The Endless Cycle of Terrorism

tags: Paris Attack

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.

In the wake of the heinous attacks on civilians in Paris, the French are now prone to repeating the same mistakes the United States made after the even more barbaric 9/11 attacks. The natural reaction of politicians -- whether they be Democratic, Republican, or Socialist as in the case of President Francois Hollande in France -- is to show their publics that they are macho and tough. France's escalation of air strikes in Syria in retaliation for the Paris terrorist attacks is a good example. Unfortunately, that strutting and flexing doesn't solve the problem of terrorism and usually makes things worse. What is needed is more honesty about what causes radical Islamists' sporadic terrorist attacks on Western nations, which would lead to a more measured and effective response.

The French air strikes are in retaliation for the terror attacks, with little regard for why the terrorists attacked France in the first place. The attackers did not attack Luxembourg. As the terrorists were shooting people in Paris, they reportedly yelled that they were retaliating for French bombing in Syria. France, like the British and United States, is a former imperial power and still acts with that mentality by using force excessively abroad. The French still police their former colonies using military force and regularly are eager participants of U.S. coalitions to attack countries outside that category. For example, France recently sent troops into the African nation of Mali to beat back radical Islamists, who had obtained fighters and large quantities of weapons from the mayhem in neighboring Libya (not a former French colony), which had been caused by the French pressuring the United States to lead a coalition to overthrow Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. 

Nobody likes to be attacked or occupied, but Muslims have a particular aversion to being ruled by non-Muslims, as the British, French, and Americans have found out in the post-World War II era. Up until World War I, the Middle East was fairly quiet when the Muslim Ottoman Turks ruled fellow Islamic peoples. After that war, the British and French decided to destroy -- instead of the smarter course of preserving -- the losing Ottoman Empire and divide its vast territory between them. They chopped the caliphate up into Western-style countries with secular governments, both nonviable for Muslim populations. The boundaries those Western powers drew were for their convenience, crossing ethnic, sectarian, and tribal lines. The turmoil in Iraq and Syria today has arisen because of these arbitrary and artificial boundaries. Also, the Islamic religion sees no separation of church and state, so creating secular governments is very foreign to the Muslim world. The root of the problem is that Western imposition of such governmental structures hasn't worked and the region is struggling to find a suitable replacement. The brutal and radical Islamist groups al Qaeda and its spin-off ISIS want to restore the Islamic empire or caliphate, which would be ruled by a traditional caliph who is both the political and religious leader of the entire Muslim community. 

To be successful in war, the great general Napoleon believed that a commander needed to get inside the head of the enemy. Unfortunately, the United States, France, and Britain are in denial and have made no attempt to even consider the aforementioned root causes of Islamist terrorism. Radical strains of Islam have been around for centuries, and have occasionally attacked Europe. Of course, during the crusades, Christians attacked the Muslim world. In modern times, the attacking mostly has gone one way -- the wealthy West attacking much poorer Muslim nations. Thus, Muslim countries resent Western interference in their affairs, which they regard as continuation of the long period of Western colonialism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Western military attacks and occupations have killed far more Muslims than the sporadic small-scale terrorist attacks (including 9/11) have killed Westerners. There is natural Western revulsion and anger when one of these terrorist attacks occurs, but they are usually in retaliation for Western military actions in Muslim countries. Terrorism is the poor man's (and occasionally woman's) retaliatory weapon. Yet most residents of the three former imperial nations do not know (or don't care) that their governments have a long record of killing more Muslim innocents on a much grander scale. Let's briefly review the U.S. government's record and how turbocharged Islamic terror groups have come about.

In 1982, in support of the non-Muslim Israeli invasion of majority-Muslim Lebanon, the non-Muslim United States, under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, sent U.S. "peacekeepers" to Lebanon, who then proceeded to effectively fight on the side of the Christian minority in the ensuing civil war. When radical Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines, Reagan ignominiously withdrew U.S. forces (he should have never sent them in the first place). Osama bin Laden wrote that he first realized that Western countries could be displaced from Muslim soil through such attacks. He was reinforced in this belief when he and other Islamist fighters in Afghanistan -- financed, armed, and trained by the United States -- forced the withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s. ...

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