News Release

ISIS Attacks: Why?


imagesThe British Independent — virtually alone in English language media — has reported on the substance of ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the Brussels attacks, see: “Brussels attacks: Isis threatens to bring more ‘dark days’ to Europe and countries fighting its militants.” After the November Paris attacks, the paper noted: “The statement [from ISIS] continued: ‘Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake part in the crusader campaign … [with] their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets.’ … ISIS also released an undated video today threatening to attack France if it continued intervention in Iraq and Syria. ‘As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear traveling to the market,’ said one of the militants, identified as ‘Abu Maryam the Frenchman.’” [Note: This paragraph has been corrected; it had originally conflated Independent reports on the Paris and Brussels attacks.] has tallied 11,111 strikes in Syria and Iraq by Western and Gulf states in less than 600 days. Also, see video and text of Noam Chomsky’s comments after the Paris attack: “If you want to end it, the first question you ask is — why did it take place?

LYDIA WILSON, lydia.wilson at, @lsmwilson
Wilson has just returned to the UK from Iraq where she was interviewing fighters on all sides, including ISIS fighters. Late last year, she wrote the highly cited piece, “What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters,” for The Nation. She is working on a book about ISIS.

Wilson’s piece states: “‘The Americans came,’ he said. ‘They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.’ …

“These boys came of age under the disastrous American occupation after 2003, in the chaotic and violent Arab part of Iraq, ruled by the viciously sectarian Shi’a government of Nouri al-Maliki. Growing up Sunni Arab was no fun. …”They are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death from execution, or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government. They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe.”

Loewenstein is a human rights activist and faculty associate in Middle East Studies at Penn State University. She stresses the importance of two recently released books in understanding what is happening: Patrick Cockburn’s newest book, Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East and Charles Glass’ Syria Burning.

She said today: “Turn on television news or read the media reports on the Brussels attacks and what you hear are people talking about the trauma caused by such attacks; the civilian casualties; the sadistic targeting of crowded public spaces; the fear that is feeding Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment. How can we stop these horrors? Will we have to sacrifice civil liberties in order to protect the citizens of a given nation; in order to guarantee ‘security’?

These debates have become commonplace. You hear talking heads from the highest political leaders and diplomats to elected politicians, university professors and local news reporters debating the most practical, ferocious, and effective ways to respond to what have become seemingly inevitable attacks by ‘Islamic’ extremists across the Western world. How can we prevent terrorists from infiltrating the flow of migrants from Syria? Should we ban all Muslims from entering the United States? Can we further tighten security checks at our borders or in our airports? Should we increase surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods around the country? Should we criminalize the teaching of Arabic in our schools? Should we ban the construction of new mosques and install surveillance cameras inside the ones that already exist?

“There is a never ending dialogue on every aspect of the horrifying attacks by ISIS or ISIS sympathizers except the one that really matters: why are these attacks happening? What motivates young men in the prime of their lives to become suicide bombers? — to die in the act of killing civilians regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, profession, or any other variable other than where they happened to be at the time of the explosion? What is the source of the fury that manifests itself in the calculated mass murder of civilians in cities across mainly Europe, and how soon will it be before American cities become the latest targets? It has already happened and it will happen again here at home, probably with even greater frequency, in the near future.

“Unsurprisingly, the answers are right before our eyes. Even a cursory examination of the recent history of Western powers, above all the United States, in the Middle East offers us a documentary account of the causes for the rise of radical Sunni Islamist terror organizations from Al Qaeda to ISIS. Many people predicted it, many people braced for it, and many people can explain it so why aren’t their voices being heard? The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 is but one major cause of the rise of ISIS. A visible trail exists leading up to the transformation of radical Sunni jihadists into the Islamic State with the generous support of key U.S. allies, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Where is there serious and sustained discussion of this information?

“The 2008 ‘surge’ to halt sectarian violence in Iraq after the United States unleashed a brutal civil war against the Sunni Iraqi population and against anti-American Shi’a Iraqi militias goes unmentioned in even the most ‘in-depth’ television talk shows. When seasoned, credible journalists and eye-witnesses from within the countries most affected warned that the failure to stop the Syrian Civil War in 2011 would destabilize Iraq and breathe new energy into radical jihadi groups borne out of the 2003 Iraq War, the rise and fall of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the birth of ISIS, pundits preferred to reduce the mostly U.S.-created tinderbox in the Middle East to an inherently violent religion that produces rage-filled, freedom and democracy-hating Muslim killers lurking around every corner, endangering our hallowed ‘way of life.'”