Europe is under attack and each successive terrorist attack widens societal divides, sends radicalisation and hate soaring, and makes saner voices inaudible as the hawks shout for war. Such is the nature of terrorism: it sets societies spinning in a vicious cycle of fear and sporadic violence. Amid all this madness, one question keeps popping up in the Western media and the general discourse: Why do they hate us?

This ‘they’ should refer to the tiny percentage of Muslims who are Islamist militants, but all too often the pronoun is used without sufficient care and all Muslims are labeled as anti-West and assumed to be sympathetic to the militants’ cause. One must realise that Muslims were targets of Islamist militants long before these extremists began to attack the West, a truth sickeningly underlined by the recent suicide attack on a children’s playground in Lahore, Pakistan.

But even when this ‘they’ is understood to refer to militants, we need to understand they are not members of a monolithic group carrying guns. ‘They’ come in shades, some violent and lethal, others who appear more benign yet are really equally destructive. An important question to ask is: how do these different elements of the militant ‘they’ connect to the larger Muslim populace? We need to understand the shared ideological core of their political (often wrongly referred to as religious) belief, one held since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The vast majority of Muslims believe Islam is under attack and think secularism may be incompatible with Islam; the vast majority also reject violence.

While militants have been giving violence a religious and ideological spin for centuries, it is harder to understand why their actions appear to be tolerated by many Muslims who, at times, do not condemn the attacks on Western nations (of course such silence makes it much easier for the hawks in the West to characterise all Muslims as terrorist sympathisers).

The truth is the majority of Muslims are helpless, both at the hands of the Islamist militants and of the West. They are caught up in a strange mix that includes: the North-South divide where global superpowers continue to play imperial politics in the developing world; sickening poverty and illiteracy; and, worst of all, the destruction of several Muslim countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt in the wake of the Cold War. Reflect for a moment on the fact that many in the Muslim world saw both US love for Mujahideen during the 1980s, and the US-led war against them post 9/11. For these Muslims, the world is a complicated political space where they neither belong with the terrorists and nor are accepted by the West.

We must remember there there are millions, if not billions, suffering throughout the Muslim world under rulers that are directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, supported by Western governments. These are the regimes propped up by Western powers that benefit the elite while imposing heavy burdens on common citizens.

Muslims tolerate terrorism in their ranks because for decades the West allowed their countries and their people to suffer under foreign policies that, at times, also encouraged Islamist militants. If Western governments had turned a blind eye they would have caused much less harm. It’s the constant meddling and hindrance to reforms that have meant many, while weary of their own despotic rulers that resist all opposition, are even more resentful of Western powers that talk democracy and human rights but practice otherwise when it comes to the ‘third world’.

But what about the Muslims living in the comfort of the West? Why should they ‘hate’ the West?

The truth is, the situation of many Muslims in the West is also grim. These recently released stats reveal that there are disproportionally more Muslims in jails, more Muslims without tertiary education, and more Muslims unemployed in every European country with a sizeable Muslim population. Top that with the Western media coverage of Islam, and everything Muslim related since 9/11, and the result is hyper Islamophobia that marginalises, and pushes many toward the Islamist militant tenet that ‘Islam is under attack by the West’.

So when the Western world asks ‘Why do they (Muslims) hate us’, the answer lies not in religion, race or freedom, but in the actions of governments that have supported dictatorships in places like Saudi Arab, Egypt and Pakistan; that have helped to keep unresolved issues like Palestine or Kashmir, and assisted in branding all Muslims as terrorists and Islam as the religion of violence.

Europe is under threat because the lingering crisis of security, development and poverty that has beset the developing world for so long has tipped frustration past boiling point. European Muslims are taking up guns because they believe the West has waged a war against Islam. The terrorism that has been destroying Afghanistan, Paksistan, and the Middle East for decades has now washed up on the shores of Europe. If Western governments were to end their double standards and duplicity towards the developing world it would be easier to tackle terrorism. But while the system remains rigged in favour of the West, and its selected elites in developing nations, widespread grievances will encourage terrorists who will always find religions to justify their cause.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Moyan Brenn