Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly


The Western media want to paint the perpetrators of attacks in Western cities as fundamentally different. But they aren’t. They just fell for terrorist ideology, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, it was very strange to hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reiterate his remarks about preventing Muslims from entering the US. His little caveat that the ban would only be “temporary” until all aspects of the situation could be studied helped little.

In a world where there are a 1.6 billion Muslims, the studying period would be much much longer than “temporary”. In any case, his racist intent was evident in his demand that special files be kept on all Muslims residing in the US.

Hillary Clinton was little better. True, she denounced Trump’s remarks. But then the entire issue plunged into the endless American debate over the second constitutional amendment regarding the “right to bear arms”, and from there into the presidential campaign fray and the sharp polarisation between the Republicans and Democrats over many issues.

In fact, quite a few prominent Republicans censured Trump’s remarks as well. However, no one, from either the Republicans or Democrats or the American political and intellectual elites as a whole, tried to take the issue further than classic American controversies over whether to permit or prohibit gun ownership and whether to permit or prohibit Muslims.

What escaped everyone is that the Orlando incident had certain features and characteristics that set it apart from the usual types of murders in the US, whether by high school students who gun down against their classmates or by others who shoot African Americans.

The incident in Florida occurred against the backdrop of a specific American and global climate largely dominated by the war against the Islamic State (IS) group and other terrorist groups, which is the main battle in the world today. Not even China’s mischief-making in the South China Sea succeeded in drawing international attention from the focal point of the international conflict in the Middle East to the Far East.

With the entry of Iraqi forces into Fallujah and the arrival of Syrian forces to the brink of Raqqa, the battle of the Middle East is now in a critical phase. On top of this there is the series of major terrorist attacks in the West, from the Paris attack (on 13 November 2015) that claimed 130 dead and 368 wounded, to the one in Brussels (on 22 March 2016) that claimed 35 dead and 300 wounded.

The US has experienced a train of terrorist attacks starting with the Boston marathon bombing (15 April 2013) carried out by the Chechen brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killing three and wounding 264. This was followed by the San Bernardino shooting (2 December 2015) carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook (28) and Tashfeen Malik (27), killing 14 and wounding 24. Then came the mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and wounding 53 young men and women.

What all these terrorists had in common was that they were in their 20s; they were US citizens (or in the case of the attacks in Europe, of French, Belgian or other European nationalities); most were born and educated in the countries where they were nationals, meaning that they were exposed to the entire gamut of European/US cultural and civilisational influences; they all made a point of declaring their allegiance to IS, whether over the Internet, by some verbal proclamation or over the phone as in the case of Omar Mateen; and, despite this, they had no demonstrable organisational link with the IS organisation.

All this reminds us that most of the members of the “Hamburg cell” that carried out the 11 September 2001 attacks against New York and Washington had lived most of their lives in Europe and received their education in European institutions.

These facts combine to totally refute the “root causes” theory that attributes terrorism in Islamic countries to two types of phenomena that drive young people to extremism and violence: widespread poverty and hardship in society, and authoritarian despotism that excludes youth from political participation and thus inclines them toward terrorism.

Regardless of the lack of any evidence to prove that poverty is the motor of terrorism in the Arab and Islamic worlds, the American and European terrorists certainly cannot be said to have been poor. In fact, materially and personally they were well off and had many opportunities open to them in the societies where they lived.

In addition, they certainly lived in a climate of abundant political and personal liberties. Yet, unfortunately, no one in the US has posed the essential questions as to what might lead a segment of Muslim youth to be transformed into terrorists who wreak such horrifying acts.

First, it is important not to overlook the fact that Muslim terrorists in the US and Europe are very minute in number compared to the millions of Muslim youths who manage to assimilate into social and political life in the West. Second, the social and political behaviour of the vast majority of Muslim youth is no different from other Europeans and Americans of their generations.

They, too, would fall within a political spectrum that leans toward the liberal and socialist left but that also extends into conservative shades. Third, what drives the tiny minority to terrorism is exactly the same as that which motivates their peers in the Middle East or elsewhere in the West: terrorist ideology.

This ideology can be as racist as fascist, Nazi, and white supremacist ideologies, and as fanatically religious as the zealotry of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim extremists whose delusional interpretations of scripture could lead them to kill. Fourth, terrorists of all stripes most probably live in some form of isolation from their surrounding environment. This is the product of two factors.

One is the extreme sense of superiority over others due to some notion of a divine mandate or unique power to entirely reorder the world. The second is the belief that life is not worth much unless it is paid to achieve these ends. In this respect, the Tsarnaev brothers, Farook and Malik, and Mateen were no different from Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995, killing 168 and wounding 680.

To ignore these facts may be convenient for politicians and journalists in the US because it allows them to focus on the “foreign” dimension of terrorism and pin it on a small minority in the West that happens to be Muslim.

Unfortunately, the ultimate result of this tendency is an ideological and moral failure in the response to a phenomenon that will be with us for a long time to come, and that does not discriminate between nations and peoples as it wreaks the crimes motivated by its fanaticism and extremism.

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO, and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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