“It is [President Francois] Hollande’s fault, it is the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria,” one of the Paris attackers was reportedly heard as saying by a survivor at the Bataclan theater where dozens died Friday.
Heartbreaking images and accounts of survivors emerged from the French capital Friday as attacks took place in six different locations killing at least 120 people in what seems to be a major coordinated operation by extremists.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. The group said attacks were in response to French fighter jets “striking Muslims in the lands of the caliphate.”
Hollande declared the attacks an “act of war” against France by the extremist group. He vowed in his first statement following the attacks “to lead a war which will be pitiless” against the terrorists who carried out the attacks.
But was it really the French president's fault? Are his policies in the Middle East, Syria and Iraq along with other western nations partly to blame for the massacre in Paris?
Gunmen were heard shouting 'Allahu Akbar' but I did the same tonight, in my room, praying for those killed & their families #Paris— Ayisha Malik (@Ayisha_Malik) November 14, 201
As controversial as many might see it, those attacks in the French capital cannot be regarded as random or shocking considering the West's foreign policy in the Middle East. In less than 15 years, two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-sponsored “war on terror” have killed more than 1.3 million people, mostly civilians, according to a recent report.
Also, the West and its regional allies have been heavily involved in the crisis in Syria by supporting diverse opposition against President Bashar Assad, providing arms and weapons and logistical and financial support. Moreover, Muslims and Arabs have seen decades of continuing Western bias and support toward Israel in its conflict against the Palestinian people.
These issues should not be taken out of the context of those attacks, or others that have taken place in Europe and North America.
It was only a matter of time before these policies by the West and its allies in the region — such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who have been funding and training rebels in Syria, including extremists — eventually radicalized many in the region as well as those within the borders of Western nations.
In the case of France, the government has been largely involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria since their conceptions. France was the first country to call on President Bashar al-Assad to step down four years ago, just a few months after unrest broke out in the Middle Eastern country.
Although France only began its first airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria about five weeks ago, it has verbally opposing Assad for years. In Iraq, Paris has participated in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group since the beginning of operations in September 2014.
Earlier this week, French warplanes attacked Syrian oil and gas facilities under the control of the Islamic State group, describing it as an effort to destroy the group's infrastructure and undermine its financial resources.
France is also striking directly at Islamic State group personnel and training facilities. For example, on Oct. 8 its fighter jets attacked a training camp in Raqqa, the group's stronghold in the northeastern Syria. It was believed to house foreign fighters, including French nationals.
Hollande said last week’s operations would be expanded to include “all those sites from which terrorists could threaten our territory.” The president also said France would deploy its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf “to boost operations against IS (the Islamic State group) in Syria and Iraq.”
In August 2014, the president also admitted to arming moderate Syrian rebels. This is despite the fact that intelligence reports and experts on the Syrian conflicts say many of those rebels end up joining more radical groups for financial reasons or simply give up on fighting out of fear of being captured by the Islamic State group or others.
Some might argue that such attacks against the group are needed in order to counter their ideology and their influence in the country and the region, as they now have affiliate groups in Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
However, one thing should be kept in mind when tackling the issue of the Islamic State group: The war in Iraq and the Western-supported chaos in Syria have largely been the main driver behind the rise of the group.
The Islamic State group has simply taken advantage of the security gaps in Iraq and Syria to grow and expand. In June 2014, the group took advantage of a weak army and local security forces, and siezed Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, where Iraqi army and police were reportedly abandoning their posts and taking off their uniforms.
What the West is failing to understand is that the Islamic State group, which seems powerful, is using sympathizers in the region and in the Western countries to do its dirty work.
The French news agency AFP reported Saturday that one of the perpetrators of the attack at the Bataclan had been formally identified: he is 29 years old, and was born in Courcouronnes (Essonne), one of Paris’s low-income suburbs.
He was convicted eight times for minor offenses between 2004 and 2010, but had “never been incarcerated," Paris Prosecutor
Francois Molins said on Saturday.
The profile seems to fit that of a young man who suffered from the country’s domestic problems and was vulnerable to the group’s brilliant propaganda that promises a higher purpose and heavenly award.
The group isalso capitalizing on centuries-old anti-Western sentiment within the Arab and Muslim communities around the world. This sentiment has only been exaggerated by the Syrian conflict and by the Western imperialist tendencies that often translate into a paternalistic “we know what is best for you” attitude.
The point is that instead of maintaining the chaos in Syria, and further feeding the propaganda of the extremist groups in Syria and Iraq with bombs and airstrikes, the international community and its powerful Western leaders should refrain from getting involved in conflicts in the Middle East and push for a peaceful resolution that would see parties of conflicts sitting at the negotiating table.
This war on terror is just not working. The number of terror attacks worldwide has increased by a stunning 6,500 percent since 2002, according to a new analysis by Reader Supported News. The number of casualties resulting from terror attacks has increased by 4,500 percent over this same time period.
“These colossal upsurges in terror took place despite a decade-long, worldwide effort to fight terrorism that has been led by the United States,” independent journalist and analyst Paul Gottinger recently wrote.
In Syria, the French government has not been the best champion of a peaceful resolution. In fact the French, like the Turks, have maintained that Assad could not be part of the negotiations over a transitional government, even as its allies — namely the U.S. and the United Kingdom — have signaled that maybe the Syrian president could be part of the solution.
Hearing from US Muslim orgs & ppl. They condemn Paris and other attacks; so worried about backlash & hate crimes. Let's not do that, America— Hina Shamsi (@HinaShamsi) November 14, 201
France has now closed its borders and deployed 1,500 troops to the streets of France as part of a state of emergency, the first since 1945. Hollande said his country cannot let people come into the country to carry out such attacks. He was referring to the possibility of the attackers coming into the country disguised as refugees.
Will the French government rethink its involvement in Syria? It seems not.
“The first thing you have to do when you're facing terrorist actions is to show this will have absolutely no impact on your policies,” Remi Piet, an assistant professor of international affairs at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera Saturday. “The French position has always been that the first thing that should happen is for President Assad to step down. I don't think anything will change.”
In a recent column, Juan Cole, author and professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, said that the attacks might “have stiffened the resolve of the French government to intervene even more robustly” against the Islamic State group.
OPINION: A 'Muslim Issue' Made in France?
One day before the Paris attacks, there was another Syrian conflict-related attack in the Lebanese capital Beirut, where more than 40 people were killed. The Islamic State group is suspected to be behind that attack as well.
While France mourns the killings in Paris and the world voices support and anger over the attacks, the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere continue to take the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. At the end of day, however, the extremism and imperialist behavior of certain governments — as well as that of groups, like the Islamic State and al-Qaida — is the root cause of the recent killings in Beirut and Paris and the daily suffering and slaughter in Syria.
This article was originally published on Nov. 14, 2015, directly after the Paris terror attacks.