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Showing posts with label Saudi Arabia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saudi Arabia. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2023

The New World (Dis)order: PART I: American Adventurism, Non-Interventionism, Trumpism and Afghan Chaos

Is America in Decline? Illustration by Barbara Kelley via Hoover InstituteIllustration by Barbara Kelley via Hoover Institute


NOTE: This is the first in a five part series.

PART I: American Adventurism, Non-Interventionism, Trumpism and Afghan Chaos
PART II: The Misunderstanding of Vladimir Putin
PART III (July): China Awakens Under Xi Jinping
PART IV (August) Crony Capitalism and the West’s Achilles Heel
PART V (September): The New World (Dis)order 


PART I: American Adventurism, Non-Interventionism, Trumpism and Afghan Chaos

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
-Mark Twain


Bush’s Adventurism

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a foregone conclusion in my mind. I said late in 2021 that Putin would invade no matter what the West did to try and deter him. 


Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was, in addition to his long-held territorial ambitions, meant to be a test to gauge the West’s unity and resolve, and to provide China with a litmus test for their impending invasion of Taiwan.


To understand how we got here, with Europe facing its largest invasion since WWII, we need to go back to the US invasion of Iraq, and also to events before and after the invasion. 


While I am not interested here in arguing about the justification for America’s invasion of Iraq, what is irrefutable is that every one of Cheney and Bush’s assertions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq turned out to be patently false. 


Leading up to the invasion, America failed to produce a single credible piece of evidence to back up their claims about Saddam’s ties to Al-Qaeda or his biological weapons stockpile. I stated categorically months before the invasion that the only way the US would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is if they planted them there.


Also, America was unable to convince a majority of allies to join their illegal invasion. In addition to America and British forces, the grand coalition consisted of Georgia, Australia and Poland, with the three countries sending 2,300, 2,000 and 194 troops, respectively.


Post-invasion, independent and US intelligence agency reviews of millions of documents seized in Iraq conclusively stated that “…there was nothing to substantiate a "partnership" between Hussein and Al-Qaeda.” The report added that there was no ‘smoking gun,’ and everyone knows how many weapons of mass destruction were found.


While the Bush administration sought and got approval from U.S. Congress in 2002 to use military force against “those responsible for the September 11 attacks”, there was and remains no basis in international law to justify America’s invasion of Iraq. 


The Bush administration tried to argue that the UN security council resolution which granted use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990 applied. However, the UN declared that the Iraq invasion was in violation of its Charter. Secretary General Kofi Anan stated unequivocally in 2004, "From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it [the war] was illegal.”


Not only did America flagrantly violate international law by invading a sovereign nation without provocation, but the Bush administration broke every legal and democratic norm Americans have claimed to cherish and hold dear since WWII.


Ironically, former President Bush accidentally admitted it last year, when he repudiated Putin for invading Ukraine in a speech in May. He said, “The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq—I mean of Ukraine.”


Under Bush, America embraced torture, set-up extra-judicial rendition sites in Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Tajikistan and other countries. They constructed a prison camp in Guantanamo Bay because it would be outside U.S. legal jurisdiction. There they illegally detained and tortured enemy combatants indefinitely and without charge, denying them Geneva Convention rights and refusing these men access to legal counsel.


Bush and Cheney’s actions damaged America’s moral standing and severely limited the US’s future ability to call out other nations for their transgressions. The unilateral way in which America invaded and occupied Iraq has not been lost on the leaders of China, Russia, Iran and other authoritarian regimes. These regimes watched the U.S. violate international law, trample on enshrined global conventions and use financial muscle, military might and UN Security Council veto power to bribe, blackmail and bully smaller nations into acquiescence or abstention. 


Not a single U.S. leader or architect of the Iraq invasion was criminally charged or faced consequences for war crimes. To this day, the U.S. remains a non-signatory to the International Court of Justice (ICC), along with China, Russia, Syria, Qatar and Libya.


