[Following last week's horrific attack, those in power have reverted to the same old self-destructive thinking]
By Rula Jebreal
(Credit: Reuters/Jim Young/Yuri Gripas/Gonzalo Fuentes/photo montage by Salon)
As grotesque as these acts of terrorism have been, they are guided by a political logic:
ISIS is looking to swell its ranks and funds by
appealing to the most nihilistic impulses of thousands of young people
vulnerable to its extreme ideology, and also to sharpen those divisions in the
societies it targets that best serve its goals. In and Iraq , Lebanon ISIS
seeks to re-kindle civil war between Sunni and Shia; in its strategic goal is to turn European
societies against their Muslim minorities — both dynamics from which experience
has taught the extremists that they can profit. Paris
Each new terrorist attack reminds us of the total failure of the War on Terror. After 14 years of disaster, the policies enacted by the Western powers should be thoroughly and drastically re-examined before digging us all deeper into the quagmire of endless violence.
How many terrorist attacks do we need to suffer through before citizens start demanding a radical shift of strategy? And how long before their leaders stop falling into the Islamic extremists’ traps?
Rethinking the war-on-terror approach requires developing a new paradigm that takes into account the collapse of the postcolonial world order. Every
Middle East model of governance backed by an ideology
has failed spectacularly, from Pan Arabism to Baathisim, simply because they
weren’t able to offer a life of dignity to millions of Muslims. Yet, today, Western
powers continue to bet on the bankrupt model of the authoritarian strongman
such as ’s President Sisi, accompanied by a fixation
on militarized answers to the problem of terrorism. Shockingly, Western leaders
seem to be coming around to accepting the Israeli vision of living in a
permanent state of war. Egypt
Massive 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 like bin Laden, Zarqawi, and Ayman Al-Awlaki — and even mid-level boasters like ‘Jihadi John’ — have done little to degrade ISIS, let alone destroy it.
Whether we live in Western or Arab capitals, the War on Terror has only escalated the risks to our security. Western news agencies may dutifully parrot official accounts of senior jihadists killed in airstrikes, but they rarely investigate the cost in civilian casualties among those unlucky enough to have the terrorists darken their doorsteps. Yet those casualties, callously branded “collateral damage” in
military parlance, continue to boost
recruitment and support for U.S. ISIS and likeminded groups.
In Western societies, the impulse to tighten security by putting entire Muslim communities under suspicion and subjecting them to greater surveillance, racial profiling and harassment is often self-defeating, since it alienates the very young people in those communities most vulnerable to radicalization — and whose cooperation is vital in isolating and neutralizing real threats. The Paris massacres are likely to increase such security measures, and a political drift to the right that embraces Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric — and serves the terrorists’ goal of driving a wedge between European states and their Muslim citizenry.
Anyone who seeks safety in
or Paris , New York or Beirut , ought to be asking 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 squandered, the enemy still seems to
have the momentum. Baghdad
The fact that European cities can be attacked by jihadists known to the authorities is too easily dismissed as an intelligence failure; the grim reality is that there are far too many young men and women in European cities who are embracing
ISIS and its extreme worldview for the security
services to keep track of. Instead, they are forced to devote their finite
resources to those they judge are most ready to act — always an inexact science.
The military approach to countering
and Al-Qaeda has plainly failed, not least because it has offered no
alternative vision capable of integrating the 300 million Muslims in the Middle East and millions more around the world who
identify with the suffering of their fellow Muslims.
As Baruch Spinoza beautifully put it, to check passion, you have to find a stronger passion. To win against
it’s essential to offer a third way beyond terror and tyranny, a new paradigm
similar to the the one that guided Europe’s
reconstruction after World War II.
The Arab Spring’s demand for dignity, freedom, and justice has been bathed in blood, with Western powers once again backing the tyrants who bludgeon their own people while insisting they’re the only alternative to terrorism.
It’s not hard to see how
ISIS has made a mockery of U.S.-led efforts to
counter it. For many Arab states in the “coalition”, fighting ISIS is simply not the top priority. For , Turkey ISIS
is a secondary issue in the face of countering the Kurdish separatists of the
PKK. Much like , Israel and the Saudi Arabia view Shia Arabs, Houthis in United Arab Emirates and Yemen as a more important threat than Iran ISIS. treats the non-violent Muslim Brotherhood
and critics of the regime as more threatening than Egypt ISIS. Indeed, key partners in the coalition are
more determined to shatter the forces on the front lines in the fight against ISIS.
(The Muslim world was not always so divided. In 1818, the Othman empire army, led by an Egyptian leader named Muhammad Ali, crushed the effort to establish the first Wahhabi Salafi state. Muslim unity was a crucial factor in their victory.)
In search of a vision to neutralize the
threat, European governments may be exacerbating the problem, but their very
European Union hints at the solution. After hundreds of years of conflict, first
among kingdoms and then among nation states, millions of Europeans are part of
a single system and identity. Even now, despite their differences and
difficulties on everything from fiscal policy to accommodating refugees, European
powers accept the need to negotiate and compromise with one another based on
principles of respect and equality. Now, their challenge is to live up to their
common values in the way that they integrate the Muslim minorities on which the
continent’s demographic future increasingly depends.
The EU can also serve as a model for the Muslim world, both in terms of its economic integration and its social contract. Countering
ISIS requires that those it tries to recruit see
an alternative, a new model that grants them dignity, opportunity and
Short-sighted policies, such as backing dictators in the name of authoritarian stability, electing Islamophobic governments in the West, cracking down on European Muslims and dropping bombs on Arab towns simply reinforces the ISIS narrative that the West is at war with all Muslims. That path guarantees that the
attack will hardly be the last. Paris