By Walid Jawad
13 January 2015
Six years into the Obama presidency, his administration continues to struggle with responding appropriately to world events. The calm levelheaded nature he is embodying makes him come across as aloof and uninterested. The latest example is the lack of high-level U.S. representation at the Paris rally on Sunday where heads of states and dignitaries flocked to show solidarity with the French people and stand united against the Charlie Hebdo massacre. To correct the criticism Secretary of State Kerry will visit France Thursday. “The president and our administration have been coordinating very, very closely with the French on F.B.I. matters, intel, law enforcement, across the board,” Kerry said; too little too late. The message the world is getting is that the U.S. is not terribly interested, which terrorists’ interpret as an opportunity to keep advancing their barbaric destructive agenda. The same agenda that flies in the face of their own holy scriptures they falsely proclaim.
Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and freelance terrorists carrying out bombings, beheadings, and lastly the massacre at Charles Hebdo are all committing their atrocities in the name of Islam nullifying its message of mercy and peace. This is a problem for Muslims who proclaim the hijacking of their religion by extremists. It is also a problem for the global community as it adds fuel to the fire.
The Arab and Muslim worlds bear the responsibility of future global terror recruits. They must empower their citizens with tools to effect change in their respective environments and by helping them understand the essence of Islam, an Islam that lives up to its name (Islam is from the root word “peace”). Are Arab leaders willing and able to restructure their rigid and vengeful hierarchical societies to inclusive ones? I don’t think the current crop of leaders in the Arab world are capable of adjusting to a world where a thuggish violent ISIS group provides that bright spot many Muslim-Arab youths are longing for. If Arab governments don’t take this phenomenon seriously enough to change their set ways, they will perish holding on to a mirage reflecting an elusive past of absolute power they have once held over helpless societies; those days are gone and are never coming back.
International Coalition against ISIS
The global response is focused on addressing the destruction caused by terrorist members on two levels: one, internationally by waging a multinational war against extremists in Iraq and Syria; two, locally by taking security measures to quell threats targeting each of their societies. The war in Iraq and Syria, in reality, is a PR campaign helping ISIS recruits more expendable fighters. All the while, each country’s security procedures are resulting in a continuously shrinking public space peppered with unreasonable and many times ineffective measures. Limiting freedoms under the guise of homeland security is akin to ceding to terrorists.
Members of these societies are not only inconvenienced, but also losing their values by turning open societies into guarded prisons where freedoms are stripped from their citizens. Obviously this dual pronged military-security strategy is lacking. There is a pressing need to expand counter terrorism beyond this shortsighted approach. The international community must refocus on stopping the steady stream of recruits from joining “global Jihad.” Three strategic concepts must be tackled: pursuing justice, preserving dignity and empowering Arab youth to become responsible citizens.
Justice, Dignity and Empowerment
The most pressing and most consuming issue for aggrieved Arabs and Muslims is Palestinian suffering and the injustice they’re still reeling from. Whether the U.S. likes to hear it or not - whether the administration agrees with it, the reality of the matter is that Arab and Muslim youth are enraged by U.S. policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a litmus test for America’s intentions. The dominant narrative points to the symbiotic relation between the U.S. and Israel. The narrative posits that the U.S. is either “controlled” by Israel or that it is hell bent on advancing Israeli interest no matter the injustice befalling the indigence people of the land. Either narrative, they point, is confirmed by U.S. policy announcements. The latest “No” vote rejecting a Palestinian draft proposal for statehood through the Security Council only bolsters this narrative.
If there were ever a way for the U.S. to justify its position to oppose the Palestinian draft resolution it is impossible to excuse the administration’s threat to cut off aid if the Palestinians pursue a membership to the International Criminal Court. Now, and after Palestine have been admitted to the International Criminal Court (starting April 1st), the U.S. must rethink the blowback of cutting off aide to the Palestinians as well as the ensuing PR, which will promote the narrative that the U.S. is insisting on preventing the right of the occupied people of Palestine for armed resistance and from fighting Israel legally by demanding justice through the Security Council and/or the International Criminal Court. Although legal steps taken by the Palestinians for justice will not guarantee them that illusive justice they seek, it will provide them and the rest of the Arab world with a sense of saving face and the preservation of their dignity.
Needless to say, dignity has a profound meaning in the Arab ethos, it is what Arabs live and die for. This is precisely why an increasing number of youth are willing to strap explosives to their chests and blow themselves up. True, they act under a religious banner, but none of their actions follow Islam’s main principles of mercy, peace and battling one’s inner demons. In fact, some of the perpetrators of 9/11 were reportedly spending their last days in bars and strip clubs. That group found an option to exercise power over their feeble existence. Erroneously thinking that by using airplanes as missiles they can die with dignity. Still in this post Arab Spring era, Arab youth are frustrated with an environment that strips them from any practical tools to effect real change, which brings me to empowerment.
Empowerment is not something the U.S. or the international community can ever bestow onto Arab masses. Empowerment lies within the domain of Arab governments. Nevertheless, as long as U.S. national interest is jeopardized the American administration must employ its political powers to nudge these governments to take concrete steps toward reforming educational systems, political inclusion and freedoms. Unfortunately, turning the tide will not be smooth. In fact, this strategy will be long and chaotic. Keep in mind that the current situation on the ground in the Arab world is already disastrous. Instead of the U.S. along with the international community expending blood and treasure on feudal attempts to control the side effects (ISIS), it would be wiser to invest their resources on an honorable outcome; justice, dignity and empowerment for Arabs and Muslims.
The tragedy of Charlie Hebdo where two Muslim gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” killed 12 members of the satirical weekly magazine in Paris in what appears to be an act of avenging Prophet Mohammad is providing clues to the nature of the conflict. There is nothing in Islam that demands Muslims to defend the Prophet’s person. On the contrary, there are verses that clearly say that God will defend Islam and his prophet. The prophet of Islam is the most significant identity symbol shared by 1.5 billion people around the world. The saliency of this identity in not equal among these masses, rather it is proportional to individual frustrations, lack of dignity and limited options to make a difference, which answers some of the puzzling questions around the type of people who join global jihad. The common denominator here regardless of persuasion (Islamic or nationalistic) is the quest for dignity. At this juncture dignity is achievable through the pursuit of justice for the Palestinian and by addressing the litany of Arab grievances including American boots on Arab soil, American hegemony and the perceived war on Islam. The takeaway here is that forging a strategy to fight violent extremists based on a religious premise is futile; dignity is the answer.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.