Historical roots behind anti-Western rhetoric: A focus on the Middle East

If we look at our current political environment, we see that the main conflicts going on are in non-Western parts of the world, especially in Arab states. Relations between the West and the Middle East have been getting increasingly complicated over the past years and have gotten to a dangerously low point.  It is important to have a solid understanding as to why these two civilizations have the opinions they do about each other and what could happen if these relations keep deteriorating at the pace they have been.

To properly understand the current conflicts going on in the Middle East among several ethnic groups and the hate towards the West, it’s important to go back to May, 1916. It was then that the Sykes-Picot agreement was established; a secret deal between France and Britain to divide most of the Ottoman Empire among themselves. They promised the Arabs a united Arab rule, one nation, but instead they divided the Empire as they pleased. They did so with no regard for ethnic group, knowing that this would cause conflicts, and knowing that the only way these countries could be controlled would be by authoritarian regimes and thus eliminating the entire Arab empire as a threat to Western dominance. Consequently, the Arab people felt betrayed by Western powers and began they began seeing the West in a more negative light. To illustrate how this broken promise has not been forgotten; one of the first videos that ISIS published was one in which they denounced the Sykes-Picot agreement, expressing their anger towards the West for dividing their people and fueling their longing for one ‘caliphate’, but I will come back to this later. For now, let’s examine some specific countries that make up the Middle East.

A good example to start with is that of Iran. In 1953, the CIA overthrew the government of Mohammad Mosaddeq in order to put the Shah in power, who was friendlier to Western interests. At that time, the Iranian citizens were not a united people and the country was split between pro-modern political leaders and more traditional, Islamic leaders. The Shah was seen by the U.S as someone who could bring order to Iran and who could introduce the country to Western ways. However, the American-backed Iranian government didn’t do this in a peaceful way. Anyone who would oppose the regime would either be killed or imprisoned by the Savak, the Iranian secret police. The choice was clear: either you accept that your country will be Westernized and modernized or you get put away. This didn’t end well because of a group of extremely devoted Shia Muslims, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. He ultimately led the country to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, overthrew the Shah, and formed the Islamic Republic of Iran; one which was strongly against Western values and ways of life. The American coup in Iran really put a dent in Islamic-Western relations and has since never fully recovered. The Iranian people have not forgotten the Western threat they faced on their culture, customs and identity. Even now with the Iran deal, many Republicans worry that  Iran has been given a chance to redeem their influential power in the Middle East and that they could take advantage of this situation and betray the U.S in the future. After all, Iranian hostility towards the West has grown the past few years due to the harsh sanctions that were imposed.

Another reason why many Arabs have hostile feelings towards the West is because of the American favoritism for Israel. Israel has been America’s most important ally in the Middle East since 1967.  The U.S is known to protect Israeli interests in the political field, to send economic and military aid, and to use them as their stronghold in the Middle East. America’s number one foreign aid recipient is Israel and many Arabs see this as an American effort to strengthen Israel’s economy and as helping to fund Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian and Arab territories. The Western support for Israel has also played a big part in the uprising of the terrorist group Hamas, a Palestinian group established around 1988 who want to establish an Islamic State in place of Israel. However, things really got bad three years later.

In 1991, the U.S led a massive air offensive against Iraq because Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and declared a holy war against the West and even offered to evacuate Kuwait in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied buying tetracycline online Arab territories. In their book, William Cleveland and Michael Burton explain the devastating consequences that the Gulf War had in the region, especially in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Large damage was done to the infrastructure of Iraq and Kuwait, economies suffered because of the bombing of oil wells, a massive refugee crisis occurred when Arab states chose a side to support, and Saudi Arabia lost credibility because they chose to work with the West. However, the problems back then were still quite far from home and did not have major and direct impacts on our lives.

The first major attacks on actual Western soil started with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, followed by the September 11 attacks on the Twin towers in New York, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, then the 2005 London bombings; these were the first major attacks by Islamic terrorist organizations specifically going after the West in Western countries. After 9/11 the U.S publicly declared a war on terror, but many saw this as a war against Islam and Islamic civilizations. The U.S responded by invading Iraq in 2003. They overthrew Saddam Hussein which resulted in a power vacuum and a country in complete chaos.

One of the biggest consequences of the Iraq War was that it strongly deepened the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. After Saddam Hussein was overthrown, the government switched from being a Sunni government to a more Shia dominated one. Cleveland and Burton go on to explain how Iran then supported the Shia movement which in turn made Sunni Arabs quite angry and uncomfortable. Sunni Muslims saw not only Iran as an enemy, but especially the West, because they were the ones who took away their power in Iraq. The reason why all of this is important is because out of that mess a group of radical Sunnis started to gather under Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of what we now call ISIS.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has now become the terrorist group that poses a real threat for the West. They have changed the rules of terrorism and adapted their methods of operation by using modern technologies. They have proven to be very effective at using social media to recruit fighters from all around the world, yet even though they use Western technology to benefit themselves, that absolutely doesn’t mean that they support Western culture or views. ISIS has found a very effective way of using technology together with cultural values and religious views to attract people who feel as though they do not belong in Western society, or that the West has let them down in some way. The Islamic State has proven that they are not only capable of committing terrible acts of violence in their region, but also in our countries. The attacks in Paris made many people realize that ISIS is a big threat to us as they continue to spread their ideologies across borders and continue to plan, and sometimes carry out, attacks in Western countries. 

As mentioned before, ISIS wants to create one (Sunni) Islamic State and they have publicly expressed that there is no place for anyone in their state who does not abide to the sharia (Islamic) law and who does not share their exact same religious and cultural views. They have not hesitated in taking in hostages and publicly declaring war on the West. We see that many of those who become radicalized have specific opinions on the West because of events that have taken place in the past and which they see as an injustice to their people. Of course, there are many Muslims all over the world who do not hate the West and who have nothing against our views or religion, but we don’t have to worry about them. We have to focus on those who have the most violent and evil intentions towards us because they pose the biggest threat to our national security. Now more than ever, Western countries have to work together and come up with a viable and effective strategy to combat Islamic terrorism because it poses a threat to each of our countries. Western countries combined have the best economic, military, and intelligence resources anywhere in the world and these resources should be taken advantage of, because we already know that our enemies do use their resources carefully and strategically and, as a result, have been causing much harm to thousands of innocent people.

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Gabriela Bernal 24 Articles
Gabriela Bernal is interested in politics, international relations, and terrorism. She is pursuing a degree in political science and plans on pursuing her postgraduate studies in the U.K. She likes to write, read, play tennis, travel, and learn new languages.

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