Here in Brussels, only 11/2 hours from Paris, and home to NATO HQ and the EU parliament, the sense of outrage and fear is palpable. Police have begun raiding homes and making arrests in the Moroccan quarter here as discoveries at the scene of the atrocities in Paris increasingly indicate that the terrorists may have come from a ISIS cell operating from Brussels.
Eye witnesses to the massacre say they saw the attackers emerging from cars with Belgian number plates outside the concert venue and elsewhere. A parking ticket found on a car rented in Belgian outside the scene was issued in the Moroccan district of Brussels. Border controls between France and Belgium were immediately imposed and soon after another car used in the Paris attack was stopped at the Belgian border and its occupants were arrested.
When I went to a major shopping mall here at midday Saturday the place was half empty. People are avoiding public places. I phoned with my ex-wife to advise her not to go to the center of town with my daughter, in case of a copycat attack, but she'd already decided not to go. I fear for my 12 year old daughter's safety, as she travels to school across Brussels in the metro each day with her friends. The terrorist bus bombings in London in 2005 and the 2004 attack on commuter trains in Madrid shows how easy a target public transport could be. The terrorist who opened fire on a high speed train traveling through Belgium on route from Paris to Amsterdam in August also lived in Brussels.
Everyone feels it's just a matter of time here until Belgium is also hit by a major terrorist attack. Moreover, my daughter is half Arabic and I worry that she could be the target of a racist backlash. Her mother already says that she has faced more and more racism recently, even before Friday's attack.
99.9% of the huge Arab community here and in France are disgusted by events. Many have told me that they wanted to vomit when they saw the pictures coming in on TV. Everyone says these people don't represent them and that ISIS (Daesh) has nothing to do with the genuine ideas of the Muslim faith.
What infuriates people most is that the victims were just innocent, defenseless people having some fun on a Friday night – youth enjoying a pop concert, people watching a soccer match, others snacking at a McDonald’s or ordinary people enjoying a drink on the terrace of a Paris bar. And yet Daesh calls these barbaric assassins heroes. They didn't even have the courage to attack an army barracks or a police station, but, instead, they just mowed down helpless individuals, in what was little more than a turkey shoot.
In moments like this, there is a danger that our outrage can let us get caught up in a wave of jingoism and racism. A thirst for revenge against these maniacs can lead us into supporting further pointless attacks by Imperialism against Muslim nations, when, instead, we need to understand what lies behind it, in order to put an end to it once and for all. The Daesh terrorists are evil, barbaric sadists, but knowing that isn't enough if we want to defeat them.
In truth, terrorism is a disease spread by the rotting carcass of capitalism. A combination of factors has led to its rise in recent times. The conditions were first created by the disintegration of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and its futile attempts to quash the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The US secretly funded and equipped the mujahideen, including the Al Qaeda units, in order to fight the Russians and actually helped them become a major military and political force. Then, following the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, the fundamentalists around the Taliban and Al Qaeda came to be seen as freedom fighters for many in the Muslim world.
Before the collapse of Stalinism, the anti-Imperialist movement in the Middle East had been left-wing and socialist in character, but once the Soviet Union no longer offered a credible alternative to Imperialism, an ideological vacuum opened up, which was filled by the reactionary forces of Islamic fundamentalism. Its leader, Osama bin Laden came to be looked on as a sort of “Islamic Che Guevara” by many Muslim youth.
But what really accelerated the rise of Islamic fundamentalism was the US-led wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Along with other dictators in the Middle East – like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt – Saddam Hussein was a former US ally, who they supported when he went to war against Iran in the 1980s. However, Hussein stepped out of line when he invaded Kuwait in 1990, provoking the first Gulf War. In the yes of the Western powers, he became a maverick out of the control and capable of disrupting Gulf oil supplies and possibly plunging the world economy into crisis. Hussein was seen as a direct threat to the financial interests of Western oil companies who were making billions of dollars a day in the region. Moreover, Western oil companies were infuriated by the fact that they were blocked from exploiting Iraq's own oil resources – the third biggest in the world – because its oil industry had been nationalized by Hussein.
