Understanding and engaging with the root causes of violence and a re-examination of foreign and domestic policy are the best solutions to our current crisis.
In the aftermath of the Westminster attack and the sad deaths of four people, there has been a rush to establish a particularly damaging narrative that seeks to place ideology as the sole driving factor of the event.
CAGE is committed to an evidence-based approach, so we must emphasise that no motive has yet been conclusively established.
Speculation in the manner in which it has been happening leads to the demonisation of individuals and groups and a kind of ‘trial by media’ that violates the course of justice.
Despite the absence of key facts and details, the security contractor industry of paid PREVENT advocates have exploited the tragedy to promote their failing counter-extremism policies and programmes.
Placing ideology at the core of the attack despite the motive not having been established through a court process, has prompted anxious condemnations from Muslim communities and organisations, particularly those that have recently been branded by fear-mongering neo-conservative groups as ‘hotbeds’ of terrorism.
This narrative is deeply flawed and must be challenged and retold.
Towards a more constructive understanding of the tragedy
We must acknowledge that the global ‘War on Terror’ has unleashed an endless cycle of violence and murder that has caused immeasurable grief and pain, and will only continue to do so if we do not seek constructive ways to end it.
This is true not only at a local level, but also at an international level. Foreign policy is linked to domestic policy, and in their securitised nature, they echo one another.
Surely the countless victims and survivors of political violence across the world deserve answers. We must move away from ritual condemnations, ideological posturing, and begin unlocking real solutions.
We must have the courage and honesty to accept that if the inspiration for the Westminster incident and others like it, are groups and individuals in war torn areas, as many are claiming, then the circumstances which led to the war may also be part of the problem.
We have every reason to be shocked by the loss of innocent life at home. As part of the endeavour to fully grasp contexts which help formulate solutions, we must also acknowledge the death this month of at least 230 civilians by coalition forces in Mosul, Iraq, the killing by a US airstrike of nearly 60 worshippers in a mosque in Aleppo and the shooting of 42 migrants on a boat escaping the war in Yemen by the British-armed Saudi led coalition. Reports are now emerging that nearly 1000 civilians have been killed this month alone in Syria and Iraq in US or allied coalition attacks.
These victims also, have names and families. They have a right to have their stories of despair and tragedy recounted and acknowledged. They deserve to have those responsible for their loss held accountable. Human life is precious and it must be protected regardless of race or religion.
For these deaths in this month alone, there were no silent vigils in Washington, London or Paris, nor any condemnation from world and community leaders. This silence carries a clue as to the solutions that are needed to bring about peace.
Over a decade of death and destruction
If we look further than this month, the picture is even more shocking: the Syrian Network For Human Rights (SNHR) reports that since 2011 the death toll for civilians has reached 207,000, including 24,000 children and 23,000 women. The SNHR adds that in Syria, 94% of these deaths were perpetrated by the Syrian-Iranian-Russian Alliance.
Recently, the United States government along with Britain has been expanding its ‘War on Terror’ in Syria through the use of airstrikes and drones, alongside Russia, Iran and the regime’s militias.
The carnage in Iraq is even more horrific. According to the Nobel-winning doctors organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility, the UK/US invasion in Iraq killed one million Iraqis in ten years since it began in 2003. This figure does not include deaths among the three million refugees of the invasion. It was out of this violence, Obama admitted, that ISIS was born.
In Afghanistan, US/UK supported interventions killed 220,000 since 2005 while 80,000 have been killed in Pakistan. This brings the estimated total of people killed in these three countries to around 1.3 million in ten years of the ‘War on Terror’.
No society should be exposed to the devastation of these civilian attacks, where bodies have been dismembered beyond recognition, and where families are left with no marked grave to lay their loved ones., We can no longer hide the suffering nor distance ourselves from it.
However, instead of examining whether this suffering is the root cause of political violence, the governments of West escalate their military operations, including indiscriminate drone attacks in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
Counter-terrorism security complex capitalises on incidents
The relationship between foreign wars and domestic consequences is denied by Western governments. A whole counter-terrorism industry functions around this denial. At each incident, this industry of counter-terrorism experts, which usually work for institutions funded by pro-war lobbies or governments, provide a shallow, naive explanation that fails to address the real causes of violence and only ever serves the neo-conservative agenda.
There is a standard trajectory that follows such incidents. There is the valid societal shock and grief, followed by the expected condemnation of the acts, followed quickly by value judgements on motives. These are ideological value judgements that maintain the cycle of propaganda and profit for the counter-terrorism industry. They are then followed by further calls for targeting ‘extremist ideology’ and more military action abroad, boosting the security cluster.
This is a self perpetuating, vicious cycle of violence that any sound-minded person can see. It stifles all genuine attempts to arrive at an end to it.
It’s an approach that lacks any genuine introspection, and yet it is the only debate that is tolerated and amplified by the mainstream media. This approach not only betrays citizenry as a whole by making societies less safe, but it also prohibits victims’ families, whether in the east or west, from ever gaining any real answers, nor are they delivered justice.
Towards finding solutions
There is a risk that violence will continue as long as states line up to condemn violence and ‘terrorism’, while legitimizing state violence both actual and structural (in the form of counter-extremism programmes that criminalise belief and political dissent), towards Muslims.
It is through these double standards and the politicisation of “terrorism”, that the term has lost all its meaning. The state has allowed for the word terrorism to be equated with Islam, while its own violence by way of civilian casualties abroad goes unquestioned, let alone referred to as terrorism.
To keep this double standard alive, violent individuals and groups are portrayed as irrational and barbaric by the government and the media alike. As Professor Tomis Kapitan says in an article for the New York Times: “As this rhetoric would have it, then asking why they resort to terrorism is viewed as pointless, needlessly accommodating, or, at best, mere pathological curiosity. Those normally inclined to ask “Why?” are in danger of being labeled “soft” on terrorism, while the more militant use the “terrorist” label to blur the distinction between critical examination and appeasement.” Kapitan adds “To put it bluntly, by stifling inquiry into causes, the rhetoric of “terror” actually increases the likelihood of terrorism.”.
Examining the deeper reasons why violent incidents happen is not justifying them. “The difference between “causation” and “justification” is so obvious that it should require no explanation,” writes Glen Greenwald. “If one observes that someone who smokes four packs of cigarettes a day can expect to develop emphysema, that’s an observation about causation, not a celebration of the person’s illness. Only a willful desire to distort, or some deep confusion, can account for a failure to process this most basic point.”
We must begin to openly discuss the root causes of violent incidents in a balanced and intelligent manner. This in turn, must prompt a re-examination of the neo-conservative and violent Western foreign and domestic policy towards Muslims.
It is courageous introspection that is most needed right now, from all of us, if we are to break the cycles of violence that haunt us.
CC image courtesy of Number 10 on Flickr
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)