Roots of Terrorism in the Middle East
When individuals inhabit the same space, conflicts often occur. But it’s only when conflicts degenerate into harsh violence of any sort that the issue truly becomes a problem, threatening the stability of a peaceful cohabitation. A conflict often has its origin in a dispute over resources, over something of great interest for more than one party. Usually conflicts appear when the object of interest cannot be shared in an acceptable way for all parties involved, without any of them feeling left out or treated unequally. it’s enough for one party to consider a lack of fairness in a dispute. The birthplace of violence between two “players” is, in most cases, a conflict, an unresolved argument over a source of contentment that can only fully satisfy one of them. Therefore, conflicts arising from competing for a common object of interest can take the shape of violent confrontation, battles, wars and generalized terror.
Terrorism refers to acts of generalized violence and harmful behaviors, for political, religious or ideological reasons, committed against civilians (Wikipedia, 2007) and individuals with no interest or any implication in the conflicts (non-combatants, uninterested party). Also, terrorism means managing terror for a specific purpose, inducing fear, causing neutral (relative to the supposed conflict) individuals to live their lives under constant threat. Every terrorist attack is a very good, thought-out plan to maximize the destruction and human loss, to increase terror in every way possible. Terrorism works at a psychological level, inducing constant concern, anxiety and a feeling of insecurity. Civilians are non-combatants (Wikipedia, 2007) in the conflict between activists and governments. That is why they are considered to be the perfect victims, innocent and unarmed, helpless in the sight of danger. All forms of terrorism have that in common: making a statement by choosing civilians as targets. Nevertheless, this blameworthy choice is not a random one. On the contrary. To get their message across, this has to be presented in a shocking manner, with a very strong psychological impact. The public opinion is thus forced to react and pay attention to any political demand the terrorist may have. This well-planed strategy is oriented towards getting the government’s attention and towards making thing go their way. Casualties and massive damages are tools terrorism uses to “negotiate” with political factors. Terrorism uses arguments such as threat and destruction to impose their request. The reason for that is the activist’s belief that any other method of negotiation or demand is futile (Wikipedia, 2007), or at least not as effective as the use of terror.
In most cases, terrorism has its eye set on forcing change, on a political level. This becomes the main goal for activists, the single most important objective they are willing to kill and die for. Perpetrating for political reasons is what all form of terrorism have in common (Wikipedia, 2007). Also, associating politic demands with religious or cultural themes comes almost naturally, when the idea of fighting for territories in the name of ancient gods or timeless spiritual canons is used to justify all the violence and misanthropic acts. Therefore failing in achieving their political goal is considered to be a spiritual failure, seen as a far worse outcome than taking innocent lives together with suicide (Wikipedia, 2007).
A key-question in this matter is: who promotes terrorism? Radical ways to make a statement, such as terrorism, can be carried out by individuals, groups or even states (Wikipedia, 2007). The visible actors in this “game of terror” have been, in recent cases, fundamentalist cells, driven to commit acts of violence by their desire to put an end to “American domination,” or motivated by disputes over land ownership. Those terrorist cells are in fact very tight social networks, formed on grounds of friendship or family connections (Wikipedia, 2007). Placed on key positions, while keeping a low profile, terrorists manage to benefit from the free flow of information (Wikipedia, 2007), thus making it hard for authorities to prevent attacks or intervene in time to minimize casualty. In the battle of interests, some states become promoters of terrorism by supporting terrorist groups. This support may come in different shapes or forms: a state can fund and sponsor groups specialized in the use of terror, can harbor and even give a helping hand to fundamentalist groups by offering military resources to back-up specific terrorist acts (Wikipedia, 2007).
Terrorism is considered to be a form of an unconventional warfare (Wikipedia, 2007) because it deliberately targets civilians, individuals having no part in their dispute or conflict, and because it uses weapons of mass destruction (Wikipedia, 2007) such as chemical weapons. Terrorist groups use high tech communication systems and support the careful and expensive planning of their acts with large sums of money from sponsors or throughout networks of organized crime (Wikipedia, 2007).