In 2008, while America was embroiled in two failing and unpopular wars and in the midst of a financial crisis, Russia invaded Georgia. It was the first time since their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan that they launched a military attack on a neighboring country. While Russian-Georgian tensions had been simmering since the breakup of the USSR, it was Georgia’s tilt toward the West that drove Putin’s decision to invade. 


Georgia joined the US-led coalition in Iraq, sending the third largest contingent of troops, which had earned Putin’s ire. Then in 2004 they elected a pro-West leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, who actively sought membership to NATO and wanted to move his country away from Russia’s sphere of influence. 


At the 2008 NATO Summit President Bush surprised everyone by lobbying to extend membership to Ukraine and Georgia. This crossed a red line for Putin, who was clear that he was not willing to lose control of former Soviet Union breakaway republics, because they provided a security buffer between Russia and the West. Putin’s invasion of Georgia began a few months after the summit.


France brokered the ceasefire agreement which stipulated the removal of Russian troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions at the center of the dispute. The agreement was hastily put together and tilted in favor of Russia, as a result of public divisions within the EU. Italy’s Foreign Minister at the time said “We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe…on this point we are close to Putin's position.”


Vice-President Cheney condemned Russia’s actions and declared that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered.” Yet, that is precisely what happened with a muted response from the US and Europe. There was no punishment when Russia violated the terms of ceasefire by declaring Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent countries, and kept their occupying forces on Georgian soil; who remain to this day.


Russia’s aggression paid-off, without any costs to Putin. The Georgian President warned the US not to placate Putin, and prophetically said at the time that the Georgian invasion was the beginning of Putin’s ambitions, and not the limit of it.


Obama’s Non-Interventionism

The Obama years were a welcome change, and his administration attempted to repair the damage done by the previous one. On day one he declared he would shutter Guantanamo Bay, and later summed up his foreign policy doctrine as “Don’t do stupid shit”. 


Mr. Obama’s approach made sense, compared to his predecessor’s shoot from the hip style but it would come to be viewed as weakness, based on Mr. Obama’s repeated and dogmatic refusal to use force, in a world with rising authoritarianism.


In 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself alight to protest corruption and police brutality. This act set in motion a series of violent mass protests across the Middle East and North Africa, which came to be known as The Arab Spring


However, unlike in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen where ruling dictators were toppled, the uprising in Syria was met with a brutal crackdown. Bashar Al-Assad used his military to mercilessly kill peaceful protestors and stamp out the popular rebellion. 


At the time President Obama warned Assad saying that "This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now.” While the condemnation was strong, Mr. Obama resisted any US intervention in Syria. This despite his senior advisors, defense and national security teams urging him to take limited military action. 


Their recommendation was not to put US boots on the ground, but to train and equip the Syrian resistance, to set up safe zones and to launch targeted air strikes to degrade Assad’s air force. Their strategy was designed to force Assad to the negotiating table, rather than defeat him on the battlefield. However, Obama steadfastly refused and agreed only to provide humanitarian aid and light non-lethal equipment to the rebels.


Sensing Obama’s hesitation and unable to quell widespread and growing unrest across the country, in early 2012, Assad used chemical weapons and gassed his citizens. Meanwhile, the vacuum on the battlefield, created by Obama's refusal to arm the rebels, got filled by a loose and dangerous network of jihadis fighting for Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other affiliated terrorist groups. 


In late 2102, President Obama stated at a White House press briefing“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.  That would change my equation.“


The world, including his Secretaries of Defense and State saw the red-line as an ultimatum for the use of force. Vice-president Biden warned The President not to make a public declaration because he feared it would need to be acted on. He was right. Seeing America back-down after drawing a public red-line emboldened every dictator and authoritarian leader from China to Venezuela.


Ironically, it was Mr. Obama who said during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that“inaction tears at our conscienceand can lead to more costly interventions later…”. The U.S. President’s repeated refusal to act would have devastating consequences not just for the Syrian people but the world at large.


Even before the votes were cast in the 2016 US presidential election, a few things began to embolden Mr. Putin. First, the Obama administration’s strategic and costly error in downplaying the Russian state-sponsored hacking, which they uncovered in the summer of that year after DNC servers were found to be compromised. 


Obama chose not to respond forcefully because he wanted to be seen as impartial and because everyone in his administration believed Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, so they decided that starting“a cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it.”


Mr. Putin was also emboldened by candidate Trump’s open embrace of Russia. One that resulted in a bizzare public plea, at a press conference in Florida, where he said "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” 


Third was the result of Putin’s high-risk disinformation gamble, which exceeded even his wildest expectations. Putin had succeeded in sowing mistrust amongst the US electorate and deepening existing divisions among Americans across the political spectrum. 


Through the Mueller investigation we learned that the Kremlin’s elaborate campaign had a $1.2 million monthly budget that was used for identity theft, which enabled Russian spies to enter the US under false pretenses. The Russian agents set up meetings with legitimate organisations for fact-finding and on-the-ground research in swing states. Information that was used to set up fake grass roots organisations, social media accounts, run anti-Clinton ads and even stage local events. The Russian’s even paid Americans to appear at Trump rallies dressed as Mrs. Clinton in a prison uniform.


Trumpism

Once Trump became president it was clear that he lacked cohesive vision and coherent strategy to guide his foreign policy. His decisions were instead driven by his whims. One minute he would contradict military commanders about troop withdrawals by tweet, and next make decisions that lined up with his personal business interests. Trump continued to publicly express his admiration for dictators and bragged about his great chemistry with them while showing disdain for NATO.


Mr. Trump’s first official trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia, a place where his love of dictatorship and personal business coincided. Upon arrival Trump’s first words were“We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.” Next came his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, followed in early 2018 with the termination of JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal. 


In 2017, after Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt abruptly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing them of supporting terrorism. Trump welcomed the move, even as his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense were publicly reenforcing America’s relationship with Qatar, a country that hosts a key US Air Base and is the regional headquarters of U.S. Central Command. 


At the G-20 Summit in Hamburg Trump had a second meeting with Putin which was not disclosed by the White House. This meeting broke protocol as Trump met with Putin for over an hour without any other US officials present and without his translator. It was just Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin and his translator. This was followed by a two-hour summit in Helsinki between the two leaders, again with no US officials except a translator.


Trumpism was defined by chaotic, contradictory and haphazard foreign policy, most often out of sync with his own administration. Trump broke with decades of US policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un, twice, he became the first sitting US President in history to do so and set foot in North Korea


Mr. Trump defended Saudi Arabia after they murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying on NBC’s Meet the Press"Iran's killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East; this is a hostile place. This is a vicious, hostile place. If you're going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries,"


It is true that Trump administration agreed to send lethal aid to Ukraine, which Mr. Obama’s had refused, but Mr. Trump was also the one who held a gun to President Zelensky’s head. Mr. Trump put on hold on US military aid unless Ukraine agreed to investigate Joe Biden, which led to his first impeachment trial.


Throughout his presidency Mr. Trump made false claims about Ukraine, privately and publicly. A respected diplomat told lawmakers during the impeachment inquiry, that Trump had said to him “Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of 'terrible people.'"  The US President was the same man who praised Putin in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and said at the time that “the rest of Ukraine will fall … fairly quickly…” 


In 2014, Trump defended Russia despite evidence showing that a Russian missile shot down a Malaysian Airlines plane, killing all 208 passengers on board. It would not be an understatement to say that Mr. Putin believed he had an ally in the White House, and on the heels of his 2016 election disinformation campaign success, it left him feeling more emboldened for his future invasion of Ukraine.


Trump’s final act as president was to withdraw from the Open Skies treaty, the third arms control agreement he withdrew the US from. His administration claimed they were doing so because the Russians had been violating the agreement, but the US too had placed their own restrictions on it. Mr. Trump went ahead despite NATO countries expressing “regret” over the US intention to withdraw, stating that despite its problems the treaty remained “functioning and useful”.


Biden’s Afghan Chaos

China, Iran and Russia made hay of the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Without question they saw both failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence of declining US military power and influence. 


Mr. Putin stated with glee on the anniversary of Washington’s twenty-year intervention in Afghanistan, “The result is zero, if not to say that it is negative”. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said of the chaotic scenes of people clinging and falling from aircraft wheels, “American myth down. More and more people are awakening.” 


The Afghan withdrawal made the Biden administration look incompetent and weak. Especially after the US president had publicly stated that there would be an orderly withdrawal and assured the world that US intelligence assessments made him confident that a Taliban takeover of the country was "highly unlikely” and would take at least six months to a one year - not the 10 days it actually took.


Within the backdrop of the disastrous Afghan exit, the Biden administration had also been working to forge closer ties with Ukraine. In July, 2021, under Mr. Trump, the US and Ukraine conducted joint naval exercises with 32 other countries from six continents participating. Operation Sea Breeze almost escalated into conflict after a British naval destroyer entered Russian territorial waters, and the Russians fired at it.


In January 2021, right after President Biden assumed office, Mr. Zelensky appealed to US President to let Ukraine join NATO. After receiving assurances of US support from Mr. Biden, President Zelensky signed a decree freezing the assets of Viktor Medvedchuk, a political heavyweight with close ties to the Kremlin and placed him under house arrest. 


Mr. Medvedchuk’s was Putin’s choice for replacing Mr. Zelensky and heading up a puppet government in Ukraine. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter. Soon after his arrest Russia began amassing troops on the Ukraine border, claiming they were conducting training exercises.


In November that year, as Russian troops continued to amass on Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Biden signed the “US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership” a document stating a commitmentto help Ukraine achieve “full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.” 


This was a red line for Putin, going back to the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, when according to his version of history, the West promised that they would never expand NATO into the former USSR’s backyard. However, diplomats engaged in those negotiations, scholars and even former President Gorbachov have acknowledged that no such promise was made.


By December 2021, around 100,000 Russian troops, tanks and heavy artillery had been deployed around Ukraine’s borders. Russia issued security demands which included NATO pulling back troops and weapons from eastern Europe and barring Ukraine from ever joining the alliance. 


While the West rebuffed their demands, they once again misjudged Mr. Putin. Ignoring history, they believed that the US President’s public and private warnings that an invasion would result in disaster for the Russian economy and for Mr. Putin personally would be deterrent enough to get the Russian President to act rationally.


Read next installment in June:

PART II: The Misunderstanding of Vladimir Putin

Monday, October 29, 2018

Saudi Arabia and Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience

 
Mark Zuckerberg meets with Mohammad bin Salman (Reuters)


“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

Governments routinely do business with oppressive regimes based on geopolitical, intelligence-sharing and counter-terrorism requirements. I am not absolving governments, but merely stating the realities of operating in a complex and increasingly inter-connected world where it is harder to be black and white about these choices. However the same constraints do not hold true for private corporations. There is nothing preventing them from boycotting or refusing to take money from bad actors and brutally oppressive regimes, particularly when they go against the stated values of the company.

I think we can also make a distinction between older generation of companies and the new ones in the digital age. The Exxon Mobiles and Goldman Sachs’s of the world never claimed to be ‘do-gooders’ or touted the inherent social values of their business models. They were clear about focusing on the bottom line, profits and increasing shareholder value above all else and did not care if they were profiting from Mother Theresa or Nicolas Maduro.

However, Silicon Valley startups have always claimed to have a strong moral compass and repeatedly tout the social good they do and stand for. They have corporate motto's that say things like “Don’t be Evil” and spend much on PR touting all the good they do in the world. Yet the vast majority of these same companies have found ways to rationalize and do business with Saudi Arabia. Uber justified its launch in Saudi Arabia in 2014 by saying it would help women who were not allowed to drive, even though Saudi women were against Uber launching.

