When I visited the Middle East last year, I was surprised to hear many people say that the United States created the Islamic State group and continues to support it.
At first glance, the statement seems ridiculous. Out of all the lively debates about Middle East policy here in Washington, D.C., public officials agree on one thing: ISIS is an enemy of the U.S.
But things in the Middle East are often more complex than they seem. When one peels away the layers, the United States helped create the environment in which ISIS developed.
In 2003 the U.S. invasion of Iraq led to chaos, sectarianism and civil war. The U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army left many Iraqis without a job. Some eventually joined ISIS, driven not by religious ideology but by the need to feed their families. They brought with them military expertise that helped ISIS thrive.
In March 2015 President Obama noted that “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaida in Iraq that grew out of our invasion.” ISIS also confiscated weapons and tanks that the U.S. had given the Iraqi military.
U.S. arms manufacturers continue to profit directly from ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. The United States is by far the world’s largest weapons exporter.
Little wonder, then, that many in the Middle East wonder about the motives and involvement of the U.S. in the region. But here in the U.S., few question our government’s military actions against ISIS.
The war against ISIS plays on our fear and emotions. The attacks in Paris and Brussels, claimed by ISIS, made headline news, although other places around the world experience much greater levels of violence.
Likewise, the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., led many to fear admitting Syrian or Iraqi refugees into the country, although no one involved in the attack came to the U.S. as a refugee, nor were they formally part of ISIS.
As Christians, we must not allow ourselves to get caught up in a response driven by fear and stereotypes. We must resist the siren call of our nation to use violence to secure our self-interests, an action that only fosters resentment and further violence.
If our security rests in God alone, our actions and words must proclaim that. Just as many of us sought refuge and opportunity in this country over the years, our faith communities can offer welcome and hospitality to refugees from all backgrounds. Learn more at refugeesarewelcome.org.
We can also support Mennonite Central Committee’s work in Syria and Iraq, providing assistance to people in need and supporting efforts to build peace and trust in local communities.
Finally, we must urge the United States to act for the common good and not for short-sighted self-interest. This includes allowing Syrians and Iraqis to decide what is best for their countries and supporting the development of government institutions that are accountable to their people.
None of this will change the sordid history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. But it would be a small step toward recognizing that our policies — not just those of ISIS — have contributed to the pain and suffering that so many in the region experience.
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach directs the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.