None of the members of a terrorist organization see themselves as “preachers of terror” or as promoters of hate and fear, nor consider their acts as a misanthropic display of senseless violence. Thus the term terrorist is considered inaccurate and far from describing the true nature of their conduct. Terrorist call themselves fighters for a noble causes, such as freedom or independence, saviors of oppressed nations in the name of higher motives, they call themselves “activists,” “rebels,” “militants,” “separatists,” “paramilitaries,” “freedom-fighters,” “jihadi,” “mujaheddin,” “guerrilla” or “fadayeen” (Wikipedia, 2007), without exception denying being on the wrong side of the law or against moral principles and human rights. In the same way, states that harbor terrorists or sponsors of terrorist acts think themselves as co-fighters in a just war against oppression or colonialism, consider themselves as being a part of a struggle for liberation, and not supporters of terrorism and unjustified violence against civilians. Every participant in a terrorist movement or terrorist attack always has a good reason for it, a very strong justification. Frustration, anger and hate blends with the belief that a greater will is thus being done, being fulfilled, with the assistance of a higher power, who not only approves of but also supports this “holy battle.”
Across the world, hot-spots of terrorism or “nests” of terrorist organizations have been identified. One of the hottest region often associated with constant violence and terrorism is the Middle East.
The Middle East is a “geographic and cultural region located in southwestern Asia and northeastern Africa” (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006). The Middle East region refers to country such as Iran, Iraq, Israel, Bahrain, Cyprus, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006), but in a more cultural sense the borders of the Middle East go beyond the countries cited earlier, including the Muslim countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006).
This mix of cultures and traditions dates back to ancient times, Middle East civilization being one of the oldest in the world. It is here where Christianity, Islam and Judaism were born and nurtured to become the three of the greatest monotheistic religions in the world (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006). Still, throughout the countries of the Middle East, Islam had the most powerful impact and continues to do so as the large majority of Middle East citizens are Islam believers or Muslims.
Land resources of the Middle East consists of oil, natural gas and phosphate, in large proportions. This arid and desert-like region is one of the richest in energy resources and one of the main suppliers for Western economy. Water resources are scarce, considered to be a very precious and valuable possession, for sustaining agriculture and crops, thus giving birth to tensions and violence throughout ancient and modern history.
When it comes to conflicts in the area, the energy and the water resources have played a key-part in generating tension. If dispute over water supplies or fertile pieces of land echoes across the centuries, being an integrated part of political and economical relationships in the region (Global Connections, 2002), the battle for oil and natural gas has a more Western flavor.
Looking back to colonial times, we see that world powers such as France and Britain used their military advantage and economical influence to exploit the natural resources of their Asian and African colonies (Global Connections, 2002). When the Ottoman Empire fell, Britain and France, according to a 1916 Agreement, gain control over Middle Eastern lands, former ottoman territories, and their natural resources (Global Connection, 2002). The taste for more efficient and superior energy resources, such as oil, made Europeans with large former coal-sustained industries (Britain in particular) to come back for more, thus transforming themselves in large consumers of Middle East riches. Soon followed the United States of America, who quickly became major interested party in the oil and natural gas affairs.
History provides a good explanation for why the terrorism appeared in the Middle East. After the ottoman domination, came the European colonization with the hot pursuit for oil. When the Second World War ended so did the European domination in the region. Middle East countries, and also former colonies around the world, struggled to find their freedom and independence from any imperial forces. Therefore, being once again in charge of their own natural resources became “paramount to the extent that dictators and human rights abusers were supported”(Shah, 2000). People were sensitive to radical messages and a violent, anti-foreigners speech. Dictators and terrorist groups speculated that “weak spot” and provided the right set of words. Concentrating their message on the fight for liberation and independence from the “invasive” West, cleverly giving it a religious and profound spiritual meaning, fundamentalist rulers became popular and managed to take control over countries like Iraq, Iran or Syria, sponsoring the planning and performing of terrorist acts against symbols of Western civilization. Terrorism cannot do without the help of dictatorial regimes in the region, or without the tacit approval of the people, explained by the common religious beliefs and shared vision when it comes to foreign interference in their every-day life. So, one of the causes for the existence of terrorism is the constant support. For planning and executing a terrorist attack funds are very important. Therefore the financial, military or even informational support is crucial.
