“It has almost become routine,” reports the New York Times in reference to the attack in Champs-Élysées in France last Thursday, 20th April 2017. “A terrorist attack shatters the rhythms of daily life, bringing bloodshed and anguish,” it continues. The same story plagues the media, Europe and the rest of the West, time and time again. In last month’s attack on Westminster Bridge (22nd March 2017), a man rammed his car into the public and stabbed a policeman.
In both cases, the men had a history of violence, but the media and politicians ignored this to justify their claim that terrorism is rampant and is an immediate threat to your security. The media scaremonger about terrorism because it makes them money. Politicians manipulate people’s fears to push their own agendas and gain and retain power. This is evident in French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen who is exploiting voters’ fears by declaring a war on Islamism and taking a tough stance on terror to win their votes.
Since President George Bush declared the War on Terror in 2011 post 9/11, terrorism has been securitised in this way, meaning that it is perceived to be a greater threat than it is because we’ve been told it is. By framing the issue as a war, President Bush created an “us against them” mentality, making the West believe it is an imminent, omnipotent threat at our doorstep.
Yet the threat of terrorism to citizens of the West is negligible. As Global Research notes, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning or die in a car crash than you are to die of terrorism. In America, more people die of gun violence than they do of Islamic terrorism. People need to be educated about what terrorism is and what it isn’t. The sensationalism around the buzzword needs to stop. The “us against them” mentality that is alienating Western citizens of the Muslim faith must cease in order to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people that may lead them towards the path of violence.
Problems with our current strategy
Repeatedly calling every isolated incident a terrorist attack and an “attack on every democracy,” as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball stated (in reference to the Westminister Bridge incident), perpetuates the notion of the noble West being attacked by the belligerent East and its toxic Islamic ideology. This exasperates existing international tensions between Muslim states and the West. It incites terrorism within these states and within our own. Linking terrorism to Islam is fundamentally wrong. It is important to note that terrorism or large scale acts of violence have nothing to do with religious ideology, as sociologist Scott Atran and the Demos Think Tank demonstrated in 2010. As Scott Atran finds, religion is just one mechanism through which marginalized youth can find companionship. Moreover, it is purely coincidental that they choose Islam to fulfil their pre-existing fantasies of fighting in wars. The tenuous link between religion and terrorism has also been proved by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman in their study on Homegrown Terrorists in the US and UK. Hence, as French Sociologist Olivier Roy demonstrates, whilst many violent organizations use Salafi ideology to market their intentions, Islam is merely a tool to recruit certain types of people; it is not the cause of radicalization or violence.
By focusing on Islam as a key cause, the US, the UK and Europe are marginalizing their own Muslim populaces, infringing upon their civil rights, and exposing them to violence. As the Claystone report on Rethinking Radicalization suggests, the UK’s focus on Islam has led to bombing and arson attacks on Mosques by the English Defence League (EDL) after the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013. In fact, the report found that between 1990 and 2012, 249 people were killed by far-right violence in Europe and 269 people were killed by Al Qaeda-inspired violence. The numbers are roughly equal, yet Western countries focus on Islamic terrorism, as showcased by Trump’s recent attempts for a Muslim ban and the UK government’s 2013 report on Tackling Extremism. By fuelling this fear, politicians, Western states, and the media are responsible for promoting terrorist campaigns at home and abroad.
Violent organizations use politicians polarising messages to depict their own goals as justifiable and good. Thus, it is no surprise that 1,700 French citizens and 500 British Citizens up until December 2015 went to join ISIL, as the Soufan Group reported. The same message of war and needing to defend oneself from attack is reciprocated by Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Their website www.alneda.com states three reasons for violence: that the West is hostile to Islam, the only language they understand is violence, and therefore the only option is jihad or war.
