By Paulina Anaya.
In a world of ever changing trends and ideas, it is easy to assume that comprehension for the unknown has increased along with respect for these differences. The truth is otherwise, and one particular topic proves it: Islamophobia. Overall judgments for concepts and ideas that break the status quo remain harsh, and the periodic incidents involving Islamic extremists have not helped to change that. It is safe to say that after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, the world was shaken and the concept of Islam was strained. If any of you can remember, before 9/11 you didn’t have to take off your shoes at the airport and Al-Qaeda reigned terror worldwide. Now… it’s a whole another story.
Now that some precedent has been established, we can take a look at radical Islamic linked terrorist attacks and attempts that have shocked the world.
Caracas, Venezuela, 2006
Although this incident remains widely unknown, two explosive devices were found in Caracas in 2006, one of them near the U.S. Embassy, containing pro-Hezbollah pamphlets. Neither device detonated, but Hezbollah took responsibility for the bombs. The reason this incident is important is because it proves the presence of radical-Islamist groups in South America. So far, no threats have been made to South America, but as the idea of a world caliphate expands and extremist groups become more and more active in different parts of the world, it would be unwise not to be worried. The South American countries where radical extremists groups are most likely to be found (although they are largely inactive) are Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela. If ISIS were to ever have some sort of headquarters in South America, Venezuela’s situation would make it the perfect spot.
It is thought that around 70 individuals from Trinidad and Tobago (Caribbean) are currently fighting with ISIS in Syria and about 6 more from Argentina. The number of recruits ISIS has found in South America has been low, but political instability and struggling economies could make it the next main target. If that were to ever happen, it could spark a domino effect in the region, eventually facilitating a full-on attack on the US. This is not a conspiracy theory, but rather a very feasible possibility if ISIS or any other groups are looking to get closer to the White House. How long would it take for ISIS to wreak havoc in South America?
Boston, USA, 2013
Nobody expected a death toll of three or 264 injured people during one of the world’s most celebrated marathons in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 15, 2013. Two bombs hidden in backpacks exploded near the finish line killing three. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were the Chechen brothers responsible for the bombings and were both radicalized by an Al-Qaeda preacher. Nobody expected this, how could they? Are we supposed to fear backpacks now every time we see one? The Boston Marathon Bombings might possibly be the most alarming terrorist attack carried out by radical extremists since 9/11. The Boston Marathon Bombings made it clear that America had just become a target.
Since the Arab Spring began, the US has been boosting its homeland security and immigration policies have become more restrictive, but unfortunately, terrorist attacks in different parts of the country have happened anyways. If one thing was observed in the November 8, 2016, presidential elections, it was that the US is still very divided in terms of acceptance towards different religious and cultural groups. As a result of this, many Muslims are having a hard time in the US right now. This leaves room for one question: if the US cannot prevent terrorist attacks with all of its technology, then which nation is capable of effectively doing so?
Chibok, Nigeria, 2014
To the world, Africa is not characterized by safety, which is why it does not come as much of a surprise to find different extremist groups operating throughout. What did come as a surprise was how Boko Haram (a terrorist group based in northeastern Nigeria) managed to disappear 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories overnight on April 14-15, 2014. Fortunately, 57 of them managed to escape within hours of being kidnapped, but the rest remained in the hands of Boko Haram for two years… and counting. Thanks to negotiations, 21 of the remaining schoolgirls were released in October 2016 in exchange for four Boko Haram prisoners.
On the bright side, their release sheds hope to the families of the girls, as it appears they have been kept alive and future negotiations hold the possibility of seeing more of them freed. On the other hand, to our best knowledge, most of them have been sexually assaulted or forcefully married to Boko Haram members, and 201 of them remain in captivity. Little is known of their whereabouts, but from time to time Boko Haram releases videos and photos of the girls under submission. Obviously, the incident received global outcry and got us all thinking of women’s and children’s rights for once. When will we see the remaining 201 girls again?
