'Terrorist sympathisers' versus honest debate

By Bernadette Meaden
December 2, 2015

When the Prime Minister referred to MPs voting against the bombing of Syria as "terrorist sympathisers", he illustrated much that is wrong with  the West's approach, characterised by George W Bush's statement after the 9/11 attacks that "You're either with us or you are against us".

President Bush famously didn't do nuance, and as time goes on the politicians in power seem increasingly keen to shut down the debate, to make everything black and white, simplistic and terribly polarised.

The fact that we are fighting organisations we helped to create and arm, that the West's own actions led to the creation of, or significantly strengthened the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS/Daesh is an inconvenient truth which is given little room in our own media, but is openly debated internationally.

This is not a 'far left' view, as no doubt Mr Cameron would like us to think. The former head of US Special forces has openly acknowledged that but for the Iraq War, ISIS/Daesh would not exist. Ron Paul, a former US Republican Presidential candidate, says, "The interventionists will do anything to prevent Americans from seeing that their foreign policies are perpetuating terrorism and inspiring others to seek to harm us. The neocons know that when it is understood that blowback is real – that people seek to attack us not because we are good and free but because we bomb and occupy their countries – their stranglehold over foreign policy will begin to slip.

That is why each time there is an event like the killings in Paris earlier this month, they rush to the television stations to terrify Americans into agreeing to even more bombing, more occupation, more surveillance at home, and more curtailment of our civil liberties. They tell us we have to do it in order to fight terrorism, but their policies actually increase terrorism."

Rami G. Khouri, senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut recently wrote, "We will get nowhere other than where we are today if we all refuse to analyse the deeper drivers of radicalism that feed tens of thousands of recruits to these killer organizations.

"It is time now for a serious effort jointly conducted by Arab-Islamic and Western institutions to dare to go beyond the self-imposed constraints of their power structures and ruling elites, and to respond clearly to a set of critical questions about: why youth become radicalised, why groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda come into being, why many people around the world support or join such brutal organisations, why existing responses to them have largely failed, and – the most important question of all, because the others are easy to answer – how much responsibility for these terrible phenomena must be assumed by governments and other institutions around the world whose policies and actions contributed to their coming into being?

"Our governments will not do this, so this critical task must be carried out by universities, research institutes, civil society organisations, the media, religious institutions, and others in society who have the ability and the will to analyse their countries’ policies honestly."

To understand how people become terrorists and the reasons behind their actions is not to condone them. To assert that the only reason they attack us is because we are so free and liberal is disingenuous. And as long as we continue to profit from selling weapons which our allies use to massacre innocent civilians, as Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen, we have no moral authority. Without some painful honesty in our thinking, and integrity in our actions, we will be condemned to remain in an unending cycle of violence. And of course, all such debate must be conducted with courtesy and respect.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.