An upsurge in social media Islamophobia has now become routine in the aftermath of a terror attack in the West. Yesterday’s attacks in Belgium were no exception to this rule. Without making excuses for this increasingly popular display of racism, let’s first be sympathetic to the genuine confusion people are feeling. Terrorism is frightening. This is, after all, what it is intended to do – and its victims (all of us) are frightened and confused. Almost any city in Europe or the United States could be the next target of this terror campaign, and those wounded or killed could be our loved ones. Of course we are terrified and confused, and the fact that we are not being told the whole truth by our governments is adding to this toxic mixture of bewilderment and fear.
As our news outlets and elected representatives are keeping us all in the dark as to the true nature of what is going on around the world it is sadly inevitable that some will vent their frustrations on other innocent people – namely, Muslims. Regardless of the Muslim outcry against ISIS and all forms of Islamist terrorism and violence, Muslims in the West are still being singled out as somehow identified with those who would do us harm. It doesn’t help that the Western media is continuing to toy with this facile identification in order to keep the heat off those who are really responsible for the mess we find ourselves in – our own governments.
During the Cold War the Islamist rebels who would become Al Qaida were our friends, and we armed and trained them in unconventional warfare that they might act as our proxy in a war against the USSR. In Arab nations like Iraq and Libya Western governments assisted in toppling governments to install monstrous dictators who brutalised their own people on our behalf during the war games of that era. Western colonial exploitation of those countries, together with the savage treatment of their people under Western backed régimes, has now come back to haunt us with the fusion of nationalism, political Islamic extremism, and anti-colonialist ideologies of resistance. Just add to this powder keg the fact that we imposed the State of Israel on the region to help keep them in line and we’re closer to seeing the ferocity of the beast we have created.
Does this mean that the men who bombed Brussels are not to blame? No, not at all! What they did was cowardly, vicious, and barbaric, but their actions did not spring from a vacuum. Belgium (incidentally one of the world’s most horrific colonial adventurers) is only the latest twist in a long line of twists and turns in which Western policy towards the Middle East has resulted in an explosive backdraft. Blaming Muslims, refugees, and migrants in Europe for these terrible events is like blaming bread for the Great Fire of London. The truth is more uncomfortable, and the culprits are not such soft targets.