- A terrorist is someone who seeks to gain political objectives by killing or wounding people to cause terror (extreme fear) in other people. The difference between terrorism and belligerence (war-making) is a matter of degree and possibly just an accident of the history of language.
- A principal source or cause of conflict and terrorism in the Middle East has been the conflict between Israel and its Arab or Muslim neighbours or inhabitants. That conflict started no later than 1948 and there is no prospect of its concluding. It appears to be getting worse because of the refusal of Arab nations to acknowledge Israel, the refusal of Israel to acknowledge Palestine, and the attitude of Israel to further occupation of lands outside its proper borders. That conflict is partly religious and partly racial. There is no real hope that that conflict will be resolved in the foreseeable future. It just looks set to get worse.
- The more recent source of conflict is in part religious, between parts of Islam, Sunni and Shia, and is in part racist, in the conflict between Arabs and Persians (Iranians). That conflict is now centred on the claims of IS or Daesh to a new Caliphate in at least parts of Syria and Iraq. (Who on earth would want to revive the Ottomans?) Its members seek to achieve their objective by terrorism. This conflict makes worse other conflicts involving the Kurds, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others.
- The West has been involved in most these sources of conflict. Its world-bending and nation-composing in North Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries and in the Middle East in the 20th were all indispensable to the current crises. Western nations were seen to betray Arab interests after World War I, and they certainly did.
- And then the world changed with the discovery of oil in the region. But for that, which involves real money, this discussion would be very different – if we were having it at all. Most of the Arab big hitters would now be about as consequential as Eritrea. Not one could afford to buy a World Cup.
- The French legacy in Africa is lethal for all involved. They are now facing a nightmare after the fall of empire that is much worse than that faced by England in the second half of the last century.
- The West was the major sponsor of the state of Israel and the US is its major source of arms and political support. The British and Russian imperial wars in Afghanistan and the continuing US military action there have left what is close to a black hole, or at least a worse dark hole, and threaten the disintegration of Pakistan, with consequences for the world’s biggest democracy on its border. The USSR is a major backer of Syria.
- The War on Iraq is widely regarded as a major cause of the present issue with IS. The West removed a regime that held Shia and Sunni together and put nothing effective in its place. Saddam had held the country together, and he had done so as ruthlessly as Assad, with results that we now see for both Kurds and Shiites. IS is now seeking to move into the void. The Iraq War was started on false premises. The West feared Al Quaida and as a result have got IS, which is seen to be more threatening.
- The result is that the West in general and the US in particular have at best no standing in the Middle East, and are seen as unholy infidels who are inept and who will present many just and achievable targets to offended Muslims represented by their champions Daesh, Al Quaida and the Taliban. The West sees these people as utterly uncivilised throwbacks to the apes. They in turn take that as a compliment.
- France has made its contribution to the current problems by generations of misgovernment, military failure, and terrorism in North Africa which now have the consequences for it that we can see in France now (and which the whole world felt also after its failure in Vietnam.)
- Another failure of the West has been the inability of its members, especially France and Belgium, to come to terms with significant Muslim minorities, about five million of them in France – and the inability of the Muslims to come to terms with the West. There has been little or no assimilation, but a growing estrangement and discontent, and the mismanagement in Belgium now appears to mean that the disaffected launch their attacks on France from there.
- It is hard to see any progress inside one or two generations. But if someone like Le Pen were to come to power, it is hard to see how the de facto civil war in France would not get worse – calamitously worse – and with frightening results elsewhere – including here.
- Another source of racial conflict in the Middle East is the desire of the Kurds to gain independence and to secure their own territory in what was Iraq and Syria – and what is Turkey. The Kurds are actively involved militarily for that purpose. They appear to be the only natives of the area outside Turkey capable of producing a disciplined and motivated military force.
- The Turks loath the Kurds. They regard them, not without reason, as brutal and nation-threatening terrorists. That is at least one reason why the Turks have not wanted to fight IS. For them to do so would be to support the Kurds, which is unthinkable.
- Turkey is as close as any Muslim nation gets to being well run in the eyes of the West. That view is at best borderline and coloured by the wish of the West to have Turkey as a buffer state against Islam. Ataturk sought to found a secular republic. That state was until recently secured or enforced by the army. The present regime has apparently neutralised the army and has ambitions and tendencies that are threatening. Turkey looks unstable.
- Syria and Iraq are failed states that are disintegrating. The lines drawn by Europeans will have to be redrawn – Israel has always said that about its borders.
- The two most powerful nations in the region are Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They are both rogue nations fighting wars by proxy. They are very backward and repressive regimes that are also Islamic but from different and opposed kinds of Islam. They are both regarded with suspicion or contempt by the West with which they have nothing in common.
- The U S and Iraq are sworn enemies. The US claims Saudi Arabia as an ally – as does Australia – and many in the West are revolted by the way that their government fawns on a nation as contemptible as Saudi Arabia, which houses the birthplace of Islam.
- Others are equally revolted that the West is concluding an arms deal with Iran, which no one trusts or has a good word for. The current Israeli government flagrantly interfered in US politics seeking to stop that deal.