Then, the horrendous 9/11 attacks in the US suddenly gave US Imperialism the possibility to capture control of Iraq's enormously profitable resources. The Bush administration seized the opportunity to move against Iraq. Despite the fact that Hussein's secular regime considered Islamic fundamentalism to be its sworn enemy, Bush and Blair manipulated the situation to cast Hussein as the demon ultimately responsible for the 9/11 atrocities. The US government needed a bogeyman to carry the blame for the terrorist attacks, and Hussein looked to be the perfect fall-guy – an obscure figure most people wouldn't know wasn't linked to Al Qaeda, and a dictator against whom they could portray themselves as champions of democracy. Al Qaeda wasn't an enemy which could be easily singled out for retribution. Its underground terrorist cells were ghost armies which could not be destroyed with any visible consequences. But Hussein's regime, on the other hand, was something concrete, which could be set up as a target for revenge. So, they fabricated false intelligence about Hussein having weapons of mass destruction and engineered a massive cover up of their real aims, which were to control the magnificent wealth of the Iraqi oil fields.
It is true that the majority of Iraqis wanted to see Hussein overthrown, but the so-called “victory of Western democracy” was a complete disaster for Iraq. Although the country hadn't been rich beforehand, it certainly had a far higher living standard than that which followed the US invasion. Iraq was devastated by the war. Its economy was ruined and its entire infrastructure was destroyed. The country never recovered. Consequently, it slid toward disintegration. Once the US had installed a Shiite government in Baghdad, Iraq imploded into a sectarian civil war between Shiites and Sunnis which killed up to a million people.
In these conditions, the idea of “Western democracy” and the role of Western Imperialism became became utterly discredited in the eyes of many. In the absence of any socialist alternative, sections of youth, peasants, and some workers, were attracted by the idea of creating of an Islamic state as an alternative to capitalism and as a means to achieve freedom from foreign domination.
The bankruptcy of capitalism in the Middle East laid the basis of the derailment of the Syrian revolution as well. For a revolutionary movement to succeed it needs to have an ideology which inspires its fighters and the population who support them. When people rise up they want a complete transformation of society. But the experience of capitalism in the Middle East offered no inspiration to those trying to overthrow Assad's dictatorship. Fighting for “Western democracy” was an empty idea which had shown itself to be a total failure in neighboring Iraq. Without a political programme to transform society along socialist lines and unite all the peoples and religious minorities in the region, the revolution shattered along the ancient fault lines of sectarian divisions between different ethnic and religious groups. Into the vacuum, entered Daesh, which conquered huge swaths of territory – not because they had the support of the majority of people – but because the people had nothing else to support.
The vast majority of Arab people in the occupied areas don't support Daesh. But Daesh doesn't survive only because of its regime of terror, such as stonings, beheadings and crucifixions, it is able to sustain a certain level of support among some of the population because of the effects of the continuing attacks by Western forces, which have caused considerable collateral damage.
Much has been made this week of the apparent success of a drone missile hit which killed the notorious Daesh executioner “Jihadi John”. Nobody will mourn the death of this sadistic murderer, but the idea that his execution or other attacks are pinpoint accuracy is ridiculous. Jihadi John was eviscerated getting into a car at the central clock tower in Raqqa. Three drones were involved, one of which hit their target. No one is saying how many others died, but it most probably led to the killing of some innocent by-standers.
US, UK and French, as well as Russian airstrikes, have frequently destroyed schools and hospitals. A new report claims that a total of 52 air strikes in Syria, have caused at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including more than 100 children. The US claims only two non-combatant deaths. The outpouring of grief for Parisians is understood, but the destruction and body count pales when compared to the mass murder inflicted on the Arab population of the Middle East by the US and western imperialism. It is this state terror on a mass scale that has given birth to the likes of ISIS.
This infuriates many local people. You only have to imagine how mad you would feel if a neighbor's house, or the school your child went to, or the local hospital was hit by a rocket from an Arab air force jet, to understand why such outrage leads to passive or pro-active support for Daesh. Reprisals such as the Paris attack can get some support in such conditions.
France has become a specific target for the terrorists because of the role it has played in air strikes in Syria. It was the first European country to begin joint bombing activities in Syria alongside the US. French forces have targeted Daesh training camps and oil distribution points to undermine their human and financial resources. It is sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and has fighter jets carrying out attacks from bases in the Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. French special forces have also been active hunting down fundamentalists across North and West Africa in the recent period.
