Bombs and Band-Aids Won't Cure Terrorism

As the blood of innocents - spilled by terrorist bombers - is wiped from Brussels Metro and airport walls, politicians amp up their dithering about how to deal with Islamic extremism. The world has seen 20 such attacks in the first 11 weeks of 2016.

Governments debate over what to do: More bombs dropped on ISIS? Stronger border security? More help for the Iraqi military and the Kurdish militants?

The problem with all their suggestions is that they only treat symptoms. It's like taking aspirin for a fever when you're dying of pneumonia. We will never recover unless we cure the disease.

As a former wanna-be Jihad fighter who aimed to take up arms to save Afghanistan from the Soviets, I know what this disease looks like from the inside.

I can identify with the Belgium-born terrorists who blew up the Brussels airport - and themselves - on March 22. They were young Muslims who likely felt disenfranchised, alienated from society, without hope for any reasonable future. Jihad offers an eternal alternative.

I don't say this to excuse their appalling choices. I say it because we must understand how the disease metastasizes if we can ever hope to cure it.

Why do I identify with these young boys?

During the Russian invasion of my native Afghanistan, I was a newlywed with one child. I left my home and family to join mujahedeen in the mountains fighting Russian invaders. With the help of friends and relatives, I made it to Peshawar, Pakistan.

After only a few months, I realized it was not what I had in mind. I watched as the sons of mujahedeen leaders and other influential individuals were shielded in fortified mansions or send abroad while sons of the poor and destitute were sent to the battlefields. I gave up Jihad for freedom and fled to Germany, then eventually found a home in the U.S.

Looking back, what inspired me to leave my wife and child and possibly sacrifice my life was a belief in something higher than family. I wanted to be part of a bigger picture, fighting a world superpower like the Soviet Union. I was hailed inside a Muslim culture that celebrated certain values. Defending my religion, country and cultural heritage was of paramount importance.

Almost 40 years later, as I look at these Belgian suicide bomber boys, I ponder what drove them to such barbaric acts of violence. For me, it was the Russian invasion. I didn't want to live under the yoke of humility. For today's Jihadist, the recipe is more complex.

Amnesty International reports that Muslims who practice their faith openly in Europe face widespread discrimination in education, employment and religious freedom.

"Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf," said Marco Perolini, the group's discrimination specialist. "Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam."

First-generation Muslim migrants in Europe are fixated on preserving their traditional lifestyles. But when their children become exposed to Western values, they grow confused and outraged. They revolt against two powers: their parents, who don't want to change, and a European society that treats them as second-class citizens.

"Problems of identity, xenophobia and a lack of integration produce significant minorities within these communities who may be susceptible to the jihadist message," said BBC News diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

For humanitarian and economic reasons, Europe and the U.S. admitted millions of skilled and unskilled migrants from developing nations over the past two decades. The notion was that these newcomers would assimilate into their adopted countries and contribute to economic prosperity.

That idea proved successful in capitalist America, but failed in Europe's welfare states. Europe's social programs made it possible for immigrants to live on the fringe with state handouts.

While the U.S. has more to offer immigrants who are willing to strive for success, Europe proves more attractive to the unskilled immigrants. They congregate in ghettoes and turn their backs on Western values. They raise their children with traditional mores and prohibit them from marrying infidels.

Radical Islamists manipulate most of the European mosques by spreading their own extremist interpretation of Islam.

What would you expect from a child fertilized in this manure and who hears anti-Western propaganda five times a day in a mosque that is his or her only place to socialize?

At the same time, some young Muslims in western countries might hear about enlightenment, renaissance, freedom of expression and equality before the law. These children become confused. Who is telling the truth? Who to believe?

They are angry at their parents and their community. This is why they travel to Syria in search of belonging to a great cause or to vent their anger.

Muslims in Europe, even those who are born there, are treated as second-class citizens. This has to change. The model for change is the United States, where Muslims have been assimilated and enjoy the same rights as anyone else.

In my 30-year stay in the U.S., I never felt like an outcast. Our children feel no pressures or limitations on their ability to excel. In fact, they are encouraged.

To cure the disease of Islamic terrorism, we need a multi-faceted approach. European governments need to listen. They need to comprehend the roots of the misunderstanding. It starts with sincere effort and words of healing and peace.

As Amnesty International suggests, European governments must do more to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices against Muslims that fuel discrimination, especially in education and employment.

The world is shrinking, and we can longer shield ourselves from what is happening elsewhere. We have to seek new ways.

The military option is like a Band-Aid on a wound that is hemorrhaging. We need to think of curing Islamic terrorism as we think of curing cancer. It will be a generational challenge. We need to win hearts and minds, and it won't be done with bombs and guns. The prescription calls for social change on both sides that is deep, genuine and lasting.