WASHINGTON – The current wave of violence motivated and justified by crazy interpretations os Muslim scriptures created demands for ways to deal with this threat once and for all. The trouble is that there is no clever, precise “solution” to this problem.
With the notable exception of the (self-described) Islamic State, Islamic radicals are scattered all over: from Minnesota to Western Pakistan. We are not dealing with an easily identifiable, conventional threat that resides in one place and uses conventional means.
There are almost endless varieties of radical Islamic groups. They have inspired an equally large universe of diverse people, scattered in many different countries, who decided to follow, in different ways, their calls to engage in violent jihad.
Islamic fundamentalism is not an enemy state. It is not a political party in the traditional sense of the word. While there are several organized groups, this is not the equivalent of the old Soviet Communist Party with a clear hierarchy and command structure.
It is an ideology (that claims to have its legitimacy in Islamic doctrine) that finds adherents here and there. Some of them, on the basis of what they believe to be true doctrine, are inspired to plot and execute violent attacks against Western targets, because the West is depicted by the spiritual and political leaders of these movements as the mortal enemy of the true faith.
No silver bullet
So, how do we eliminate this threat? Sorry to sound pessimistic, but we really cannot eliminate it. The problem with modern, decentralized terrorism is that you only need a couple of motivated people to carry out a mass killing against unprotected civilians, as the recent attacks in Paris amply demonstrated.
Sure enough, more sophisticated and more capillary intelligence gathering techniques will help law enforcement in identifying some of the “bad guys” before they can strike. But some will manage to slip through.
Our free societies are simply incapable of controlling everybody and everything, all the time. There are just too many potential suspects out there. Of course, we should give law enforcement all the tools they need. But we cannot expect perfect results. As long as this bizarre ideology (dressed up as religion) will have some enthusiastic followers, there will be more attacks.
No objective causes
Given all this, when is this nightmare going to end? Impossible to say, really. Fanaticism is a non rational phenomenon. it is not really related to “objective” circumstances. Of course, experts and sociologists will tell you that it is all about poverty and corrupt political regimes in the Middle East. There may be some truth there. But only a little bit.
There are millions of poor people in Muslim Bangladesh, and yet no terrorism. Indonesia is a very large Muslim country, millions of Indonesians are poor. And yet Indonesia is not the breeding ground of jihad. Likewise, if extreme poverty were indeed the root cause of radicalism, how does one explain Muslim radicals in Canada, the USA, Great Britain and France?
It is really impossible to find a clear common denominator that will allow anybody to clearly identify what motivates young Muslims to join radical groups or to create their own. There are close to two billion Muslims in the world. There are only a few radicals; but they are scattered in many, diverse countries. How can one find an “antidote” that will “cure” those who now believe in radical ideologies?
The Muslim World should produce alternative models
Ideally, the Muslim World should be able to create and promote alternative paths to the creation of modern and more equitable societies. But this is hard and truly complicated. The West should help and support any such effort. But the West cannot lead it. The West has no prepackaged, ready-made solutions for this problem.
In the long run this “radical Islam” phenomenon, along with its terror offshoots, will go away. Ideologies based on fantasies do not have an indefinite staying power. The problem is that we do not know how long it will take for this “malady” to run its course.
We have to cope with this threat
In the meantime, let’s stop talking about a “War on Terror” as if it were a conventional military campaign with clear objectives and conventional targets. Let’s give law enforcement the best tools available and let’s try to stay calm, even though we know that perfect security is unattainable.