Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

What we can learn from a global study of terror

The revival of the state and its institutions is a crucial factor in fighting terrorism, but so is confronting errant religious beliefs, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

It is impossible to understand terrorism and its causes, and to reach solutions for fighting it, without a database filled with facts and information on the various cases where it is practiced throughout the world. Comparative studies not only enable us to see the differences between various cases, they also offer some useful generalisations for handling each one specifically.

Otherwise put, we are confronted with a disease that has afflicted many countries. This disease needs to be studied and analysed so as to identify its properties and general causes. However, this does not refute the fact that each case may exhibit specific qualities that differentiate it from others. In all events, all studies, whether general or specific, enrich the process of searching for a remedy.

It is surprising that, despite the spread of terrorism in the Arab region and Middle East in general, little effort has been devoted, locally, to scientifically researching this bloodthirsty phenomenon. Fortunately, others in the world are performing the task.

Prime among them is the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) that, together with the Maryland-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Responses to Terrorism (START), produced the 2014 Global Terrorist Index (GTI).

The report is based on the compilation and analysis of data and information from 162 states from 2000 to 2013. It provides detailed information on each country, the types of terrorist activities carried out and the means used, as well as some findings with regard to causes and correlations with other phenomena.

Perhaps the first victim of this report is the theory that is so widespread in the US and to which President Barack Obama subscribes personally, as do Arab liberals. The “root causes” theory, as it is known, attributes terrorism to political factors, generally related to the authoritarian nature of concerned states and their alleged human rights abuses, and to socio-economic factors related to poverty and the decline in human development indexes (as cited in general from the UNDP Human Development Reports).

The global terrorism report clearly states: “There is no systematic link to poverty measures, nor to several broader economic development factors, such as the Human Development Index or its subcomponents such as mean years of schooling, or life expectancy. Similarly, economic indicators such as year to year GDP growth do not correlate.”

From the thousands of political, economic, social and behavioural indicators analysed in the GTI report, it emerged that the system of government, per se, was not the problem but rather the degree of political stability and its relationship with national social cohesion, the degree of ethnic, sectarian or regional division, and the degree of the legitimacy of the state itself.

The report observes that prior to 2000, “nationalist separatist agendas were the biggest drivers of terrorist organisations”, but that since then this factor and other all other political factors has gradually been eclipsed by religion as a driving ideology for terrorism.

In the Middle East and North Africa it motivated more than 80 per cent of the terrorist operations in this region. Note here that the report relies on data dating from the beginning of this century to 2013, which is to say before the slaughter in Syria expanded, before the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and its occupation of vast tracts of land in Iraq and Syria, before the escalations by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis in the Sinai, and before IS extended its terrorist reach to Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

The report states that global terrorism has increased significantly worldwide, with the number of deaths from terrorism rising from less than 4,000 to over 16,000 in 2013. But it also notes that terrorism is a highly concentrated phenomenon: “Over 80 per cent of the lives lost to terrorist activity in 2013 occurred in only five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.”

Note here that all these are Muslim countries from which emerged the major terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda, IS, the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

In the group of ten countries ranked as having the highest impact of terrorism, we find, in addition to the abovementioned five, two other Arab countries, Somalia and Yemen, as well as India, the Philippines and Thailand. The next group of ten contains four more Arab countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Sudan.

Of the world’s major regions, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the greatest terrorist impact. It accounts for 53 per cent of suicide attacks since 2000. By contrast, the least terrorist-plagued areas of the world are those whose countries belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes the countries of North America and Europe, Israel, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand. These countries, collectively, experienced only five per cent of the terrorist attacks carried out during the period under study.

All the abovementioned information underscores the necessity of a subject I have previously discussed in this regard, namely the three major tasks that Arab states and all other countries that desire stability in the Middle East should strive to accomplish.

It is clear that the revival of the state and its institutions, prestige and cohesion, is a crucial factor in fighting terrorism, especially in the cases of the secessionist movements that aim to destroy the legitimacy of the state.

But is clearer yet, from the GTI, that the first priority must be given to the recovery of religion after its hijacking by the Muslim Brotherhood which, since the beginning of this organisation under Hassan Al-Banna, and certainly with the spread of the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, espoused Kharijite doctrines on “divine sovereignty.”

Although the Muslim Brotherhood pioneered the hijacking process, many other organisations began to compete to dominate that process and use it to recruit youth, including youth among the Muslim communities in Europe and North America.

It may be that IS is the most notorious of the hijackers, having proclaimed for itself an Islamic caliphate after seizing large tracts of territory in two important Arab states. But the fact is that IS is just the tip of the iceberg of other terrorist organisations that have allied with it in order to destroy the entire region.

This, in turn, underscores the historic importance of restoring regional security. The persistence and growing strength of the “terrorist coalition” has made it increasingly urgent to strengthen and support the coalition for stability and construction in the region through measures that range from the use of armed force to the use of diplomacy, the media and other instruments.

Terrorism is a cancer that has afflicted the world and the region that we live in particularly. As is clear from the GTI, this plague has gained in impetus following the events of the Arab Spring, which debilitated the immune system of the entire region.

Still, it is important to note the current resistance that is being developed to fight the disease and that has taken diverse forms in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and, more recently, Yemen. The battle continues.

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