September 2017

With ISIS losing ground in Iraq and Syria, there’s an ongoing seismic shift that is laying the groundwork for many years of terror ahead in Western cities – unless we act today.

Why throw ISIS a lifeline?

By Siddiq Bazarwala

Much more important than establishing an Islamic state, if that was ever a real goal rather than a decoy to ensnare Western countries into an intractable war-footing, groups like ISIS (IS) would like nothing more than for Western politicians to overreact and polarise its people. 

Unleashing homegrown terrorists on Western soil therefore is an insidious strategy that unfortunately is here to stay.

Lest it be forgotten, IS was the direct result of the misguided illegal invasion and brutal occupation of Iraq, led by two Western politicians backed by 48 countries as part of the “coalition of the willing”, a global alliance that resulted in the deaths of almost half a million Iraqis – ironically the same death toll now being credited to Iran-backed Assad today in Syria.

Targeting the marginalised, the angry, the alienated and those looking for a higher cause to bring meaning to an often dead-end existence, IS recruiters online and Islamophobes in the West both, want us to believe there can be no peaceful coexistence and Muslims cannot lead meaningful lives in the West, playing perfectly into their propaganda.

Mimicking the narrative promoted by IS, one-dimensional headlines in Western media too advances fear of Islam and Muslims in the West publishing and airing alarmist reports often containing inaccurate information about Islamic beliefs.

While army generals privately celebrate how IS is suffering heavy losses and losing ground in Iraq and Syria thanks to the incessant bombing campaigns, there is an ongoing seismic shift that is laying the groundwork for many years of terror ahead in Western cities – unless we act today.

Terrorists cannot be defeated while they have safe havens in countries that have no governments or central authority. From parts of Mosul in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria as well as Libya, myopic Western military interventions has led to a void in governance firmly taken over by warlords and groups vying for resource-rich territories of their own.

However in a self-defeating cycle of violence, we bomb cities presumably to eliminate suspected terrorist bases only to give groups like IS and their clones the ability to recruit fighters who may have lost their parents, children or siblings in the war. Covered in war wounds, extremist groups exploit such bombing campaigns helping those who have nothing else to live for restore a sense of significance in their lives by reigniting a sense of purpose, through status and false recognition.

Unless we identify ways to destroy this satanic machinery that has refined the art of recruiting young angry Muslim fighters into its ranks, sparks thrown up by these savage conflicts in faraway lands will continue to hit the West.

Much to the chagrin of the global arms industry, war profiteers, powerful think tanks and lobbies that influence foreign policy in the West therefore, the solution albeit a seemingly oversimplified one is to end all wars in North Africa and the Middle East that at present is cross-infecting each other. This of course can’t be done alone, unless countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia and their proxies reach a political compromise to disarm their Machiavellian and hawkish rhetoric as well.

Not repeated often enough, there were no Muslim-led terror attacks in Europe before American and British forces invaded Afghanistan and Iraq let alone Libya.

Worse still, almost every foreign policy since 9/11 on Afghanistan, Iraq in 2003, Libya and Syria in 2011 and Yemen in 2015 has exacerbated the conflicts many folds.

Unsurprisingly therefore, almost every perpetrator of violence have directly or indirectly cited Western intervention in the Muslim world as a primary motivation. The old adage, violence in deed begets violence, is one that is difficult to unlearn.

Meanwhile closer to home in Europe, programmes like Prevent, has created a climate of fear and alienation in the Muslim community. Citizens, Muslims or not, semi-practising or devout should be free to criticise government foreign policies without being perceived as radical or suspicious but this is clearly not the case.

In 2008, a leaked classified report based on hundreds of case studies by researchers for MI5, found that “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly,”. Furthermore, there was evidence “that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”.

In fact in nine of 10 recent attacks in the West, authorities were repeatedly informed about the radicalisation of these individuals by none other than relatives of these misguided perpetrators and yet the relevant authorities albeit under-resourced but equipped with billion dollar world class spying tools and weapons, repeatedly failed to act on the intelligence given, the real underlying fault line being ignored at our peril.

Worse still and to the detriment of ordinary citizens of the West, not only are innocent Muslims being ensnared in the dragnet based on what is often referred to as “white notes” in intelligence circles or confidential evidence based on an anonymous tip-off or simply gossip, far too many people are regarded as suspicious including over 23,000 Muslims who pose some form of a “residual risk”, according to the Home Office in the UK. Except given the limited resources at hand, we are loosing focus on the far smaller number who are really dangerous, rendering the entire programme counter-productive.

This especially since both America and Europe for example spend more than twice as much on submarines with nuclear warheads than they do on security and intelligence for its ordinary citizens. Not that spending on crash barriers, steel beams, armed guards or covert operations can have just as much of a meaningful difference given the unlimited number of soft targets available to a would-be attacker.

A far more productive tool at our disposal therefore is to acknowledge Muslims in the West are an important part of the solution, rather than perpetually shining the spotlight on Muslims for not doing enough, without anyone able to explain beyond what more ordinary Muslims are supposed to do apart from reporting individuals with radical leanings to the authorities.

In the end we need to understand Muslims abhor groups like IS more than non-Muslims do simply because they have made their lives a perpetual nightmare, both in the West as well as in North Africa and the Middle East, given how Muslims account for the largest proportion of victims of groups like IS.

Also, the end goal terrorism is to foment division by poisoning communities. The antidote therefore lies in us uniting to deter its growth in our midst.