No matter how much adherents of Daesh (IS) make use of Islamic rhetoric, their violent reign and attacks can’t be disconnected from many other motives that are deeply linked to broader geopolitical realities. Yet again, the first witness reports of the recent attacks in Paris made this amply clear. Radio host Pierre Janaszak, for example, was present in the Bataclan and got away unharmed. While hiding in the lavatories with others, he clearly heard the militants say: “It’s the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria.” Another witness reported that the attackers shouted “This is because of all the harm done by Hollande to Muslims all over the world.”
It all recalls the story of French journalist Didier François. He was held hostage by Daesh for 10 months and eventually released in 2014. In an interview on CNN he explained how his captors often preached to the captives. But he said “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Qur’an. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran. We didn’t even have the Quran; they didn’t want even to give us a Quran.” In another conversation with the French magazine ‘Slate’ he added: “They’re religious from their point of view but we never had any theological discussions. Our conversations were above all political.”
The ‘radicalisation story’ of the Kouachi brothers, the perpetrators of the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office, show a similar pattern. As youngsters, they seldom visited the mosque and were a lot more interested in Cannabis then the Qur’an. And when Cherif Kouachi was arrested in 2005, right before he wanted to travel to Iraq, on the suspicion of planning terrorist attacks, he stated in his deposition: “I was ready to go and die in battle (…) I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television on what was going on over there. I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.” The court documents explain how Cherif came to the conclusion that “any place on Earth where there is such an injustice is justification for jihad; what was going on in Iraq was in his eyes such an injustice.”
The current conflict in Iraq simply isn’t the consequence of some old feud between religious factions, but was birthed in the ruins of a country that was completely destroyed through several consecutive wars in which Western powers were always involved.
It is ever more difficult to deny, therefore, that (religious) radicalisation often isn’t the cause of violence but the result. In other parts of the ‘War on Terror’ as well, this becomes amply clear. The frequent use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, doesn’t silence terrorism at all. On the contrary, it produces a surge in ‘terrorists’.
You could hear that in the depositions of the Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, who was caught before he wanted to car bomb Times Square on the 1st of May 2010. During his trial the judge asked him how he could possibly justify killing that many innocent children. His answer was: “Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims… I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people. And, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attack. Living in the United States, Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.”
It links up with statements of Michael Flynn, a former Director of both the U.S. Defense Intelligency Agency as well as JSOC (one of the most important units in the military anti-terror operations of the U.S.). A couple of months ago he had an elaborate debate with journalist Mehdi Hasan in the Aljazeera programme ‘Head to Head’. He plainly stated that the ‘War on Terror’ has little to no effect. Even more so: “If you look at 2004 and you fast forward to 2014 – it’s only less than a year ago – the number of terrorists… our state department designated terrorist groups… have doubled.”
Nevertheless the French government decided to bomb the city of Raqqa with twelve fighter planes only two days after the attack of last Friday. The chance that quite a lot of innocent lives were lost in this military act of revenge, is not unthinkable. Yet journalists often show little concern about such possibilities in their reports about the airstrikes.
Thus we skilfully keep the vicious cycle of violence going.
Many people are narrowly focussed on the religious background of one party in the conflict that kill people in the name of Allah. But on a daily basis many innocent people lose their lives in the name of democracy and human rights as well.
It makes the prevalent discourse of the ‘War on Terror’ quite difficult to follow. In conflict areas such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, who are ‘the good soldiers’ and who are ‘the bad terrorists’? The only thing we can be sure of, is that millions of people are terrorised – both by bearded and clean-shaven men.
The question isn’t how we fight religious extremism. The question is how we stop the cycle of violence.
By Jonas Yunus Atlas