The reality of terrorism certainly extends far beyond the alleged definition the world has assigned to it. While the US depicts terrorism within the narrow frame of specific individual groups, such as Islamic State (IS), it is in fact a universal phenomenon that needs to be addressed not only structurally, but also from the motivational and environmental perspectives. Focusing on fighting IS alone will eventually weaken the group (as with Al-Qaeda previously), but as long as the root of the problem continues to exist, another terrorist group will emerge in due time.
The US is a nation that needs to have a clear and present target to be able to tackle a challenge, often requiring an immediate threat that can energise the nation internally and, eventually, justify the deployment of its troops overseas. Terrorism, on the other hand, is a sweeping phenomenon in which multiple factors motivate illiterate, ignorant Muslims to engage in terrorist activities. Deliberately or unintentionally, the US is ignoring these broader factors that do not serve its present, focused mission.
Terrorists will continue to emerge as long as the root of the problem persists. The US will not be able to identify, monitor, and neutralise each potential terrorist before he commits an attack. Donald Trump’s fanciful idea, supported by 38% of Americans, of barring Muslims from entering the US will foment additional hatred, making US citizens (especially those living abroad) more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Most of the recent major terrorist attacks were perpetrated by Islamists descending from the region of the broader Middle East and North Africa. This is a region with over 600 million inhabitants, where the vast majority of countries have been under autocratic rule for decades. Although 60% of the world’s oil and 45% of its natural gas reserves are located in the region, poverty is widespread, which is a statement on the region’s poor distribution of wealth. Islam, a religion of peace, tolerance, and mercy, plays a fundamental role in the lives of the people in the region. Unfortunately, there are Muslims who in reality do not live according to Islam’s basic tenets.
The failure of the fight against terrorism, which is spreading geographically across borders and mentally among millions of citizens, should have indicated to us that world leaders are applying an untrustworthy policy in combating the phenomenon. The recent terrorist attack in Orlando, FL narrowly defined by President Obama as a “homegrown terrorist act”, certainly has a broader motivational dimension that is correlated with the violence and lack of tolerance towards minorities that continue to exist in the Middle East. Whether or not the Orlando terrorist is affiliated with IS is only significant for the narrow view adopted by the US on the issue of terrorism.
The US and individual Middle East rulers do not want to acknowledge the ineffectuality of their policies wherein injustice, intolerance, and the absence of freedoms stimulate and incite thousands of potential terrorists. To elaborate, if we were to ‘permit terrorism’ tomorrow, how many citizens would be willing to engage in terrorist activities? The answer to this hypothetical question will enable us to learn more about the magnitude and the dynamic of the current challenge, which the US and its allies refuse to address properly.
The US and other leading western countries need to establish a dialogue with Muslims, starting with moderates and going all the way up to those who may be defined as ‘radical Islamists’. Millions of Muslims believe that the US is playing a major role in destabilising the Middle East. The US needs to disprove this argument directly with Islamists. However, because it does not want to undermine its relationships with Arab rulers, the US often works to avoid this kind of dialogue, which could reduce violent activities effectively.
At present, we lack the proper leadership and vision for fighting terrorism successfully. The US currently does not have the capacity or the willingness to address the terrorist challenge from a broad perspective. The recent call made by a number of US diplomats for the use of force against the Assad regime in Syria shows that even diplomats are not capable of thinking in broad terms and coming up with solutions that do not lead to additional violence. Our challenge is not IS per se, but the factors and conditions that motivate Muslims to engage in terrorist activities. IS does not recruit potential terrorists; Muslims around the world come to sympathise with IS’ mission and engage in terrorist activities based on their own free will.
Arab leaders who insist on putting political Islamists in the same category as terrorists do so to better serve their ruling mechanisms. We are living in an era (particularly in the broader Middle East) in which conflict, violence, and wars are spreading significantly, tolerance is decreasing rapidly, and force has proven to be more valued than dialogue. These conditions certainly help to generate more terrorism. Unfortunately, innocent civilians always pay the price. If we want to prevent terrorism, we need to dry up its original source.