Misconceptions about international terrorism too often guide politics, media and academia these days. But if you don’t think correctly, you can’t negotiate correctly.
The first fallacy is that you can fight terrorism by fighting poverty. Surely, everyone knows that Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was a multimillionaire. Most terrorist masterminds emerge from the middle class, and the Islamic State is swimming in money. The poor are merely cannon fodder for terrorist leaders. So economics and sociology do not explain today’s terrorism – no more than they did with the Baader-Meinhof terrorists in 1970s West Germany.
The second big fallacy is that the Israeli-Arab-Islamic conflict is the core of terrorism and Israel is the trigger.
If you blame Islam, you insist that Islamic terrorists want to hit Israel, the United States and other allies, and that they strive for Islamic world domination. That is nonsense because Sunni and Shiite Muslims are slaughtering each other in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Nations must be rebuilt, not eliminated. Iraq, for example, should become a federal republic of Iraq, comprised of federal states of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Terrorism is horrible, but it cannot achieve world domination. It can target and tear apart concerted efforts of the modern world. As a rule, terrorist strategy supplements guerilla strategy by targeting enemy civilians, in that way it also attacks an enemy’s military.
In the meantime, the Islamic State is more of a regular army than a terrorist group. And no wonder – it sprang up with the help of arms and military equipment from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Islamic State has only captured more weapons and tanks during its recent conquests thanks to Western nations, especially the United States, which sent billions in arms in the name of implementing “democracy” in Iraq.
Now, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is requesting new weapons, and will probably get them. One day, Islamists in Algeria might seize German tanks built there by Rheinmetall, the Düsseldorf-based defense contractor.
Another absurd notion is that Shiite Iran is the most effective partner for Shiite-controlled Iraq and Western allies in the fight against Sunni terrorists of the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the West is simultaneously threatened by Iranian missiles, but can exercise no real pressure on Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons potential.
The role of Turkey is also a puzzle. The Islamic State has received human replenishments and materials from the NATO ally, and in recent days its president and prime minister have called for Islamic “liberation” of Israel.
The Islamic State likes to hear that. Symbolically, the terrorists wave to Dutch and German soldiers at the Turkish-Syrian borders. These soldiers have been protecting the airspace of the NATO ally since 2012 – “solidarity in alliance” is what the German army website calls it.
Religion, geopolitics and integration are the correct keys to understanding terrorism. They can lead to both a strategy and a solution.
Religion is a key, as terrorism is not only an instrument of Muslims against Muslims, or of Muslims against Jews and Christians, or of ethnic Uighurs against Chinese in Xingjiang. All these are rooted in the Islam religion. The discussion can only be held in the context of Islam. It has begun and will take a long time, much longer than the two-day Elmau summit.
In terms of geopolitics, Islamic terrorism dominates in the Middle East. National boundaries include various religious and ethnic groups that want to remain separate – and friction between different people can be explosive. Mideast nations disintegrate rapidly and terrorism rises in their place.
Putting an end to these explosions requires political action to build a federal framework inside and between countries. Nations must be rebuilt, not eliminated. Iraq, for example, should become a federal republic of Iraq, comprised of federal states of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Syria must become a federal republic with federal states for Sunnis, Alawites, Shiites and Kurds. Comparable federal reconstruction is also needed in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On the big integration issue, everyone is aware that Islamism has been growing in Germany and Western Europe for a while. One name personifies the inability to integrate Muslims into Western societies: Mohammed Atta. He was born in Egypt but came to Germany to be educated as a young man. A decade later, he piloted one of two airplanes into New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Terrorism can result from inadequate integration – on the part of both majority and minority populations.
In the end, it’s an argument for federalism and better integration policies in the battle against terrorism. Summits of world leaders must reflect upon and anticipate those issues.
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