The Butterfly Effects That Led to the Rise of ISIS

A crowd of Persian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh supporters, armed with long sticks tear down a statue of Shah Reza, fath
A crowd of Persian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh supporters, armed with long sticks tear down a statue of Shah Reza, father of the Shah of Iran, in Tehran, August 17, 1953. (AP Photo)

The butterfly effect: how the actions of one vegetable seller who set himself on fire in Tunisia in 2010 would, five years later, indirectly cause the bombing of a Russian airliner filled with tourists, two suicide bombings in Beirut that would kill over 40 innocent civilians, and horrifying attacks in Paris killing over 100 people, all of whom have nothing to do with the carnage in Syria.

We can go even further than that. The butterfly effect: how the CIA-led overthrow of democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 (due to his intentions to nationalize Iranian oil) would, once again, over 60 years later, be related to what we are seeing unfold with ISIS today:

Overthrow of Mossadegh -> Shah of Iran takes power (a Western puppet) -> Iranian revolution overthrows him -> Iran transforms into a strictly conservative Islamic state --> Creation of Hezbollah to fight illegal Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, financed by Iran and supported by Syria's Assad -> US/Gulf/Israeli determination to weaken Hezbollah and prevent Iran's growing Shiite influence by overthrowing Assad (and thus capitalizing on -- not starting -- the Syrian revolution) -> ISIS is created, with Gulf support -> Global terror we're seeing today

There are so many angles of the butterfly effect, too many to outline here. But the point is, the Middle East is a very complex region, filled with a history of colonialism, occupation, Western support of Arab dictatorships due to oil and arms, along with injustice, oppression, and many, many double standards. So many disastrous policies have been pursued by Arab and foreign governments, compounded over the decades, and led by the West's blind protection of Israel and close alliances with Gulf dictatorships (who, along with a number of other factors, are largely responsible for the creation of ISIS).

It is so easy to simplify things, and to cast blame for the horrors we are witnessing today by demonizing an entire religious community of 1.6 billion people for the actions that a tiny fraction of them committed. Because, let's face it, this is what we are "seeing," and it is too complicated for us to delve into the details. But we are smarter than that. There is an entire story to be told from the past. To understand how to fight terror, we need to understand how we got here.

We keep fighting terror with missiles and bombs. 9/11 happened almost 15 years ago, and our response to terror was war. The repercussions of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 have been disastrous for the entire region, and it is now clear that ISIS has arisen in part due to that war (another angle of the butterfly effect).

The saying goes, "If all we have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

To really solve these issues, we need a new approach. In the short term, beyond an immediate halt to war in Syria, massive development projects need to take hold in poor and marginalized communities in the Arab world. There are roughly 140 million people living in poverty in the region. It has always been said that this is a ticking time bomb, and it appears we are already seeing it start to explode.

Development projects should promote education, employment, health care. People who are healthy, well-educated, have good-paying jobs, and can afford to support and feed their families are probably much less likely to become terrorists. Those who are willing to sacrifice themselves by becoming suicide bombers likely have nothing to lose. Let's give them something to lose by offering those living in poverty better livelihoods, away from oppression and misery. In this way, we would automatically make terror recruitment much, much harder.

In the long-run, a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and Palestine needs to be reached, based on true justice and accountability. One can argue that the Middle East is largely in such a mess because of this critical and unsolved issue that has been left to fester for decades.

The West will also need to re-evaluate its relationship with the Gulf monarchies, put its oil and arms interests aside, demand an end to their support of extremist groups, and push for the creation of more open, inclusive, equitable and tolerant policies that cater to the rights and needs of all, including the Shiite minorities, whom the Gulf dictatorships continue to repress.

Most will say, "It's too complicated" and will go back to fight terror with more of the same. Unfortunately, that just means that innocent people will continue to be killed by terror within Syria, and in the most distant and unrelated areas -- on a Russian flight back from vacationing in Egypt, while shopping for gifts for loved ones in Beirut, and while partying with friends at a concert in Paris.

May all the innocent victims rest in peace.