Mideast Conflict: A Blanket of Hatred

ISIS

Xenophobia has always been regarded as an internal problem for states, and while many governments have taken some kind of measure towards educating people against it, often it seems to end up on the back-burner. However, the long term consequences of persisting xenophobia are beginning to show.

Media attention has recently been given to ISIS as the world is beginning to wake up to the threat they pose. Meanwhile, hundreds of Muslim and activist teens have run away to join the ranks of Jihadist fighters. How did this come to happen, and who must be held responsible?

A brief summary of the past two decades:

– 1990: Iraq annexes Kuwait. The official reason quoted is that Kuwait had been accused of stealing oil from Iraq by slant drilling, opinions on the true reasons are divided.

– 1991: The US, Saudi Arabia, the UK and France and later Kuwait form a coalition to fight off Iraq’s occupation. Iraqi forces are bombarded by air and sea, and a ground assault follows. A ceasefire is declared 100 hours after the ground campaign is launched. Vast numbers of chemical weapons are apparently found and destroyed. President Saddam Hussein is allowed to remain in power.

– 2001: UK and US carry out bombing raids on Iraq in an attempt to disable its air defense network. This is part of an effort to disarm Iraq on the part of the UN by request of the US on the grounds that the Iraqi government refuses to allow the US to inspect for unconventional weaponry.
Military commander of the Afghan Northern Alliance Ahmad Shah Massoud is killed by a suicide bomber.
9/11 terrorist attacks on the US trigger a global uproar, war is waged in Afghanistan by the US with international support.

– 2003: US invasion of Iraq with international support begins. US forces take Baghdad. Former President Saddam Hussein is captured, tried, and executed by the new Iraqi Government. Iraqi militant group Tanzim Qaidat Al-Jihad Fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (an Al Qaeda offshoot) joins forces with insurgent Sunni groups to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, they declare the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) shortly after.

– 2011: Civil war breaks out in Syria. President Bashar El Assad’s government fights groups of civilian rebel fighters. Casualties are in the tens to hundreds of thousands. US refrains from intervening at first, but decides to support and arm the rebels when Russia lends its support to the Syrian government.

– 2013: ISIL joins the civil war on the side of the rebels, and the name is changed into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The conflict is still ongoing.

– 2014: Al Qaeda disowns ISIS, the official reason quoted being their brutality. They have been accused of war crimes, religious persecution, mistreatment of civilians, sexual violence, and slavery.

Now, much of the media would rush to brush them aside as terrorists and fanatics, then move on to the more interesting news about the war effort. On the other hand, activists and conspiracy buffs will rush to blame the US government for its mishandling of foreign affairs with Iraq over the past two decades, and by the looks of the timeline above they would be quite right to do so. However, there’s a deeper fundamental truth to be learned from the current state of affairs: the reality of western blanket antisemitism.

This may seem entirely off topic, and that is due to a complete misrepresentation and misuse of the term antisemitism over the past century. While the term antisemitism is has been used almost exclusively to mean hatred of Jews, the etymology of the word suggests a far broader intolerance. Antisemitism refers to the entire Semitic ethnicity, that is to say of North African, Middle-Eastern, or Arabian descent. Hatred and racism against people who would broadly be categorized as Arab, therefore, is technically antisemitism.

Now examine Western attitudes towards Arabs over the past decade. With wars being waged constantly in the Middle-East and North Africa under the pretext of fighting oppressive dictatorial regimes and hunting down terrorists, these notions have come to be associated with Arabs in general. Western Governments engaged in various degrees of ethnic profiling as Arabs (and Africans) worldwide were arrested of charges of terrorist affiliation.

People in Europe and the US grew wary and suspicious of anyone with Semitic traits. Muslim and Christian Arabs alike became targets and social pariahs while they worry for their families caught in the war back home. The added barriers to immigration meant large numbers of refugees had to cross borders illegally, leading to public resentment and social isolation. Today, a significant portion of Western society is incapable of separating the terms Islam, Islamism, Jihadism, and terrorism.

This blanket treatment of Arabs regardless of their origin and faith is the reason why so many youths from across Europe and the US have gone to join the ranks of ISIS. These teens and young adults have grown up in a society that demonizes their culture and heritage, and resent the people who judged them for crimes they didn’t commit (and of which they were very likely victims). To them, ISIS is a way to strike back at those who have wronged them.

However, while blanket antisemitism in the Western world has contributed significantly to ISIS’s cause, it cannot be solely blamed for the group’s savagery and brutality. The roots of the hatred and resentment that aided ISIS’s rise lies in Sunni Muslim repression and marginalization in the region. ISIL could only have been established with help from the Sunni insurgents who sought to escape the repression they suffered under Saddam Hussein’s government. The Syrian Civil War was largely sectarian in nature by most reports, with the rebel groups consisting mostly of Sunni fighters. This better explains their eagerness to join forces with ISIL and form a single entity.

No good can possibly come of ostracizing and marginalizing people based on blanket associations and rash generalizations. Society could be significantly more functional and safe if people were willing to set aside their misconceptions and collaborate towards a common, mutually beneficial goal. The rise to popularity of ISIS among certain inhabitants of the western world is a sad example of the ultimate failure to do so. So please, try to be kinder to people you do not understand. It could make all the difference.

Alon Starkman
Alon Starkman
Sgt. Alon Fosman Starkman is a former Sergeant of the Swiss Army Support to Command Division. His past intelligence work focused mainly on the political situation in the Middle East region (Lybia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria), with specific emphasis on the Israeli perspective.