Firstly, the prolific use of the term “terrorism” and the sensationalism around it need to end. Politicians and the media need to operate on a strict code of conduct and ethics. Politicians and the media are only endangering their citizens and inciting violence by incorrect and uninhibited use of the term “terrorism”. As researcher David Hoffman shows, the media gives terrorist organizations free global publicity by heightening the drama of incidents to make money, thus allowing these organizations to grow, financially and theoretically, in the minds of millions. The media’s use of the term “terrorism” is sporadic and wrong. Why is it that incidents involving white perpetrators are isolated cases of violence due to mental instability and not examples of Christian terrorism? Yet, when the perpetrator is Asian or Middle Eastern or has links to Islam they are unquestionably Islamist terrorists. Are not the EDL and far-right movements also terrorists? A code of conduct for the press and politicians is crucial in minimising the effects of terrorism. Terrorism is better contained by not pandering to the terrorists’ desires for free advertising. Nor should terrorism be used by any party or organization for personal profit. For example, there is a marked difference in describing the recent attack in Champs-Élysées as a shooting by a lone gunman or stating it as an example of Islamist Terrorism. One breeds hysteria, the other a controlled and stabilising response. By stating the facts and looking into the causes behind these acts of violence, we can reassure the public that terrorism is not as rampant as it seems.
Alongside a code of conduct and ethics, disparate members of the populace need to be better integrated into society, not by marginalizing them, but by including them in a country’s identity. We must involve them in discussions and treat them as regular members of society. Politicians, the far-right, and the press often argue that multiculturalism has gone too far, but countries must adapt to the changing identity of their populace and give them the resources and education to deal with that change. Educational programs such as Finland’s immigrant integration programme, which offers newly arrived immigrant classes on Finnish values and culture, and Norway’s similar initiative, the Norwegian Cultural Orientation Programme (NORCO), are good examples of this. These are excellent ways of assimilating migrants into the country and helping them understand what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable, ultimately helping them become members of that society. In addition, funding must be invested in teaching all migrants, both new and old, the native language in order to break down the divides and misconceptions within societies.
However, it is not only citizens who were born in different countries that must be educated. The domestic populace must also be educated about the history of terrorism: how the West helped create the likes of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIL through intervention; how it is not linked to Islam; and how logistically they are at a very low risk of being affected by it. This can be done by teaching children at school, getting citizens involved in discussion forums in their local communities, and through educational promotional material, such as TV shows, documentaries and press reports. We are all responsible for promoting our security, and security manifests from harmony.
Furthermore, to truly tackle terrorism, countries need to stop funding rebel factions to fight their proxy wars, as this has created the largest terrorist organizations on the planet. The Taliban in Afghanistan were initially US-funded rebels, weaponised and paid to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Similarly, it is no secret that Al Qaeda is a product of Western Intelligence Agencies, as Robert Cook the former British Foreign Secretary stated. ISIL was also partly created by the Americans disbanding the Iraqi Army, creating a power vacuum in an unstable region. This led to millions of unemployed Iraqi military personnel joining Al Qaeda in Iraq, which turned into ISIL. The problem is, when you fund angry rebels to fight your wars, you can’t expect them to stop being violent once you get your way. History shows us funding rebels instigates international terrorism, so common sense tells us we ought to stop.
Consequently, states must be very cautious when they choose to intervene in unstable countries and should not do so if they have no long-term solutions to stabilise the country. Far too often countries intervene militarily for a short period time with no plan, and then withdrew when the situation worsens and domestic support dwindles. Instead, we should be investing in stabilising terrorism-prone countries by supporting their economies, helping fund and promote education, building infrastructure and working with the locals, just as David Kilcullen points out in his book Counterinsurgency and as General David Petraeus found in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries have been unwilling to do so given the long-term cost, but in the long run, it will save billions. If they aren’t willing to invest in tackling the causes, they should at least stop worsening the situation by ill-advised, impromptu interventions.
Investing in these types of long-term strategies is far better than the current policies Western countries have in place to tackle extremism and radicalization. This is because they are prevention strategies that treat the root causes of the issues and not the superficial symptoms. Countering terrorism is complicated and the above-mentioned solutions are only part of the toolkit, but they are research-backed, reliable strategies that will succeed. Yet, even more needs to be done. Futile and insufficient programs need to be ended, Intelligence and Security Agencies need to collaborate, and research needs to be adhered to and integrated into combative strategies.
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