View from Abroad: Terror and Trauma in the West
Sep 12 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – As the term implies, the object of terrorism is to spread fear. And in this, jihadi outfits like Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The use of random violence against innocent civilians was first employed by young radicals in the 19th century when groups of idealists ranging from nihilists to anarchists set off bombs in European capitals. Their aim was to bring bourgeois governments down and replace them with their own utopian models. In fact, it was an act of terror in Sarajevo in 1914 that triggered the First World War.
Much of the world was accustomed to occasional violence committed for political ends towards the end of the last century. England and Spain were racked by acts of terrorism committed by IRA and ETA separatists, respectively. The United States, too, had its share of right-wing nuts who created mayhem in the name of obscure ideologies.
But it wasn’t until 9/11 that the United States woke up to the scale of the threat from global jihad. Before this stunning attack on iconic American targets, most Americans considered terrorism to be a distant threat that did not directly affect them. Suddenly, the danger posed by Muslim extremists was very real, and the idea that the enemy could strike Fortress America caused a trauma many Americans still have not recovered from, although 15 years have passed since that dark day in September that changed the world.
Although over 30,000 Americans die every year in gun-related incidents, President Obama has been unable to change firearm laws to make it more difficult for criminals and unbalanced individuals to buy automatic weapons. And yet, Americans are more fearful of terrorism than they are of the far more real and ever-present danger of a mass shooting, a peculiarly American phenomenon. So much so that armed guards with dogs patrol trains despite the fact that no act of terror has ever been carried out on the land transport system. Draconian new laws have been enacted, and a vast security apparatus has been created to counter the perceived threat from jihadist terrorism. According to a recent poll cited by the Economist, 77 per cent of Americans who follow the news believe that IS is a serious threat to “the existence of the US”.
Fuelling this kind of idiocy, politicians like Donald Trump compete with each other to ramp up this threat perception. The Republican candidate recently said that if America didn’t get tough on terrorism soon, “we’re not going to have a country any more — there will be nothing left.” This fear-mongering is happening in a country that has suffered very few casualties in terrorist attacks since 9/11.
In France, the reaction to recent attacks in Paris and Nice has been extreme, and far from making the country safer, it has made it a laughing stock. By attempting to ban the burkini, a score of mayors in cities along the coast have simply marginalised Muslim women even more, and prevented precisely the kind of integration Western politicians and pundits have been calling for.
The UK has followed a more inclusive policy towards its immigrants despite a robust antiterrorism approach. When a judge recently sentenced Anjem Choudary, a rabble-rousing Muslim with extreme views, to over five years in prison, liberal voices questioned the ruling. Choudary had been accused of swearing allegiance to the IS, and persuading gullible young Brits to go to Syria to fight there. And while he was an obnoxious fixture on TV, forever being asked to comment on issues to do with Islam, he took care not to actually advocate violence. So while few tears are being shed on his incarceration, many have suggested that he did not actually break any law.
While most countries have calibrated their response to the terrorist threat in accordance with their own laws and political climate, Pakistan has been unable to implement its National Action Plan despite suffering from years of jihadi violence that has claimed around 60,000 lives. Political will is essential to combat this existential threat, something sorely lacking in Islamabad.
Many countries have used 9/11 to garner international support in their campaign to crush nationalist groups that they have dubbed terrorists. Thus, Russia has been successful in almost eliminating Muslim Chechen separatists; India has launched a massive crackdown on Kashmiris demanding freedom; and Turkey is using lethal force against its Kurdish population in the south-east in the name of fighting terrorism.
Thus, the ‘war on terror’ launched by Bush after 9/11 goes on. And while the IS loses territory and some of its earlier appeal, the threat it poses as an inspiration for feeble-minded young Muslims remains strong. Its message is amplified in the echo chamber of the internet, and alienated young Muslims, born and brought up in the West, are still capable of carrying out ‘lone wolf’ attacks. After all, it doesn’t take much organisation to drive a truck into a crowd, as happened in Nice when 86 were killed as they celebrated Bastille Day last July.
And yet, despite clear evidence that much of the motivation and ideological drive behind these jihadist attacks emanates from Saudi Arabia, the West is reluctant to restrain the House of Saud. Scores of billions have underwritten thousands of madressahs across the Muslim world. Here, children are taught little but the scriptures by semi-literate clerics, and are unfit to seek employment in productive work. Saudi Arabia also funds Wahabi mosques in the West where poisonous literature is distributed, and close-minded mullahs preach their message.
There isn’t much governments can do to stop deranged individuals from being indoctrinated on the internet and carrying out attacks. But they can and should drain the poison from the swamp and pressure Saudi Arabia to stop exporting its Wahabi/Salafi ideology.
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2016
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan