Destructive Western Middle East Policy Provides Fertile Ground for Islamic Radicals

The criminal attack by Islamic radicals on the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and murder of 17 people, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief, cartoonists, and other staff members, has shocked the world, and rightly so. There is no justification whatsoever for such a crime, even though the magazine had indeed published what many consider as bigoted and insulting cartoon about Prophet Muhammad. The vast majority of Muslims believe in an enlightened and spiritual interpretation of the Quran’s and the Prophet’s teachings, and condemn such barbaric acts.

The Quran has not set any punishment for insulting the Prophet, and in fact ordered the faithful to ignore those who insulted and annoyed him: "Do not conform to the caprices of the disbelievers and the hypocrites; and disregard their annoying words, and put all your trust in Allah, and His support and guardianship will suffice you against your enemies [Surah al-Ahzab: 48]. So, how can a Muslim murder others even if they did insult the Prophet, when the Quran is so clear about the issue? Such crimes have no roots in Islam.

While the heinous crime in Paris cannot be justified, it must be explained. Otherwise, in their rush to judgment, the French and other Westerners will try to advance the false narrative that Islam is a violent religion, or that Islamic radicals commit such crimes because, as President George W. Bush once claimed, "They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." We already see such "analyses" all over the Internet. But, not only such baseless analyses and proclamations are completely false, they are also utterly dangerous as they only exacerbate an already explosive situation.

So, what is the root cause of such crimes by Muslim radicals? Undoubtedly, the attempt by conservative and reactionary Muslims that have turned Islamic teachings and the Holy Quran into a manifesto of violence and intolerance is one factor. Under the false pretense that they want to return Islam to its original and puritan roots, such Muslims are in fact trying to return the Islamic world to the medieval age.

Such Muslim extremists are aided by Western Islamophobia, preached by radical right wings that have turned it into a highly profitable "industry." Demonizing Islam and Muslims has brought some in the West fame, wealth, and "recognition," contributing mightily to the present state of affairs. And, now, with the Paris crime, peddlers of "Islamofascism" in the West are having a field day, feeling righteous.

But, most Muslims are not even interested in politics. Thus, such efforts would fall on deaf ears, if there were no fertile grounds for them. Unfortunately, the West’s policy toward the Islamic world, and in particular the Middle East, has provided the fertile ground for the rise of Islamic radicals, whose voice has been becoming louder by the events of the last decade or so in the Middle East.

Since the end of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, when a military coalition led by the United States defeated Saddam Hussein’s army and drove it out of Kuwait, the West has done nothing but bringing misery, destruction, and bloodshed to that region. First, the United States and its allies imposed the most crippling economic sanctions against Iraq that, according to the United Nations, resulted in the death of at least 576,000 Iraqi children. Then, the George W. Bush administration and its ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, lied to the world and invaded and occupied Iraq illegally. How many Iraqi have been killed since the invasion? At least half a million, and perhaps as many as 1.6 million, which are truly staggering numbers. This is aside from millions of refugees, looting of its cultural and historical heritage, destruction of its infrastructure, etc. Invasion of Iraq also resulted in the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq that eventually morphed into the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The New York Times reported that the two main culprits behind the Paris attacks, brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, had been angry at the West for invading Iraq, and had ever since turned to radical politics espoused by extremist clerics and preachers. Ironically, France actually opposed invasion of Iraq, but that did not stop the two brothers from committing their crimes.

Then, we had NATO’s so-called humanitarian intervention in Libya in 2011. This time the West took the Islamic radicals’ side in order to topple the secular regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who was fiercely against extremist Islamic groups. Libya, as a cohesive country, now exists only on paper. It is torn between various groups, and has become a center of exporting weapons and radicals to the rest of North Africa and the Middle East. Up to 50,000 people have been killed in Libya since 2011.

