Unintended Consequences

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From top: Members of the French community in Ireland on O’Connell Street, Dublin on Saturday; Dr Julien Mercille

The causes of terrorist attacks have nothing to do with the left or the right.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

The terrorist attacks in Paris killed more than 120 innocent civilians. They were the latest in a series “Islamic State” (Isis) attacks that killed 43 people at a market in Beirut, 26 at a funeral in Baghdad, and 224 aboard a Russian plane.

The events are understandably tragic and deeply saddening. However, they are not isolated, even if they have received disproportionate media coverage. For example, thousands of Iraqis have died because of Isis terrorist bombings. The number of civilian fatalities in Iraq has increased from 4,623 in 2012 to 9,473 in 2013 and 17,045 in 2014, according to Iraq Body Count , an independent website. A large proportion of those are attributed to Isis.

Two questions have dominated the airwaves: why did this happen, and what should be done about it?

The conventional view is that this happened because of Islam, which is spreading violence, and we need to retaliate militarily.

For example, in his front-page Sunday Independent article, Brendan O’Connor blames Islam, which “literally means submitting” — but he declares that Westerners “will not submit”. He asserts that Islamic networks and attacks, after all, “cannot operate totally in secret and totally without some support from communities”. The implicit message is that we should thus be suspicious of Muslim communities. He also argues that Muslims themselves should do more to stop religious violence.

O’Connor also believes that “the Left” gets it all wrong, claiming that “the Left in the West goes into an orgy of blaming ourselves” for the attacks.

He is not alone in thinking this. Also writing in the Sunday Independent, Eilis O’Hanlon said the same about “the Left”, stating ]: “We in the West are, ultimately, blamed [by “the Left”] for every evil act committed against us by Islamic fanatics”. In short, “excuses will always be made for terrorists when they spill our blood”.

But those statements are so factually incorrect that one wonders if their authors have ever read anything on the subject of terrorism or Islam. I don’t have space here to address every aspect of the issue, but let’s get the basics out of the way.

First, outlining causes of terrorist attacks has nothing to do with “the Left” or “the Right”. It’s just about the facts.

The fact that the formation of Isis goes back to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq is not even controversial. So is the fact that Western military intervention under the “Global War on Terror” has increased terrorism worldwide. This shouldn’t be too surprising for anybody who understands international affairs. If a country bombs another, it is likely that some groups and individuals from the destroyed and occupied country will seek to retaliate.

For instance, an important New York University study  found that the US invasion of Iraq led to a sevenfold increase in terrorism worldwide. The authors looked at the annual number of fatal jihadi attacks globally in 2001-2003 and compared that to the number of attacks in 2003-2006. They found that during the first period (before the invasion) there had been 28 attacks per year, while after the invasion, there had been 200 attacks per year.

There are many experts and analysts who have stated the same.

For instance, the CIA consultant and academic Chalmers Johnson explained the process through the concept of “blowback”, which denotes the unintended consequences of foreign policy interventions.

In the Irish Times, Lara Marlowe wrote yesterday that “there is a straight line between Bush’s invasion of Iraq and France’s torment”.

Barack Obama stated in an interview, saying that Isis is “a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences”.

Tony Blair also admits that Isis would not have emerged without the invasion of Iraq. When asked if the Iraq invasion had been the “principal cause” of the rise of ISIS, he answered: “I think there are elements of truth in that”.

The process by which groups like Isis emerged out of the invasion of Iraq, evolving from al-Qaeda’s activities there, has been well described by the journalist Patrick Cockburn in his book The Jihadis Return.

Many Isis leaders are former Iraqi officers in Saddam’s military. When the US invaded, they disbanded the army and this resulted in thousands of disgruntled soldiers, now unemployed and armed, left to fend for themselves.

This Washington Post article is excellent at explaining how they joined Isis and how they came to play prominent roles in its military strategy.

Also, some Iraqi insurgents who would become Isis leaders were incarcerated in an American prison in Iraq called Camp Bucca for a few years during the occupation.

As the Washington Post reported, “Camp Bucca provided a unique setting for both prisoner radicalization and inmate collaboration—and was formative in the development of today’s most potent jihadist force”, Isis. The radicals’ time in prison “deepened their extremism and gave them opportunities to broaden their following” so that “the prisons became virtual terrorist universities”.

The above strongly suggests that more bombing will not reduce the likelihood of further attacks in the West. In fact, more bombing will likely lead to more savage acts of retaliation in Europe. Therefore, to stop the bombing should be a first step towards a solution.

There are then other steps that should be taken, including to stop supporting Western allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which spread extremist interpretations of Islam and provide support for a range of violent groups in the region. Then, other hot issues in the Middle East that feed resentment should be dealt with through diplomacy, including Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, the war in Syria, the wreckage in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.

Sure, those steps won’t solve every problem. But at least they will go a long way towards reducing the violence, contrary to more military action, which will have the opposite effect.

To conclude, here are two competent analysts who I think are good sources to follow current affairs in the Middle East:

1. Juan Cole is a professor of Middle East history and expert on Islam and religion. He writes an excellent daily blog called Informed Comment ].

2. Glenn Greenwald is the journalist who received the national security documents leaked by Edward Snowden. He writes at The Intercept here.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at UCD. His book Deepening Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Crisis: Europe’s Treasure Ireland is out now. Follow Julien on Twitter: @JulienMercille

86 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences

  1. Eamonn clancy

    Islam is not compatible with our western views, it’s deplorable how we turn a blind eye to how they view women. Let’s start from there.

    1. Jammy

      “our western views”

      You’re going to have to elaborate what “our” views on women are.

      Ireland. Women. Abortion. “Our western views”. Go on…

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        +1. A lot of the clowns who talk about Muslims not being compatible with Western life have some very similar views to the |slamists.

        1. Owen C

          Stoning adulterous women, beheading gays, blowing up restaurants, very restrictive abortion laws. Its all the same innit.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            “Stoning adulterous women, beheading gays, blowing up restaurants, very restrictive abortion laws.”

            So that’s what you think Muslims do. Yeah, I wasn’t wrong earlier.

          2. Owen C

            Sorry, I’m referring specifically to ISIL, though stoning or similar capital punishments for ‘immoral’ acts exist in numerous other Islamic countries, many in theory only but many in practice. The blowing up of restaurants is mainly an ISIL endeavor in fairness, though some other Islamic countries have conducted it in the past at a State level.

          3. Clampers Outside!

            ” though some other Islamic countries have conducted “it” [blown up restaurants] in the past at a State level ”

            You say this as if it were a simple day to day thing…. Really?

            Name one or more islamic countries that do so …at a “state level”… please.

          4. Owen C

            No, of course not every day, but Iran and Libya back in the 1980s and 90s in particular, and Iran via their involvement in Iraq more recently. Pakistan via ISI influence over various Islamic groups operating in Afghanistan and India.

    2. Clampers Outside!

      Damn right Eamon, first thing we should do is kick out the Catholic Church so that MY “western views” are not damaged by some church that began its life in the Middle East.

      1. Susie

        The Catholic Church began in Rome, not the Middle East.

        Geography and history are not your strong suit, I take it,

        1. rotide

          Catholic tradition holds that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ.

          Try again tommorow caller.

      1. Don Pidgeoni

        Funny how suddenly everyone’s a feminist when Islam is mentioned but bring up the pay gap and *whoosh*!

          1. Don Pidgeoni

            People like Frank would love it if someone was always shoving it down their throats. Fiver on him being a confirmed bachelor?

        1. classter

          The pay gap is reasonably a much more contentious issue than religious police enforcing ‘modest’ dress, lobsided adultery laws, acceptance of domestic violence, etc.

          There is a pay gap but it pretty much disappears once you control for working hours, danger pay, field of study etc. Obviously there is an issue there to be discussed & tackled but your equating of the two is frankly offensive.

      2. :-Joe

        Haha,.. Bigot Bingo…
        I hope one day we will have this right before the weekly double-bill episodes of Murderball and Deathrace.
        :-J

  2. Owen C

    “The events are understandably tragic and deeply saddening. However, they are not isolated, even if they have received disproportionate media coverage. ”

    What the actual fupp?

    “The conventional view is that this happened because of Islam, which is spreading violence, and we need to retaliate militarily.”

    Where exactly is this “the conventional view”? There may be skepticism/suspicion about how this is linked with both the refugee crisis and the creation of the Islamic State, and a problem within certain parts of Islam where violence/jihad is considered a justifiable reaction to political problems, but it is a hell of a stretch to claim that the conventional view is “Islam is spreading violence”. This is complete boll*x, I’m sorry.