Paris, France, 2015
The Charlie Hebdo attack on June 7, 2015, was a wake up call to the international community about the growing threat of radical Islam. Long known for its safety, religious diversity and acceptance of cultures, Europe suffered greatly from the attack. What did it mean? Radical Islam was on the rise and Europe was not exempted from this. Once the effects of such an attack are analyzed, it is clear that Europe has changed its stance; Europeans have become fearful of Muslims and Islam, although many do not understand that what they should be fearing is radical Islam, not Muslims or the Islamic religion in general. Immigration policies since then have tightened and refugees are no longer welcome in many European countries for fear of another terrorist attack.
The increasing violence in Europe has been linked to the number of Middle Eastern and African refugees who are followers of Islam that have been accepted into countries like Germany, France, Italy, the UK, among others. After realizing how much fear Muslims and Islamic elements such as the burqa and its swimsuit version burkini inflicted upon the French, authorities banned the use of burkinis in Nice beaches. Altogether, this sparked controversial discussions about human rights and freedom of expression, but authorities stood their ground until a court ruling demanded they lift the ban. Could moves like this cause more terrorist attacks by bringing discontent to currently inactive radical extremists?
Brussels, Belgium, 2016
On March 22, 2016, Brussels suffered from three coordinated suicide bombings, two of which happened at Brussel’s crowded airport, and another at a metro station. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. 32 civilians and the three perpetrators were killed in the attacks. Around 300 people were also injured from the explosions. Usually a peaceful city, Brussels was already anticipating violence on the streets when Salah Abdeslam (the suspected mastermind behind the Charlie Hebdo attack) was caught in Brussels a week before. Increasing violence can be predicted, but the where attacks will take place, who the targets will be, and what exactly is going to happen is almost impossible to foresee.
Belgium has more foreign fighters leaving to join ISIS or other extremist groups in the Middle East than any other European Union country. Many of them are beginning to return, possibly more radicalized than before. Either way, Belgium remains alert. Could this be the end of peace in Europe?
Putting the Pieces Together
The reality is that with the Arab Spring came increasing violence in the world. The Syrian civil war, ISIS occupation of many parts of Syria and Iraq, the refugee crisis, and Western conflicts of interest have made the Arab Spring a Western nightmare. Muslims are now wrongfully deemed as terrorists in most parts of the world because of what radical Islamic extremist groups have done throughout the years. It has sparked fear of one of the world’s greatest religions and its followers; anything Arab is now a reason for fear. How are the world’s Muslims to redeem themselves?
Little by little, the incidents mentioned above and thousands of others have ignited fires of hatred, fear, violence and destruction across the world. The seed has been planted, and now the roots have become too deep to simply pull out. With the war in Syria forecasted to last at least another 10 years, little is expected to remain of the country afterwards. Will there be anything to save?
ISIS has now taken over as the terrorist group that inflicts the most fear in the world, so much that even Al-Qaeda has denounced some of its acts as inhumane. But as you can see, ISIS is not alone in the world, and many other groups are helping to fuel Islamophobia. What is Islamophobia? The fear of Islam. Under normal circumstances, Islam is a very peaceful religion. Unfortunately, extremists have been using the name of Islam as the motivation for their actions, giving the wrong impression of the religion to the rest of the world.
The only habitable continents that remain generally unaffected by the presence of radical Islamic extremist groups are Oceania and South America, but the latter’s political instability and volatile economy could prove useful when trying to carry out attacks. Oceania is not so safe either as Australia is third on the ISIS agenda, right after the US and France. Over the years, terrorist activity in the world has spread, so when ISIS talked of a world caliphate, it is a matter of concern.
The 21st century is already the most violent century in the history of the world. We are supposed to be a generation of progress, but what is happening? We appear to be in global regression. What is happening right now is nothing less than a modern radicalized form of the Holocaust, only, now all of us are in danger. Arabs and Muslims are not the problem, the world’s inability to take proper action to eradicate these dangerous groups is. When are we to stop blaming the vulnerable for something that all of us have created with our actions over the years? The Middle East has had enough of the Western empire; of countless yet useless interventions, of foreign bombings in their territory overstepping sovereignty, of being inferior to Americans and Europeans. That is the light of their rebellion, and all of this is how Islamophobia is taking over the world. What do you think?