No Quick Fix for Terrorism

The West is in denial by refusing to acknowledge the obvious. There's no quick fix for defeating terrorism. The terrorism we see today is the descendant of many generations of intertwined missteps. The fallout has been global. Simplistic, partial and quick fixes could make matters worse and render a solution ever more elusive.

After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the missteps are too many to list here but range from shortsighted colonization of the Middle East and North Africa, support for authoritarian rulers in the Middle East and to numerous armed conflicts and wars. The fallout is seen everywhere. There are massive human displacements, refugees and immigration from Syria and Iraq; the emergence of ISIS on the global radar and its horrific atrocities against Western interests and its even more devastating, though less advertised, atrocities against Muslims; a Europe overwhelmed by refugees and threatened with instability; a host of failed Muslim countries with hundreds of millions of disenfranchised masses with no decent jobs and prospect for better futures; and Western countries increasingly predisposed to erecting higher and higher walls to keep out Muslims and sending drones to foreign lands to kill terrorists where they live, but ignoring the reality that the West's actions are providing the foreign training ground for their own citizens to become terrorists.

Terrorism has become a global phenomenon. It is evident the world over -- in Muslim countries where hundreds of millions of oppressed Muslim masses live and in Western ghettos where Muslims spend their lives going from sub-par schools to menial jobs that afford no hope for better futures. It is under these conditions, in Muslim and non-Muslim societies, where terrorists find their disciples and recruits--bitter young men and women in search of a belonging with a glimmer of hope. Terrorists come with their false representations of Islam to these young men and women who have little or no understanding of the message of Islam (from the Holy Quran and its interpretation by the Prophet Mohammad) and fill the void that exists in oppressed Muslim countries (supported by Western interests) and in segregated Western ghettos (in nations terrified of Islam).

Terrorism has been globalized in part by technology and access to real time news. When Buckingham Palace flies the Union Jack at half-mast in sympathy for a deceased Saudi King, Muslims around the world immediately note the duplicity of sanctimonious British pronouncements--championing the quest for freedom and democratic rule while supporting oppressive rule in Saudi Arabia for business interests.

When President Obama speaks openly to the Cuban people about American values of freedom of expression in Havana, Muslims wonder if he will do the same on his upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia to a summit with the heads of state of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Countries)? If he does not, he will generate hundreds, if not thousands, of recruits for terrorists. An important fallout of globalization is that duplicity has become harder to cover up. The U.S. is unpopular in the land of its allies--the GCC, other Arab countries and Turkey--and popular in the land of its enemy, Iran! The reason is simple. The U.S. supports Arab dictators but has opposed Iran's oppressive theocracy. The Muslim masses have taken note.

Terrorism is globalizing at breakneck speed with the unrecognized danger that it may even move to non-Muslim communities--anyone facing racism, limited opportunities or unrealized dreams can cast a wide net, find recruits to his or her cause and demand a ransom. But all of this and its urgent ramifications have largely failed to register on Western radars.

It will take thoughtful, longsighted and sustained policies and initiatives on a global level and on many fronts to arrest Muslim terrorism and begin a turnaround. Some foundational pillars should be emphasized.

The process, planning and implementation must be initiated at the global level. Terrorists can recruit and operate anywhere. Moreover, if the fight is left to a few countries they may focus on their own selfish interests and ignore the interests of the rest of the world. Political interference should be minimized as politicians invariably care about the next election cycle and dictators would rather fight to the bitter end than concede anything.

The planning for this initiative should be entrusted to a committee comprised of a small number of thoughtful men and women created under the auspices of the United Nations. The committee should be given the charge of developing a White Paper on the dimensions and elements of a global program (with a schedule) to defeat terrorism. To be effective the committee should be afforded total autonomy to think comprehensively out of the box-- to come up with policy recommendations for individual countries, groups of countries, organizations, institutions, affiliations and religious groups covering any and all areas of activity such as governance, freedom of expression and worship, freedom of the press, education and job opportunities, sharing of intelligence information, refugee policies, treatment of religious minorities, etc.--to truly act at a global level with no limitations.

The resulting White Paper should then be taken up internationally to devise a comprehensive plan and implementation schedule that would address sensitive issues of national sovereignty and sanctions on countries that fail to support the program.

Finally, let's emphasize the two essential pillars for eradicating terrorism--religion and urgent reform in Muslim countries. Religion is central to a comprehensive solution. Muslims should be encouraged to take back their religion from corrupt rulers, clerics and Jihadists who have their personal agenda and propagate a false representation of Islam. Muslims must be encouraged to discuss Quranic teachings centered on the oneness of humanity, freedom and on social and economic justice. The discussion of the philosophical foundation of Islam is necessary for Muslims to establish the institutions envisaged in Islam, institutions that are designed to enhance economic, social and political justice and progress. The campaign to eradicate terrorism is more about spreading Islamic teachings of Unity and Justice to fill the space that is being increasingly occupied by terrorists than about dropping bombs on terrorist targets.

The other major pillar is long overdue reforms. Muslim countries must be encouraged, no coerced, to embrace political, social and economic reforms that support a future that includes freedom, representative government and economic opportunities for all people.

No matter how thoughtful and comprehensive the approach, it will take time to succeed. The longer a comprehensive global approach is delayed, the more entrenched terrorism becomes, with new tentacles and dimensions that will result in overt racism toward the millions of Muslim citizens and refugees in the West. A racism that once entrenched will take centuries to roll back, making the task of eradicating terrorism ever more difficult.