    “The implicit message is that we should thus be suspicious of Muslim communities. He also argues that Muslims themselves should do more to stop religious violence.”

    Julien – this is an unfortunate reality. 20% of British Muslims “felt sympathy with the motives of the 7/7 bombers” (source: ICM poll in 2006). In places like Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi, support or sympathy with various terrorist attacks over the last decade have been more like 50%+. This doesn’t mean that the average citizen is going to help plan an attack or become a terrorist themselves, or that we should look at them all with deep suspicion, but it is naive-bordering-on-lying to claim that there is not a problem with the issue of community support/sympathy. The only way the likes of AQ and IS will be eradicated is via the broader peaceful Muslim community fully ostracizing them and cutting off any of their sources of funding. Being a member or sympathiser of AQ or IS or jihad should be seen as abhorrent and deeply shameful and there should be a reaction from Muslims akin to excommunication.

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      “What the actual fupp?”

      About 2% of global terrorist attacks have been by Islamists.

      “it is a hell of a stretch to claim that the conventional view is “Islam is spreading violence”. This is complete boll*x”

      In your next paragraph you tell Mercille that it’s perfectly fine to view Muslim communities with suspicion. You’re just programmed to disagree with anything he says, aren’t you.

      1. Owen C

        Islam is not “spreading violence”. However there is a problem with a certain sect within Islam that only Islam can fix.

        “About 2% of global terrorist attacks have been by Islamists.”

        130+ people died on Friday from one terrorist attack. 7 people died in 2013 in the EU from all 152 terrorist attacks combined. It’s fair to say that this terrorist attack deserves some special mention even if it ends up counting for only 1% of terrorist attacks in the EU this year.

        1. f_lawless

          “20% of British Muslims “felt sympathy with the motives of the 7/7 bombers” (source: ICM poll in 2006)” You’re misquoting there.
          The full question was ” Irrespective of whether you think the London bombings were justified or not, do you personally have any sympathy with the feelings and motives
          of those who carried out the attacks?”
          Definition of “motive”: a reason for doing something.
          A reasonably minded person could interpret that question as “Despite their inexcusable actions, do I feel sympathy with the outrage felt by the bombers who were motivated by the illegal wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq?”
          Don’t read too much into dodgily worded questionnaires!

          1. Owen C

            I’m not seeing a huge difference in your version vs mine, but fair enough. Interestingly, off the same opinion poll:

            Q.6 I would now like to read out some things that other people have said about issues that affect Muslims living in Britain today. For each one,
            please tell me whether you think it was or is right or wrong?

            To exercise violence against those who are deemed by religious leaders to have insulted Islam = 13% thought this was right
            For Al-Qa’eda or those sympathetic to Al Qa’eda to attack Western targets = 4% said this was right
            For Muslims to have bombed London on 7/7 and 21/7 = 1% said this was right.

            Now 1% and 4% sound low. But with a Muslim population in the UK of 2.7mn, that means you have 27k fine with the 7/7 bombings and 110k ok with Al Qaeda attacking Western targets. This isn’t a handful of sympathisers.

  3. Frilly Keane

    “Messers Bush and Blair have made the world a lot more dangerous ”

    That was the jist of a quote taken from a London peace marcher back in the WofMD series of marches

    In less that 20 words it explains everything

    Millions and Millions and Millions of words later

    Its still the same

  4. B Hewson

    They should be held in Solitary confinement in prison so prisons can’t become terrorist universities.

  5. ZeligIsJaded

    Skewed logic.

    If someone is hell bent on your destruction, you do not leave them alone because they might be more hell bent on your destruction if you try to defeat them.

    The appropriate response is to continue in your attempts to wipe them from the face of the earth – by every means available

    1. MoyestWithExcitement

      Except, as far as they’re concerned, they’re trying to wipe you off the face of the earth because you’re trying to wipe them off the face of the earth. So you and they can keep on trying to wipe each other off the map until everyone’s dead….or not.

      1. Owen C

        Are ISIS trying to wipe the Yazidi off the face of the earth cos the Yazidi declared war on them? Its possible ISIS are just a little bit homicidal in their view of most of the rest of the world, regardless of how we all react to them.

      2. ZeligIsJaded

        Nonsense.

