First Causes, Last Rites

Nothing Radicalizes like Unprovoked Violence

You may have noticed that nearly every essay or article emerging from the underfunded ghettos of leftist thinking in this country in the wake of a terrorist atrocity immediately offers a firm and frequently hysterical disclaimer that the author does not approve of the terrorist atrocity he will now discuss. This is necessary because the intelligentsia has conflated any form of self-criticism with condoning terror. It may be perfectly apt to reflect on “how good we are,” as George W. Bush once mumbled. It may be admirable to haughtily meditate on the liberties enshrined in that hallowed scroll hidden in one of D.C.’s many tombs of culture. After all, “they hate us for our freedoms.”

Yet we must not offer serious critique since it has not penetrated the propagandized skull that to condemn Hiroshima is not to condone Pearl Harbor. So we must all caveat our critiques lest we find our names in permanent exile along with arch whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. (A lesson from Assange: there’s no better place to evade the long arm of empire than nestled inside one of its major capitals of financial fraud. Even Obama dare not sail a Predator over central London.)

The Hundred Years’ War + Why They Hate Us

But were one to attempt some self-criticism, what would it look like? Perhaps something like this: Having uprooted one civil society after another in the Middle East, and having left roving caravans of jihadists in place of modern secular states, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Arab Muslims might be radicalized, might turn to Islam for theocratic justification, and might begin plotting terror attacks. Note the conclusion of just one victim. Afghan Mohammed Bismil, after his two brothers were killed by drone, said:  “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”

The terrorists who attack the West, such as in New York and Madrid and London and this year in Paris, are not doing so because they are wanton Islamic fanatics. It is because the West is at war with the Middle East—and they are fighting back.

The West has been at war with the Middle East for decades, if not quite a full century. It has been intensely interested in the region since shortly after oil was discovered in Persia in 1908. Since the British chopped up what was left of the Ottoman Empire after World War I in British and French “mandates.” (There was considerable Iraqi resistance to a United Nations mandate that seemed to them colonization by another name.) Since Henry Ford helped turn America into a automobile culture instead of public transportation society.

As America usurped Britain as the meddling superpower, it’s thirst for petroleum grew. Fortunately for the States, Arab kings were a pliable clan, and were happy to lease off concessions on oil production to Western firms, who began draining the huge pools of black gold beneath the desert sands. The Middle East has 56 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves. During the Cold War, the Middle East was a proving ground for the disparate ideologies East and West. Arab nationalism, embodied by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, was ultimately defeated by the West’s model of enriching, arming and coddling desiccated Hashemite despots.

But forget ancient history. Let’s just look at recent history.

Author and Islam critic extraordinaire Sam Harris suggests that Islam is the ne plus ultra of religious radicalizers. But what radicalizes far more easily than byzantine monotheism is unprovoked violence. A man whose family is droned out of existence by a missile from beyond the clouds doesn’t need religion to make him thirst for vengeance. However, religion may often be the ideological vehicle by which a sense of injustice, legitimate or not, is sublimated into a coherent worldview. By which an eye-for-an-eye attitude is consecrated.

Which perverted ideology has put more people in the ground this century, imperialism or Jihadism? Are there more makeshift tombstones for Christian soldiers or Muslim villagers? How many countries—all of them Muslim—has the U.S. bombed, invaded or occupied since just 1980? Here’s Columbia University’s Andrew Bacevich’s list: “Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.”

Many recent radical Islamic movements were born from the rubble of bungled Western intervention. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and ISIS have all flourished in the shadow of American interventionism, whether direct or by proxy. The extremism of neoliberal capitalism, as Naomi Klein masterfully illuminated in The Shock Doctrine, uses moments of crisis and chaos to dispossess the defenseless and expand its power. It seems something similar happens in the bloody wake of U.S. invasions. Amid the collapsing scenery of civil society, extremists emerge to seize whatever territory and political power they can. Yet, for Middle Easterners, it is the original crime of Western intervention that, in the words of the Nuremberg judge Robert Jackson, wars of aggression are “the supreme international crime, in that they contain within them the evil of the whole.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah expressed his views on American interventionism in the requisite maternal metaphor, “America, is in our view, the mother of terrorism and the origin of terrorism.”

Osama bin Laden told us point blank: al Qaeda attacked us because we had troops in Islamic holy land, a major affront to fundamentalist Muslims, and because we backed Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The Kouachi brothers and Ahmed Coulibaly said much the same thing before they shot dead an entire office of writers and editors and designers at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Before authoring their own atrocities, they pointed to the larger crimes that motivated their own. They spoke of the Western massacres in the Middle East. They spoke of a precise vengeance. They said they were representing al Qaeda in Yemen, a sub-sect of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (aqap).

Not that it takes a radical Arab to oppose violence. Just look at a poll conducted by the Arab America Institute on the ISIS conflict, which found that:

“Strong majorities in every country favor U.S. policies that support a negotiated solution to the conflict, coupled with more support for Syrian refugees. Majorities in all countries oppose any form of U.S. military engagement (i.e., “no-fly zone,” air strikes, or supplying advanced weapons to the opposition).”

After the U.S. reignited war in Iraq with its tawdry gallery of avaricious allies, Iranian moderate President Rouhani told the press corps at the U.N., “These bombings do not have any legal standing, so we can interpret them as an attack.”

Exhausted from acting as the West’s supplicant, the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas finally relinquished the ridiculous pretext that Israel is interested in peace and that the U.S. is a neutral arbiter. He took the Palestinian cause to both the United Nations General Assembly and the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, groping for some avenue of relief from the prison camp of Gaza and Bantustan reality of the West Bank.

All of these facts are flung into the dustbin of history unexamined. We are instead offered a series of feckless platitudes to spare us the trouble of self-reflection. They hate us for our freedoms, we are told. There is surely a fundamentalist tendency in Muslim communities that find our self-indulgent consumerism repellent. That is a theme that runs beneath the banner of Occidentalism, the concept that the East reviles the West largely for its infidelism—its shameless rejection of Allah’s diktats. There is plenty of this attitude festering in jihadist conclaves, but that isn’t why they attacked us in 2001, or in Paris last month.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.