Current Events – Understanding Islamic Terrorism #1
Hello beautiful and intelligent readers. I’ve decided to start a new blog series on attempting to understand current events. In this case I’ve chosen the big elephant in the West’s room, the issue of Islamic Terrorism. I will attempt to identify and analyze some of the aspects of the issue from a historical perspective. This is by no means a comprehensive effort but just an attempt to get people interested and thinking. Humanity is not simply bulldozing its way through space and time. No, things happen for a reason, and its usually historical in at least some aspect. I honestly believe if we simply studied the history of the world more; we would not be so caught off guard and seemingly helpless in how to proceed.
For all intents and purposes, we in the West have been completely blind-sided by the recent emergence of resurgent militant Islam, which at present, is probably the most powerful force in the world. From the Maghreb to the Levant, Jihadis are attempting to sweep away the political boundaries demarcated by lines on the map, destroy entrenched autocratic regimes and create new Islamic territories or even “States”. All the while launching terrorist attacks on civilians across the world. I am speaking of course about the Islamic State group and their followers.
The main question that us Westerners are struggling with is why? Why is this happening? What do these people want? Who are these people? Why do they hate us? These are not easy questions to parse, but there are answers out there, though they may not be satisfying or complete. History provides some helpful starting points about how we got to where we are today.
At the completion of the First World War the modern Middle East was born from the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East for hundreds of years. During the course of the war, the British were able to arm and mobilize the tribes of the Arabian desert against their Turkish overlords, in what was known as the Arab Revolt, and immortalized in the firm Lawrence of Arabia. The British had promised the Arabs that they would gain control of the former Turkish territories of the Arab world . However the European imperial powers had different ideas. The British and French diplomats Sykes and Picot had secretly created a treaty that saw Britain and France divide up the former Ottoman territories under spheres of influence. These “mandates” as they were called, were basically formal colonies ruled by the Imperial Western Powers, and would go on the form the actual political boundaries between countries. For the Arabs who had taken part in the revolt, the Sykes-Picot agreement was an utter betrayal and bitter humiliation. The Arabs felt, and rightly so, that they were being used by the Western Powers, who secretly wanted to take over the area after defeating the Turks in the war. The West could not be trusted.
The French took the “mandates” of Syria and Lebanon with the goal of overseeing and protecting the christian populations in these “countries”. While the British formed the ‘mandates’ of Palestine, Trans-Jordan and Iraq. Iraq was a curious choice for a political entity. Consisting of three ethnic groups centered around their large trading centers of Sunni Baghdad, Shiite Basrah and Kurdish Mosul, Iraq made and still makes little sense as a country, except if you take the perspective of the British when they were forming Iraq. At the time, the major oil discoveries of the Arabian peninsula were not yet known, and the largest oil fields in the region were in what is now, Northern Iraq, the Kurdish majority areas. So if the British had created a Kurdistan for the Kurdish nation, the massive oil fields would be land locked, and the British would not be able to export them easily. For this reason, Iraq was created as it is, a mush-mash of hostile ethnic groups with access to the sea, so the oil wells in northern Iraq could be easily exported.
The above speaks to one of the core problems with the region. The countries exist only as lines on the map, not as distinct national-ethnic-linguistic groups of people. The Nation States of Europe and Asia wok because they are ‘real’ countries whose people share common ethnic, linguistic and cultural heritage. Because of the Ottoman Empire’s stranglehold on the region for hundreds of years, these distinct groups never really emerged with the agency required to create real nation states. So instead we have lines on the map, drawn by Imperialist powers 100 years ago. This is the original sin the West committed in the Modern Middle East and one of the main reasons for the turmoil in the region. The Middle East is not natural, but instead is an artificial creation by outsiders. When viewed in this lens, it makes the current instability of the region make more sense. The only real way to redraw the lines on the map is violence, and I believe this is central to the tragedy unfolding in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.
So I believe understanding the political boundaries and the history of disappointment and disillusionment is a good starting point for this discussion. If you would like to know more I have prepared a special book lot about the End of World War I and the birth of the modern Middle East, which covers in detail the creation of the various states in the region. Here is a link to it — Modern Middle East History Book Lot.
We also have a handful of other terrorist related book lots for your general understanding on the subject.