On Bombs, Beheadings and Plastic Altars

It’s hardly news that the West effectively created Isis. Our crusades to bring democracy to those who didn’t want it; our hypocritical moral outrage at the violent excesses of dictators who learned from our violent excesses; our machinations to control global oil supply; our flooding of the region with weapons. Isis were born of our actions. Well done Tony and George, good skills. Thanks.

In the safety of our Magnet kitchens and our Ikea lounges we are mildly revolted. Not by the crucifixions of innocent people or even the rape of women who are married to men who hold different beliefs to the black-clad fighters. These facts barely register in the collective consciousness of our media. What we are really horrified about are the killings of two western journalists, the British man who committed the acts and, by extension, the so-called foreign fighters from our own countries who have gone to fight and may come back with a taste for blood and ambitions to claim a few virgins in the afterlife. Our outrage at these acts is, of course, entirely justified. Beheading people is just a bit, well it’s just too violent, old boy, isn’t it?

Any more violent than a soulless, mechanised warrior dropping a bomb on a wedding because someone heard that a ‘target’ (not a tried and convicted criminal) might be there?

Any more than selling weapons to a regime, Saudi Arabia, who have themselves beheaded more than fifty people already this year?

Any more than supporting a country that starves and imprisons another people while it illegally grabs their land on the moral basis of a not very good book written three thousand years ago?

Why is it that we find the idea of our citizens going to fight so offensive? In the West we can’t ever fully understand the physical place that the Arab jihadis come from and so we cannot begin to understand their hopes, hatreds and fears. We see them as strangely barbaric, willing to kill one another over bent ideologies; which, of course, in the West we don’t… But we do understand the roots of the foreign fighters because they are our own. These men went to our schools, our universities, they shopped in the same temples of consumerism that we do; their minds were warped by the same adverts as ours were. It is this familiarity that frightens us.

Personally, I feel an itch in my head that I can’t scratch. My itch tells me that I am more than a consumer, a number, a splinter of a demographic. My life should mean more than my ability to earn, buy, waste, replace. Others feel that itch too, that deep seated synaptic twitch. They try to scratch it with music, or money or drugs; or even religion. Science promised to free us from the shackles imposed by the gods that we once needed to explain the world. But science gave us gadgets, toys and status symbols along with enlightenment. Our latter day worship at the plastic altar has pissed petrol on the smouldering embers of racial tension, social disparity and good old fashioned youthful angst. Because let’s not forget; young men love a banner. From the medieval crusades, to the hundred year war, to, dare I say it, world war 1 and the sequel. Young men love to go and fight; give them a higher purpose and all’s the better. When mixing these elements together in a diabolical melting pot is it any surprise that disaffected young Muslim men from our country would want to go and fight in someone else’s war?

The sadistic violence that Isis and others like them have committed should be rightfully condemned by the world. But their twisted ideology springs not from what is a peaceful religion but anger and hate as a response to injustice, greed and social inequality. I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on the argument for or against the use of force against these people. I do know that if they are not stopped they will keep killing but I also believe that the use of violence can only begat more violence. But however we in the West handle this latest crisis in the sad story of modern Middle Eastern history, I hope that once the dust settles again we can look at ourselves and how we can create a society where we address the problems of the part as that of the whole. Ultimately we share the responsibility for creating Isis and so our role in defeating them needs to be about more than yet more violence.