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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europe

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS) - It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.

“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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  • Muhammad Tahir Tabassum

    Paris incident is very sad, terrorism is in whole globe and we must unite against terrorists not Islam, all religions and faith asking their followers for peace coexist
    and tolerance to not fight against religions. Paris attack is alarming for Muslims.
    Please don’t say that is war against holy Islam its war with terrorists who have no
    religion and faith. Muslims are standing with you.

  • MidaFo

    Are people in Paris out on the streets in support of France’s and the West’s insane attack on Muslims or are they against all extremism?

    I think both are demonstrating. But then any day in the West now that does not have a protest against all extremism is a victory for those attacking Muslims; for the insane in the West.

    This corruption has been gathering for some time and it is cresting. Daily now the West looks increasingly insane, even wildly insane. This assertion and its kind will inflame greater insanity, but then those against extremism who think the war will stay in other countries and that it is enough to protest at their leisure will see their own countries go up in flames. They will either be burnt by their extremist brothers and sisters, or if not they will eventually be correctly counted as amongst those of the extreme. This is inescapable and if they survive by keeping quiet the damage they will have done to their children and wider family will send them all straight to Hell. Hell for this kind is on earth, in the kitchen preparing the meal, at the table eating the food, in bed with us, in the kisses we give or receive, wrapped in the gifts around the Christmas tree, in every act of generosity or altruism or faith. And Hell always gets its man or woman or child. Hell has its teeth embedded in the jugular of the West now as we write and read. We can already smell the blood beginning to stink of death all over the West. Denying this is filthy stupid.

    Something big has to happen soon. Justice will have to be firm and severe. If not all is lost.

  • Shinuma Okata
  • wordscanhelp

    This is a very good article. Absolutely we must welcome and encourage those Muslims who are openly condemning terrorism and IS. A few months ago it would have been difficult for them, because of community solidarity against criticism. Now however is the ‘teachable’ moment and we must not let it be highjacked, as the article says, by our own jingoistic elements.

    I am against the next issue of Charlie Hebdo for the above reasons, it is provocation and mockery, which is a ‘freedom’ of speech that we curb in our own societies when it is destructive. There are times when stuff is okay, and times when it will hurt us, and this is one time it will undercut reformist Muslims and backfire on us.

  • wordscanhelp

    I agree. People are too simplistic, wanting simple solutions in an anxious and uncertain world – but those will be manipulated by the ones who have an agenda.

  • Ali H. Alyami

    Europe and other tolerant democracies are not in War with Islam because one can only shoot at an object that can be seen and touched.

    The West specifically and the international community, in general (Muslims and non-Muslims), are facing what President Obama and many others, including prominent Muslim scholars like Indonesia’s former President Abdulrrahman Wahid and scholars and historian from Al-Azhar University described as a lethal ideological movement similar to that which led to WWII.

    Had Europe, North America and Russia clipped the wings of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 30s before it flourished, millions of lives could have been saved.

    The question that the author of this article and commentators should be asked is: should the West wait until these religiously and politically driven terrorists (with unlimited sources of recruits) develop or obtain nuclear devices and blow up cities and kill millions of people?

  • humbertoranieri

    Islam does NOT have 1.6 billion practioners, contrary to whatr Roberto Savio writes. Hindus are about a billion and more. They don’t practise either. The same goes for chrsitians and roman catholics.
    Islam is what it is, but a handul of jihadi propagandists and fighters are trying to hijack that religion. They’re helped along by the rulers of some muslim-majority counries allied to western imperialist rulers. Just recall who created the jihadis in Aghanistan.
    In earlier centuries, a handful of European or american “christians” hijacked their religion to genocide Amerindians, enslave Africans, and colonize, exploit and oppress, large chunks of Asia.
    There are two fundamental problems. One is religion, any religion, raising its head in today’s world and spreading irrational nonsense. The other is the world’s imperialist elite using that as a weapon, one of the weapons, to defend their hold over the world’s wealth.

  • Marie

    The West also has to also look at it,s own Foreign Policy !!

  • Joseph Glynn

    Great article – a voice of sanity and reason in a world gripped by mass-media-driven hysteria.

  • Attila PENDEJO

    Did this whole thing happened? Yeah they show it on the tv, but convince me they don’t lie… Building 7, Aurora theater, school shooting… Yeah and next they Hollande, the Editor, and his subordinate laughs his soul out on the mourning march. Check it out on youtube. Or they think we are simple fools.

don t believe everything you see