What can Western governments do to counteract radicalization? (11)
You can’t kill a thought with a bullet. You can only defeat it with a stronger thought. As attacks continue, and the unrelenting effort and billions invested in the global war on terrorism haven’t brought results, the question arises what individual governments can do to curb the emergence of radical Islamism.
The terrorist attacks that recently hit Paris, Brussels, and Nice multiply Western countries’ fears of the potential radicalization of Muslims in their own populations. As secret services and law enforcement authorities seem overwhelmed, governments are beginning to ask what could be done to counter this increasingly dangerous phenomenon.
The war on terrorism hasn’t made any tangible progess. Yes, high-ranking militants have been eliminated. But the threat of extremism and radicalization has become even more imminent with the emergence of new extremist groups, such as the Islamic State or ISIS, and the involvement of radicalized Europeans in its terror operations.
In addition to their involvement in the terrorist attacks that were carried out in Paris, Brussels, and Nice, radicalized Europeans also join the ranks of ISIS in Syria. The country of origin doesn’t seem to matter. The Estonian Internal Security Service confirmed in 2014 that Abdurrahman Azan, whose name had been Ivan Sazanakov before he converted to Islam, had joined ISIS and gone to Syria to fight in its militia.
But what is it that can push or lure a Muslim living in the West to adopt radicalized ideas and join extremist organizations like Al-Qaeda or ISIS? A lot of studies have been conducted to find an answer to this question.
Muslims are just as infuriated and disheartened by the attacks
While secularism can easily be mistaken for atheism in many Muslim societies, most Muslims prefer the secular way of life, and it isn’t a foreign concept to them. But unfortunately most of them are trapped in dictatorial and repressive regimes, as is the case in most Middle Eastern countries, including the Gulf States and Egypt.
Worried that the tide of revolutions will eventually reach their territories, the rich Gulf States and Iran have made every effort possible possible to turn the democratic and civil aspirations of the Arab Spring into sectarian conflicts. The ongoing deadly civil wars of sectarian nature in Syria and Yemen are perfect examples for this.
Terrorist attacks usually spark heated debates between extremists and the majority of moderate Muslims on social media networks. This is also the case after the attack in Nice two days ago. While the first group tries to justify these attacks using some Islamic texts taken out of context and without any interpretation, others argue with a different set of Islamic texts.
Not every Muslim is a religious radical. Like everywhere else, we’d all much rather go about our business and live in peace than wage holy war against the West.
Factors that can contribute to radicalization
“With only some exceptions, evidence shows that socio-economic deprivation plays a significant role in generating feelings of alienation that contribute to a propensity to radicalization,” Georgetown University Professor Shireen Hunter writes in “Muslim radicalization in Europe: Roots and resolution”.
History has shown time and again that poverty and marginalization often lead to dissatisfaction, anger, and a higher receptivity for radical ideas, political as much as religious. Compared to their fellow citizens, Europe’s Muslim minorities often occupy some of the lowest economic ranks.
In the West, as Hunter points out, while there are some successful and affluent Muslims, the rate of unemployment especially among the Muslim youth is sometimes as much as twice the national average.
“Unemployment and poverty often trap some Muslim youth in a web of petty and not-so-petty crime, which subsequently leads to their imprisonment. Again, studies show that many of these young petty criminals become exposed to more hard-core criminals and Muslim radicals in prison,” she adds.
While the economic depravity of Muslim minorities can be a factor in attracting some of them to radical Jihadist views, there are others as well. They include lack of proper integration into the host societies, as well as Western foreign policy in the Middle East.
Because of the rejection and the obstacles they may face trying to integrate into the host communities, many Muslims remain focused on their own small communities and shut themselves out from the rest of society. The feeling of alienation and rejection makes them more vulnerable to radical ideas.
Terrorist organizations play with these people’s feeling of injustice caused by some Western countries’ unwavering support of Israel in the Palestinian question. They also use any invasion of a Muslim country by Western and allied powers as proof that the West is in fact waging a war against the Islamic faith, and not against terrorism.
The above, adding to the fact that there are Islamic religious texts that can be taken out of context and used by extremist groups to justify their calls for holy war against the West, makes some Muslims prone to radicalization and joining extremists.
What can be done by Western states?
“It's important to address the factors contributing to Muslims’ sense of alienation and greater receptivity to radical discourse,” Hunter points out. Stepping up security and vigilance should only come with comprehensive programs aimed at socially and economically empowering Muslim minorities, and fully integrating them into the host societies, or at least their economies.
Canada's relatively successful integration policies are a case in point. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is admired by millions of Muslims not just in Canada but around the globe because of the great deal of tolerance and understanding he has shown towards Muslim Canadians.
The entire world, including Estonia, can learn from the Canadian experience in terms of integrating immigrants and refugees. With the arrival of refugees through the European relocation scheme, Estonia should focus more on its integration policies and make sure that the new arrivals don't feel alienated. Social as well as economic capacity building programs should always be taken into consideration, as leaving new arrivals to their own devices only supports the creation of small and isolated communities.
The West should also support moderate Muslim voices and secular parties in the Muslim World. There must be more emphasis on protecting women and human rights there. While there is no need for forcing regime changes like it was done in Iraq, the West can use its influence to pressure religious governments like Saudi Arabia and Iran to adopt modern policies and stop their support for Sunni, Wahhabi, or Shiite extremist views.