Myopic Western Leaders are Ignoring the Causes of Islamic Extremism

After a weekend of tragedy in Paris the words ‘act of war’ have tripped from the lips of leaders and journalists. There are reports that the French will invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter, drawing Europe further into the conflict in the Middle East. And, as Prime Ministers and Presidents trip over their bad French in an attempt to signal ‘fraternité’, such signals have felt more like a brash attempt at waving ‘liberté’ in the face of any opposition to David Cameron’s or Francois Hollande’s recognised brand of Western Democracy?

The reaction to the Paris attacks takes me back. On the evening of September the 11th 2001, George W Bush spoke to the American people: These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.’

I have yet to see politicians or our houses of journalism tend into territory that lays bare questions such as, why does ISIS exisT?

Just as President Bush spoke of, back in 2001, the inherent freedom the US offers its citizens, François Hollande was keen to spit out ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité.’ This was quickly adopted and emulated, over and over, by other statesmen, and circulated endlessly on social media and via our broadcast news outlets. And, whilst reminding the population of the importance of liberty, democracy etc. all the buzzwords of solidarity commonly exchanged between allied states afflicted - I have yet to see politicians or our houses of journalism tend into territory that lays bare questions such as, why does ISIS exist? Or whether, and to what extent, the West may be culpable for ISIS’ existence.

The Independent, for example, this week published a large spread on a known hot-bed of extremism in Molenbeek, Belgium. The article was focused through a very narrow prism. The conclusion being that, Molenbeek is seen by the authorities to be a place where, ‘youths are poorly educated, attracted by petty crime and that there is a vicious circle leading to the recruitment of radicals.’ Therefore, by extrapolation, we are to assume that home-grown radicalisation is connected to poverty.

There is a reason that any tendency toward deeper analysis is quashed; the reason is simple, paradoxical and pathetically human.

It reminds me of my father, whom my mother described as a sociopath, although she no longer does and I’m sure he isn’t. My father enjoyed a good lie. However, this was merely a method of protection, of self-legitimising his various indiscretions and moral shortcomings. If he were asked directly about any specific historical expositions of his bad character, he would undoubtedly either gloss over certain horrendous parts of the incident, or flat-out lie. This was his armour, it still is I expect. And, it allowed him to appear to himself morally righteous when, in fact, he had been playing in the gutter.

This is not a divergence, as it applies directly to our Western Democracies and the prism through which we see ISIS. Although Western nations have come to realise that there is an air of disenfranchisement amongst some of their peoples, they refuse to recognise why such people wish for an identity other than the one they are offered in the West.


The political philosopher Rousseau wrote that, ‘Right men’s opinions, and their morality will purge itself. Men always love what is good or what they find good; it is in judging what is good that they go wrong’

Wars, however coveted, do not uphold their support on the basis of the intangible; at least not for long. It is the hope for something better than that which currently exists, a different way. This is true for the people of Iraq and Syria under their ISIS rulers. The fact that there are sympathies amongst the populations of Europe shows not a mild disenfranchisement as to the conditions in which certain sects of the population live, it shows a fundamental break in their identity with so-called Western Democracy; it shows that our society is broken. If it is broken for a few then it is broken for all.

In the UK and elsewhere, we are asked to view the rise of Islamic extremism without examining a part of the picture: us.

This is where the analogy of my father becomes relevant: for, just as he did when asked to inspect his own moral incongruities, our society will not be able to stare into its own heart and accept that it is black. To do such takes a courage history has yet to demonstrate. If I ever did quiz my father about his various ills, his reaction, quite naturally was to project his anger outwards, rather than reflect inwards. Global leaders are now responding in the same, easy fashion. And, just as in 2001, I would suggest the West will continue pontificating into the hands of their enemies, as George W Bush did some 9 days after the Twin Towers fell.

‘Enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. This will not be an age of terror. This will be an age of liberty here and across the world.’

It has been an age of terror, and it will continue to be, lest we look inward.

More about the author

About the author

Leon Zadok writes on politics with a focus on opinion and analysis, and tea. Being a recent graduate in law from Leeds Beckett and having written for the local press and online, Leon is sure he has got it all figured out. Previously contributing to Column F, The York Press, The Wakefield Express, and The Yorkshire Post, to name a few, Leon works on a freelance basis and writes regularly for Disclaimer.

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