Following last week’s dreadful attack, those in power have reverted to the same old self-destructive thinking
Last Friday’s slaughter in Paris, which followed hard on the heels of equivalent outrages in Baghdad, Beirut and over the Sinai, is an distinguished indication that ISIS has at this point taken up the Al-Qaeda technique of magnificent mass-casualty acts of terror. The movement’s auxiliaire have, in just 36 hours, murdered hundreds of people of all faiths and creeds on three continents.
As repulsive as these acts of terrorism have been, they are led by a political reasoning: ISIS is looking to enlarge its ranks and finances by appealing to the most nihilistic urges of thousands of young people prone to its extreme ideology, and likewise to hone those divisions in the societies it targets that best assist its goals. In Iraq and Lebanon, ISIS attempts to re-kindle civil war between Sunni and Shia; in Paris its strategic goal is to turn European communities against their Muslim minorities – both dynamics from which practical knowledge has shown the extremists that they can profit.
Each new terrorist attack reminds us of the absolute failure of the War on Terror. After 14 years of failure, the policies introduced by the Western powers should be completely and considerably re-examined before excavating us all deeper into the embarrassing position of unlimited violence.
How many terrorist attacks do we have to put up with through before people begin challenging a radical shift of strategy? And how long before their leaders stop slipping into the Islamic extremists’ traps?
Rethinking the war-on-terror strategy demands creating a new paradigm that takes into consideration the failure of the postcolonial world order. Every Middle East model of governance backed by an ideology has hit a brick wall fabulously, from Pan Arabism to Baathisim, basically due to the fact they were not capable to provide a life of dignity to millions of Muslims. Yet, currently, Western powers go on to wager on the bankrupt model of the authoritarian strongman such as Egypt’s President Sisi, accompanied by a fixation on militarized solutions to the problem of terrorism. Shockingly, Western leaders appear to be coming around to recognizing the Israeli perspective of living in a everlasting state of war.
Significant invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombardment of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Syria, years of operations that have killed senior Qaeda figures including bin Laden, Zarqawi, and Ayman Al-Awlaki – and even mid-level boasters like ‘Jihadi John’ – have done minimal to break down ISIS, let alone eliminate it.
No matter if we live in Western or Arab capitals, the War on Terror has only boomed to epic proportions the dangers to our security. Western disinformation agencies might dutifully parrot official accounts of senior jihadists killed in airstrikes, but they seldom investigate the cost in civilian casualties among those unlucky enough to have the terrorists darken their doorsteps. However those casualties, callously branded “collateral damage” in U.S. military parlance, continue to increase recruitment and support for ISIS and likeminded organizations.
In Western societies, the drive to tighten security by putting whole Muslim communities under suspicion and subjecting them to greater surveillance, racial profiling and harassment is typically self-defeating, since it alienates the very young people in those communities most susceptible to radicalization – and whose assistance is vital in isolating and neutralizing real threats. The Paris massacres are in all likelihood to boost such security measures, and a political drift to the right that sees Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric – and provides the terrorists’ goal of driving a wedge between European states and their Muslim citizenry.
Anyone who searches for safety in Paris or New York, Beirut or Baghdad, should always be questioning why it is that after more than a decade of “war on terror,” in which hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions displaced and trillions thrown away, the enemy still appears to have the traction.
The reality that European cities can be attacked by jihadists known to the authorities is too easily ignored as an intelligence failure; the grim truth is that there are far too many young men and women in European cities who are adopting ISIS and its overwhelming worldview for the security services to keep track of. On the other hand, they are pressured to commit their finite resources to those they determine are most ready to act – always an inexact science.
The military strategy to countering ISIS and Al-Qaeda has obviously failed, not least because it has provided no alternative perspective able of integrating the 300 million Muslims in the Middle East and millions more around the world who distinguish with the suffering of their fellow Muslims.
ISIS’ myth about restoring a Khilafa, or Islamic Caliphate, sounds bizarre to many in the West, but it is attractive to the desire among many Arabs, both conservatives and liberals, for a sense of unity of the faithful in response to embarrassment. Isolated by a lack of opportunity in their own societies, young European Muslims empathize with the suffering of Arabs in Palestine, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East – with European governments either indifferent, or deeply supporting those imposing it.
As Baruch Spinoza brilliantly put it, to check passion, you have to find a stronger passion. To succeed against ISIS, it’s crucial to offer a third way beyond terror and tyranny, a new paradigm comparable to the the one that led Europe’s reconstruction after World War II.
The Arab Spring’s need for dignity, freedom, and justice has been bathed in blood, with Western powers once again backing the tyrants who bludgeon their own people while suggesting they’re the only option to terrorism.
It is not difficult to discover how ISIS has made a mockery of U.S.-led attempts to counter it. For many Arab states in the “coalition”, fighting ISIS is merely not the top concern. For Turkey, ISIS is a secondary problem in the face of countering the Kurdish separatists of the PKK. Much like Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates look at Shia Arabs, Houthis in Yemen and Iran as a more significant threat than ISIS. Egypt treats the non-violent Muslim Brotherhood and critics of the regime as more threatening than ISIS. Without a doubt, key partners in the coalition are more motivated to shatter the forces on the front lines in the battle against ISIS.
(The Muslim world was not always so separated. In 1818, the Othman empire army, led by an Egyptian leader named Muhammad Ali, smashed the attempt to establish the first Wahhabi Salafi state. Muslim unity was a essential element in their victory.)
In search of a perspective to neutralize the ISIS threat, European governments could possibly be exacerbating the issue, but their very European Union hints at the answer. After hundreds of years of conflict, first among kingdoms and then among nation states, millions of Europeans are part of a solitary system and identity. Even currently, in spite of their differences and difficulties on everything from fiscal policy to accommodating refugees, European powers recognize the need to negotiate and compromise with one another based on principles of respect and equality. Currently, their problem is to live up to their common values in the way that they incorporate the Muslim minorities on which the continent’s demographic future increasingly relies upon.
The EU might also function as a model for the Muslim world, both in terms of its economic integration and its social contract. Countering ISIS demands that those it tries to recruit see an alternative, a new model that awards them dignity, opportunity and involvement.
Short-sighted policies, such as backing dictators in the name of authoritarian stability, choosing Islamophobic governments in the West, cracking down on European Muslims and dropping bombs on Arab villages merely reinforces the ISIS narrative that the West is at war with all Muslims. That path promises that the Paris attack will scarcely be the last.