29 June 2015
Four years after the killing of Usame bin Laden, Al Qaida, far from being eradicated, has new footholds in the Middle East. Its offshoot IS now controls swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, extending its reach to Africa, Asia and displaying an insatiable hunger for violence. Thousands of Muslim recruits have joined its ranks from all over the world. By standing up to the Iraqi regular army, the Shiite militias and the US-led coalition air strikes for more than a year, IS has now gained an aura of invincibility. The result is an upsurge in violence as reflected in the last assault on Kobani and terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.
The world is worried. Moslem countries should worry more than others because increasingly frequent use of the expression “Islamist/jihadist terror” serves neither their faith nor their interests. Furthermore, it is essentially their people who are bearing the brunt of the suffering. If the present trend is allowed to continue, the cultural divide which separates them from the rest of the world would become impossible to bridge and millions of Muslims living in other countries would become suspect.
The problem needs to be addressed with a three-pronged strategy.
First is getting Moslem countries together to address the challenge posed by sectarianism and radicalism. They have to diagnose the root causes of the problem and agree on the methods of cure. In the past, this had been regarded a long-term issue but due to neglect and refusal to engage in self-criticism it has now become an urgent matter.
Second is making sure that this is accompanied with dialogue not only with the West but also the rest of the world since without international cooperation the effort would be doomed to failure. This would also require a fair-and- square endeavor on the part of all since many among the peoples of the region see past and present Western policies among the causes of their problems.
Third is dealing with the immediate threat posed by terrorist organizations such as ISIL, al Qaida and their likes.
The question is “who may lead the effort?” Unfortunately, the Islamic world is divided. Most Moslem countries are part of the ongoing sectarian strife. None of them has the capacity to assume a leadership role. Some have internal vulnerabilities. So it is up to others to convince Moslem countries to come together because without their united condemnation of sectarianism and terror little can be accomplished. They must clearly state their determination to become part of the solution rather than the problem and act accordingly.
Cooperation between the US and Russia remains essential to addressing a wide range of international issues but the Ukraine conflict has become a major obstacle. This must not be allowed to continue. The solution is compartmentalization of conflicts. President Putin’s recent call to Mr. Obama is a welcome development. The New York Times reported that Mr. Putin’s decision to call President Obama and focus on Syria and Iran may reflect a desire to assert his continuing importance on the world stage despite Russia’s isolation and failure to break the Western consensus on sanctions. I disagree, at least partly. Russia is an important global actor and has the ability to make a significant contribution to the search for international peace and stability, particularly in the Middle East.
As for the immediate threat posed by terrorist groups now ravaging the Middle East, while recognizing that there is no purely military solution to any problem, one should admit that allowing these groups not only to survive but to extend their reach may become a self-defeating strategy. It is understood that the Obama administration, for good reason, is determined not to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. In the absence of a credible Iraqi effort, the solution is the deployment of a unified Arab force. With international and above all Moslem countries’ support, Egypt and Jordan are better positioned than others to shoulder responsibility for organizing such an effort.
The latest terrorist attack in Tunisia, the lighthouse of the Arab Spring as some call it, provides further evidence of the readiness of terrorists to destroy everything that stands in their way. They have no regard for their country or the well-being their own people. All they wish is to deal a fatal blow to the Tunisian economy and thus throw the country into chaos since it is in chaos that they flourish the most. The world should extend Tunisia every imaginable support.
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