How our "friends" in the MidEast fuel ISIS terror

Our "friends" such as the Egyptian coup leaders consistently fuel the anti-Western hatred that is central to the ISIS-style terror narrative. So in what sense are these governments our "friends"? We don't know what we're doing

El-Sisi's media fuels the terrorist mindset
Ahmed Abdel-Raheem
On 18 September 2014 08:20

In his seminal book, Don't think of an elephant, Dr. George Lakoff, distinguished professor of cognitive science, lists three causes of terrorism: worldview, cultures of despair, and the enabling means.

In its 2003 war on terror, the West has only really engaged with the third: the means that enable ''attacks'' to be carried out. These encompass leadership (for example, Osama bin Laden), host countries, training facilities and bases, financial backing, cell organization, information networks, etc. These do not include the first and second on the list.

Today, the West discusses the same cause with regard to ISIS in Iraq and Syria and ignores the other two, which means we will have more terror in the future.

Importantly, the question that needs to be asked everywhere is: Why do we have such terrorist groups?

One part of the answer concerns worldview, and this is where our "friends" -- which we now tend to define as any (or at least most) MidEast states that oppose ISIS and which are not themselves Islamist (though watch Saudi Arabia and Iran).

But we are missing something crucial. The Arab media just keeps on demonizing the West as a whole and deepening the conspiracy frames in the brains of members of the public, the very conspiracy frames that terrorists like ISIS thrive on.

For example, on the anniversary of September 11 last week, Al-Ahram, the most widely circulating Egyptian daily newspaper and friend of the anti-Islamist government (which the West kind of "likes"), ran an editorial cartoon that depicts the stability and security of the world as two twin towers and the USA as a plane that is going to hit them.

The cartoon is deeply dangerous in that it does not only falsify facts, but also creates a demon out of the US. In other words, America, which was a victim of terror on that day, has been depicted as a villain -- by people we are positively inclined towards, in the current campaign against ISIS.

The cartoon, quite deliberately, hides the fact that al-Qaeda is the real villain, the US is a victim, and that the US provides foreign aid to the Egyptian military and sends its military personnel to combat Ebola in West Africa. Furthermore, it encourages violence against the US, which, from this perspective, is a terrorist that targets the stability and security of all of us.

Furthermore, in another editorial cartoon, Al-Ahram went as far as to depict ISIS as a Cobra that is labeled ''Made in the USA.'' You don't need to speak Arabic to get the message; once you see the American symbol on the snake, you will know that the US is a snake with big fangs that can kill you. As the US is its creator, the US should be killed.

The government message machine (led by Al-Ahram) is very strong and keeps repeating such conceptual metaphors and frames over and over again. It repeats its narratives against the West over and over until they register in the brains of the public.  

These narratives don't just compel the reader, they identify heroes (Egyptian and Arab military), villains (the US and the West), and victims (the world).  

Another part of the answer is the social and political conditions (cultures of despair). Most would-be terrorists not only share these anti-US beliefs but have also grown up in a culture of despair; they believe they have nothing to lose. As Dr. Lakoff puts it, ''Eliminate such poverty and you eliminate the breeding ground for most terrorists -- though the September 11 terrorists were relatively well-to-do.''

The coup in Egypt, for example, has committed massacres against peaceful protesters at Rabaa and Nahdah squares (killing thousands and injuring many others), stifled freedoms (detaining thousands of political activists, including members of the April 6 movement), damaged the economy, and turned Egyptians' lives into misery (no electricity and little decent food for many).

For sure, el-Sisi of Egypt, as well Al-Assad of Syria, is very happy with what ISIS is doing. Importantly, El-Sisi and Al-Assad can now say, "We fight terror".

Finally, of course military action against ISIS is required; but I think the West should discuss the two other causes on the above list if it is to really succeed in its war on terror.  

In short, until the primary causes of terror are addressed, terrorism will continue to be spawned. And, in particular, while our "friends" and "allies" are pumping the kind of anti-Western propaganda that is central to the terrorist narative straight into the minds of their people, the West has to ask itself whether it really knows what it is doing.

The writer is an Egyptian poet, actor, and political intellectual. He is also pursuing doctoral research in cognitive science

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