A Way Forward - Countering Militant Islamism in the MENA-Region

In light of the recent Islamist atrocities it may be fair to ask what possible steps to take in order to counter the trend of increasing terrorism violence across the MENA-region, as well as in Europe. It's a dark picture to be sure, made even worse by the rise of the Islamic State (IS). But what the rise of IS has also brought forth is a new and more assertive debate in the region about the reasons for this sorry state of affairs. This is a discussion that to a new extent has placed the roots of this religiously motivated Islamist violence in the region itself, pointing out - like for instance Egyptian President Al Sisi did at Davos already in January of this year - that it's an indigenous interpretation of Islam that give IS (and every other like-minded group or organization) a religious sanction in its quest.

This is a very hopeful development, because it means that the people most affected by this violence, are really the only ones that can effectively counter this and reverse the trend. So even if the situation is dire in much of the region there actually are a number of examples of how to combat and even defeat militant Islamism. There are three countries in particular that, in various ways and to different degrees, has successfully bucked the trend and been able - so far at least - to stay stable and fighting off the Islamist threat at the same time;

Morocco, on the North-Western tip of Africa is the Arab country that most successfully has implemented a strategic program in tackling militant Islamism at its core, namely in its religious teachings. This was seen most recently in the newly inaugurated Institute; "Mohammed VI Fondation for African Ulemas". It's an Institute set up to train hundreds of African religious scholars and Imam's in ways to counter religious extremism and violence. In addition, Morocco has made it very costly to join and/or assist the Islamists of the IS (and others). It hasn't stopped volunteers from Morocco to travel to Iraq and Syria, but it has tackled the problem at its root at the same time as it has been able to preserve stability and security back home. And, most importantly perhaps, it has done this at the same time as having implemented a long-term strategic program of democratizing and reforming the country, showing in the process that it is actually possible to effectively combat Islamism on several levels simultaneously.

The second example is Israel, the only truly liberal democracy in the region. What the Israeli example shows more than anything else is that it is possible to successfully develop efficient means of countering militant Islamism without severely curtailing the fundamentals of a solid democracy. Israel faces the same threats concerning terrorism as her Arab neighbors, but does not have the same problems as Moslem countries when it comes to countering volunteers to Islamist groups or organizations. Furthermore, one of the things Islamists are in agreement about is a vicious enmity towards Israel and Jews. Violent anti-Semitism is a constant here. So it's no surprise that Israel and several of her neighbors has found common ground in facing a common threat.

The third example is in some ways the most astounding, by its mere existence. It's the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Like Morocco the KRG is juggling a democratizing process with a fight against Islamism. But the Kurds are facing a much more acute situation of course, being on the front-lines of the struggle with IS and also having to deal with the fact that neither Iraq, Iran, Syria nor Turkey are particularly interested in seeing an independent Kurdish state. Nevertheless, the KRG has been able to deal both with external threats, at the same time as handling domestic challenges in pursuing democratic reform-work and trying not to alienate her neighbors.

In conclusion, the major point with highlighting these three countries from the MENA-region is to show that there are indeed successful examples in countering militant Islamism and the terrorism that comes in its wake. If those examples could be emulated and extended, there are ways forward to roll back IS and all that its stands for.