While it is true that Saudi rulers have always ruled with an iron fist, most limited their brutality to within their own borders and also took pains to manage the optics for their democratic and freedom-loving allies. However, with the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS as he is known, the Kingdom’s transgressions have not only grown bolder but now go well beyond their borders.

The Prince began his reign by extra-judicially imprisoning elite businessmen and ruling family members, reportedly torturing and coercing them to hand over billions in cash and properties, publicizing his actions as a ‘crackdown on corruption'. He also purged the security services and other high ranking government officials, filling key posts with loyalists. He has placed his mother under house arrest to keep her from advising her husband, the King, whose health is dwindling and his moments of lucidity said to be fleeting.

The thirty-three year old Prince has a record of acting impulsively, as he has shown with an ill-conceived blockade of Qatar, the brazen abduction of Lebanon’s prime minister, and an unrestrained war in Yemen which has resulted in a quagmire that the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet

It is true that MBS has opened a few movie theaters and has finally given Saudi women the right to drive, but at the same time he has jailed and exiled leading women activists, purged the clerical ranks and ruthlessly suppressed all dissent. Yet, Silicon Valley has been championing MBS as a great reformer. It seems that the billions invested in cash-starved Unicorns have washed away all of MBS’s sins and Silicon Valley’s corporate ethics along with them.

Companies ranging from Google and Facebook to Blackrock have all been clamoring to shake MBS's hand and strike lucrative deals with the Kingdom. It is no surprise then that MBS grows more reckless, as companies continue to pat him on the back, and felt emboldened enough to brazenly murder a journalist who was a US permanent resident, and expected to face no consequences for this heinous crime.

Here is a list of some of the US companies awash in Saudi money:
· Saudis own 5% of Tesla, 5% of Uber (making them the largest shareholder), 5% of Lyft, 5.2% of Twitter (which is more than Jack Dorsey owns) and 2.3% of Snapchat.
· They invested $461 million in Magic Leap, the hottest US virtual reality company.
· They have committed $20 billion to Blackstone Group’s infrastructure fund.
· Through the Softbank Vision Fund, in which Saudi Arabia is the principle investor, they have invested:
o   $4.4 billion in WeWork
o   $2.25 billion in GM Cruise Holdings
o   They own shares in WAG, Slack, Door Dash and SoFi.
It is true that the Saudi’s have also invested in UK, French, Indian and Chinese companies but the bulk is US based companies.

I am not naïve and understand that business cannot succeed based on purely moral decision-making; profit motives will always collide with doing what is right. For the most part companies manage to find a reasonable balance between these two competing forces, but my issue is that Silicon Valley pretends to wear morals and principles on its sleeve, preaching that their growing monopolies are forces for good. How do they justify being owned and increasingly funded by entities that make no bones about having neither morals nor principles?

A large part of the problem lies not in capitalism itself, but in the broken system of capitalism Silicon Valley has engineered and vigorously championed in the last few decades. It is a system that encourages a winner-take-all mentality and even rewards companies that are not profitable.

It is quite normal today for a company to have an IPO long before it is profitable, like Twitter and Snapchat both did. In fact Snapchat, in it its IPO disclosure, stated, "We have incurred operating losses in the past, expect to incur operating losses in the future, and may never achieve or maintain profitability," and yet this did nothing to discourage institutional and individual investors who flocked to participate in its initial offering.

Instead of using sound business metrics like earnings, sales or revenue to measure companies, Silicon Valley has made it dangerous and fashionable to look purely at things like ‘stickiness,’ in terms of how often users interact with a service or app on a daily basis. As a result, companies are being incentivized to make long-term losses and thus need constant infusions of cash to grow artificially and rapidly expand their base of users.

Some of the most highly valued startups today even lack real competitive differentiation and barriers to entry like Uber and WeWork, so the only thing fueling their competitiveness is infusions of cash. The issue with this winner-take-all model of capitalism, one devoid of business fundamentals, is that it encourages companies to cut corners, act in cut-throat ways, and ignore the most basic principles of ethical behaviour - simply to stay ahead of competitors.

