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Santiago Martínez Sánchez, professor at department of History at the University of Navarra and coordinator of the Agrupación Universitaria por Oriente Medio Medio (AUNOM).

The jihadist web

Mon, 16 Nov 2015 12:43:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper, La Rioja

For the second time in 2015, Islamist terrorism kills in Paris. A chain of shocking attacks leaves an impressive trail of blood. Europe joins - if it was ever oblivious - to the drama of the Middle East, where to watch is to weep. Little by little, the identity, origin, contact, profile socio-economic, financing, motivations, training and other aspects of the jihadists involved, eight according to the figures available so far, will be revealed. 

Likewise, there will be speculation about the reasons for the attack and some will vaguely and even simplistically point to capitalism as manager of the drama of a Middle East scourged by war, devastation and instability. And then, to paraphrase Nietzsche, they will blink.

I cannot share this populist analysis. Nor can I point to diabolical capitalism as the 'prima donna' of the failure of the Arab Spring, manager of the wars (Syria-Iraq, Yemen, Libya), the sub-Saharan and Arab migratory flows and, in general, the decomposition that this region core topic for the world has been suffering since 2003 and 2011.

Such a theory contains a second element, true only in part, which is to maintain very emphatically that Islam is a religion of peace and has nothing to do with these attacks. As after the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine, this argument will be repeated in parliaments and coffee chats by politicians, analysts and spectators of various hues. That is to say, the establishment of European societies, which does not want its people (us) to link Islam and violence. Because in our countries, let us not forget, live not so minuscule Muslim minorities whom, in reality, we do not know how to integrate nor, what is worse, what to expect from them.

Yes, it is true. The economic interests and political alliances that the West has woven in the Middle East, the United States in particular, but not only, have a lot to do with the causes of the problem. Our governments talk about freedom, democracy and human rights. But they sell arms by the bucketload to regimes (such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar) for whom freedom is a chimera, democracy a contradiction in terms and human rights a Western imposition alien to the sharia. Saudi and Qatari potentates, by the way, have splendidly financed al-Qaeda and Saudi Wahhabism is the closest thing to state jihadism, building mosques and importing imams all over the world, both Muslim and Western, who justify violence against infidels in the name of Allah. 

Yes, it is true. Islam preaches peace and the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people who, like any Westerner, want prosperity, peace and tranquility for their families and their country. Moreover, they are the first to suffer the horrors of war in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, which is wiping out religious plurality in the Middle East. But war is no stranger to the rapid expansion of Islam throughout the world. Moreover, the caliphate was forged through violence or jihad, which is also present in the life of a Muhammad who is the prophet, and also the architect, ruler and military leader ofanew politico-religious empire.

The reality is more complex, unfortunately, than blaming the causes of the terrorist attack on Western money and power, and stressing the inherent peace of the Muslim world.

Since its inception, Islam has not established a separation between the profane and the sacred, the political and the religious spheres. Although there are distinct civil and religious authorities, their common function is to defend the rights of the community of believers or 'umma'. As if they were sovereign states, the terrorists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State arrogate to themselves this right and act accordingly, justifying violence as a legitimate defense against an aggression against the 'umma'. Aggression that France and any Western country has committed, from their point of view, by being part of the alliance fighting Daesh. But it is not only a problem of these terrorist groups. When they occur, the condemnations of imams and muftis fall on deaf ears, because there is no supreme religious magisterium within Islam and because the jihadists base their thesis on Koranic verses inciting to violence.

The West's problem is to entrust the solution of this glassy issue to technological, police, economic or military measures: more money for Turkey, more border controls, more online surveillance, air strikes in Syria and Iraq. I am not arguing here about the desirability of these or other measures: some are certainly essential. Rather, I understand that the materialistic design of Western societies makes us unable to understand the enormously diverse identity and the role of the sacred in the worlds within the Middle East. Thus, it is difficult to find the right solutions to prevent new attacks here and new wars there.

At final, this terrible attack points to a cultural problem in both the Islamic and Western worlds: who we are, what we want and how and to what extent we can relate to each other without giving up our identity.

We are all, in fact, concerned about these dramatic attacks and about the causes. Because they can be repeated and not only in France. Because they are our daily bread in Syria and Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Because it concerns us as citizens to identify the roots of the conflicts and to seek solutions together, without waiting for the European Union, politicians, technology or who knows who to fix this monumental mess.