Muslims and Western countries have to work together to eliminate DAESH, al-Qaida and similar terrorist organizations whether in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, France or Belgium
Terrorism has struck again, this time in Brussels, after the recent attacks in Ankara and Istanbul. These acts of terrorism once again unveil the fragile nature of the world in which we live. But they also underline the urgency of developing new policies against terrorism in all its forms.
Three main lessons can be drawn from this latest act of cowardice and inhumanity. First of all, the anti-DAESH strategy needs to be revised. There is no doubt that this menace must be destroyed. Muslim and Western countries have to work together to eliminate DAESH, al-Qaida and similar terrorist organizations whether in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, France or Belgium. But the current strategy, which has focused primarily on airstrikes on DAESH targets in Syria and Iraq, has failed to stop DAESH from striking in Syria, Turkey, Europe and the U.S. The war in Syria continues to feed the DAESH monster. The longer we let this war continue, the deadlier DAESH terrorism will become. DAESH reached its current level of network and impact primarily because of the war in Syria and the deep security and political problems in Iraq.
DAESH terrorism, however, should not make us forget the fact that Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria has killed close to 400,000 people, more than any other terrorist organization. It has also turned millions of Syrians into refugees and internally displaced people. Disregarding this horrible fact in the name of fighting DAESH deepens the sense of alienation and resentment. Paradoxically enough, the Russian-Iranian backing of the Assad regime is feeding DAESH, which sees the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current support for Assad as justification for its existence.
Secondly, there are no good or bad terrorists. Regardless of ethnic, religious or political motives, terrorism is terrorism everywhere. It is neither logical nor moral to treat DAESH as a terrorist organization that struck in Paris and Brussels but not the PKK that struck in Ankara twice over the last two months. By allowing the PKK to manipulate the system in Europe, EU countries fail the test of consistency against terrorism. PKK terrorism cannot be justified in the name of fighting DAESH in Syria. As the recent Ankara and Istanbul attacks show, DAESH and the PKK, although coming from opposite ideological-political backgrounds, are united in their terrorism directed at Turkey.
At this point, intelligence sharing and cooperation against terrorism is key to preventing future incidents. As it has become clear after the Brussels attack, Belgian authorities failed to act on intelligence that Turkey provided with an official note that Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers, was a foreign terrorist fighter. He was first arrested in Gaziantep and then deported in June 2015 to the Netherlands at his request.
Over the last three years, Turkey deported more than 3,000 individuals and put another 37,000 people on a no-entry list for suspected ties to terrorism. A significant number of these individuals come from European countries.
Thirdly, the anti-Muslim backlash after every terrorist attack plays right into the hands of violent extremists. The European and American Islamophobes wasted no time in using the recent attacks to manipulate the anti-Muslim sentiment for their political goals. Homogenizing discourses about Islam and Muslims hurts the fight against radicalization and violent extremism. It alienates the vast majority of Muslims and helps the extremists. Essentializing Islam does not solve any political problems nor does it increase our security. Furthermore, DAESH does not recruit solely on theology, as it manipulates political facts and recruits petty criminals, adventurers and misfits from all walks of life. Violence does not need religion to justify itself.
Research shows that right-wing extremists kill more people than terrorists with Muslim names.
What is worse is that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism has become a rallying ground for both far-right and leftist circles in the West. The far-right conservative groups invoke ethnic and religious purity against minority Muslim communities and left-liberal pundits resort to feminism and secularism, among others, to demonize Muslims. What unites these unlikely allies is their collective stereotyping of Islam and Muslims.
Caught in between violent extremism and anti-Muslim racism, ordinary Muslims are victimized twice. On the one hand, they suffer from the brutal attacks of DAESH in places like Syria and Iraq as DAESH has killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims. On the other, the Islamophobes who use DAESH terrorism to make cheap political points on the anti-Muslim wave subject ordinary Muslims to discrimination, guilt by association and racism – offences that they would not dare do to other radical and extremist groups.Muslims are asked to denounce DAESH and its ilk, and they do. But it does not register and does not make it into daily political commentary as a given. Every time a terrorist event happens, Muslims are turned into potential suspects. But the same questioning is never applied to ordinary Germans in regard to neo-Nazis, Norwegians in regard to Andres Breivik or Americans in regard to the Ku Klux Klan and Timothy McVeigh. European and American terrorists are treated as terrorists with very little or no commentary on their religion and cultural identity.
In the end, DAESH terrorism and the Islamophobia industry feed off each other. The recently published European Islamophobia Report by the Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA) shows that anti-Muslim racism is spreading and becoming a tool of antagonist politics, sensational journalism and religious exclusivism across Europe.
Given American election dynamics, the situation is not any better across the Atlantic. The Republican presidential hopefuls run on the politics of fear, disregarding the contributions of law-abiding, tax-paying Muslim-Americans. The instrumentalization of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West may bring short-term political gains in an election but creates much larger problems in the long run.
The fight against terrorism must continue, but it has to be done with consistency and efficacy. Blaming the victims and manipulating public outrage for political opportunism serves no common good.