By Raulston Nembhard
November 25, 2015
SINCE the dawn of the 21st century, the entire world has been exposed to a frightening level of violence not seen towards the end of the 20th. There is no doubt that the 20th century was a bloody century culminating in World War II (WWII). Since that war, there have been flare-ups around the world, such as the genocide in the former Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, but there has not been any that amounted to a real global threat.
With the terror attack on America on September 11, 2001 the world saw the genesis of what would turn out to be a real threat to global security. For the first time, America and the major powers began to realise that the world was now confronted with a different kind of threat than existed toward the waning days of the 20th century. Terror was now becoming a more organised force through the al-Qaeda organisation.
There seems to be universal agreement that the US attack on Afghanistan to root out al-Qaeda was justifiable. Least so was the invasion of Iraq, which only served to inflame tribal passions, embolden terrorists of every description, and lend greater legitimacy to the organisation of terror as a tool to enhance global instability.
Now we have the fearsome ISIS/ISIL or Daesh to contend with. The intelligence agencies of the major powers, including the US, were having their Gulliver's nap while ISIS grew in importance and savagery. When ISIS took new territory in Syria and was moving on to Iraq, the US president referred to them as a mere JV (junior varsity team) as if there was no need to take them seriously. When it became clear that ISIS presented a real threat to global security, America, with a weak and patchy coalition, started the selective bombing of ISIS targets. It was clear from the beginning that this selective bombing was a tepid response to a real emerging threat. For, while the bombs fell, ISIS continued to capture key territory on its march to Baghdad.
For over a year of bombing ISIS's activities have not been disrupted in any significant way. If anything, the terror group has become more emboldened and fierce in its tenacity and determination to spread terror across the world. Had Russia not intervened in the conflict in Syria, America may not have seen the need to step up its activities by considering putting more boots on the ground.
With the downing of the Russian jet being attributed to ISIS or its affiliates, and with the attack in France, you can expect a more robust challenge to ISIS on the ground. One does not have to be a military person to know that bombing campaigns will not work in places where you have to be very mindful of civilian casualties. The Allied forces in the WWII were not so constrained in the carpet bombing of densely populated German cities like Dresden and Berlin. Neither were they when the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. These were different times and a real war of global proportions had to be ended.
The war against ISIS does not justify killing perhaps hundreds of thousands of civilians to root out a terror group like ISIS. President Barack Obama would be very naïve to think that bombing ISIS would degrade them and finally rid the world of them. But now that the rest of the world is waking up to the reality that this group presents a global threat and can strike at any time in any part of the world, there will be greater coordination from these countries to fight this growing threat. Before, they proved themselves to be gutless and feckless. It is only when their own countrymen or assets were attacked that they saw the need to get really involved. Even Russia, when it got involved, did so to support Assad, not to directly bring the fight to ISIS. One can be sure that this strategy will change soon. One longs for the kind of leadership that defined the fight against Nazism and which even emerged soon after the ending of WWII.
But chasing ISIS out of its occupied territories will not necessarily change the threat that it presents to the world. Its ability to recruit talent from around the world to do its bidding is, perhaps, an even greater threat to the world than holding territory. So far the greatest body of its recruits is disaffected and not so disaffected youth from around the world who have been dying to lend their boundless energy to a cause. ISIS's proven expertise with information technology, especially its use of social media, presents it with unparalleled opportunities to wreak terror. If this is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, then no country is really safe from its activities. It can launch an attack in any country whenever it wishes and its threats must not be taken lightly.
America is among the most vulnerable countries for such attacks to take place. This largely stems from the fact that the country prides its democratic freedoms and views any attempt at constraining those freedoms in a negative light. National surveillance legislation has been viewed as an attack on people's constitutional rights or an invasion of people's privacy. But the founding fathers could not in their wildest dreams, or the fecundity of their imaginations, have anticipated the dangers we now face from cyberterrorism and the harm that terrorists can wreak on person and property. As one person remarked, the constitution is not a suicide pact. Like sensible gun reform legislation, ways have to be found to protect people from terror while preserving their fundamental freedoms. But you cannot have both; there has to be a willingness that something has to be given up. What that is will be determined as circumstances dictate.
In the end, it is clear that the people are their best protectors. Fighting terrorism requires a greater awareness of and alertness to the environment in which one lives. We should not live in fear, but we should not be fearful in reporting suspicious activities. The nature of terror is to spread fear, but citizens of every country must understand that they have a part to play. Although governments bear the greater responsibility for their country's security, it cannot be left up to them alone to keep every citizen safe. The threat of determined organisations like ISIS will persist long after they have been chased out of Syria and Iraq. The war against terror demands citizen vigilance and alertness.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator.