Terrorism will in time consume the world, unless numerous parties admit inconvenient truths and adopt a holistic, cooperative and long-term approach to defeat it. The first step must be a transparent realization of all the factors that have fueled, and continue to fuel, terrorism. But it appears that we cannot even take this first step. When Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the U.K.’s Labor Party, recently stated what to us is self evident with only the extent debatable—namely, that the foreign policy of his country had contributed to terrorism—he was attacked from every side.
Here we have only space to provide a partial list of Western complicity that has produced disenfranchised masses over the last 100 years: the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 (between France and Great Britain, who in secret carved up the Middle East with straight lines and a disregard for ethnicity, religion and sect), the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 (which cemented the agreement of 1916, providing the seed for the creation of a Jewish state and making would-be broken promises to Kurds); the creation of Israel accompanied by unconditional U.S. support (and the deprivation of a Palestinian nation); the Western-inspired coup in the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq and U.S. blind support for the Shah of Iran (factors that contributed to the Iranian Revolution of 1979); the support for Arab Mujahedin in Afghanistan (to force Russia out of Afghanistan, which in turn inspired Osama bin Laden and the creation of Al-Qaeda); the support for Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and his eight-year war with Iran (which undermined the credibility of the United Nation’s Security Council) and the provision of outlawed chemical weapons to kill and incapacitate tens of thousands of Iranians (which tarnished the West’s moral standing); the two Gulf wars, especially the Second Gulf War (which provided a haven for ISIS); the selling of arms to illegitimate rulers to wage wars against their own people (in progress in Bahrain); and Donald Trump’s tirades dividing the Middle East along ethnic and sectarian lines. While these were all important, they are in the past; but the fuel and continuing driver of terrorism are three interrelated factors that must be addressed simultaneously if terrorism is to ebb and eventually be defeated.
First, the West, and in particular the United States since WWII, has supported oppressive and corrupt dictators in the Middle East while espousing support for freedom, human rights and representative governments. The U.S. has done, and continues to do, this in the name of stability and the war on terror, while it sells arms and secures other business opportunities and sidelines human rights in oppressive Muslim lands.
Second, the supportive ideology, scaffolding and lifeblood for the U.S. approach toward the Muslim World is provided by a small group of Orientalist and Neo-Orientalist academics who are either ignorant or have personal agendas against Islam and Muslims (elaborated in a forthcoming book in July/August—Ideal Islamic Economy: An Introduction, Palgrave Macmillan). Neo-Orientalists have taken a few words from the Quran, constructed a false scaffolding of Islam and then attacked their own false creation as the reason why Islam is at the center of social and economic failure and, in turn, terrorism. Their implicit and explicit recommendation is for Muslims to abandon their religion! Their deception is evident but had been largely ignored until recently, when their influence became evident in the Second Gulf War in a Western setting where readers had little knowledge of Islam. Orientalists and their backers should know that positive change in the Middle East would only come in the context of Islam.
Third, the U.S. has become the self-appointed designator of terrorist entities and invariably brands Muslims who oppose them for any reason as terrorists. The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims do not accept the U.S. designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorists. This unhelpful U.S. practice divides the world and Muslims; it permits rogue entities to adopt force and other harsh measures toward those who disagree with them (conveniently branding them as terrorists and gets U.S. backing); and, in turn, alienates more and more Muslims from the West as they see the hand of foreigners in their oppression.
The fallout of shortsighted Western policies is everywhere to see—oppressive dictatorships in many Muslim countries, ineffective institutions, under-performing economies and oppressed and disenfranchised masses with little hope for a better future. Muslim rulers supported by the U.S. are invariably illegitimate and represent a perversion of Islam. Islam advocates freedom for all; rulers who are answerable to their community adhere to Islamic teachings—the effective institutions of Islam with justice at the center, equal opportunity, societal trust and distribution and redistribution to avoid opulence alongside poverty and deprivation. It is in the failed state of Muslim societies that terrorist groups find their breeding ground with recruits (and their young sympathizers from the West) and attempt to fill the void, preaching another false version of Islam to pursue their own agenda.
Support for illegitimate rulers, affording Neo-Orientalists unopposed platforms to spread accounts of a false Islam and opportunistically branding legitimate Muslim entities as terrorists can only make matters worse. Armed force and oppression to silence legitimate demands will only increase the cycle of violence. Pitting Shia and Sunni Muslims against each another will only widen the East-West divide. A finger in the dike may produce temporary respite but will make the inevitable ever more destructive.
The only hope for defeating the scourge of terrorism is a comprehensive and united approach by Muslims and the West to address the problem at its source—political, social and economic reforms in Muslim countries in the framework of Islam; educating Muslims and non-Muslims on Islam’s true message of freedom, peace, inclusion and justice; and the promotion of unity among all Muslims. This tall task will take decades to bear fruit but the longer we continue down the prevailing destructive path, the more difficult the road ahead.