Naked Politics Blogger
After every terror attack on European soil you can count on certain things coming to pass. Initial shock and horror fairly quickly gives way to a contest of who can be the most self-flagellating or appear the most worldly. In the aftermath of Brussels, people who had never said a thing about bombings in Ankara or elsewhere suddenly became concerned about the perceived lack of coverage of more far flung attacks. This should be fairly easy to work out: Brussels is quite literally closer to home, our collective knowledge of Belgian history and culture is likely greater than that of Turkey or Pakistan. This does not make attacks elsewhere any less tragic, but it does explain our varying levels of shock.
Then of course comes the next round of introspection; our foreign policy must have caused this. You can then expect someone to either point to the Iraq War or, as an article on Naked Politics did, the UK airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Quite why either of these issues may have led to the bombings of Brussels airport is beyond my comprehension. This is Belgium, a nation that opposed the Iraq War and played no part in it. It has also cancelled its bombing operations in the area since July of last year. On the issue of the UK airstrikes, is the solution therefore to simply let the Islamic State secure itself and establish its Caliphate? Should we attempt to avoid angering murderous Jihadists at all costs?
If foreign policy is really the driving factor of violent Islamism, that does not explain the constant selection of civilian targets. It does not explain why Islamic State fighters decided to rape and slaughter the Yazidi Christians of Syria and Iraq. It does not explain why the recent bombings in Lahore were intentionally designed to kill Christian families that were celebrating Easter.
Next, we move on to issues such as social isolation or disaffection. It has long been pointed out that in areas such as Molenbeek there is a high unemployment rate, reaching 30 percent by most estimates and that the standard of living is not quite as high as it could be. I myself mentioned this as a potential factor shortly after the attacks. It is true individuals can use personal grievances to justify their ideological leanings. Yet this is not a satisfactory explanation in itself. Youth unemployment has been high across Europe for years, in Greece it has hovered around the 50 percent mark for nearly 3 years. As for general poverty, parts of Glasgow have a lower life expectancy than Gaza. This reasoning also ignores the profiles of numerous Islamist militants who were well educated and middle-class. Two men were recently convicted for planning an Islamic State inspired attack in the UK, they were medical and physics students at University, hardly the most disenfranchised individuals.
People then inevitably turn to talk about ‘Islamophobia’. Tweets by idiots online become indicative of a wider societal malaise. That is not to say that Muslims, as a whole, do not face bigotry. Yet drawing a straight line from discrimination to bombing is wholly unsatisfactory. For one, it fails to explain the lack of Islamic militants compared to the actual Muslim population. It could also not be argued that Muslims are the only minority group that faces any form of prejudice. Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing, there are armed guards outside numerous Synagogues and Jewish schools due to fear of attack. African-Americans face ongoing racism in many forms today, but there is not any kind of coherent bombing campaign targeting US civilians. Turning suicide bombers into a sort of misguided social justice campaigner does a huge disservice to those who are quite capable of choosing another outlet for any grievances they may have. It also does not explain why many of those fighting for the Islamic State are Saudi Arabian, a state that overwhelmingly oppresses non-Muslims. If bigotry caused extremism this would not be the case.
It is not hard to understand why people offer these explanations, in the wake of a tragic event we always want to know what could have been done differently. Yet in this case it prevents us from naming the main catalyst of Islamist terrorism, which is the violent ideological creed which groups like the Islamic State, and Al-Qaeda before them, espouse. It also offers the perpetrators explanations which they themselves do not demand. For instance, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings apologists tried to claim that the murderers were inspired by the war on terror, or they tried to smear the magazine as racist. All this despite the fact that the killers made their motivations very clear.
The path that individuals take toward violent extremism will always be varied, there is no conveyor belt terrorist, regardless of their cause. Yet they always accept an ideology that celebrates violence at some point. If we can openly and honestly talk about that ideology, we will go one step further towards ridding it of its power. Anything else only offers half-truths and excuses.