The Council of American-Islamic Relations has reported that Islamophobic abuse in the US, or hate crimes against Muslims, have risen by 91 percent in the first quarter of 2017 as compared to the same time last year.
It is a dark truth that since the War on Terror made its debut in Operation Enduring Freedom, terrorism in the world has only increased. Localized, reactionary militias have now evolved into transnational entities that wish to subjugate the world under their repressive regimes and the fact that no country in the world is now immune to terrorism is testament to the rapid, global diffusion of radical ideologies. A simple factual analysis will show you that interventions on the basis of the War on Terror — military combating an ideology, has only added fuel to the fire of radical Islam. Fighting terrorism with guns is no longer a viable option. Observably the recent, ‘liberation’ of Mosul, Iraq is not cause for celebration. The new weapon that needs to be used for fighting terrorism is social reform. Academics across the world have stressed that military intervention has only strengthened terrorist organizations and that curtailing the effects of terrorism, without addressing its causes, will result in failure. Perhaps nothing I write will be different from what has already been written.
I do, however, hope to provide a broader picture to show that the future trajectory of terrorism and radicalization can only be curtailed by curtailing the recruitment mechanisms of terrorist entities. The New York Times recently published an article entitled Migrant Maids and Nannies for Jihad that reports on how social media is being used to radicalize maids working in Indonesia and Hong Kong. Interviews with several maids that ended up joining networks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) revealed a consistent cycle that resulted in radicalization: dislocation from home and the resultant isolation of Muslims that are not welcome in the societies that they work in causes a “spiritual dryness” within them.
In the search to find purpose and association, these individuals turn to Islam for a spiritual awakening but since they are unaware of the right sources for engaging with Islam — those that display Islam as the peaceful and tolerant religion that it truly is — they end up deriving information from radical Salafist sources. This ensues cause for concern about Muslims in Syria and Iraq, but their sources of information propagate a wrongful course of action, to eliminate this concern, that is not only inhumane and disgusting, but is also against the very fundamentals of Islam: terrorism.
Unaware of Islam’s blatant denial of terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians as a response to the plight of Muslims, socially isolated maids and nannies find their spiritual purpose in making innocent people pay for the situation created by ISIS itself— by terrorizing their nations in the name of Islam. Terrorism is the last stage in this process— it does not stem from animosity towards the west or from the true teachings of Islam; terrorism is caused by social deprivation. It is this social deprivation that we must eradicate if terrorism is to be defeated.
A very apt analysis of how radicalization is caused by relative socioeconomic deprivation lies in a paper published by the Brookings Institute:
Absolute deprivation is not the real challenge. The more challenging question, particularly in the Arab world, is relative deprivation: the absence of opportunities relative to expectations. Such focus on relative deprivation is important because poverty is no longer an absolute concept in the context of globalization. Globalization creates an acute awareness about opportunities available elsewhere. This leads to frustration, victimization, and humiliation among growing cohorts of urbanized, undereducated, and unemployed Muslim youth who are able to make comparisons across countries
This paper was published in 2009. Three more wars against terror have subsequently taken place (Yemen, Syria, and Iraq) and all three have left their respective countries in conditions that are worse than the pre-war conditions. What I am immensely troubled by — and what most writers tend to avoid saying for its lack of political correctness — is the fact that the grievances of individuals that end up being radicalized, especially those in the western world, are valid. This, in any way, does not mean that their means of expressing these grievances are valid. The causes of terrorism, however, are not arbitrary creations or façades created by ISIS; they are grounded in reality. With the run up to, and the election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States, animosity towards Muslims in the US has increased immensely.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported that Islamophobic abuse in the US, or hate crimes against Muslims, have risen by 91 percent in the first quarter of 2017 as compared to the same time last year. The Independent has also reported that Trump’s air-bombing campaign has resulted in as many civilian deaths in Iraq as the deaths under the entirety of Obama’s tenure as president.
Speaking of air-bombing campaigns, this article by The Atlantic that explains why carpet-bombing ISIS will not work— adding to the list of the now uncountable, ‘mistakes’ of the US in the War on Terror that some general will later admit to (read: the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If one is being increasingly marginalized by a state, whose government has also been accidentally bombing one’s fellow peaceful and innocent Muslims for almost two decades, will one not feel frustrated, angry, and vengeful towards that state?
Now that my name has probably been placed on a terrorist watch list, let me attempt to suggest a way to put an end to this viscous cycle of the production of terrorists. One example to be followed is that of Italy. The Italian government has started using Imams vetted to have moderate views to preach moderate Islam to Muslim inmates in Italian prisons. These prisoners are primarily told not to hate non-Muslims and that they are, “100 percent citizens with rights and duties”. This preventative measure has been immensely successful in curtailing the radicalization of individuals that have developed animosity towards the state. Why this method is successful is very aptly summarized by a 35-year old Tunisian inmate, who said:
If I am praying, I am not cooking up ideas to harm others on the outside.
What is more important, however, is that Muslims that are at a risk of radicalization due to ostracization are integrated into their respective societies.
Sarah Lyons-Padilla, a Stanford social psychology expert conducted research on the radicalization of Muslims in the US and her findings unwavering proved that individuals that felt better integrated into society were better protected against radicalization. She suggests including young, “culturally homeless” immigrants in American culture whilst ensuring that they are not forced to discard their own culture, curbing discrimination against Muslims, and, “fostering out a sense of purpose” for such individuals in socially adaptive ways. Essentially, her report stresses on the fact that Muslims in the US must be taught, and allowed to adopt American culture in their own unique ways, that is, they must be taught how to nuance the diffusion of their own culture with American culture so that they feel the society is, ‘theirs’ and that they are part of it; not that the society is out to get them.
This also means that society must be accepting of the cultural and religious practices of Muslims — when there are shootings at mosques or protests with extremely offensive slogans outside the houses of Muslims, no Muslim with any self-actualization will feel positively towards the deliverers of such heinous acts.
It is now high time that the, ‘champions of freedom’ and the wagers of the War of Terror realize that this is not a battle of guns. The terrorist acts of entities such as ISIS are the end product of a much deeper ideological current. Unfortunately, the motivators for this current are grounded in reality. Muslims must be made to feel part of the western societies that they live in, as is their right. As Lyons-Padilla correctly claims:
If the United States does not do a better job of including Muslims, the militant organization [ISIS] will.
Mohammad Ahmed Shiwani is an intern at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. Any views belong to the author.