Small World: Dealing with terrorists

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Two weekends ago when Somali Islamic terrorists attacked an upscale Nairobi mall killing and wounding scores (mainly Christians), other Islamic terrorists in Pakistan killed as many by bombing a crowd coming out of church.

These murders happened against a background of attacks on Christian churches by Moslem extremists in Egypt and fighting between radical Moslems and Christians in Nigeria. In the Syrian civil war, Sunni Moslem rebels fighting President Assad last month attacked an historic Christian village.

During the same period, Sunnis in Iraq planted bombs that killed scores of Shia Moslems.

This blind violence recalls the Wars of Religion in Europe some four hundred years ago. What’s going on? What’s driving these Moslem youth toward deadly rage?

The first and essential component is a cadre of charismatic leaders who preach the need and duty of faithful youth to fight the oppressive and heretical other with violence. Although they only infect a tiny number of men and women, that is all that is necessary to constitute a killing band. The vast majority of ordinary Moslems are unjustly condemned by linking them with the label of extremism.

The youth, who join the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Shabaab in Somalia or al-Qaeda in Syria and Yemen (to list only a few of the terrorist cells), are persuaded that Moslems have been and are oppressed by the Christian West. They start with the Crusades, work through European imperialism, the creation of Israel on Arab soil and finish with American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, drone attacks and various security measures hostile to Moslems.

It is a short leap for them to decide that waging war and self-sacrifice are required to defend the faith.

This message falls on fertile ground. Even in the oil rich and sparsely populated petroleum kingdoms, the Middle East and Moslem Africa is sadly underdeveloped. Education is rudimentary (rote memory of the Koran), jobs are few and normal lives with families almost impossible to achieve. I used to wonder whether the rebellious youth of Lebanon would grow up and settle down to become respectable insurance salesmen. Well, they didn’t. They stayed on the career path of guns at the ready, salaried by wealthy Arab donors. Adherents of the deeply conservative Saudi Wahabi sect are the ideological motivators and funders of many violent youth.

This is a movement that will not be soon defeated, if ever. Recall there was the organization of Moslem Assassins in the Middle Ages. As the Israelis have learned — without changing their behavior — when you kill one opponent, you create at least two more from his brothers or cousins. We fought wars costly in lives and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan and we created even more threatening conditions for those lands. Making war is plainly not the answer — although it may conjure up ignorant satisfaction at home that something is being done.

What then can realistically be done to mitigate this plague?

First, keep our security guard up — despite how inconvenient that may be. Then, patiently, slowly by necessity, conditions must be changed in these violence-threatened countries. The region is rich beyond imagining: Saudi Arabia is said to hold $700 billion in reserves. A generous portion of that sum could be put to good use in opening up economies that create jobs and generate hope. That means democracy must be encouraged — anathema to the Saudi kingdom. I repeat: patiently, slowly. But the United States and Europe should press relentlessly for a region-wide effort.

As part of development, education must be modernized and population growth brought under control. (Iran did it.) Finally, justice must be seen to be possible. That means an Israel-Palestine settlement that ends the Israeli occupation with a two-state solution. An end to the Syrian civil war must be found that brings a popularly based government. There and in Iraq foreign funds and fighters must be removed. And Egypt’s start toward democracy must be restarted.

Simplistic and wishful thinking? Of course. But, that is the only way out of a terrible and increasingly dangerous predicament.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

Please follow and like us: