On Easter Sunday, a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks hit Sri Lanka, killing hundreds of people. Authorities first blamed local group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) before ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings, signaling its widening reach beyond the Middle East, Africa and Europe. These attacks happened one month after the ISIS Caliphate was driven out of Syria and Iraq and four months after Trump claimed that the terrorist group had been defeated. And this is where the problem lies!
ISIS is like cancer: it is not because the diseased cells have been eradicated that the disease won’t spread elsewhere! Like a Phoenix, ISIS is resurrecting itself wherever the ground is fertile to its blooming and growth, in other words in all areas of the world where Muslims are supposedly in need of its Islamic ‘guidance’ (as ISIS does not consider them to be true Muslims) or are threatened by the Infidels (all non-Muslim people) such as in the Sahel region, China, Myanmar…
What are the root causes of this terrorism carried out in the name of Islam?
Answering this question is quite tricky because of the complexity of the causal infrastructure that generates terrorism – it is not a linear causality but rather a circular and more of a spaghetti-style ‘logic’.
Muslim countries whether African, Asian or European are subjected to several tensions. On the one hand, some of these tensions are those of modernism, namely a gap between modern mindsets (advocating, among other things, human rights, democracy, freedom of expression and gender equality) and pre-modern mindsets (which revolve around the importance of the preservation and transmission of customs and traditions, the traditional domination of the male, paternalism in all its forms, and the absence of the concept of citizenship). These tensions have repercussions on three significant spheres, political, economic and social, and thus are spreading in societies through pressures on cultural and religious values that are, by their very nature, conservative and entrenched in the past.
These tensions clash with Muslim states’ willingness to modernize their society, a modernization that follows different paces from one Muslim country to another, whereas Muslim societies are themselves torn between those who are for progress, change and Westernization and those who reject everything new and cling to the past by seeking refuge in religious values considered as set-in-stone traditions. The widespread illiteracy, ignorance, rapidly growing populations, high unemployment rates, endless poverty and hopelessness and/or the dashing of earlier hopes about the chance to build a better life complicate this already difficult situation.
The terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam has many facets that feed on each other. In addition to the lack of freedoms (mostly autocracy), there is the disparity in the distribution of national wealth (held by a tiny minority at the top), a population that is either illiterate or is educated but has no hope of building a social project and so too easily falls into organized crime (e.g., human trafficking and slavery), informal immigration to Europe and the enticement of being rewarded by joining ISIS… Added to this powder keg are the Muslim diaspora (one of the largest and most widespread diasporas in the world) and Muslim minorities throughout the world that suffer uprooting, rejection and forced assimilation by the host country (e.g., democratic France that seeks to ‘assimilate’ Muslim minorities in the name of its sacrosanct secularism) or by their own country/nation (e.g., authoritarian China that persecutes its Uyghur minority by ‘re-education’ and ‘dilution’ among the Han majority using forced marriages). These mediated behaviors generate casus belli for indoctrinators and about-to-become terrorists of dormant cells.
On the other hand, several strategies of the postcolonial Western powers fuel these tensions while seeking to perpetuate their dominance of the world and their continued draining of its natural resources to their exclusive benefit, not to mention the US/UK’s unprovoked wars and toppling of the governments of Iraq and Libya, their attempted destruction of Syria (and support of ISIS fighters there), while they brand Iran as a terrorist supporter. We cannot forget that these tensions are rooted in history.
Muslims, in general, have never accepted the fall of Granada at the hands of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella on Jan. 2, 1492, nor the help offered by the Europeans to dismember the Ottoman Empire. And, Palestine is an episode that has become a raw open wound on top of the hotbeds of tension generated by non-Western countries and in which Muslims pay the price: Russia with the Chechens, Myanmar with the Rohingya, and China with the Uighurs…The pseudo-theologians of terrorism, in the name of Islam, exploit these unfortunate events to their benefit and it becomes easier for them to recruit their ‘armies’.
The key abscess that is the Palestinian issue has been revived recently by the positions of President Trump, who broke with the semblance of the status quo that had existed. It was brought even more poignantly to the world’s attention by the unarmed, people-led March of Return in Gaza and their slaughter/maiming by snipers. Hence, there is a coalescence of tensions at the level of Muslim states that reject democracy, seen as a Western invention and interference in which they do not believe nor recognize themselves with some exceptions for historical and cultural reasons.
