By Shoaib Bajwa, UK
25th November, 2015
The indiscriminate and cowardly attacks in Paris are a dreadful reminder of the deep-seated problems the West faces in tackling the growing scourge of nasty ISIS or so called Jihadis, who have nothing in common with Islam or its true teachings. In the wake of this month’s atrocity, President Hollande committed to “destroying” the extremist group. But while more air raids over Syria might appease nervy citizens in the short term, in the long term they will only serve to sow the dragon’s teeth of so called jihadist groups – providing greater justification to warped and misguided outsiders to join up and fight the ‘great Satan’ and its allies. This is all the more the case if such strikes target populated areas and result in the loss of innocent lives. Domestic security is also likely to be upped across Europe – David Cameron has, for example, pledged an additional £3bn to fight terrorism and plans to push through greater powers for authorities to track and intercept communications. But whilst this might offer some brief comfort, it comes with many problems including significant civil liberties implications. The Paris atrocity is a unique opportunity to reject a ‘more of the same’ attitude and re-think our approaches to both intervention in Syria and home-grown terrorism.
Firstly, we need to understand why these home-grown extremists have emerged in developed Western nations and particularly France. Sure, ISIS has been canny in its use of social media to attract vulnerable potential converts to its cause, but arguably, it’s capitalising on a failure of nations across Europe to be inclusive in their social policy. Our societies are becoming atomised, there’s a growing sense of social disintegration permeating a lower strata of society, and home-grown extremism is a response to this. Terrorists provide a form of identity for those who have rejected mainstream culture. There’s a rather tragic irony that France – seen as a bastion of socialism – should be the victim of this attack, and whose perpetrators are the very people who have fallen between society’s cracks.
An estimated 15,000 foreign fighters – many from Europe – have already joined the ranks of ISIS, including approximately 800 from France. Until governments come around to the idea of allocating resources to prevent these people from falling into the hands of extremists – committing money in pursuit of this as willingly as they do on say military hardware, the threat of ISIS from within Europe’s borders will only grow.
At the same time as ensuring nations offer hope and opportunity for all to progress and lead fulfilled lives, irrespective of race or creed or colour, we must de-legitimise the perverted ISIS ideology. We must poke holes in its spurious claims and de-glamorise its call to jihad. Muslim leaders and Imams have a vital role to play here, coming out loud on the true interpretation of Islam such as on Jihad. They should also help to identify vulnerable young men or women and redirect them to other ways of answering the needs, concerns and the sense of isolation that is driving them to society’s margins. This requires national policy-makers working with those Muslim groups. It’s not a silver bullet but it can create the conditions in which fostering the next generation of home-grown terrorists is made that much more difficult.
However, even if Western Governments significantly shift their domestic approach to inclusivity and social policy, this has to go hand-in-hand with significant foreign policy changes in the Middle East. President Hollande’s response to the attacks – just sending an aircraft carrier to the region and sanctioning French jets to drop 20 guided bombs at ISIS – will do little to reduce the threat of terrorism at home. The West should focus efforts on diplomatic solutions. Western involvement in Syria has been a confused mess, targeting at first Assad and latterly ISIS as priorities changed. Indeed recently declassified Pentagon documents demonstrate that the US-led strategy in Syria contributed directly to the rise of ISIS. It has been estimated that around half of all Syrian rebels supported by the West were Islamist jihadists. Not only were the West’s attempts to unseat Assad unsuccessful, the very act of doing so – by supporting the rebel groups – has given rise to ISIS. The situation is rapidly becoming a lose-lose for the West and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which continued bombing raids alone will crush ISIS – even if it has some success it will bolster Assad, making his removal all the more problematic, not that it should be for Western powers to determine who should lead Syria.
A significant part of the solution also has to be encouraging the Muslim Gulf States to take a more active and constrictive role in the region. It’s not just the US and its allies that are to blame for the rise of ISIS. The regional powers in the Gulf have quietly been channelling funds, weapons and other support to rebel groups in their attempts to overthrow Assad. In 2014, a senior Qatari official claimed that Qatar and Saudi Arabia had for years been providing military and financial assistance to both al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm and ISIS (part of a wider regional struggle for influence with rival Iran). So even if the West were to step back from armed involvement in the conflict, the Gulf States must also be made to engage diplomatically to end the civil war. The hope surely lies in finding common ground between the Syrian Government, the West, the Gulf States and Russia in order to find ultimately a long-term sustainable and beneficial political solution for the Syrian people – not an easy task but one that must be a top priority.
The attacks that have shocked Parisians have shocked all of us. Yet our politicians are once again beating the war drum, taking up the rhetoric of vengeance. It’s time they took the longer view and acknowledged that appeasing short-term goals will only make finding solutions in the long term more difficult, and make a repetition of the tragedy elsewhere in Europe even more likely.
Shoaib Bajwa is a London based financial services professional and takes a keen interest in social and political issues.