16 years after 9-11, Al Qaeda and Islamic State are thriving despite the “War on Terror”. Is it time for western governments to find a different approach in order to defeat radical Islamic terrorism?
Radical Islamic terrorism is top of the agenda for most western political leaders. The response is bans on migrants and targeted assassinations. Is that the best we can do?
Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about terrorism… murderous attacks by Muslim extremists on western interests.
For most Americans, terrorism began on September 11th 2001, when Al Qaeda hit the Twin Towers. Americans were the victims that day; and so began President Bush’s War on Terror.
The Al Qaeda brand name was adopted by other jihadist groups around the world. Subsequently, it’s been overshadowed by the Islamic State, ISIL, which showed early success in seizing territory in Iraq and Syria.
President Obama and now President Trump stopped using the term ‘war on terror’, but the idea of waging a military offensive against jihadist groups continues.
Nine days into his presidency, Trump ordered a botched attack on a compound in Yemen apparently to kill the current Al Qaeda leader, Qasim al-Raymi. The mission was a disaster. One Navy Seal and a number of civilians were killed.
No doubt, there will be more commando raids as the new president seeks to demonstrate how he will keep America safe.
Politicians – especially those who have never served in uniform – like to use military force. It makes them look tough. It also provides a comforting narrative for the public. Terrorist bad. We killed him. We’re safe now.
The problem is the whole war on terror misses the point, perhaps purposely or negligently, it over simplifies the motivations of the terrorist; and thus the strategy is doomed to failure.
The question I ask is: why do they, the radical Islamic terrorists, want to kill us? The simplistic answer is: we in the west are infidels, non believers in Islam, they hate our liberal lifestyle and they have a religious imperative to convert us at the point of a sword.
Those statements are all true. But it’s not the whole truth and it’s not the most important truth.
Political dissent in most Muslim countries is not permissible. If you are a Saudi citizen and you want to change your government, you cannot just set up a blog or a political party and campaign for the peaceful dissolution of the Al Saud monarchy.
Well, you could, but you would be arrested, tortured and executed.
Moderate political dissenters in the mideast have no peaceful options. British, French and American intelligence help the regimes quash opposition by all means necessary, fair and foul.
Right now, Jack Straw, the former British Foreign Secretary and MI6 are being sued for allegedly assisting Colonel Gaddafi kidnap and torture a political opponent… in the days when Gaddafi was an ally.
So, how would you feel about the west if this was your experience?
Our meddling in mideast affairs dates from the Sykes-Picot Agreement, when the British and French carved up the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
A generation later, during the Cold War, we supported mideast dictators, who were allowed to murder, torture and steal from their people, so long as they were on our side and didn’t cosy up to the Russians.
We rigged elections. Murdered political opponents. Committed innumerable crimes against humanity in order to prop up these dodgy allies.
All this forced political dissent underground. The only place people could go to assemble was in the mosque. So, religion became the centre of essentially civil political dissent against corrupt rulers, kept in power by the west.
Just as black churches became a focus for the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s, the mosque became the centre of political dissent in the mideast.
These dissenters didn’t start out as religious extremists. They were Arab nationalists, anti colonialists. But the physical proximity to the mosque forced a merger of philosophies and the rise of more extreme voices.
I believe we can still disentangle radical Islam from the justifiable political complaints of these groups. If we address the political agenda, I believe the religious voices would lose support.
So, what are the political grievances?
Firstly, virtually all the Sunni Muslim monarchies in the mideast are barbarous kleptocratic regimes. If there were free and fair democratic elections, all of them would be ousted.
Why do we in the west still care about keeping these corrupt royal families in power? It cannot be about oil. Remember, OPEC is a cartel that keeps the oil price high to drain more money from us. After all, whoever runs these countries needs our money.
I say we have no strategic interest in keeping them in power. We should stay out of their business and let them fight it out. If we don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with us.
The only issue – especially for the Americans – is the State of Israel. This is a major thorn in the side for all western discourse with Muslim nations. But the antipathy towards Israel is shared by millions of Muslims, not just jihadists. So long as the US aids Israel with money and arms, they will have a problem with Islamic terrorism.
So, there has to be a concerted push to bring about the Two State Solution, recognising a viable Palestinian state and brokering a wider regional peace accord between Israel and its neighbours.
America seems to have a cultural need to find new enemies or inflate the significance of minor irritants. We in Britain should not follow suit. Islamic State is a mere pimple on the backside of history. The danger it poses is in our over-reaction and a misdirected and clumsy response. It is that reaction that could create a tsunami of unforeseen consequences.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.