Rally to show solidarity with refugees seeking snactuary from conflict in Syria, Bucharest, Romania. Andreea Alexandru/Press Association. All rights reserved. The threat that most people now fear most is terrorism. Yet current methods for dealing with terrorism simply repeat previous grave errors of decision-making that exacerbate the problem. In order to map an effective strategy it’s essential to understand how militant fighters think, and what they fear.
To respond to terrorism with violence is counter-productive, because violence is what terrorists understand, and they are masters of exploiting our addiction to news of their brutality. Violence, says former Islamic State captive Nicolas Hénin, is exactly what his captors want: “They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.”
"Strikes on Isis are a trap,” he says. “The winner of this war will not be the party that has the newest, the most expensive or the most sophisticated weaponry, but the party that manages to win over the people to its side.” As an example of how people had responded well, he described the recent escalation of the refugee crisis – and corresponding offers from people in Europe to give homes to fleeing Muslims – as “a blow to Isis”. Offers from people in Europe to give homes to fleeing Muslims are “a blow to Isis”.
Deeyah Khan is an Emmy award-winning documentary film-maker whose most recent project, Jihad, involved two years of interviews and filming with former Islamic extremists. She says that their mission:
“is aimed at breaking the world into two opposed camps, jihadis and crusaders, locked in an apocalyptic battle, that fits into their own, reductive world view. …The Islamic State does not want us to open our doors to their refugees. It wants them to be hopeless and desperate. It does not want us to enjoy ourselves with our families and friends in bars and concert halls, stadiums and restaurants. It wants us to huddle in our houses, within our own social groups, and close our doors in fear.”
Philip McKibbin on openDemocracy argues for a proactive response. We should be wary of allowing our emotions to dictate the ways in which we respond to terrorism:
“Terrorists want us to feel shock, outrage, insecurity: terror………A loving response to terrorism would be proactive, rather than reactive. It would see us responding to the causes of terrorism, rather than concerning ourselves disproportionately with terrorist actions.”
The main causes of terrorism are humiliation and revenge. When you do the math, it’s a painful fact that ‘legitimate’ states enact much more violence worldwide – through military intervention, currency deals and resource extraction – than non-state terror groups do. The ongoing exploitation of less powerful countries by the west and its allies does not excuse terrorist action, but it does explain it. The ongoing exploitation of less powerful countries by the west and its allies does not excuse terrorist action, but it does explain it.So, what would be the most effective approach governments could take to defuse international terrorism? As McKibbin says, it could be to immediately adopt genuinely fair and peaceful processes in their dealings with other peoples. This strategy would deprive terror groups of one of their most compelling justifications for violence.
Effective strategies: asphyxiate terror
Nothing should be done which supports the image of the terrorist as a heroic warrior defending the interests of the people. Incidents like Abu Ghraib, the killing of innocent civilians in Fallujah, tank shells fired into the Gaza strip and the vast personal coverage of the Paris bombers, all made it easier for militants to claim convincingly that their campaign of violence, repugnant to so many outsiders, is not only legitimate amongst Muslims, but noble.
When western media consistently feature terrorists on their front pages, giving them quasi-populist names like ‘Jihadi John’, they can see themselves as global celebrities. Other young men then naturally crave such oxygen of publicity, even if it costs them their lives. Western leaders need to orchestrate a cohesive and co-ordinated programme to tell media editors and owners why featuring portraits and biographies of suicide bombers simply gives airspace to ‘Jihad’, and is in itself a threat to security. The opposite – denying airspace – would work to minimise the glamour of brutality.
Do what ISIS most fears: unite
Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere. Only five years old, it is growing at one million per month to become the globe's largest and most powerful online activist network.
In November 2015 Avaaz published as follows:
“ISIS's goal is to split the human family. To divide the world's 1.5 billion Muslims from everyone else….Muslims are almost one quarter of humanity, and 99% are as horrified by the ISIS attacks as everyone else. They have been the greatest victims of ISIS, and have the greatest power to help defeat it. So let's answer hate with humanity, and seize this chance for transformative change. For all of us - Muslims and Non-Muslims everywhere - to fiercely welcome each other into our one human family like never before. ISIS attacks seek to spread hate and fear to divide the world's 1.5 billion Muslims from everyone else. Let's answer their hate with wisdom.”
It’s time to give wisdom some muscle. In Rising Women Rising World we ask ourselves the hardest question, the one most likely to provoke ridicule: “When will it be time to bring the young warriors of ISIL into some form of dialogue? Let us quantify the risk.” We reason that continuing our present course of action means that sooner or later there will be access to nuclear weapons, and then there may be no Earth to dominate.
If we are ridiculed for proposing such a response to terror, we recall Abraham Lincoln’s riposte when accused of taking too conciliatory an approach in dealing with the South. “Madam,” he said, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Love requires us to think of terrorists as people. It encourages us to understand that their actions – vicious, violent actions – come from a place of grievance, humiliation and isolation, and a contorted desire to belong, to be part of something large and ‘noble’. It asks us to imagine that their pain, and the pain that so many other people are feeling in this time of terror, is not insurmountable. To think that way, and be prepared to act, requires courage.
Build bridges: empower local people
The British government should know, from their experience in Northern Ireland, that what finally brought 30 years of terror to an end was not the application of superior force. It was the building of bridges, listening, patient mediation, respect and negotiation. Senator George Mitchell, who played a major part in the eventual Good Friday Agreement, said: “I will listen for as long as it takes”.
Over the past decade Peace Direct has learned that local people have the power to find their own solutions to conflict, which turn out to be the best way to break recurrent cycles of violence and make peace last. One lesson we have learned from our local partners around the world is the importance of helping disaffected young men feel part of their communities, thereby turning away from extremism. While this might seem like a liberal platitude in the face of such a violent movement as ISIS, it is in reality hard, dangerous and dedicated work. And it can have remarkable results. For example, the award-winning counter-radicalisation project in Pakistan, begun in 2014, has reached almost 4,000 ‘at risk’ young people through 223 trained youth mediators who are now in dialogue with them.
Women know how to deal with violence
Let’s say this straight. Males tend to respond to attack by going to war.
Women across the planet are alert to the challenges of radicalization, and profoundly disturbed by the poverty of western responses. A decade ago women made a careful analysis of the root causes of political violence, revealing the persistent influence of powerlessness, exclusion, trauma and humiliation. They proposed proven practical steps that could be taken in Iraq, Israel/Palestine and in our own towns and cities. No political party nor mainstream media took action.
Ten years later, in an even more serious situation, women are not simply arguing for a more sparing use of military force: we are arguing that any armed intervention should be both preceded and followed by a much wider range of strategies designed to address both the causes and effects of violence:
- Cut supplies of weapons to the region. Military expenditure in the Middle East rose by seventy five per cent from 2001 to 2014.
- Saudi Arabia is globally the second largest importer of major arms, 2010–14. Why are we arming a country with a shameful human rights record – a nation that beheaded 100 people in the first six months of 2015?
- Give women a voice in strategy. Only four ministers of defence globally and only 2.5% of negotiators of peace agreements are female, meaning that the experience of the majority victims of war are not heard in negotiations.
Let’s say this straight. Males tend to respond to attack by going to war
While this may be hard-wired in their psyche from centuries of protecting their families, in the current situation it simply exacerbates the problem, and risks plunging the planet into chaos.
Females tend to build and keep the peace because they give birth to life. They have an in-built hard-wired longing to protect, heal and make whole. They have trained themselves to listen, knowing that the capacity to give another person your full attention is the fastest and most effective way to resolve conflict. Sooner or later there will be access to nuclear weapons, and then there may be no Earth to dominate.
Those women and men who have discovered this capacity, have developed compassion – the drive not only to feel for others but to take action to assist them. Their instinct is to include – to go beyond ‘rank’ and regard for the powerful, to include those who have no voice or are powerless.
Most people say they want peace, but we don’t put our skills and our imagination to work on the challenge. Peace building comes low down on the priority list – certainly for spending – in comparison to war; we don’t have a budget or a government department for peace, whereas we do have both for war, while calling it ‘defence’.
It is perfectly possibly to develop strategies to disarm human beings who live in terror and try to terrorise others. It requires intention and a budget, plus courage, determination and compassion - from the top down and from the bottom up. And this is what human beings are capable of.
Get our weekly email