Victims of ISIS or social change?

The emergence, expansion and evolution of terror groups have affected many societies around the world

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

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The emergence, expansion and evolution of terror groups have affected many societies around the world. The Irish Republican Army in Ireland, the Red Army in Japan, the Mafia in Italy and various others have all attempted to merge their ideological beliefs with acts of violence to instill terror and fear.

This is the modus operandi of al-Qaeda and most recently ISIS, which aims to build a state by occupying cities; and have played on the deeply held beliefs of Muslims by claiming they are reviving the caliphate. In reality, they are simply thugs intent on giving the greatest degree of shock by broadcasting their brutal torture and murder of innocents.

Terrorism is now a global issue and many countries are paying the price as various groups sow division and discord among their people. In this region, the ministries of interior have launched an all-out assault on these operators, scoring significant successes. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has broken up hundreds of terror cells and foiled several attacks that could have caused major loss of life and damage to property.

There is a critical need to ensure that governments win the battle for hearts and minds

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

The kingdom’s neighbors, Kuwait and Bahrain, recently announced that their security agencies have arrested several members of terror cells and seized large amounts of weapons and explosives. While these successes are encouraging, it is not the only front on which the war has to be fought.

Hearts and minds

As many experts have pointed out at anti-terrorism conferences around the world, there is a critical need to ensure that governments win the battle for hearts and minds. In particular, there has to be a focus on young people, to prevent them from being brainwashed and recruited by these terror groups. This process includes programs at our education institutions to promote moderate thinking, tackling those who are issuing religious edicts sanctioning violence and murder, and drafting tough anti-terrorism legislation.

Another area that needs urgent attention, and which has not been studied enough, is how the rapid changes in our societies have affected the way people think and act. Dramatic changes have occurred in human societies throughout history, placing intense pressure on individuals and communities.

Major social upheaval affects the traditional roles of individuals in the home and workplace and can have a far-reaching impact on customary practices. While some are able to cope and adapt, others find it increasingly difficult, making them susceptible to those seeking undue influence and power. The youth are particularly vulnerable.

“Social change” is a relatively new term. The 1922 book Social Change by American sociologist William Ogburn was one of the first to study changes in society and their effect on individuals and communities. In the Arab world, among the key factors that need to be considered is the importance of religion in the lives of people.

Shaping societies

In addition, there needs to be further in-depth study on how information technology is shaping our societies. Rapid technological advances now mean that even people living in remote areas know what’s happening across the globe, including Europe and North America. This new openness has produced small and subtle changes in societies, but also deep and long-lasting ones.

We have failed to adequately consider what effect all these changes has had on our societies in the Arab world, particularly in relation to our developmental processes. Social theorists have correctly pointed out that change does not necessarily mean progress, but can also result in a society regressing. An example of this is the manner in which young people are involved in acts of terror, oblivious to the destructive effect this behavior has on social cohesion.

We should move beyond superficial discussions of these issues and assign considerable resources to study them in a balanced and scientific manner. We clearly need to reconsider our current understanding and find fundamental and long-term solutions.

This article was first published in Arab News on August 19, 2015.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi

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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