with. But apart from the security rationale for preventing US military access to Shannon, there’s also a moral one too. The government has always maintained that the use of Shannon by the US military is done in accordance with our policy of neutrality but this is patently false. If any military avails of Shannon airport there are supposed to be restrictions which include being unarmed, no carrying of weapons, ammunition or explosives and that the planes are not part of a military operation or exercise. The US government offered assurances to the Irish government that it would comply with these restrictions before the Iraq war, but instead of taking these ‘assurances’ with a degree of suspicion, the Irish government turned a blind eye to what the planes were being used for. According to a former pilot of the US military who flew military personnel to Kabul in Afghanistan where the CIA would torture detainees, the planes were never inspected and on several occasions weapons were carried and stored in the plane’s luggage hold. In 2005 Amnesty international revealed that six planes used by the CIA for rendition flights had made 50 landings at Shannon airport, this was in response to Dermot Ahern’s ‘plea’ that if anyone had any evidence of the flights to provide it to him and he’d have it immediately investigated. Amnesty supplied the evidence yet no investigation ever came to fruition. This is what Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty Ireland said regarding the rendition flights: “It is undeniable that the Irish government knew rendition flights transited Ireland and that they knew this breached the legally binding international convention on torture. Yet they did nothing. Ireland was prepared to ignore our role in kidnap and torture for the sake of maintaining good relations with the United States government” All of this was also done without the permission of the Irish citizenry; a poll from 2007 showed that the vast majority of Irish people oppose the use of Shannon airport in the Iraq war. Earlier this year a TD used Dail privilege to state that US troops carry weapons on planes that travel through Shannon airport. He referenced a recording played by Dr Tom Cloonan which was made on US military plane in Shannon: “It advises US soldiers, and I quote: to leave their weapons on board” In 2014, 272 planes carrying weapons or explosives were given permission to fly through Shannon airport, the bulk of these being US military aircraft. Of the 606 requests to carry munitions through Irish airspace, 93% of them were from the US. We should refuse to allow the US military into Shannon not because some Jihadist may desire it, but because facilitating an imperialistic military which has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people undermines our moral standing in the world.

Despite so much suffering and violence on this planet, we can take solace in seeing how people around the world reacted to the events in Paris. The solidarity on display was something to behold and it just reinforces the point that even though the world is plagued by a lot of ills, there is so much potential to make it a more peaceful, and united world.