Terrorists find strange bedfellows

2015-12-01 09:48

ISIS has the ultimate goal of creating a global Islamic caliphate, while its medium-term goal is to get Western forces out of Holy lands. Its short-term goal is to create panic, awareness and converts and it is here that it has found some strange bedfellows in the West. The reaction to recent terrorist attacks by certain countries, politicians, business leaders and ordinary citizens has played right into the hands of the perpetrators. Instead, we should use police action to bring perpetrators to book, stabilise war-torn countries and empower Muslims to fight the threat from within.

The following stories made news over the weeks following the Paris attacks. In each case ISIS will be celebrating as these reactions are exactly what they need to mobilise more support. The most important story is likely the negative reaction towards Syrian refugees. It included 26 US state governors refusing to accept refugees, Poland seeking to review its acceptance of refugees and Canada refusing to accept any single men as refugees. Instead of showing refugees hospitality and turning them into allies against the threat of terrorism, increasingly states are opting to exclude them on the outside chance that there may be bad apples amongst them. It becomes an “us vs. them” situation that carries a risk of radicalising more people. ISIS is not short of money. What it needs are recruits. These recruits will already be in the countries they want to hit or can be brought in using much easier ways (normal visa process) than using the refugee route.

Another set of stories that are creating a great deal of negativity towards the USA is the way that presidential hopefuls, especially on the Republican side and other US politicians responded to the attacks. This ranged from Donald Trump calling for a register of Muslims and closing mosques and Ben Carson comparing refugees to rabid dogs to Roanoke mayor David Bowers bringing up the idea of World War II style internment camps. Ordinary Muslims are again experiencing a backlash in the US as was seen after 9/11, with a number of reports of Muslims being thrown off flights for speaking Arabic.

In the UK, The Sun came out with a story claiming that one in five British Muslims have sympathy with jihadists. This created a massive twitter campaign #1in5Muslims, where ordinary Muslims and others responded with vigour against such an inflammatory generalisation. This story was reckless, especially considering the rise in anti-Muslim crime in the UK at that time. Again, ISIS would have celebrated these developments that gave them legitimacy and lumped ordinary Muslims in the same camp as the terrorists. Again, we run the risk that such reactions create a fertile recruitment ground for ISIS.

In my view, we should be less worried about imminent terrorist attacks and more concerned about the reaction to the Paris and other attacks. We should be concerned about the global backlash against ordinary Muslims, not just because it could lead to more ISIS recruitment, but because these are our fellow citizens who are productive members of our societies, contribute to our rich diversity and who do not deserve to be treated in this manner.

We should be concerned about Syrian refugees who are fleeing unspeakable violence and who are desperate to survive and to give their children a more peaceful future. If the opposition to accepting refugees continues to grow and Syria is not stabilised in the medium-term, we are at risk of a huge humanitarian crisis.

Most importantly, we should be concerned about the escalation of the conflict in Syria and the geopolitical developments in the region. At the moment, we have countries with diametrically opposed views on the final outcome in Syria. Russia is attacking all opposition forces to Bashar al-Assad with the aim of creating stability under his rule. Turkey wants al-Assad out at all costs and is accused of being light on ISIS due to its fear that strong Kurdish opposition in Syria may lead to instability in Turkey’s own Kurdish community. The US wants al-Assad and ISIS to be defeated and is leaning heavily on Kurdish forces for support. The downing of a Russian jet by Turkey has vastly complicated the situation. An escalation between Russia and Turkey, which pulls in NATO is much more scary to me than further terrorist attacks.

Now is the time for level heads.  We need diplomacy from world leaders and we need to empower moderate Muslims to defeat ISIS from the inside. We can only hope that talks on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Conference will result in a de-escalation between Russia and Turkey. The next step would be to come up with a unified approach on Syria and a reduction in the muddying of waters. Key would be not to leave a power vacuum in Syria. This has proven disastrous in Iraq and Libya.

Whilst the region is stabilised, we need to open our arms to refugees and if that is not possible, we need to open our wallets. These poor people are the greatest victims of ISIS and they should be treated as allies and not as adversaries. Finally, we need to embrace our fellow-Muslims who are also victims of ISIS and increasingly victims of the strange ISIS bedfellows in the West. They are also our greatest ally in the fight against terrorism.

Are you scared of terrorist attacks? Are you worried about growing geopolitical tensions? Do you believe the way that some people are treating refugees and Muslims is an appropriate response? Do you agree that we need to see ordinary Muslims as allies instead of adversaries? I would love to hear your feedback. Comments are welcome on my website.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

#ParisAttacks #ModerateMuslims

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting



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