The twenty-first century has brought with it changes to nearly every facet of human life. Technology has advanced at an unprecedented rate, information is more widely available than ever before, and the quality of human life has improved for most of the world. Despite all of the good things that have come out of the last decade and a half, this period of time is at risk of being remembered not for all of the problems that were solved, but for the issues that have spiraled out of control. Since September 11th, 2001, terrorism has grown from a relatively small issue, into a major worldwide threat. In order to combat this threat, many nations have joined the United States in the “Global War on Terror”. Despite this initiative, terrorism is a more prevalent issue than ever before. According to a 2015 report from the Global-Terrorism Index (GTI)the rate of terrorism rose by 80% in 2014, reaching the highest level ever recorded. Not only has terrorism increased in frequency, it has also grown in scope. The same study also found that more countries than ever before are experiencing high levels of terrorism. According to the GTI: “Countries suffering from more than 500 deaths increased by 120 per cent. In 2014, 11 countries had over 500 deaths while in 2013 only five did. Countries suffering from more than 500 deaths increased by 120 per cent. In 2014, 11 countries had over 500 deaths while in 2013 only five did.”
The War on Terror began with the Invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Initially, these invasions and the increased national security measures domestically seemed to be effective tactics. Although some reporters, scholars, and politicians expressed their uncertainties about the future consequences of these policies, they did successfully degrade Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and even succeeded in removing the Saddam regime from power in Iraq. In addition to the early successes of the War on Terror, arguably the most celebrated “victory” of this war occurred in 2011 when the United States special-forces team known as “Seal Team Six” killed Osama Bin-Laden during a covert operation in Pakistan. Unfortunately this perceived victory was short lived. Only three years later ISIS emerged and began taking over large areas of Iraq and Syria. While there are many different theories as to what led to the rise of the Islamic State, one of the most prevalent theories is that it is a result of the United States’ intervention in the Middle-East. Particularly,the invasion of Iraq and the incidents that took place at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq to remove Saddam from power they managed to destabilize the region, creating an ideal environment for the Islamic State to form. As U.S forces invaded Iraq they created chaos, caused many civilian casualties, and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. This resulted in many Iraqi civilians who were not already terrorists, becoming terrorists. Not only was a vast portion of the population left homeless and jobless due to the decimation of their country’s infrastructure, many Iraqi citizens had members of their family and friends that were either killed or wounded during a United States’ airstrike. These events lend support the argument that the disenfranchisement experienced by many Iraqi citizens due to the United States invasion has played a significant role in the decisions of many Iraqi’s to turn to the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. This argument appears to be even more valid when one takes into account the facts that the majority of the Islamic State’s recruits are poor, uneducated young men, who feel that they have been marginalized and cut out of the political process by their Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s regime, which many believe was installed by the West. (Source).
The potential effects of a destroyed infrastructure on a population have been known since the end of WWII. One of the main theories as to why Hitler and the Nazi party were able to rise to power in Germany was that the population was distressed due to the destruction of their infrastructure, and the crippling post-war conditions placed on Germany after its defeat in the First World War. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d.). While there is strong evidence in support of the argument that destroying a country’s infrastructure leads to the disenfranchisement of the population and higher rates of extremism, there is also evidence that military intervention itself has led to acute increases in terrorism. A very recent example of the effects of airstrikes on terrorist recruitment is shown by the fact that the Islamic State’s recruitment rate dramatically increased after the recent rounds of U.S. led airstrikes in Syria. This event shows that even in the short-term, using military tactics to take out terrorist may actually create more terrorist that they eliminate (Reuters, 2014).
In addition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, leaked videos and pictures of U.S. troops abusing Muslims have gained the Islamic State supporters from all over the world. It has been reported that many individuals from all over the world have been flocking to the Middle East to join the Islamic State. Even though these individuals were not directly affected by the war, they were angered by the images of dead civilians and children left behind after some U.S. airstrikes. In addition to the offensive images coming from the battlefield, images from prisons such as Gitmo showed U.S. soldiers abusing Muslim prisoners. As Mark Banner said, “nothing like the Islamic State existed before the U.S. involvement in Iraq.” (VICE)
Now, the point of this article is not to scare you; but rather to start a discussion of realistic solutions. One of the first solutions that many of you would likely suggest is military action. The presidential candidates have suggested everything from carpet bombing cities, to arming militia groups in the area, and some have even suggested putting U.S. troops on the ground throughout the Middle-East. While in theory it makes sense that killing suspected terrorists would be a pretty effective way of getting rid of them, the reality is not that simple. The unfortunate truth is that this is an extremely complicated issue with no easy solution. That being said, if there is one thing that can be taken from the events in the Middle-East so far, it is that violence only begets violence. It may be necessary t0 use military force as part of the solution to terrorism, but it will never be able to fix the root of the problem. Until the world addresses the underlying societal factors that are causing individuals to turn to terrorism, the problem will only continue to get worse.
Contributed by F.B.