        ISIS get their orders from a prophet’s book.

        Western democracies are open to dialogue in order to avoid war.

        1. MoyestWithExcitement

          So quote some of the Prophet’s book then. They join ISIS because they are told by recruiters that the West hates Muslims and wants to kill them.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            I just told you. You said they’re motivated by the prophet’s book. I’m telling you they’re motivated by perceived hatred the West has for them, which they often learn during the recruitment process. Now, you said it comes from the book. Show me the passages.

          2. ZeligIsJaded

            I’m not talking about the individuals within ISIS, I’m talking about their ideology.

            Their reason for existence.

          3. Owen C

            They join ISIS for a variety of reasons. One is hatred of non believers, including the West, and the perceived hatred by the West of Muslims would feed in here. The other bigger reason they join is because they buy into the idea of the creation of a global Islamic caliphate, where everyone will be a follower of Islam, and everyone who doesn’t follow Islam will be executed. As i said above, just ask the Yazidi people about this. There’s no geo-political backdrop to that one. Just pure ethno-religious hatred.

          4. ZeligIsJaded

            Why they join is completely irrelevant to me.

            Every murdery w*nk bag in the world has a whinging verse of drivel about why they do what they do.

            The ideology of those who manipulate the morons is of much more interest

          5. MoyestWithExcitement

            “The other bigger reason they join is because they buy into the idea of the creation of a global Islamic caliphate”

            I always thought you were one of those paranoid, Alex Jones type weirdos. Now it’s confirmed.

          6. Owen C

            Conspiracy? They have gone on the record on this stuff!! My God, you actually haven’t a clue about what ISIS wants, do you? But you prattle on here as if you’re knowledgeable on the subject. Even Al Qaeda think they’re nuts.

          7. Mike Oxlong

            Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

          8. (name)

            “Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

            Thank god our catholic bible is full of skipping, flowers, and hugs. Its much more joyful.

          9. MoyestWithExcitement

            Right, so it’s people setting military policy according to a religious book that is the problem, as opposed to the religious book itself, yeah?

          10. Owen C

            The religious book gives the moral justification to pursue an historic aim of a Muslim caliphate governed by Islamic law. The religious book doesn’t say “go to Paris and blow up a restaurant”. The religious book contains enough out-of-context-vaguery like “strike them down” etc that they read it as a justification for killing anyone, anywhere, who does not believe in the concept of a Muslim world ruled by Sharia law. The problem isn’t that a handful of people read this out-of-context vaguery in this way, cos we’d be able to find a small amount of Christians who could do likewise in the name of Christianity. The problem is that there is probably a few hundred thousand, if not a few million, Muslims who read or will believe if told that the Quaran commands them to do such things. The religious book is thus not the cause of the violence, but it is an enabler, when peddled by certain Muslims with a violent politico-religious outlook and when received by followers who are devout enough to believe they are doing God’s work.

          11. MoyestWithExcitement

            “The religious book doesn’t say “go to Paris and blow up a restaurant”. The religious book contains enough out-of-context-vaguery like “strike them down” etc that they read it as a justification for killing anyone”

            Right, so it’s not Islam that’s the problem, it’s angry psychopaths using it to justify their bloodlust that’s the problem, just like the KKK uses the bible to justify what they do and say. Thanks.

          12. Owen C

            You have two problems

            1. Psychopaths. Exist in all religions and cultures.
            2. Large amounts of people willing to follow, support or sympathize with the psychopaths. This seems to be more of a problem for Islam than for other religions. I would see one of the primary problems with this being an inability of Islamic culture to read the Quaran in the context of its time and not quite as literally as many seem to still read it.

          13. MoyestWithExcitement

            “1. Psychopaths. Exist in all religions and cultures.”

            Yep. Just like the KKK who use the bible to justify their existence. Sorry, how is that a problem for me, again?

            “This seems to be more of a problem for Islam than for other religions.”

            Seems to be? Why am I bothering with you?

          14. Owen C

            Look, you can’t have it both ways. This cant be described as a simple response to Westerners trying to wipe them off the face of the earth, or of recruitment based on their belief that Westerners hate them, but at the same time you view them as murderous psychopaths. They cant be both crazy and rational.