Ultimately, this model leads to running out of ‘good’ money and avenues for hyper-growth, and startups are forced to compromise on their stated ideals and acquiesce to any suitor with deep pockets.

The truth is that this discussion around Saudi Arabia’s behaviour should have taken place a long time ago. To some extent one can understand why governments need to deal countries whose values conflict with our own, but it is harder to make a case for why companies, especially those who claim to cherish ‘values’ as a primary reason for their own existence, are in bed with them.

While it is true that many CEO’s like Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber, and Larry Fink of Blackrock dropped out of the recent Saudi investment conference, the BBC reported the majority of these companies still sent junior executives to represent them. Not one of them has cut business ties with Saudi Arabia, and I suspect that no matter what the outcome of the Khashoggi murder investigation is, most of them will not sever ties, as Larry Fink stated on CNBC.

Irrespective of whether MBS is directly implicated or not, I hope that Mr. Khashoggi’s brazen and brutal pre-meditated murder will serve as a wake up for the rest of us. While I do not expect Tesla, Uber or WeWork to be returning the billions they have received anytime soon, I do hope we will begin to hold these companies more accountable for their actions and stop being swayed by their words alone.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Terrorism, Islam, Our Biases and The Solution

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

Like most people I felt a strong solidarity with Parisians in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hedbo. I was angered that a group of cowardly savages could walk in during broad daylight and murder unarmed people. Witnesses say that the masked men shouted “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great!” as they shot cartoonists and the editor of Hedbo. We have all seen eyewitness video of the killers running down the street shouting “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hedbo!” as they executed a Muslim policeman on the street (Source: NYTimes). The attack was carried out in the name of Islam by men who it turns out were radicalised in France, after the US invasion of Iraq. 

JeSuisCharlie became a top trending global hashtag for a week; in many cases people felt they needed to support free speech, even if they did not agree with Hedbo’s satire. At the same time, vilified by global outrage, driven by fear and ignorance, the uglier side of humanity also began to surface on social media. In extreme cases, there were tweets about ridding the world of all Muslims. A number of people said they felt this was a fight between the ‘civilised’ world and Islam. Even powerful and supposedly educated men like Rupert Murdoch tweeted irresponsibly: 




In Germany, an anti-Islam rally that had been scheduled prior to the Paris attack was held the day after the unity march. It was organised by a group called Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA. Just a few months ago the same rally was attended by some 350 protestors; this one had an estimated 25,000 people (Source CNN). German leaders across the political spectrum requested that the group postpone the rally in light of the events in Paris, but they refused. These groups are not new, but they existed only on the fringes of society, unable to command crowds that require mainstream support. Across Europe we are seeing an alarming rise in extremist right-wing groups: UKIP in England, Marine Le Pen’s party in France, the Neo-Nazi National Democratic Party in Germany, Danish People's Party and Jobbik in Hungary. There is no question that these parties have grown in popularity in a post Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay world (Source: HuffingtonPost UK). Their entire political plank is based on anti-immigration and anti-globalisation. They manipulate our irrational fear of death to further their hate agendas. How quickly we forget that the parties now targeting Muslims were not long ago ostracised for being violently anti-Semitic. 

I can categorically say that at no time have I felt any anger or animosity toward Muslims. But after Paris I did for the first time, just for a minute, find myself wondering if within the teachings of Islam there lay a problem. Was it truly a religion of peace? Perhaps Islam was more open to interpretation and abuse than other religions. Frankly, if you live in the West post 9/11, it is hard not to start thinking this way. For more than a decade, talking heads on every cable station, news channel, website, newspaper and magazine have been debating the problem of Islamic fundamentalism. Most are careful not to indict the entire religion or all Muslims, but in the end, they all contribute to planting dangerous seeds of misguided doubt and fear in all our minds.

