Before 9-11, Bin Laden announced that he would bring America to its knees financially. As absurd as that sounded at the time, his Al Qaeda and associated groups have made substantial progress. While our talking heads debate and polarize over the cost of health care reform, our real devastation of debt is and has been in war. We don’t think twice about spending that money that we don’t have or the manner in which we spend it. We just throw money at the problem, much as a Gatlin gun spreads bullets.
We as a people must now come to grips with terrorism; not with the idea that classical warfare methods can defeat “the enemy” or solve the problem, but by raising our intellect, thinking smarter and understanding how radicalization works. Surely, we can remember how Britain lost the Revolutionary War. They were rigid in changing from classical warfare. We shot at them from behind trees. They wouldn’t change. They lost.
We need to understand that there are over a billion Muslims in the world. They are not going away. Indeed, their fold is multiplying rapidly. We need to understand that radicalization is the problem, not Muslims, and we need to cease using words and phrases that indicate terrorism and Muslims as synonymous. This creates a polarization that enhances radicalization; it does not defeat it. It is well understood that fundamentalism, be it Muslim, Christian or other religion easily lends itself to radicalization. There are various verses or Surahs, standing alone, that call for blowing up people, if taken literally.
Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey are the world’s most populous Muslim-majority countries with a combined population of 886 million. Their populations are expected to increase by 475 million between now and 2050. Worldwide, of the 48 fastest-growing countries today, 28 are majority Muslim, or have Muslim minorities of 33 percent or more.
Counter this demographic with the gross number of radicalized terrorists. How many are there? Very Few. Unfortunately, however, that is what guerilla tactics are about, causing civil unrest through isolated attacks of terror, making people afraid. The radicalized terrorists are a very, very small minority. Therefore, chasing them in classical military style is like chasing a fast moving mouse with a sledge hammer.
Pew conducted a survey in 2006 in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Even though these countries are counted geopolitically as U.S. allies, the detailed questions about Muslim-Western relations indicated that more than half of the respondents in Muslim countries characterized relations with the West as bad and blamed the West for Middle East tensions.
General Petraeus astutely pointed out that we cannot kill our way to victory over terrorism. We must win the minds and hearts of the people. Is this really such a distasteful task? As a nation, are we not big enough and strong enough to deploy strategies that unite rather than separate? Both European and North American strategists must consider that the world’s young are becoming concentrated in these countries that are least prepared to educate and employ their young. Many of this growing youthful population live in poor communities vulnerable to radical appeals and many see the U.S. as antagonistic and militaristic.
Our best minds need to turn now from how to develop the newest military toy to how to counter radicalization. We need to get into the radicalized mind. What is his motivation? One of those “best minds” on our side is Jessica Stern who lectures at Harvard Law School and has been a forward thinker in deradicalization efforts since 2005, working with the City of Rotterdam on how to include Muslim culture and counter the idea of jihad as well as working with a company under contract with Task Force 134, the task force in charge of U.S. – run detention centers in Iraq.
She points out that “any rehabilitation effort must be based on a clear understanding of what drives people to terrorism in the first place. Terrorist movements often arise in reaction to an injustice, real or imagined, that they feel must be corrected. Yet ideology is rarely the only, or even the most important factor in an individual’s decision to join the cause.”
The reasons that a person becomes a terrorist are varied. Some can be deradicalized. Some cannot. Religious ideology is the tool used by the “handler” or the solicitor. It is seldom the motivation. Marginalization of the individual in social networks, education or market conditions are more likely a motivating factor at the entry level.
Saudi Arabia or at least wealthy fundamentalist segments of the population may have been responsible for the founding and distribution of violent teaching madrasas in such places as Pakistan, but the government of Saudi Arabia has made progress in its deradicalization program. The center piece is a prison-based rehabilitation program, transitional services, and post-release services. Once a person has entered into the world of terroristic activity, clearly they have to be captured, prosecuted and incarcerated. It is in the confines of prison that intense psychological rehabilitation must begin, and the core of that psychological intervention must focus on the real motivation of the offender. Once that prisoner is released there has to be a well organized system of societal reintegration, not lip-service and not half-hearted. Finally, post release service that is inclusive of the entire local community supporting and interacting with the individual is essential to reducing recidivism. The Saudi government has not disclosed the total number of people who have completed its program but according to official statistics, the rate of recidivism is 10-20 percent, far lower than that of ordinary criminals.
This is the seed of what must be done when a young man has been radicalized and captured. What about before he gets there? How do we understand his mind? What pressures are pulling at him emotionally to seek out a cleric who teaches only selective reading of religious texts to justify violence? This is the “do-it-yourself” version of Islam, as Stern calls it. It is based on interpretations of “takfiri” ideology (“takfir” is the practice of accusing other Muslims of apostary), somewhat like the Christian approach of attacking “sinners.”
Teachers, imams, at the Care Rehabilitation Center in Riyadh point out that a main reason for takfir and use is to instigate terrorism by misinterpreting the Qur’an. It propagates ignorance about the true nature of Islam to the disenfranchised. The Center works to re-educate the individual and to counter the fundamentalist propaganda of takfir and the selective readings of Surahs for a secret agenda. Stern reports that in one of her interviews with a participant he said, “Now I understand that I cannot make decisions by reading a single verse. I have to read the whole chapter.”
Today, in each of these Muslim countries, as well as Europe, young people are bored, have nothing to do, no job and nowhere to go. Many live in abject poverty but many others do have a higher standard of living. What connects them is the youthful desire to be reactionary, to fight “the establishment”. Sometimes they are attracted to the speeches of radicalizing imams through social connections, music fashion, or lifestyle and only later come to understand fully a groups’ violent ideologies and goals.
Al Qaeda and affiliated groups have begun using anti-American hip-hop-jihad rap” – in their recruitment videos. Stern found this in Europe, for example:
“The first-and-second generation Muslim children I interviewed for a study of the sources of radicalization in the Netherlands seemed to think that talking about jihad was cool, in the same way that listening to gangster rap is in some youth circles. Most of these children will not turn to violence, but once youth join an extremist group, the group itself can become an essential part of their identity, maybe even their only community.”
The point is that while both international law enforcement and the military seek out active terrorist threats and organizations, we are in deep need of an active global network providing counter group dynamics in the recruiting pools that radical clerics and terrorist groups use. This is no small task, and indeed, to do it right will be hugely expensive but not near as expensive as sending 100,000 troops from country to country fighting jihad. And it must be understood, to reach such a lofty goal true Muslim leaders and the silent Muslim majority must be rallied to take the lead and non-Muslims and governments must stand by them, unified in the search for peace.
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