- That gives some indication of the political ambition of Israel. Its safety ultimately depends on the West remaining committed, and that commitment is ebbing, and will continue to ebb while Israel continues to expand. The worrying thing for us is that this conflict is here now not just in the old Left/Right divide, but it is coming into political party talk.
- Russia and the US have been opposed as world powers since the end of World War II. That conflict went quiet after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The current Russian government is not democratic and has no idea of the rule of law. Its President, Putin, is a former KGB thug who has no integrity. He is ashamed of the collapse of the USSR and he is determined to reassert Russia in the world. He will do so if necessary by the use of military force in Crimea and the Ukraine and the Middle East. His whole regime and nation are corrupt.
- The Russians have never come to terms with either democracy or capitalism, and they do not look like doing so this century. They have reinvented feudalism under a corrupted capitalism run by a Mafia that makes sooks of IS. They deal with their Muslim minorities with ruthless War Lords and Cossacks’ whipping rock singers. We are yet to face the full fury of the Muslims in the former members of the USSR, or those that now threaten China.
- Russia has now intervened on the ground and in the air in support of its client state Syria. It says that it is there to attack IS, but the West does not believe it and says that its only interest is to support the Assad regime in its client state. The West, including Australia, say that they are only interested in attacking IS, not other opponents of IS.
- No one pretends that any of the protagonists in Syria is better or worse than the others. It is idle to ask if IS is worse than Assad. They are all terrorists. The Western (and Sunni) pilots will deny that for themselves, but they are on any view using lethal instruments of terror to achieve political objectives. And, insofar as they are fighting an enemy of Assad, it is difficult to see how they are not supporting him – while using instruments of terror to achieve political objectives.
- As best as I can see – and my vision is remote, second hand and imperfect – the current breakdown between Sunni and Shia is broadly as follows. The Sunnis look to Saudi Arabia and the Shia look to Iran. The old Sunni/Shia split in Iraq has gone. The current IS jihad is mainly driven by Sunnis. While Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states supply Sunni pilots to bomb IS, they are also thought to be funding it. Those opposed include Iran, Hezbollah, the Syrian army, and Shia militias in Iraq – plus the Kurds, Western air forces, and Russian air and ground forces. If you go back to the Twin Towers, most of the hijackers were Saudis, Osama was a Saudi, and Saudi money funded it. The US still claims the Saudis as allies.
- It is not hard to see how any alliance with any of those forces against IS will give mortal offence to others. According to Patrick Cockburn, who says his best intelligence comes from visits to military hospitals, the US did not want to pursue Al Quaida to the detriment of its relations with Sunni states, so it went soft on Saudi Arabia and invaded Iraq. For similar reasons, it did not confront Pakistan over its support for the Taliban, so ensuring that the movement was able to regroup after losing power in 2001. These are only some conflicts in an ocean of them. It is silly to suggest that outsiders have any comprehension of them. You have only to look at how the USSR and USA turned over the Afghans.
- Again according to Cockburn, the Shia/Sunni struggle is getting more intense. Shia states such as Iran, Iraq or Lebanon think that they are in a fight to the finish with Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia and their allies in Syria and Iraq. They do not agree with Western analysts who say that the Sunnis might share power in Damascus and Baghdad – they say this is Saudi and Qatari propaganda.
- Western bombing has not yet held up IS. It appears to be common ground that IS can only be defeated on the ground. But no one from the West or Turkey is prepared put those troops in. However, Russian bombing does appear to be propping up Assad. Perhaps the bombing of a civilian aircraft might focus Russian minds about bombing, although the Russians are made more able to stomach someone like Assad because of the way that they run their own country and treat their own people.
- It is hard to think of any Western intervention in the Middle East or North Africa that has not made things worse. (I supported the bombing in Libya. I was wrong.) The West, through, say, NATO, could quickly put enough ground forces in the theatre to defeat and eliminate IS there. But there is no political will for that – it will not happen as matters stand. And if they did pull off the quick win, they would be left where they were in Iraq – looking at a void and not knowing what to do.
- The UN is hopeless and the U S does not want to do more. Those who criticise President Obama for this are like those who criticise Chancellor Merkel over the funding of Europe. These people are elected to represent their nation. Obama was elected on a peace ticket after what a majority in the U S saw as the moral and intellectual disaster of his predecessor. The American people have no interest in returning their soldiers to fight in Afghanistan or the Middle East.
- That is not surprising. It is only their respect for the office and the flag that stops Americans from pouring over George Bush the contempt that the English now show for Tony Blair. Conservative critics of Obama want to forget the second President Bush, the effective cause of the Tea Party, and they do forget the platform on which Obama was elected – with the goodwill of most in the West. No one, except Dick Cheney, supports a return to the policies of Bush.
