Societies are becoming aware that the war on terror cannot be won through violence
It has been nearly 15 years since the U.S.-led global ‘War on Terror’ was launched, but airstrikes, bombings, ground forces, and enhanced intelligence ops are yet to adequately mitigate the threat that extremism presents.
In fact, terrorism is on a very different trajectory. It has become more violent and more apocalyptic creating a self-financed entity that is running the affairs of societies it controls. People are realizing that this is not a battle for territory, resources or treasure.
It is a fight for the hearts and minds of Muslims under the age of 30 worldwide. As such, it won’t be won with an endless cycle of violence or destruction.
Who is to blame?
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, there was an obsessive desire in the media to link the attacks to a particular group. From the first hour of the terrorist aggression, the question was: Are the perpetrators linked to Al Qaeda or Daesh?
The handful of individuals who perpetrated this attack represented the smallest fraction of a community exceeding one billion individuals across the globe. That, in itself, does not warrant labeling the entire community as terrorists.
Many, especially in the West, tend to overlook the fact that a large number of the victims of terrorism were Muslims. The resulting mistrust when it came to anything related to Islam became rampant.
Borders in the West are closing in the face of Muslim refugees, who are fleeing the same terror—reviled across the free world.
Presidential candidates in the U.S. have suggested special ID cards for Muslims, akin to the Star of David, which Jews were forced to don during the Holocaust.
With every policy born of fear and skepticism, we offer Daesh and other terrorists the propaganda that fuels their war machine.
But abandoning the Enlightenment values that produced democracy is not the answer to a worldwide growth in terrorism. The expression of bigotry and hatred will not bring safety and security to a turbulent world.
It can be argued that Daesh does more damage with keyboards and Internet connections than with bullets and bombs. It is, in this respect, that the group is far more dangerous than Al Qaeda ever was.
Daesh does not live in caves cut off from civilization. It operates out in the open, via social media and glossy websites that reach a vast, attentive, and worldwide audience.
Its sophisticated public relations blitz has appealed to marginalized and underprivileged young Muslims with few alternatives for meaning in their lives—whether they live in the Middle East, India, Indonesia, Europe, or in the U.S.
Furthermore, the radical group has proved to be as flexible and adaptive as it is apocalyptic and brutal. A wave of hatred may be just what it wants, to draw new recruits. Their recruitment is aggressive, fast-paced, and carried out on multiple platforms. The more hearts and minds they turn, the more attacks they can stage going forward.
With each act of violence, the cycle of hatred and vengeance grows larger and we inch closer to the apocalyptic global conflict at the root of Daesh’s ideology.
How To Beat Terrorism
The question before us is far simpler than most foreign policy experts or pundits would have us believe. Daesh has drawn a line in the proverbial sand. Do we want to play its game by pushing more Muslims toward its backward, brutal philosophy? Or, do we want to cut off its oxygen by giving young Muslims a reason to believe that they have a place in the global community springing up around them?
If the war on terrorism were to be won, then the world has to see Muslims as part of the solution, not just the target of strategies.
During the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Manama Dialogue, which took place in Bahrain in November, U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond detailed an approach to combatting terrorism that is among the most promising we’ve heard to date.
“We have to understand why people are drawn to extremism in the first place,” he said. “And how they progress from early curiosity about extremism to violent engagement.”
Hammond’s words echoed a growing sentiment that is gaining momentum.
Assuming we all want to triumph over terrorism, we are better served with policies that emphasize inclusion, hope, empowerment, and stability than with retreats into fear and protectionism.
In Europe and the U.S., the governments should work on integrating Muslim communities so that young men do not turn radical. There are unquestionably serious issues regarding the integration of Muslims in the West that cannot be brushed away by politicians.
Unemployment rate, educational gaps, healthcare and income disparity signal extremely troubling challenges.
Daesh is seeking a Clash of Civilizations beyond anything Samuel Huntington ever imagined. Let’s not give it to them by abandoning the ideals of tolerance and understanding that built the modern world so abhorrent to Daesh and its misguided dogma.