            It is a simple statement of fact that ISIS has a goal of creating a large Caliphate-inspired Islamic area of governance/dominance across Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with the initial phase of this currently playing out in Syria. It is also a statement of fact that they are willing to kill non believers who do not sign up to this ideal, and that their actions are not simply defensive or retaliatory in nature. It is a further statement of fact that at no stage have you been willing to explain how their treatment of the Yazidi fits in with your view of ISIS simply being a response to Western aggression. There lies within a material portion (a minority but a sizable one) of Islam an unfortunate belief that violence and jihad is an acceptable response or way of achieving strategic goals, this belief, in their view, supported by their uncontextualized reading of a 1,000 year old scripture and an unwillingness or inability to question how this scripture should be interpreted today.

          15. Clampers Outside!

            Going on about what it says in the book is pointless when Islam does not have a central book interpretation…
            ….but they have interpretations by various Imams of various ‘peace/ violent’ outlooks which is where the problems are.

          16. ZeligIsJaded

            Agreed Clampers.

            What’s in the book is of no relevance.

            What is relevant is that they hold it up.

  6. MoyestWithExcitement

    “Why they join is completely irrelevant to me.”

    You said it was because of the Prophet’s book. I’m STLL waiting for you to quote the passages from it.

        1. ZeligIsJaded

          Passages are irrelevant (and again, I never mentioned any).

          ISIS are religious fanatics.

          The specifics of any religion are inconsequential.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            So you say that they are doing this because of what they read in a book, but you’ve no idea what’s in that book. So, basically, you’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Shocking.

          2. ZeligIsJaded

            ISIS are intent of spreading Islamic extremism, and destabilizing or destroying anything that does not fit within their narrow view of Islamic fundamentalism.

            As long as the West represent a threat to their progress, they will continue in their attempts to terrorise.

            I don’t seek to understand what is in the Quran, no more than I seek to understand what is in the bible.

            I read books mind you. Don’t get me wrong. Those two just aren’t my bag

          3. MoyestWithExcitement

            You’ve already proven you’re just spouting one liners you don’t understand but thanks for further clarifying it.

          4. ReproBertie

            The Imam’s interpretation and the ready audience of disenfranchised who will be feeling even more disenfranchised thanks to all this anti-Muslim sentiment.

  7. J

    “The number of civilian fatalities in Iraq has increased from 4,623 in 2012 to 9,473 in 2013 and 17,045 in 2014, according to Iraq Body Count ”
    …and yet Julien fails to mention the full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by December 2011.Pourquoi?

  8. AlisonT

    Islam is a religion based around the life of a blood thirsty rich military leader who used gods word to justify his military actions and power. Christianity is a religion which is based on a poor man who let himself die and never sought power or wealth. While the bible is full of violence and rubbish the life of Jesus seems to be based on peace and forgiveness.

    Both have been used to justify evil acts and power grabs but fundamentally one is based on violence and the other on peace.
    If you truly follow the way of Jesus you will be a person of peace , if you truly follow Mohammad you will nave a lot of scope to justify violence.
    People who refuse to criticize Mohammad’s teachings don’t believe peace is worth standing up for.

    1. Nigel

      Y’know, it really doesn’t have anything to do with that. Extremism’ll fasten on anything to propagate extremism. This is happening because of geopolitical power games, some of them stunningly Machiavellian, some of them stunningly incompetent.

    2. JayH

      How then do you explain the atrocities that took place on this “Christian” island less than a generation ago?

  9. J

    “The conventional view is that this happened because of Islam, which is spreading violence, and we need to retaliate militarily.”

    Really? News to me . Replace “conventional” with “hyperbolic / tabloid view” perhaps….

  10. bisted

    “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
    ― Steven Weinberg

    1. ReproBertie

      Garbage. Are you suggesting, for example, that the atrocities committed by the Japanese in Nanking were driven by religion or were all those Japanese soldiers “evil people”?

  11. Bandwagon

    ” However, they are not isolated, even if they have received disproportionate media coverage”

    Says the man who has tweeted his *copy and paste* effort to RTE and used the hashtag Paris.

  12. Hashtag McMór

    Challenging Brendan O’Connor is deeply disturbing. It implies you’ve read the buffoon in the first place. Still at least it kept the allegations about Pat Carey (blessed be his name) off the front page.

  13. J

    I have a sneaky suspicion that Julien regards the Sindo and Daily Mail as the “conventional view”. *sighs*

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