When the democratically-elected government of President Mohamed Morsi was toppled by a military coup in Egypt in 2013, there was a sigh of relief in the West. The regime of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – now President al-Sisi – committed the the worst mass slaughter in Egypt’s contemporary history and "crimes against humanity," arresting at least ten thousand people, and ordering punishment by execution of a large number of opposition members in order to control Egypt. So, even when Islamic groups participate in the electoral process, they still cannot win. And, what has been the reaction of the West to the coup? The U.S. and Britain both congratulated the Egyptian henchman for his "election" to the presidency, Blair praised al-Sisi, and, the U.S.-Egypt relations are back to normal, with military aid to Egypt flowing once again.

As Vice President Joe Biden admitted last October, it was the United States allies in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf, and Turkey – that turned the internal conflict between secular dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition into a sectarian war between the Shiites and Sunnis, and in the process have been supporting the worst terrorist groups there, ranging from Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, to the ISIS and other terrorist groups. Over 200,000 people have been killed in Syria, the country has been destroyed, 7.6 million people have been displaced inside Syria and three million people are refugees in the neighboring countries, staggering numbers given that Syria’s total population is only about 23 million, and Syria and Iraq have become a magnet for radical Muslims from all over the world, including European countries, such as France. In fact, the Kouachi brothers had returned from fighting in Syria last summer. And, Andrew Parker, Britain’s MI5 chief warned that the ISIS members may be planning mass attacks on the West. These are the same type of groups that the West supported in Libya, and US allies have been supporting in Syria.

Meanwhile, in their pursuit of the terrorists, US drones have been killing innocent civilians in Pakistan and Yemen. In order to kill at most several dozen terrorists, the drones may have killed as many as 4700 innocent people.

This picture is completed by the one-sided support that the West has given to Israel in its war against the Palestinians. After the horrific crime in Paris, tens of thousands declared "I am Charlie" in solidarity with the people murdered. But, how many declared "I am a Palestinian child" after Israel’s attacks on Gaza last summer? How many Westerners cried "I am Iraqi" after over a million of them died as a result of Western policy toward Iraq? How many Americans shouted "I am Iranian" after an Iranian passenger airliner was shot down over the Persian Gulf by the US Navy in 1988, killing 290 innocent people?

But, on the other hand, the only Muslim country that made peaceful transition to democracy as a result of the Arab Spring was Tunisia, precisely because the West did not intervene in it. Tunisia has no value to so-called "strategic interests" of the West. So, it has been left alone, and we see the result.

There is a third factor that contributes to European Muslims becoming attracted to radicalism, and that is the rampant discrimination against them, high unemployment, and hopelessness. It is not only in France that Muslims are discriminated against, but also elsewhere in Europe, according to Amnesty International. Not only are French Muslims more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, they also encounter more problems finding long-term and full-time jobs. The rise of xenophobic parties in Europe has only contributed to worsening of the situation.

The discrimination has other facets too. When a Muslim commits a crime or an act of terrorism, the Western media makes sure to name him an "Islamic terrorist" or a "Muslim terrorist." But, if an Israeli does the same, he is hardly ever referred to as a "Jewish terrorist." In fact doing so will immediately provoke accusation of anti-semitism. The daily briefings on the state of war in Iraq given to President George W. Bush always began with a verse from the Bible, and his "puddle" Tony Blair of Britain said that he prayed and talked to God when deciding to invade Iraq with the US in 2003, but they were never called "Christian terrorist" or even "Christian aggressors" for their illegal invasion of Iraq.

And moderate thoughtful Muslims do not have a strong voice both in their countries, because the regimes of many Islamic countries are supported by the West, and in the West because most mainstream media is afraid of providing a platform for Muslims to explain their thoughts and positions.

The French Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus once said, "To name things wrongly is to add to the misfortune of the world." Paraphrasing him, I would say, "To give the wrong address about bad things is to add to the woes of the world." Indeed, so long as the abuses of the Western dominance of the Islamic world provides the fertile ground for extremist Muslim clerics and preachers to espouse their reactionary interpretations of Islam, a religion of peace and mercy, things will not get any better.

And, no, I do not feel like saying "I am Charlie." I feel like shouting "I am Ahmed" Merabet, the French Muslim policeman who was killed defending Charlie Hebdo and its right to ridicule and criticize his religion. That is the Muslim and Islam that I believe in and am proud of.

Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.