We talked about the exported terrorism, which “breathes” and acts beyond the Middle East territories, attacking Western targets such as Europe or the United States. Its roots are deep within the region’s history, within their constant struggle against foreign domination and natural resources draining. The people’s support for criminal regimes and dictators who harbor terrorist movements comes from their past, from their desire to be in control of what is rightfully theirs: land and resources.
And yet terrorism takes more than one shape. It is not only the war against foreign exploitation and colonization, but also the battle within, for land possession. The dispute over resources within the Middle East is not a modern issue. The scarcity of life-sustaining means, such as water or crop-friendly earth, has always generated tension and armed confrontation. Add to this ancient problem, the difference of opinion when it comes to spirituality (Judaism, embraced by the Israelites, co-exists with Islam, embraced by the vast majority of the Middle East countries), culture (a visible sympathy for Western values from Israel’s part), politics (Israel is known and harshly criticized for its approach to the U.S.), and you have an explosive cocktail ready to burst.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very present issue and a source of endless violence and tension in the Middle East. Also named the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is in fact a dispute over the land of historic Israel and Palestine (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006). The disputed territory, situated on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, is considered the homeland of the Jewish people who immigrated here from Africa (Egypt), starting with the 13th century BC (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006). The immigrating Jewish tribes later converged and formed the Israeli people who established in that area, after periods of ruling and being ru6led, the independent Jewish state called Judea. After the Roman invasion, the inhabitants of Judea were driven out from their homeland, becoming “a people without a land” (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006) and the territory was transformed in Roman province. When the Roman dominance ended, the Jews slowly started to return to the Middle East, but on Palestinian territories, which were evidently inhabited by the Palestinian people. The intention was to find an establishment for the Jewish people who were robbed of their land. Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria, suggested, in the late 80s, the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The land of Palestine was home of Arabs, in a large majority, and Jews. Some of the Jews living in Palestine were long established there, while other came from Europe to live close to the holy site in Jerusalem (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006). In time, a large number of Jews across Europe came to stay in Palestine. In order to establish their new home in Palestine, the Jew immigrants bought land and step-by-step forced the Arab peasants to relocate. This was the start of an increased Arabs – Jews contact (Microsoft Encarta Online, 1993-2006). After longs series of debates that followed, concerning the funding of an independent state of Israel on Palestinian territories, as requested by the Jewish people, the decision made by the UN was in favor of the Jews. In 1948, according to a resolution stating the partition of Palestine into two separate states, Israel and the Arab states, the Jews became entitled to create an independent state on Palestinian land, despite Britain’s opposition to the UN ruling in this matter. And so the confrontation was on. The Arab nations surrounding Palestinian territory, and implicitly the new proclaimed Israeli state, began their attacks on the Jews as a fervent protest against Palestine’s unjust divide. The support for Palestinians spread all across the Middle East, leading to violence and Palestinian-Israeli wars. Not being able to reach an agreement that would satisfy both parties involved had a profound negative impact on the fragile stability of the region. Attacks took the shape of terrorist displays, causing destruction and a large number of casualties amongst civilians on each side. This dispute over land was considered justifying enough for the birth and growth of terrorist cells in the region. Radical paramilitary movements joined forces in groups promoting terror, such as Hezbollah (Iranian-Syrian supported), committing crimes against non-combatants (civilians) in the name of justice and solidarity. Until now, all efforts in trying to close this conflict and stop the violence and terror in the Palestinian-Israeli matter have been without a positive result. It seem that the tacit support that the United States and the UN have given Israel, considering that the Jewish people have suffered a great deal during the Holocaust, and also the sympathy shown to those who unrightfully have been brutally punished for crimes they didn’t commit or sins they didn’t have, by all the Western civilization, have made matters worse in the conflict. The Arab world saw this Western support as an offense and as a statement against them, as a way of saying that the Jews are right and the Arabs are wrong. They perceived the Western approach to Israel as a threat to their own safety, as an acknowledgement and approval of things considered