Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Black Friday and 30 June

US strategy to confront Islamic State will fail unless the group’s aspirations are understood, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The world was stunned on Friday, 26 June, by three simultaneous terrorist attacks. In Sousse, Tunisia, a lone attacker mowed down 39 foreign tourists, mostly British. In Kuwait, a suicide bomber blew himself up during Friday prayers in a Shia mosque.

In the attack, of a kind never seen before in Kuwait, 27 innocent worshippers perished in a split second. Another 200 were injured. In Lyon, France, a deliveryman of North African origin decapitated his boss, put the severed head on a fence and tried to blow up a factory.

Black Friday must be a wake-up call for authorities around the world: humanity is facing a tough choice. Either it comes up with a global strategy to combat the forces of evil or it succumbs to years  if not decades  of terrorism and mayhem.

Without a global strategy there will be still higher numbers of lost lives, economic stagnation and social upheaval, and millions of refugees, tens of thousands of whom will attempt to reach Europe’s shores.

The three terrorist attacks were claimed by the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State (IS) group. Its spokesperson had called for an intensification of attacks against “infidels” during the holy month of Ramadan.

You may ask who the “infidels” are. I will make a guess and say that, from the point of view of this terrorist group, anyone who does not swear allegiance to its “caliph” could be labelled an “infidel” and, accordingly, does not deserve to live. Pure and simple.

Prior to these three terror attacks, plus another in the Somali capital on the same day, claimed by an IS affiliate, Al-Shabab, US Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewall was talking to the Regional Conference on Countering Violent Extremism, held on 25 June in Nairobi, Kenya, a country that has suffered Al-Shabab attacks in the last two years.

She said that President Barack Obama convened the first summit to combat violent extremism at the White House in February. She quoted him in her remarks: “When people feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities … where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliation of corruption  that feeds instability and disorder and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.”

Sewall continued, “When people are oppressed and human rights are denied  particularly along sectarian or ethnic lines, when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.” She went on to talk about what she called the “push factors” and the “pull” factor, which is the recruitment and media strategy of terrorist organisations such as IS.

Is the US approach the right one to explain modern-day terrorism, or does it miss one important and relevant point that relates to the true foundation of all terrorist groups that have emerged in the last century? That relevant point comes from the founding principles of IS’s mother group, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, established in 1928.

On purely theoretical grounds, no one can deny that the lack of economic opportunities, social injustice, widespread corruption, lack of political and social liberties and the absence of hopes for a better future could be the “push” factors the Obama administration has been advancing as an explanation of what it has called “violent extremism” (no one is sure if this term, from an American point of view, is synonymous with terrorism or not).

One thing is sure. The US formulation as to the root causes of terrorism fits well with American strategy in the Middle East. It is a variation on the political discourse of the previous administration of President George W Bush.

After 11 September 2001 and the failed US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the neocons in Washington pushed hard to convince the world and American public opinion that the true reason behind radicalisation in the Middle East and the Arab world was the absence of democracy, and that by the use of US force and diplomatic pressure, democracy and human rights would cure the world of these radical forces. But, as a practical guide, this script has utterly failed.

The three terrorist attacks that shook the world on Friday, 30 June, took place in three countries that happen to be democracies in varying degrees. The US administration has been using Tunisia as a model of successful democratic transition. Kuwait is a country where the rights of the Shia community are respected and all Kuwaitis are equal before the law. In fact, some of the richest families in Kuwait are Shias, and enjoy good relations with the ruling family of Al-Sabah.

I would argue that the last two US administrations, plus Western strategy in the post-2011 Arab world, are mainly responsible for the re-emergence of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates after what was erroneously called the “Arab Spring”. Western capitals thought that they could ride the tiger and lead it to where their interests lie.

The inconsistencies that we have witnessed in the US strategy to combat IS speak volumes about the failure of this strategy. The terrorist organisation has been gaining ground since the second half of 2013. So far, there are no indications that a serious evaluation and assessment is underway to review the US strategy that is being carried out by an international coalition of 60 countries.

The point that the West is oblivious to is that the political instability that has wracked the Arab world from 2011 is probably the only explanation of the growing power of terrorist groups across the Arab world and North Africa, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa. Add to that the direct impact of American and Western interventionist policies in Arab affairs during the last two decades.

Egypt celebrated the second anniversary of the 30 June Revolution two days ago. It was a mass movement to save Egypt from the oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam, and probably the Arab world for many decades to come. Undemocratic political groups that resort to force to silence their political opposition can never be entrusted with true democratic transitions.

Groups that promote political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are out to conquer the world. Their jailed general guide once said, after they gained the parliamentary elections of 2011-2012, that with such a victory the group had finished the first step in the ideology of its founder, Hassan Al-Banna. The last step would be to become masters of the universe.

This is the true foundation of all terrorist and extremist groups, without a single exception. I hope the West reflects on the true significance  and long-term implications  of Black Friday, 26 June 2015. IS is nothing but the extreme manifestation of this ideology.

The writer is a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister.

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