A Brief History of US Support for Jihadists in Afghanistan

By William Van Wagenen

When al-Qaeda militants flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, Islam burst into the consciousness of many Americans for the first time. In response, the United States initiated two wars against Muslim nations, allegedly in an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda, and to end terrorism more broadly.

It is a surprise to many to learn then, that the United States has actually supported militant groups espousing the same ideology as al-Qaeda in several circumstances. Indeed, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with help from the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies, provided billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Wahhabi-inspired militants in Afghanistan during the 1980’s in an effort to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union. Many of these Wahhabi inspired militants went on to establish al-Qaeda. Thus, the United States played a prominent role in creating the very terrorist threat we profess to be fighting. Continue reading “A Brief History of US Support for Jihadists in Afghanistan”

Islam is Not the Problem: US Foreign Policy and the Roots of Terrorism

By William Van Wagenen

2016 saw a spate of terrorist attacks in the West, including in Brussels, Paris, and San Bernardino, all at the hands of militants claiming to act in the name of Islam. Indeed, just days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported how in London, a “suspected Islamist terrorist mowed down scores of pedestrians on a crowded bridge before crashing his car near the gates of parliament and stabbing a policemen, leaving three dead in an attack that struck at the heart of British democracy.”

Why such attacks happen is very difficult for many Westerners to understand, and have therefore given Islam a bad name in the West. Violence committed in the name of Islam dominates the headlines of Western newspapers and television news channels. News of such events is often the only exposure many in the West have to information about Muslims, which invariably leads many to conclude that Islam is an inherently violent religion, and that every Muslim, if truly living his/her religion, should be considered a potential terrorist.

Continue reading “Islam is Not the Problem: US Foreign Policy and the Roots of Terrorism”

Did Assad “Islamize” the Syrian Uprising?

By William Van Wagenen

First, Assad tried to ingratiate himself with Western leaders by portraying the national uprising against him as a terrorist-led revolt. When that failed, he released jailed Islamic extremists who’d fought against U.S. troops in Iraq, then staged phony attacks on government facilities, which he blamed on terrorists. Far from fighting ISIS, Assad looked the other way when it set up a state-within-a-state with its capital in Raqqa, and left it to the U.S. and others to take the battle to the Islamic extremists.”- The Daily Beast

In January 2014 the state-owned newspaper of the United Arab Emirates, the National, published an article claiming that “Syrian intelligence agencies released Islamist militants from prison to deliberately subvert a peaceful uprising and ignite a violent rebellion,” citing an anonymous former Syrian intelligence official.

The idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deliberately “Islamized” the Syrian revolution in order to gain favor with the West is now commonly repeated in the Western press. Articles to this effect have appeared in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Independent (UK), and the Wall Street Journal .

It is clear that the Syrian government released thousands of prisoners in June 2011 as part of a general amnesty. Many of these prisoners had jihadist ties, and have gone on to found and/or fight for the most powerful jihadist rebel groups in Syria, including the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria), Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, and the Islamic State (ISIS).

It is not clear however that Assad deliberately released these prisoners in order to militarize and Islamize an otherwise peaceful uprising calling for democracy, freedom, and respect for human rights. In this essay I will discuss several reasons why such a claim is not likely to be true. Read More

Did Aleppo Fall? Or Was It Liberated?

By William Van Wagenen

As the Syrian government and its Russian allies conducted a campaign to re-capture the northern Syrian city of Aleppo from US-backed rebel groups in December of 2016, Western media outlets gave the impression that the Russian and Syrian forces were mercilessly bombing defenseless civilians in the city, and lamented supposed Western inaction in the face of these alleged Russian and Syrian crimes. The idea that the West needed to come to the aid of Aleppo’s civilians in the face of the Syrian and Russian onslaught was ubiquitous in the Western press. One commentator writing at CNN claimed that, “time and time again, the free world has looked away,” from Aleppo, while another, writing in the Washington Post, askshow can the world stand idly by,” suggesting that what was happening in Aleppo constitutes the “genocide of our time,” thus invoking past tragedies in Rwanda, Bosnia, and the Holocaust.

Continue reading “Did Aleppo Fall? Or Was It Liberated?”