to be unfair and invasive by Muslims stating their fight for their long lost territories. From this issue rises another reason or explanation for Middle East terrorism deliberately targeting Western or pro-Western countries. This Arab solidarity in the name of freedom and holy justice mutated into sever forms of terrorism sustained by fundamentalist regimes in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iran or Iraq. Terrorist cells such as Al-Qaida, led by Osama bin Laden, is believed to have been harbored in Afghanistan and financed by dictators such as Saddam Hussein or Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Add to that the fact that terrorist cells finance each other, are helping each other to perform ferocious attacks. The collaboration between different terrorist organizations is not the only source of income necessary to sustain terrorism and specific attacks. Money can even come from legitimate business, used by terrorists to support themselves and to complete their plans. For example, the FBI investigation on the terrorist attacks from September 11th, led to the discovery of a legitimate source of finance in the form of construction and plumbing companies ran by Al-Qaida members in Europe (Levitt, 2002).
When the United States became an economical and political force, they also became a key-payer in the Middle East conflicts. After Britain and France gave up control over much of the Middle East, after War World Two, being unable to afford their staying there as imperial power, the United States made their entrance (Global Connections, 2002). Their interest in the Persian Golf oil led to establishing strong business relationships with states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. American energy resources depend highly on the Middle East region, as it is the largest deposit of oil in an easily extracted form in the world (Global Connections, 2002). As a very “thirsty” consumer, the U.S. imports large quantities of oil from Arab countries, thus nurturing the idea that their main interest is capitalizing every conflict and using every opportunity to take total control over oil resources in the region. This Arab people’s fear of being once again under foreign domination is being used by totalitarian leaders to their advantage, who cultivate this fear and slowly manipulate it into anger and hate against American symbols. This intense manipulation helps fundamentalist movement to gain public support and material resources from public finances.
On September 11th 2001, the world was shock by the most ferocious terrorist attack in history. The United States suffered a great loss when thousands of people were killed as four passenger planes were hijacked and crashed into the Two Tours of the World Trade Center in New York, into a wing of the Pentagon in Arlington Country, Virginia and into a field near a town in Pennsylvania (Wikipedia, 2007). The attack on America took the whole world by storm, and was interpreted as an attack on democracy, a discarding of essential values of the free world. FBI investigations made a connection between the attacks and the terrorist organization Al-Qaida, led by one Osama bin Laden, Saudi-born Islamist activist, thought to have had close friendships relations with members of Saudi royal family. This terrorist action was meant to be a statement, a disapproval of America’s politics. The message was intended as a warning to all nations who would try to interfere in Middle Eastern politics and threaten its culture by bringing their symbols and values too close to the Arab side; Western cultures were advice, in this way, to stay away from the Muslim territories. The declared reason for the September attack was America’s interference and growing influence in the Middle East. After the 9/11, the U.S. declared war on terrorism, what ever shape or religious orientation it may lie on. The first step the U.S. took after investigating the causes and placing the blame for the September 11 nightmare, was to track down Bin Laden, who was declared public enemy number 1. Sources informed American Secret Services about the whereabouts of the terrorist leader, who was thought to be hiding in Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban regime. The U.S. attack on Afghanistan was swift and led to the falling of the dictatorial Taliban regime. Bin Laden was not apprehended, but the battle against terror did not stop there. The United States had their eye set on rooting out extreme, violent and irrational acts against civilians and democracy. The next target for the U.S. was Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator thought to have nurtured Al-Qaida and Bin Laden, by harboring them and offering strategic support. America and his allies (Great Britain, Spain, Poland etc.) brought war upon Saddam’s reign of terror, in an attempt to free the Iraqi people from the dictatorship they had been under for decades. The military alliance managed to capture Hussein alive, while most of his trusty acolytes were killed in battle. Installing democracy, in the harsh environment (both human and natural environment) of the Middle East is a very complicated and sensitive issue. Mainly because of the Arab people reaction to Western values and especially American symbols, such as democracy or respect for one’s free will, is unfavorable. So, things become harder if people simply do not want to be saved or do not want to be introduced to the values and principles of the free world.
