The West’s Errors of Judgment Exact a Terrible Price

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Without doubt the greatest error committed by the US and its European partners is their neglect of Syria. When President Barack Obama erased his own red line and subsequently turned his back on the legitimate opposition of the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian people were doomed to years of unimaginable misery with no end in sight.

American officials boast that ISIL is on the run and losing captured territory in both Syria and Iraq, adding that this is the reason it is commanding its sympathisers to kill Americans and Europeans using any weapon to hand. Like so many millions of Syrians and Iraqis, the problem is being displaced rather than solved at root.

So many unjust wars have been waged and the irony is that the one time a military intervention was desperately needed to save hundreds of thousands of lives and to prevent millions fleeing their homes, President Obama got cold feet.

The only winners are the biggest state sponsor of terrorism — Iran — and its Syrian puppet Bashar Al Assad with whom Turkey seeks to mend fences following its detente with Moscow. Notable too, is the silence of western leaderships on regime atrocities even as calls for Assad to go are rarely heard nowadays.

If the US President had shown leadership and rallied the international community behind him, there would have been no waves of Syrian refugees flooding Europe’s shores, and, arguably, Iraqis would still be united if George W. Bush had not invaded.

My heart goes out to those poor families fleeing bombs and hunger. But, at the same time, the influx of genuine refugees has served as a cover for terrorists. It was unwise of Germany and Austria among others to offer blanket invitations without proper screening.

Moreover, those without language skills or accredited educational certificates place a burden on economies and, in many cases, are resented or sometimes feared by local populations. Professionals have a greater chance of being assimilated into European societies but they are the very people needed to rebuild Syria.

I believe they should have remained in their own country under the protection of peace-keeping forces and no-fly zones until it was safe for them to go home. Instead of spending billions of Euros sealing quid pro quo deals with Ankara and on refugee welfare, those billions would have been better spent on creating safe zones within Syria.

I arrived for a short stay in Munich just days after an 18 year old German-Iranian national shot and killed nine people at a mall, out of which seven were Muslims. I strolled around with friends admiring the sights marvelling at how speedily the stricken city had regained its legendary joie de vivre.

Germans are stoic by nature and the warm people of Munich are rightly determined not to allow crazed killers to rob them of their laid-back lifestyle. But my fear is that such attacks hitting ‘soft targets’ are now accepted by Europeans as the new normal. Will there come a time when emotions, bombarded with sad news, will dry-up tears?

Over the past weeks, a Frenchman of Tunisian descent hired a truck to mow down revellers on Nice’s Boulevard des Anglais, a Syrian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a music festival in Ansbach, an Afghan refugee hacked at passengers on a train in Wuerzburg – and a machete-wielding Syrian asylum-seeker murdered a woman and injured five others in Reutlingen.

Most recently, two ISIL terrorists forced a Catholic priest to his knees before cutting his throat in the sleepy French town of Saint-Etienne in northern France. Shockingly one of the armed men was being closely monitored by security services after being placed under a control order.

There is no escaping the fact that all these horrendous deeds were committed by individuals purporting to be Muslims. That said, none of these cold-hearted, soulless creatures can be classed as Muslim in the true sense of the word when their acts fly in the face of everything Islam stands for; they are deviants who don’t distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims during their killing sprees.

Almost all have been known criminals and drug dealers without known religious leanings. Over one third of those slaughtered in Nice were Muslims and it should not be forgotten that many more Muslims have lost life and limb due to terror attacks than adherents of other faiths.

Every such attack is a gift to Europe’s Far rightwing racist parties. There is increasing anger in both France and Germany against governments for security failures.

If the hard right gains power and implements their divisive agendas, sectors of populations will be pitted against each other. France, where President Francois Hollande’s popularity has slumped, is especially vulnerable to politicians capitalising on fear and hatred.

So are citizens of afflicted countries right to blame authorities?

It goes without saying the bulk of the blame should be laid at the feet of the perpetrators, their masters, funders and recruiters. Their massacres are inexcusable and an affront to God.

However, the policies of western governments have been a major contributing factor to this poisonous brew going back to the time when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other western intelligence agencies embraced the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, toppled Iran’s democratically-elected leader Mossadegh, abandoned the Shah and aided the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini.

During the 1980s, the CIA trained Arab fighters to battle the Soviets in Afghanistan and the United States and its allies have been accused of dodgy alliances with radicals ever since. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fuelled sectarianism and anti-Western sentiment.

US drone attacks have killed thousands of Pakistani and Afghan civilians, blithely written-off as collateral damage. Let us be very honest with ourselves. Bush’s so-called “War on Terror” not only failed to eradicate terrorism, it succeeded in nurturing it, leaving behind a long trail of angry fathers, brothers and sons.

Another question uppermost in people’s minds is why French nationals of North African extraction are bent on the destruction of their own homeland or adopted country? The harsh reality is that France’s Muslim communities have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of job opportunities and housing.

They have been ghettoised in sub-standard housing estates and have been made to feel like outsiders. Senior politicians, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, has characterised them as “an enemy within”. Aggrieved, the weak-minded make perfect fodder for armed extremists and their revengeful, blood thirsty ideologies.

Terrorism has become a pandemic. No country is immune and this complex mess impacting millions has been decades in the making. There are no quick fixes. Unfortunately, there is also no concerted strategy on the part of concerned states to eradicate terrorism and bring peace to our troubled region, so that Syrians and Iraqis can resume normal lives and regain their dignity. All that is on offer are band aids.

Without unified international resolve, the prognosis is more of the same or worse. I wish I could end on a positive note, but, without a glimmer of light the end of the tunnel, sadly, I cannot.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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