Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

How to stop global terrorism

The world must develop a coherent strategy based on collective cooperation in fighting terrorism, poverty and protecting the environment, writes Ibrahim Nawar

London has suffered its worst year of terrorist activity since 2005. On Saturday night, 3 June, 10 people were killed including three terrorists, and 48 injured, 21 of them are in critical condition, taking the number of victims to 39 dead and 214 injured resulting from three terrorist attacks since 22 March 2017. At the same time, the security, intelligence agencies and police have disrupted five credible plots since the Westminster attack in March. Recent attacks in Britain and in Europe and the United States during the last two years are posing a serious challenge to counter-terrorism strategies worldwide. There are many questions to be answered but the most important one is: why are counter-terrorism strategies not working? Terrorism is evolving to new heights, covering more geographical ground and employing new tactics, including the use of information and cyberspace in recruiting, training, fundraising and directing followers and new recruits.

 

FAILED STRATEGIES: In contrast, counter-terrorism strategies have been almost stagnant while terrorists have been inventing new tactics almost every day. For example, the main EU counter-terrorism strategy goes back to 2005 when member states adopted it. This strategy calls for combating terrorism globally while respecting human rights, and aims to make Europe safer, allowing EU citizens to live in an area of freedom, security and justice. Accordingly, European Union member states are committed to jointly fighting terrorism and providing for the best possible protection for EU citizens. The strategy is focused on four main pillars: prevent, protect, pursue and respond. Across these pillars, the strategy recognises the importance of cooperation with third countries and international institutions. But such cooperation has been limited almost to training and exchange of information and travel alerts. Although the strategy came under review many times, it has kept its main features. The EU counter-terrorism strategy did not work, with prominent member states coming under a severe wave of attacks in the last three years.

The UK counter-terrorism strategy is another example. It was last reviewed in 2011. The UK strategy identified its main aim as to “reduce the risk to the UK and our interests overseas from terrorism”, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. In order to achieve this aim “we have made significant changes. Our most immediate priority is to stop terrorist attacks.” As most of the terrorist plots against the UK continue to have very significant overseas connections, the government must continue to work closely with other countries and multilateral organisations to tackle the threats the country faces at their source. In fact, these commitments turned to be just words not deeds. Moreover, the threat of home-grown terrorists has emerged as the most serious one. That new threat was not properly tackled by the strategy. In July 2005, four British suicide bombers inspired by Al-Qaeda attacked London’s Underground network and a bus during rush hour, killing 52 people, as well as themselves, and wounding 700. Those who carried out the recent attacks this year are also known to be British. The young Abedi who carried out the Manchester arena attack was born and raised in Britain.

 

WAR OF IDEAS: One big hole in all counter-terrorism strategies is the lack of an ideological component: how to tackle the war of ideas without hurting the faith of ordinary innocent people? What are the prerequisite conditions that are needed in such a war?

In her statement following the COBRA meeting 4 June, the British prime minister, Theresa May, described the link between recent terrorist attacks by saying: “They are bound together by the single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division, and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.” May added in her statement: “Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time.”

“We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

These are areas that previous counter-terrorism strategies have failed in addressing. Drawing clear lines between terrorism and cyberspace and physical ground is a new dimension that may become game-changer in the war on terror. According to the statement, there will be a new strategy in order to face the evolving threat of global jihadi organisations.

 

NEW BRITISH STRATEGY: The new UK counter-terrorism strategy will be built on four pillars:

- Defeating extremist ideology is one of the great challenges of our time.

- Deny terrorism the safe space it needs to breed using online and information technology.

- Deny terrorists safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world abroad and at home.

- A review of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.

Global terrorism should be countered with global strategy. Without global counter-terrorism strategy it will be easier for global terrorism to penetrate national strategies and continue its threats and evolve to more serious heights. The world is still divided in regard to the war on terror. The United States is encouraging a dangerous split by establishing a new bloc exclusively for NATO and its allies and friends. By excluding the Russians and the Chinese, the new military alliance that was declared in Riyadh and Brussels last month (May 2017) would eventually appear as a “Cold War” military alliance, not as an alliance against terrorism. Don’t forget also that the new military alliance is taking a clear aim at Iran. Trying to isolate Iran may ignite a regional cold war and increased number of wars by proxy. The major world powers should refrain from resorting to cold war policies if the war against terrorism is to prevail.

The war against terrorism can’t be the responsibility of one nation or an exclusive group of nations; if it is to succeed it has to become magnificent collective campaign worldwide that does not exclude anyone but those who are clearly boarding the same boat as terrorists. Don’t exclude Russia or China and don’t alienate Iran.

Meanwhile, those nations on the frontline of combating terrorism, mainly Muslim and Arab countries, should be assisted through effective ways and without compromising their sovereignty. In these countries terrorists have their source of absolute power, politically, economically, socially and ideologically, if they run loose they will keep threatening the whole world no matter what kind of military blocs are created. In order to weed out terrorism, security measures and military force alone are insufficient. They may combat symptoms of terrorism, but its roots will keep springing new offshoots. In order to defeat terrorism, the world must develop a coherent strategy based on collective cooperation in fighting terrorism, poverty and protecting the environment.


The writer is former senior political affairs officer at the UNDPA.

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