To the Editor:
I write this on the day that thousands, representatives mainly of western countries but also some from elsewhere in the world, including the Middle East, have gathered in Paris to express anger at and to condemn the recent killings of French citizens by radical Muslim terrorists.
That is right and proper. Political murder is detestable, whatever its alleged excuses or apparent motives. When perpetrated to the extent of the events in France it deserves the kind of response that has been demonstrated today and in the past week or so.
Yet I have heard very little about one aspect of this issue that I think we in the western world ignore at our peril if we hope ever to stop this brand of murder or at least reduce it to a minimum.
Radicalism on the part of those who kill in the name of Allah can be attributed to a number of factors. The schism between Sunnis and Shiites, widespread poverty throughout much of the Middle East, and the West’s establishment and continued support of Israel in land long occupied by Arabs are three of the most obvious. However, the Israeli matter, important though it is in itself, is also representative of an even more basic factor.
At least ever since the end of the First World War — perhaps even earlier if you consider the exploitation of its oil reserves — the West has treated the Middle East as vassal territory. It divided up the area (most of which had been under Turkish rule) into tin-pot dictatorships dependant on Britain or France.
This was done with little concern for differences among the people who lived in the area or, even more importantly, for their well-being. Most of these people were left without a decent standard of living, without political power — and without hope. All that has changed since is that the rulers of these countries have become largely independent.
Is it any wonder that young people of the area, having been given by modern communications technology a glimpse of how westerners live, have become radicalized, not only in political terms but also with respect to the religious faith that, in essence, has helped to keep them in order?
We in the West must, I think, recognize that the sins of our fathers are coming home to roost. We must understand that if Muslim radicalism is to be countered with any success we must treat it not with bombs that kill more than the terrorists do but with whatever conciliatory and remedial measures we can employ.
It won’t be easy and it will take a long time to show positive results, but it is the only way that holds any hope and that recognizes our common humanity.