The war against terrorism seems to be far from over. In fact, the general opinion is that it is has just begun. Violence triggers a chain reaction. So, the terrorists’ response to Iraqi and Afghan intrusion was a series of attacks first on allays (the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 2005 London subway explosions), then on civilians in Iraq, who dared to appreciate the Western efforts to install democracy in the region. Terrorism in the Middle East has become a way of living. Countries like Palestine, Israel, Iraq or Afghanistan have learned to get accustom to living in fear, under the constant threat of being killed. In our days, political and social climate in the Middle East changes fast, with profound repercussions on people in the region. Poverty and brutal regimes have left individuals without any hope of better times, and radical religious groups uniting for all the wrong reasons. People living in dictatorial climates have no desire for democracy because they do not know any other way, they have no expectations but those that they have been allowed to have. So they are not prepared to dispose of brutal and strict regimes and support the Western efforts to install a democracy they know nothing about and which, in their opinion, can only bring instability and an overthrow of their entire system of beliefs. The rejection of Western symbols and values comes from their fear of making decisions for themselves, standing up for what they believe in and assuming responsibility. But terrorism or radical actions against American or European symbols, as much as the oppressed people of the Middle East would want to believe, is not the expression of their essential fight for independence and justice, it is not a portray of their fears, of their suffering, of their hopelessness. In reality, terrorism has so little to do with protecting the rights of the oppressed, with fighting for freedom, and with true justice being served, and so much to do with setting the score strait, with maintaining dictatorial regimes and protecting their dirty business and petty interests. Terrorists are often “paid killers” of corrupt totalitarian governments from the Middle East, who do not wish to be bothered by the proximity of democratic ideas and symbols of “the free world.”
Terrorism is therefore used against any foreign attempt to hold them responsible for genocide, financing the development of weapons of mass destruction or abusing power. Terrorism it’s really about political interests (after all, terrorism is a political strategy), financial motivation and being in control of a situation (in a chaotic situation generated by an attack, terrorist are they only ones in control).
Understanding terrorism and its sources requires an understanding of the general context from a political, social, historical and economical perspective, simultaneously. Terrorism does not simply happen; it has a purpose, a meaning, a cause. In most cases, terrorism is a political statement or demand, carefully planed and executed. It opens a new era, an ear of fear and disbelief between individuals, thus entering a time when the fundamental human right to live freely, in peace and safety must be, once again (see the Middle Ages), regained.
Global Connections — the Middle East. (2002). Retrieved February 12, 2007, from PBS Web site: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/mideast/questions/resource/index.html
Levitt, M., a. (2002). The Political Economy of Middle East Terrorism. MERIA Journal, 6(4). Retrieved February 11, 2007, from MERIA Web site: http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2002/issue4/jv6n4a3.html
Middle East. (1993-2006). Retrieved February 10, 2007, from Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Web site: http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761579298/Middle_East.html
Shah, a. (2000). The Middle East. Retrieved February 10, 2007, from Global Issues Web site: http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/MiddleEast.asp
Terrorsim. (2007). Retrieved February 9, 2007, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism
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