- With the Muslims in the West on whom terrorists of IS and others draw, there is a vicious circle. If the receiving nation comes down hard on them, or is perceived to be making unreasonable demands, the Muslims will retire further into themselves, and this aggravates the present problem
- Against that obvious truth, the following propositions are received as equally obvious truths by very substantial numbers in the West: not one Muslim country is decently run – the choice is between corrupt and repressive sectarian regimes and black holes; Islam has made little contribution to the progress of mankind sine 1453; few if any receiving countries are happy with their Muslim minorities; one reason for this is the claim that Muslims are not thought to be trying to assimilate, but are intent on maintaining confronting appearances; another is that it is hard to find a Muslim spokesman with sense or authority; another is that they have ideas about the place of religion in the nation that are at best five hundred years out of date and worst terrifying.
- Speaking of terrifying political ideas, just look at what is on offer on either side in the U S, and just try to picture for yourself what might have happened after the most recent Paris massacre if one or other of those had been the President of the U S. That is truly terrifying. (Did Donald Trump really say that the French should have American gun laws?)
- Any person in the West who claims to understand all this is a liar or mad. Anyone who claims to have an answer is in a worse position. We are way beyond the platitudes of simpletons like shock jocks or the Sky commentariat or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.
- Nor does it help to flourish the word ‘terrorist’ like some new or threatening mantra. A revolution is a successful revolt; a liberator is usually a successful terrorist; a failed terrorist remains just a terrorist. Compare Nelson Mandela and Joan of Arc. (They made Joan a saint because although she had the misfortune of being burnt, she had the good fortune of being burnt by the bad guys.) One of the most saintly people of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was martyred for his part in a plot to assassinate a head of state.
- The Roman Empire was in large part held together by terror. One of its more grizzly manifestations was instrumental in the birth of Christianity. That religion, to its eternal shame, employed the worst forms of terror over many centuries to protect itself by shutting down dissent. The founder of parliamentary democracy, England, used terror for over 700 years to enforce its racial or racist dominance over Ireland. The nations of the US and Israel were conceived in and born in terror.
- So was the site of the most recent atrocity, France. People gathered to mourn at the Place de la Republique, which is not far from the Place Bastille. The Revolution began in violence and terror there and on one view only finished with the violence and terror of Waterloo, leaving five million dead in Europe. If you want the archetypal architect of Terror, look at Citizen Danton. If you want the archetype of a regime that protects itself by Terror in the form of public beheading, look at Citizen Robespierre.
- The mourners at the Place de la Republique sang the national anthem. That anthem was born at about the second anniversary of Bastille Day as men marched from Marseilles to Paris to support a nation in a state of emergency in response to the proclamation that la patrie est en dangere. An English text of part of it is set out below. Another part refers to ‘impure blood.’ Some of all our old forms look odd to us today. We used to ask God to send our Queen victorious, happy and glorious.
- Well, all that may be or not be so, depending on where you stand, but it does not allow enough for two factors that I have only touched on. France has its problems, but the nation is a foundation stone of Western civilisation and the city of Paris is one of the glories of mankind. The Arab and Islamic worlds know nothing like either, and evil like IS could die just from being exposed to this kind of light.
- If you put to one side Israel, every problem that I have referred to in the Middle East or North Africa involves an Arab or Islamic government. There is not one good one in the whole world. All of the problems that have led to the current refugee crisis that looks like it will dismantle Europe come from governments led by corrupt and vicious war criminals like Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, or the current lot in Egypt. Every problem comes from failure of Muslim governance. Even the poor Palestinians cannot find a government that can negotiate on their behalf. North Africa has little chance of recovering from its revolutions inside the 100 years it took the French.
- Politically, Muslims are about 500 years out. IS is just the latest and worst of a bad bunch. No one in the Middle East has clean hands – no one – but some are a lot dirtier and bloodier than others. If you want to know how rotten the area is, just look at the response of Islamic nations to the millions of refugees created by the failure of Islam. You might be forgiven for asking whether leaders of the Gulf States could spell the word ‘humanity.’
- It may be worse with religion than politics, although the two are related. It is hard to find any Islamic state that gives effect to the separation of Church and State in any degree at all, let alone what we require. Nowhere in the world can they produce a leader who is able and allowed to speak sensibly on their behalf. What we get is some furtive type that the cat may have brought in. This is just gold for the leerers and sneerers on Sky, and so the gap widens.
- Then you get the zealots, the latest terrorists. Using terror for political gain is one thing; to do so for God is altogether another. Then you get real
- The three principal religions all purport to adhere to that part of the bible that we call the Old Testament. To those who do not subscribe to any of those faiths, the God described in that book must be the first of our terrorists. That God enters into a covenant with one chosen people and then helps them to take their Promised Land from the original inhabitants by force of arms and slaughter and other acts of terror that we now call ethnic cleansing or genocide.
- A lot of those people could be forgiven for thinking that that is also where all our troubles started. It lies behind the first source or cause of conflict identified above, but few people of the Book will agree with any of that. A central part of our fatal human weakness is our inability to see the world through the eyes of others.
Extracts for the Marseillaise
Arise, children of the Fatherland
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny
Raises its bloody banner (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons and women!
Tremble, tyrants and you traitors
The shame of all parties,
Tremble! Your parricidal schemes
Will finally receive their reward! (repeat)
Everyone is a soldier to combat you
If they fall, our young heroes
The earth will produce new one
Ready to fight against you!