However, try as they may, terrorist attacks like that in Paris can never defeat Western Imperialism. On a military basis it is impossible. Hitler's air force terrorized Britain in the 2nd World War and was able to destroy half of London and flatten the entire industrial city of Coventry, but it failed to succeed. Terrorist attacks which kill a few hundred people wont bring Western Imperialism to its knees, and the lunatics in Daesh, who believe they will raise an Islamic army to conquer the West and convert everyone to Islam are out of their minds. The more terrorist attacks they make, the more people will support their governments and applaud any decisions to counter-attack Arab targets. Their attacks will strengthen, not weaken reactionary policies by regimes in the West.
But rather than acting as a deterrent, the attacks by the West also play the role of an incentive for Daesh to launch terrorist attacks on the West. This is a loose-loose situation in which the military offensive by Western forces cannot defeat Daesh and the terrorism of Daesh can never win against Imperialism.
It will not be possible for the US to prevent similar attacks like this one in Paris from occurring elsewhere and on US soil in the future. The idea that one can wage war on “Terrorism” is ludicrous. Terrorism is a tactic. The horror that innocent Parisians have experienced the last week occurs on a daily basis throughout the Middle East.
Furthermore, Western capitalism helps to facilitate these attacks in their own countries, through the marginalization of the Algerian and Moroccan minorities in Northern Europe. The large Arab communities in countries like France and Belgium face terrible racism and economic hardship, and that creates a constant supply of desperate, angry and disillusioned youth who sympathize with Daesh and help it, or participate in, its terrorist attacks.
In situations like this, it is easy to get swept away by emotions and look for quick solutions and support violent retribution against the perpetrators by the state forces. But not only will that not work, it also gives the ruling class the opportunity to introduce sweeping powers which can be used against the labour movement in the future, such as mobilizing the army to crush anti-government protests and imprisoning labour leaders.
While it may seem vague and abstract to counterpoise socialism as the solution, it is the only truly, concrete way out. If you want to stop terrorism from spreading, the only way is to dig the weed up by the roots. The only force which has so far been able to marginalize the likes of Al Qaeda and Daesh was the massive movement of the working class in Tunisia and Egypt. When the Arab Revolution began the fundamentalists played absolutely no role in the overthrow of the hated dictatorships. The masses ignored them. The dominant role of working class in those revolutions left Daesh and Al Qaeda impotent, without any means to intervene or influence events.
Moreover, Daesh has never been able to stop Imperialist aggression in the Middle East. But, on the other hand, the revolutionary movement of the masses in Tunisia and Egypt was able to paralyze Imperialism, leaving it helpless to intervene, while its stooge dictators like Mubarak and Ben Ali were deposed.
However, when the revolutions didn't lead to the a socialist transformation of society, Daesh was able to intervene in countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya, where the working class was weakest and had played the least role in events. The blind alley of capitalism caused those countries to disintegrate into anarchy and civil war, and this provided a fertile ground for fundamentalism. Conversely, where the weight of the working class in society has been stronger, such as in Tunisia and Egypt, Daesh has only been able to get a grip in poor rural areas, such as among the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai desert.
The vast majority of Muslims want to see Daesh defeated, but they are not about to go marching in the streets waving flags for capitalism and Western Imperialism. The key issue will be to organize and strengthen the workers' movement in the Middle East, as the only force which can offer an alternative to Daesh. The international socialist movement has a duty to support working people in these countries in their efforts to form strong trade unions and independent workers' parties. It's only the labour movement in the Middle East which can create the unity among workers of different religious and ethnic backgrounds needed to undercut sectarianism. And it is only a socialist leadership of such a labour movement which would be able to offer an alternative ideology and a vision of a new society, which could challenge the reactionary, theocratic ideas of Daesh.
If the gigantic riches of the Gulf oil states were taken over by socialist governments in the Middle East, and the resources of the region were harnessed in a democratically planned economy, the Arab countries could be transformed into a paradise for working people. And, the same is true for the West. The introduction of a democratic socialist system internationally would wipe away Imperialist exploitation of the Middle East's oil resources and destroy the seeds of terrorism. The peoples of the Arab world could live free from constant aggression by Western Imperialism, while people in the West could live free from the fear of the indiscriminate violence by right-wing Islamic terrorists.