Defeating ISIS terrorism will not eradicate extremism

It is clear that wars on terror have produced more terrorism

Bakir Oweida
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Here we go again, and most likely will keep going for indefinitely. Who are “we?” What is that “ongoing” thing? And where does it keep taking us?

While the answers to those questions are quite clear to those who are very much “in the know” of world events since at least the early 70s, it can’t hurt to refresh our memories.

The “we” I refer to in this case is all of us who live in our troubled world, while extremism is the ongoing cancerous thing that keeps popping up in different shapes and under different names. As for where it’s taking us, that would be the terrorist fields of destruction, disruption, and death in all its gruesome forms, including the recent waves of online beheading of human beings – journalists or just poor individuals whose bad luck put them in the way of evil groups such as ISIS and others of the same ilk.

How did the world reach such a perilous situation? It may sound strange to say that we all bear a share of the responsibility, even on an individual level.

However, when it comes to identifying the roots of extremism, every party that directly or indirectly contributed to sowing its seeds tries to outpace all other parties by being quicker in declaring, as loudly as possible: “It wasn’t me.” One would think the rise and veneration of the many different schools of extremism have descended on Earth from the planet Mars or some such place.

A shocking truth

The shocking truth is that extremism, which produces terrorism that causes mayhem and destruction – indiscriminately killing people of any race or religion – is engendered by a few people in powerful authoritative positions ruling over a normal powerless majority.

It is clear that wars on terror have produced more terrorism

Bakir Oweida

This, as history tells us, goes back thousands of years, with ethnic cleansing by means of terror and bloodshed occurring and taking root in most of the old and modern worlds.

As is the case today, conflicts of interests have always been at the heart of all wars, including what is called “Islamic jihad” against the West, or what has been called a “war on terrorism.”

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should look equally at fighting terrorism and terrorist organisations, but it is clear that wars on terror have produced more terrorism.

The story goes back to the guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Despite its just cause, that war did eventually lead to the creation of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. Does that mean the Moscow should have been allowed to keep Kabul under its thumb? Certainly not, but two important matters didn’t seem to matter back then.

First, there should have been serious and vigorous Islamic efforts to find a peaceful political solution to the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Muslim countries, with all the economic power they controlled, could have applied such great pressure on Moscow that it could have prompted a gradual Soviet withdrawal.

But that did not happen; the war raged for years and ended with an impressive victory achieved by a few thousands fighters who managed to defeat a great power and drive its troops out of a large country.

What happened next gave extremism a boost. As thousands of victorious fighters, who became known as the “Arab Afghan,” found themselves unemployed, unwanted and even hunted by security bodies in many countries, including their own.

That was a huge mistake. Instead of working hard to offer the returning fighters the best possible rehabilitation, including jobs and places in colleges, institutes and universities, they were left to fend for themselves, and it was no wonder that they were ready to respond happily to bin Laden’s call for “jihad.”

As the Afghanistan lessons were ignored, al-Qaeda grew bigger and managed to establish many branches within which competition produced harder and more savage forms of terror organizations such as ISIS.

Of course I’m not suggesting that concerned countries around the world did not do, or are not doing anything to stop extremism. Yet a very serious question remains valid, and requires a serious answer: Is combating terrorism militarily sufficient to stop extremism?

Of course the question has been debated since the horrible Sept, 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

Many answers have been circulating around the globe, especially in the concerned countries. Yet 13 years on, no practical measures have been put into practice to eradicate extreme behaviour – even on an individual level – that is the product of different extreme ideologies.

In the Muslim world there is still a long way ahead to tackle extremism that refuses to accept or tolerate others, whether followers of other religions or within Islam itself.

Extremist ideologies

Defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan proved that it was not enough to stamp out extremist ideologies, and the same applies to what is happening now.

Indeed, ISIS may be defeated military, but the extremism that produced it will endure – it will go into the shadows for a time, only to later reproduce another form of terrorism.

And then the outcry, “here we go again,” will be heard one more time.

It is also as important to remember that extremism is not the product of a sole culture or religion, but that is a different serious story that deserves another article.


Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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