These tensions’ coalescence is amplified by the information technology revolution that the ‘brainwashers’ working for the terrorists’ cells manipulate at will to propagate, indoctrinate, recruit and execute attacks. For example, events are selected by the recruiters and amplified by social media to become motives for terrorist attacks; for example, this was the case of the attacks in Sri Lanka, an island in the Indian Ocean, which was designated as a retaliation to the terrorist attacks that occurred on March 15, thousands of miles away on an island in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand!
These are just some of the conditions conducive to the emergence of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam found among Muslims. The external environment pushes the about-to-become terrorist to take action.
What could be the solution(s) to contain this terrorism committed in the name of Islam?
Since the problem of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam is complex, so too is the solution.
First of all, the precondition to containing terrorism committed in the name of Islam is that there must be a real political will in a Muslim country to change, to modernize the state and to cede some of the power to its citizens.
That said, the role of information is crucial. The government in place should and must gather intel over and over to ensure that it has all the information and data in hand to prevent catastrophes, whether on its soil or elsewhere. And, since terrorism is a transnational issue, Muslim and non-Muslim states must collaborate and exchange intel (with a high degree of transparency and certainty) while maintaining their due diligence so that security remains a top priority. This is a sine qua non condition that will be eased by the use of information technology and social media.
Muslim countries should stop cozying up with the West at the expense of their fellow Muslim countries and accept their diversity that is a strength. Strong and well-educated and charismatic leaders are sorely needed to rally each Muslim country around a single objective: to become modern while maintaining their cultural specificity. The old paternalist political system must be changed.
Legal reforms (to guarantee the secularization of the judicial system) are needed to ensure that state intervention is legal while integrating the rule of law. Each Muslim country must gradually open up to democracy and modernity at its own pace while fighting corruption and promoting transparency. This is one of the Herculean labors that must be done without fail at all levels.
At the economic level, each Muslim country should set up infrastructure projects to boost its economy and enable young people to work in order to channel their youthful energy, talents, and desires into value-added social projects; this will allow young people to believe in their future and thereby prevent them from falling into delinquency and terrorism.
The educational aspect is a crucial component. On the one hand, an educational approach of the Muslim citizen that preaches the Islamic values of tolerance and of learning, and that does so from an early age, is a necessary prerequisite. On the other hand, an approach that allows the social reintegration of ‘repentant’ terrorists is crucial to building a more cohesive and strong society. Both of these aspects will require some major reforms of Islam into responsible civil social institutions.
This is the utopian solution to the problem of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, but it cannot work. Tragically, all the political protagonists in both the modernist (ruling in some cases) class and the conservative religious class are taking advantage of the current situation to satisfy their interests, giving free rein to the terrorist brainwashers and occult powers who take full advantage of the tinderbox.
To fight terrorism committed in the name of Islam, two crucial elements must be kept in mind. On the one hand, the non-Muslim powers must be part of the solution. Terrorism is a transnational issue and fighting it requires a collective effort, for example, by strengthening the actions of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and focussing on collaboration. Living in harmony with Muslim minorities can only proceed by first accepting them and systematically stopping their forced ‘assimilation’ or exclusion. On the other hand, reforming Islam and modernizing it will require the equivalent of a Martin Luther. This awaited Muslim Luther must be able to stand up to all Muslim factions and sects and rally them around a new modern Muslim theology. It is a slim hope indeed…
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
Dr Fatima-Zohra Er-Rafia is a lecturer at HEC Montréal and Polytechnique Montréal, a consultant, and an independent researcher. She holds a PhD in Business Administration with a focus on China and Japan. Dr Er-Rafia specializes in international affairs, geopolitics, cross-cultural management, and strategy. Her focus is on Weberian sociology, politics, economics, and history, and she uses aspects of all these disciplines to study Asia. Dr Er-Rafia previously served as a Corporate Strategist at Desjardins Group and as a Management Consultant, Director of Operations, and a Strategy and Business Development Consultant at Stratégies Internationales. She provides training for Business Executives at the international level and regularly gives presentations about Asia’s geopolitics, and its business, management, and culture. She is the recipient of several honors and awards and author of two book chapters on China and Japan, several articles and business case studies. For more info: www.fatimaerrafia.com