We recently witnessed horrific events unfold in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris. I begin this article by condemning these cowardly attacks on civilians and offer my condolences to the friends and families of those who were murdered. Standing strong with victims is part of my religious duty as a Muslim, which includes being kind and supportive to peaceful non-Muslims and aiding and protecting them against injustice, even if it is caused by individual Muslims. Terrorism and suicide are forbidden in Islam, and the actions of these people are not compliant with Islamic teachings.
The Paris attackers were not refugees—they were EU citizens, many of whom turned out to be the subjects of previous investigations related to radicalism. This is not the first time attackers turned out to be on security lists, and this provides a strong lesson to our internal security operations: never ignore these signs.
We must stand between ISIS and its objectives, which they advertise as creating a major divide in the world between Muslims and non-Muslims. ISIS aims for such a divide to ultimately transcend national and cultural ties and to result in a global religious war. This is why they focus on propaganda inciting fear and hatred towards Muslims, such as their videos of innocent people being brutally executed in odd ways. A person tends to make irrational decisions when they are scared or angry—the same goes for societies. Therefore ISIS propaganda has been building up those precise points for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
What we need to do, therefore, is to stay united and foster inclusive societies. Hate crimes and speech against Muslims threaten to alienate some people and make them vulnerable to radicalization. This is supremely important because other radical rhetoric calls for exactly what ISIS wants them to call for: a crusade and the extermination of Muslims. These calls let ISIS frame Western countries as enemies of Islam.
Like any other severe problem, terrorism cannot be addressed without examining its root causes and then devising a suitable treatment to cure the condition and prevent it from resurfacing.
Radical groups surface in regions with significant conflict such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The reason ordinary people may choose to join such groups is because they offer a mirage of establishing justice; punishing others for crimes committed. While religion (Islam) has strict rules guiding armed conflict, including prohibition of targeting non-combatants, the extremists recruit people who lack such knowledge and who only have enough enthusiasm or anger to fight anyone a leader points at.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent victims have fallen in the seriously ineffective War on Terror. If anything, terrorist groups have increased their activity levels and found more recruits. These recruits are typically people who have lost all hope and perhaps who have seen friends and family members killed without reason. The fact that many deaths have not been investigated and that many of those accountable for these deaths have not been brought to justice has added to the despair.
Civilian casualties you view on your computer are not mere statistics: these are people, exactly like you. They had friends, families, jobs, debts, dreams and hopes. Those they left behind have feelings, just like you, and get frustrated when treated unjustly.
Afghanistan was invaded by a coalition of countries to fight terrorism yet, after years of fighting and diplomacy, the War on Terror hasn’t fulfilled its objectives. Al-Qaeda still exists and is still active in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The invasion of Iraq is another story—the destruction of the country was (and is to this day) weakly justified and provoked religious extremism in the region.
Other relatively peaceful regions witnessed a sharp rise in terrorist organization activity after major conflicts erupted. After the revolutions in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the ensuing violence resulted in formation of radical Islamist groups.
Terrorist organizations tend to thrive in areas of armed conflict and destruction. These conflict zones offer potential recruits for groups like ISIS that seek out desperate people charged with anger and who only need someone to point them towards the one responsible for their suffering.
A popular response to ISIS has been to bomb the group’s strongholds. But this has proven ineffective, simply because terror attacks have not stopped! Not only that, bombing fuels a vicious cycle of violence.
In my opinion, the two root causes of terrorism are injustice and ignorance—injustice against the civilians who fell in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and Syria, and ignorance about the teachings of Islam.
When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail, which is the case when NATO devised a solution to terrorism: aerial bombardment.
Military operation can be used tactically to target terrorist sites and prevent them from gaining ground, but this is by no means a sustainable approach and should only be used when truly necessary. The solution is neither easy nor quick. It involves removing tyrants like Bashar Al-Assad from power, building infrastructure to aid a destroyed country, and maintaining a neutral presence to build a strong inclusive governance system.
This might seem like it will cost a lot of money, which is true, but haven’t the Iraqi and Afghan wars cost the US a fortune? Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated the total cost to be between $4- and $6-trillion US dollars for America alone! That’s a bad investment when we look at what has been accomplished so far and the alternative uses of these funds, like humanitarian aid. Additionally, the cost of terror threats on global economy is likely high, as fear of being attacked weighs heavily on people’s morale and therefore their productivity.
If the world is serious about combating terrorism, then the disease should be adequately treated, not merely patched up for a while as is happening now in Syria. Instead of responding time and time again with violence, Western governments must being acknowledging the close relationship between war and terrorism and design its policies based on this understanding.