They talk about freedoms we take for granted being rare in the Muslim world, citing Iran and Saudi Arabia as examples of the ‘Muslim’ world. The central premise of their argument often boils down to a claim that no other religion drives its followers to massacre innocent people. Yet, most of these opinion makers base their claims on selective statistics and self-serving interpretations. They point to the number of terrorist acts perpetrated in the name of Islam versus other religions. Or point out that in Saudi Arabia people are lashed for insulting Allah, and women are not allowed to drive; thereby concluding that the problem must be Islam. They are careful not to point out rogue regimes like Iran while making this argument, instead choosing to showcase so-called legitimate Muslim nations like Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The insinuation being that if ‘good’ Muslim nations, those who ally with the West, can restrict freedoms and persecute people in the name of religion, then it is not hard to understand how terrorists can take the same tenets of Sharia and offer a more twisted, extreme and violent justification for their actions. It is a persuasive and convincing argument, if we shut down our rational brains, ignore facts and forget history; something we all tend to do when fear takes over. 

If we take the same arguments that are used to point to Islam being a radical religion, and apply them elsewhere, then can we start to see the fundamental flaws, biases and selective logic being used here. To start with, if there is a problem with Islam, then there was once the same problem with Christianity and it remains today. The Crusades were a holy war carried out in the name of religion, and sanctioned by the Pope himself. Pope Urban II issued the call to arms, asking Christian men to reclaim the Holy Land by killing non-believers. During six Crusades that spanned close to two centuries, there were murderous rampages carried out in the name of religion like “a series of massacres of Jews in various towns in the Rhineland in 1096.” And anyone who “joined the ranks of the crusaders gained spiritual immunity, Pope Urban II promised forgiveness of all sins to whosoever took up the cross and joined in the war.” (Source: History.com Crusades). What about the Roman Catholic Church's use of tribunals to discover and punish heresy? It was started in medieval times but continued through the end of the 19thcentury. During the Spanish Inquisition the tribunals started to target Jews, Blacks and Muslims, torturing and killing all non-believers. Yet, we did not write-off Christianity for all this barbarism, nor did we question the teachings of Christ. Instead, rational and moderate voices within the religion were given room to challenge long-held beliefs and begin an important debate that started during the Reformation in the late 16th century.

Eventually, after centuries of debate and more war, rebellion and bloodshed, there came a separation of Church and State, which wrested powers away from the Papacy (Source: History.comReformation). It is worth noting that the same Bible, which was used to justify all the murder and terror, was never changed or re-written. People realised that the issue is not the teachings of Christ or Christianity, but the way men chose to interpret and abuse them; using religion to control the masses for furthering their own greedy and power-driven goals. Ask yourself how this is different from modern day terrorists hijacking Islam to further their twisted political agendas. I realise that the Crusades ended in the late 13th century and we are now in the 21st century, but in the lifespan of a religion, and the earth’s existence, this is not a long time. Think about the fact that in America women got the right to vote less than one hundred years ago. The Voting Rights Act was passed after some of my best friends were born, and we are still fighting for gay rights, female bishops and equal pay for women. 

In 2013 the world was shocked by images of marauding Buddhist monks roaming the countryside wielding blood soaked machetes, hacking to death Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Did we question that Buddhism is a religion of peace? Last year in Pune, a Hindu mob beat to death an IT professional for posting a morphed picture of a dead right-wing political leader on Facebook. Turns out the man was not connected to the Facebook cartoon and simply happened to be at the wrong place, wearing a skull cap and sporting a beard (Source: Firstpost). More recently, Hindu mobs wielding batons and iron rods destroyed theatres showing a Bollywood film they say hurt Hindu sentiments (Source: Indian  Express). One of India’s greatest painters, M.F. Hussain, died in exile because peace-loving Hindus threatened to kill him after he painted some Hindu goddesses nude. Even today, women have virtually no rights in Indian law and marital rape is not considered a crime. Your conclusion must be that Hinduism is a backward religion that does not recognise the rights of women, promotes intolerance, hate and violence. Few people are aware that India has the second largest Muslim population in the world and yet there has been virtually no radicalisation of Indian Muslims, despite years of sustained efforts by Pakistani terror groups and Al-Qaeda to recruit them (Source: Economist). 

