Islamic Terrorism: Product of Religion or the Western World

You’re on your way to the airport to catch a flight for business, and your subway car just arrives at the platform. Or maybe you’re standing in line, talking to people around you, texting, as you wait for your turn at the airport check-in counter. Suddenly there’s a sound, and your vision goes black. You wake up to find yourself on the ground, ten feet away from where you were previously standing. People around you start to stir and make for the exit amid the rubble and chaos.

Your shoe’s missing, and so is your bag; you’re bleeding, and yet you feel nothing. Imagine experiencing the terrorist attack at the Brussels International Airport on March 22 where over 30 people were killed and 300 were injured (NPR 1). “I’m very lucky,” said Mason Wells, a teenager who survived the attack. “I know there were some that were not as lucky as I was.” The islamic militant group ISIS claimed responsibility for this most recent attack, which occurred while Europe was still recovering from the terrorist attacks in Paris back in November.

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In the wake of the attacks, many people were left wondering why they were launched in an act of terror against the West, the answer to which is quite complicated. Although there are a multitude of reasons for extremist muslims in the Middle East to despise the West, their hatred is greatly linked to the region’s current state of chaos, the cause of which can be traced back through history to arguably two distinct issues: 1) In the early nineteen hundreds, major European powers had hidden agendas while making under the table deals with Arab leaders, and 2) Deeply rooted beliefs in the Islamic religion clashed with beliefs of the western world, as well as with a portion of those practicing the religion, causing a great divide in Islam. Early 20th Century Palestine Conflict in the Middle East arose in the early 20th century when a growing number of Jews were immigrating to the region known as “the Holy Land” in an attempt to escape anti-semitism in Europe. As a result, however, tensions increased in this region (known as Palestine, which then included Israel, and what are today known as the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank). During World War I, Great Britain convinced various Arab leaders to revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which happened to be allied with Germany, and in return promised the creation of an Arab state independent of the Ottomans.

At the same time, almost in contradiction to the deal they made with the Arabs, Great Britain gave the Jews their support in the establishment of a Jewish nation in the same region. To further add to the conflict, Europe had agreed to “carve-up” the fallen Ottoman Empire and divide control of the region amongst themselves. After World War II, the Palestinian region was split into two states by the newly formed United Nations, and the majority of the land was awarded to the Jewish minority. The Arab states, believing that their homeland was given away to the Jewish immigrants, were of course angered by the decision, and rejected the formation of Israel, as well as what was known as the partition of Palestine. As a result, the Middle East would become a war zone for the remainder of the century. Based on what has been so far described as the cause of the conflict in the Middle East, it’s easy to assume that the Western World is to blame; however, Europe is not entirely responsible for the downfall of that region.

You see, although the colonization of Palestine promoted instability, muslims in the Middle East had already been fighting amongst themselves for centuries as the result of a divide between the people of the Islamic religion. The Sunni-Shia Divide The founder of Islam was a man recognized as the prophet Muhammad by the muslim community. In 610, he introduced a new monotheistic religion (belief that there is only one god) in Mecca that would eventually be adopted by people throughout Arabia during his reign. However, following his death in 632, there was argument over who would succeed Muhammad as the leader, or caliph, of Islam. The group of people who believed that the only true leader could come through Muhammad’s bloodline would later be known as Shiites or Shias. Those who opposed succession by blood and instead believed that leadership should be awarded to qualified individuals would be recognized as Sunnis.

After several leaders who were not part of Muhammad’s bloodline served as the caliph, Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was elected to be the next leader of Islam, but was killed by a Sunni after only five years of service. Following Ali’s assassination, the caliphate was passed on to the Umayyad dynasty, and it was during this reign that Husayn, Ali’s son, was also killed along with several of his companions during a massacre facilitated to promote further persecution of Shiites. The assassinations of their prominent figures became a defining point of Shias victimized image; in fact, as the minority group in the Islamic religion, Shiites account for only 15% of the 1.6 billion muslims worldwide, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, Sunnis and Shiites continue to fight with each other, however, the chaos that terrorist groups have caused in the Middle East may have actually brought them together to fight a common enemy for the first time in centuries.

Modern Unity Over the years, Sunni and Shiite leaders have occasionally come out and said that they will unite the two sects in order to face a common enemy (referring to the West, more specifically Israel and the U.S.). However, more recently, after years of “religious sectarianism”, thousands of Iraqi muslims, both Sunni and Shia, have come together to protest their country’s current state of division. In fact, it is ISIS that may actually unite the two branches of Islam, because what Sunnis and Shias despise more than each other are the extremists that have destroyed their countries. The Islamic State has taken over the homeland of countless muslims and its power has reached far beyond the Middle East and into the West where fear and hatred of terrorists and muslims alike continues to grow.

Separate Shiite militias and Sunni tribes have been established to fight ISIS. The U.S. and European countries have sent troops to stabilize conditions in the region. However, in the end, it all comes down to creating and sustaining unity among Sunnis, Shias, and the West if the world is to have a fighting chance against terrorism.