Violence and conflict has been a hereditary factor in human history. Despite the loss of lives and property, it has been a source of progress. Conflict today is however very different to what it was during the last century. The cold war introduced modern proxy wars to us and these were fought among nation states. In contrast to such a time, today we have terrorism; jihadist terrorism. The attacks of September 11th in the United States define modern terrorism; at least until recently. Today we see a new breed of extremists, a kind that is modern in all its forms and as you may know, much more terrifying.
I already used the phrase “much more terrifying” which is exactly what these extremists want to achieve. The basics of terrorism has not changed since 2001, they want to spread terror. It is just everything else that has changed. One can argue that their targets for spreading terror too have not changed. This is partly true. Open societies are always at risk of modern terrorism. Leaders of these open societies are forced to make irrational judgments based on this ‘anticipation of violence.’; based on ‘fear’. The public of these societies turn towards primordial explanations and stereotypes due to this very fear. As a result, jihadists get one step closer to what they want to achieve; to radicalize the Muslim society through its youth.
The Islamic State (ISIS) defines today’s terrorism. ISIS can be distinguished from any of its predecessors by many factors including, using ‘self-sustaining’ funding sources, a vision of a modern Islamic state rather than regime change, strategic management of subsidiaries in many countries, use of effective social media for propaganda and having its own norms for populations within their control. It can be argued that the ISIS shows a level of maturity on a scale relevant for jihadist terrorist groups.
ISIS has achieved a lot as a brand. It has been able to use the political vacuum in Libya for their advantage, they have been able to gain territory in Syria, they have been able to conduct armed conflict in many fronts and mainly they have been able to pose a significant threat to the international community through their well-coordinated attacks in many western cities. These facts do make it clear that modern terrorism has come far from its roots.
Paris, Ankara, London, San Bernardino and most recently Brussels are some of the western cities that ISIS has targeted. It also has been able to keep every other country on its toes. This has serious implications, especially due to the refugee crisis faced by the European countries. I believe that the extremists understand the dilemma faced by these countries due to the refugee crisis and hence try to capitalize it. It needs to be understood that such attacks create a deep anti-Muslim impulse among the Western public and as we discussed above, it leads to a negative self-reinforcing process.
Modern terrorism has given the power to the individual. It empowers the radical self and drives violent emotions. ISIS has created appall via its effective social media propaganda. It is important that western militaries and policy makers take this fact into serious consideration. Twitter, Facebook, live video telecasts are all used to get the message across and from the facts we can say that it is working. Thousands of western supporters have joined the Islamic State. There are thousands that have traveled to Syria, and there are others who took up arms under the banner. Either way, the Islamic State to them is a welcoming entity driven by true ideology.
Ideology is what the west needs to defeat. The idea of extremism, especially within their own societies should be addressed. It is indeed harder than it sounds. But if there is one thing modern terrorists have taught us, it is that they can find ways to hurt the west. The Islamic State is handling ideology well. Recently it released school curriculum which is based on their point of view. Textbooks containing this ideology will be taught in schools inside their territory. So it raises the question, if they can shape the young mind, why can’t the west do it? Well it should start soon.
The Islamic State wants to literally create what their name stands for. Unlike legitimate states, they seem to have an expansionist policy in terms of geographic area. The west should not commit the blunder of treating it like a state, but certain instances argue otherwise. The day the French president Hollande stated that France would go to war with the Islamic State, it gave ‘recognition’ to the organization. The moment humanitarian organizations corporate with the Islamic State, it gives it recognition. A country should only declare ‘war’ with another legitimate state. Humanitarian organizations should not bargain with the exact faction that is responsible for many crimes against humanity. So today we have a terrorist group that may have gained a certain degree of legitimacy.
To address the issue of modern terrorism, it is vital that the west seeks help of the Arab nations. The main issue is that, the Arab nations fear state failure. These Arab societies are based on the same pillars that have caused the issues in the first place. Even though prioritized, it is not merely religious divisions that have caused such conflict. There is an overlooked social element to it. These social frictions exist in many Middle Eastern countries, hampering any significant contribution towards counter-terrorism. Secondly the west has to find ways to answer to the ideological call towards extremism. Social media should and can be regulated, even though this should not come in the form of spying. I’m sure that new ways to monitor extremist behavior can be created. There is little scope for mistakes and little scope for trial and error. Policies have to be on point, since on the one hand anti-Muslim impulses are spreading fast, and on the other there is a strong magnetic attraction towards extremism. Either way modern terrorism has made the western societies more vulnerable in an unexpected manner.