Why Are Muslims So Angry?
By Alan MacLeod
01 November, 2015
Why are Muslims so Angry? The Real explanation for the rise of Radical Islam has more to do with history and politics as it does with religion.
The world was shocked by the brutal Paris attacks on November 13th. The group calling themselves ISIS took responsibility for them. Coming just months after the Charlie Hebdo shooting by individuals linked to Al-Qaeda, it left millions wondering what explained the wave of radical Islamist terror in the West. Why are Muslims so angry?
For many commentators in the West, such as Bill Maher and Sam Harris, the explanation is simple: Islam as a religion is fundamentally backward and violent and therefore must be confronted with force in order to save Western values such as freedom and democracy. In this sense, it is little more than a rehashing of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” theory, or even the much older “White Man’s Burden.”
The real explanation owes much more to the Middle East’s history and politics than it does to badly thought out, Islamophobic theories on religion. As early as the 1940’s, Western governments had identified Middle Eastern oil as a “stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” We would do well to underline the strategic power of oil. It is the keystone resource of the world. Without oil there is no transport, obviously. But there is also no agriculture, as it has been mechanized and oil is used in fertilizers. There would be no electricity, and therefore, no functioning offices, schools, or factories. There would be no plastics, nor any other materials with which to build. In short, who controls oil controls the world.
Western powers, particularly the US, UK and France, have been dedicated to controlling the Middle East and opposing any independent, nationalist or democratic movement that would challenge Western corporations’ right to siphon off trillions in exorbitant profits into Swiss banks. In order to oppose these secular, democratic movements, the West has found some willing allies: radical Islamist groups.
In his book “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Secret Collusion with Radical Islam”, Mark Curtis recounts the history of the region and found that, far from being enemies, these powers have funded, trained and supported virtually every extremist Muslim in the region group for five reasons:
1. “As a global counterforce to the ideologies of secular nationalism and Soviet communism”
2. “As “conservative muscle” within countries to undermine secular nationalists and bolster pro-Western regimes”
3. “As “shock troops” to destabilise or overthrow governments”
4. “As proxy military forces to fight wars”
5. “As political tools to leverage change from governments”.
The two British objectives in installing or maintaining radical Islamists in power are:
1. “Influence and control of key energy resources, always recognised in the British planning documents as the number one priority in the Middle East.”
2. “Maintaining Britain’s place within a pro-Western global financial order.”
In Egypt, the UK and France supported the Muslim Brotherhood in an attempt to overthrow the passionately secular and independent nationalist President Nasser. They even invaded the country in 1956.
In Iran, the CIA overthrew the progressive nationalist Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh had dared to nationalize the oil industry, much to the chagrin of the Anglo-Iranian oil company. He was replaced by the brutal Shah of Iran. His repressive regime directly led to the 1979 revolution.
In Palestine, Israel and its Western backers nurtured the extremist Islamist party HAMAS in the hopes that it would be a counterweight to the secular, popular, and, therefore, dangerous Fatah party of Yasser Arafat.
In Afghanistan, the West backed the Mujahedeen against the Soviets, Margaret Thatcher calling the organization “genuine freedom fighters.” The Independent called Osama Bin Laden an “anti-Soviet warrior” who was putting the country “on the road to peace.”
In Libya, the West armed and supported Al-Qaeda, the organization that bombed the World Trade Center in 2001 in an effort to destroy the independent and secular strongman Colonel Gaddafi.
And the most radical, regressive Islamist regime of them all, Saudi Arabia, is the West’s key ally in the region, making a mockery of any ideas of “clash of civilizations.” The US in particular takes particular care to make sure their client state does not fall to democratic protestors. The Saudi regime trains thousands of clerics in the most radically regressive interpretation of Islam and sends them throughout the Muslim world. It also funds a myriad of television, pumping out similar messages, all with the tacit approval of Washington, London and Paris. With Saudi funding, General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan carried out a program of radical Islamisation of his country. President Reagan shared nuclear technology with the dictator.
The great irony is that Western governments fund and support groups that seek their destruction. It highlights just how low a priority keeping their citizens safe is. Much more important is increasing the wealth and power of their elites.
Fifty years ago much of the Muslim world was decidedly secular and relatively progressive. But any hope of a return to a moderate age was crushed in the 1990’s, 2000’s and 2010’s with a succession of Western wars of aggression that obliterated much of the region. Afghanis, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians have witnessed devastation, and the destruction of their societies. The US even helped incubate ISIS in Iraq and Syria in order to undermine the Assad regime. It should be noted that pre-war Iraq and Syria were famously secular societies, yet now they are the center of the Islamic State. If you’d seen your family killed and your town destroyed, you might be radicalized too.
In short, for decades, the Western powers have stamped out any secular, nationalist alternative to their rule by proxy with the help of jackbooted Islamist militants who are then given free reign to build up their power and influence in the vacuum. This history is not hidden from Muslims. And it has built up huge anger and resentment of Western governments. It is not because Muslims in the Middle East hate “Western” values of freedom and democracy that there is so much resentment of the West. Rather, it is precisely because they share those same values and are denied them by Western-backed dictators and radical groups that there is such resentment. As far back as 1958, the Eisenhower administration reported that there is such resentment of the US in Egypt because the US “is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress” and “desires to keep the Arab world disunited and is committed to work with “reactionary” elements to that end.” Some things never change.
But the attackers were European, not Asian. They were people who had been shunned by an increasingly intolerant society. Comparing Muslim refugees to cockroaches has become mainstream in Europe while the Washington Post reported that Americans see Muslims as apes, or worse. With little economic prospects they were forced to live in ghettoized communities in the dingy suburbs, constantly told they have no place in Western society. Outcasts, they were easy fodder for Islamist groups preaching hate.
This is exactly what ISIS wants. ISIS wants Westerners to hate refugees. ISIS’ goal is to create a real “clash of civilizations” in order to drive more Muslims into its arms. The only two groups who wish for this scenario to be a reality are Islamic extremists and Western governments.
The social science on countering extremism in the West is clear. Providing young Muslims chances of a life of dignity and opportunity is key, as is the secession of wars in the Middle East and support for radical Islamist regimes.
So, far from being enemies, the Western powers and radical Jihadist groups share similar interests. For every terrorist bombing the Islamic State commits in the West, governments can introduce new rounds of repressive measures. The anti-terrorism act was passed in the wake of the September 11th bombings and was used to arrest occupy and student protestors in England. Today, the Paris shootings serve as an excuse for the US government to ban encryption, which had nothing to do with them. Ahead of the Paris Climate Conference, the French government has used emergency laws to arrest climate activists. They also serve as justifications for more invasions and more wars in the Middle East. The British government is currently trying to stir up support for bombing Syria. These wars then further provoke anger and a terrorist backlash, as governments concede. It is a vicious circle. Western governments are continuing to wage war in the Middle East and to promote radical Islamists in order to control the oil of the region, despite the fact that this makes its citizens exponentially less safe. To their governments, a few dozen, or even a few thousand deaths is a small price to pay to control the most stupendous source of strategic power.
Until we realize that we have more in common with ordinary Muslims and confront the reasons for their anger, the cycle of violence will continue.
Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacleod) is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Glasgow.