Using Rupert Murdoch’s logic (something many people agree with), we must also hold all Christians responsible for the race-terrorism carried out in their names by the Ku Klux Klan or by those who continue to bomb abortion clinics and kill doctors; in the name of defending the right to live. More recently we must surmise that Christianity propagates child abuse. In fact, it can be argued that paedophilia was officially sanctioned by the Vatican because it’s now clear that the church not only turned a blind eye to decades of child abuse but covered up reports, misled victims and transferred priests rather than take legal action or remove them (Source: Wikipedia). So why are we not holding ALL Christians responsible? Better yet, why are we not questioning if there is something in the teachings of Christ that allows men of God to prey upon children? Show me where we can find the sustained global outrage, from the non-paedophilic, two billion Christians for terrorising young impressionable minds and bodies for decades? 

As of 2012 there are 1.6 billion Muslims, totalling around 23% of the world population, making Islam the second largest religion (Source: Pew Research Center). Depending on whom you ask, you will get many an unscientific answer on how many Muslims are radicalised. However, what we do know, based on scientific research via a Pew Research poll conducted in eleven majority Muslim countries, is that the majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims reject religious and other kinds of extremism (Source: Think Progress). Another 2013 global survey, also conducted by Pew, found huge differences in views and interpretations of Sharia law with regards to social and religious issues across Muslim nations. The same survey found that “most Muslims around the world express support for democracy, and most say it is a good thing when others are very free to practice their religion.” And “given a choice between a leader with a strong hand or a democratic system of government, most Muslims choose democracy.” (Source: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, Pew Research).

Muslims and Islam are not going away; nor should they as some extreme right-wing groups propose. Nor am I suggesting that we turn a blind eye or adopt politically correct terminology, so as not to offend Muslims, and simply expect the problem of terrorism to go away. We also need to remember that an ideology cannot be defeated on the battlefield. So what can we do?  

We can begin by changing our own lazy perceptions and comfortable biases. Put aside blind fear that can drive irrationality, and start to consciously discern between Muslim nations like Jordan, Indonesia and Turkey versus brutal dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. We must stop painting all Muslims with a single brush and recognise that Islam and Sharia are not the underlying problem; it is the dictatorial nature of all totalitarian regimes that use religion and fear as tools to maintain an iron grip on power. Countries like Saudi Arabia also suppress free speech, violate human rights and have no rights for women. This is no different from North Korea, which the last time I checked had not accepted Allah or adopted Sharia. 

Remind yourself that terrorists, in the name of Islam, have killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. A 2009 report, by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, found that between 2004-2008 only 12% of Al-Qaida’s victims were Westerners; 88% were Muslim (Source: CNN). Start researching facts for yourself and stop relying on the mainstream media as your only source of information. Most news outlets offer nothing more than ratings-driven sensationalised hype and unverified or severely biased opinion. They are thin on reportage and unbiased journalism. We must never let our fears fool us into believing that right-wing parties offer a solution. If you support these groups, remember that the moment they are in power and have dealt with Muslims, they will come for the Jews, Blacks, Indians, Chinese and every non-Aryan group until there is no one left. 

Most importantly, we need to stop vilifying and attacking all Muslims and blaming their religion every time there is a terrorist attack because this is not going to help solve anything; only serve to push the majority liberal and moderate Muslim voices further into a dark and lonely corner. It will force them to stay silent because of the hostile environment we create, an environment that neither encourages debate nor facilitates dialogue. If we continue to alienate all Muslims like this, then we will be allowing the terrorists to win because their ultimate goal is to divide us through fear, and make it a clash between Islam and the West.

This is not about being a Muslim apologist or trying to be politically correct; it is about finding overt ways to support the majority, who are peace loving, believe in the right for all religions to co-exist, and who want more democracy in their nations. If we can do this, then we will begin to offer Islam’s many free thinkers and liberal-minded scholars the security and support to come forward and start a very important debate and dialogue within the Muslim world; one that will help Islam find its separation between Mosque and State for the twenty-first century.