Alexander Gillespie: Mother of all battles is slowly being lost

Shoppers and staff flee from the gun battle in an upmarket mall where more than 60 people died in a four-day siege. Photo / AP
Shoppers and staff flee from the gun battle in an upmarket mall where more than 60 people died in a four-day siege. Photo / AP

Incidents of terrorism have quadrupled since the so-called "War on Terror" began in 2001. Despite intervention all over the globe, the problem has got bigger, not smaller.

Al-Qaeda now possesses reach over more places and is recruiting more fighters than at any point in its 25 year history.

This increase in incidents of attacks hides four considerations. First, some countries, such as the United States, are safer than they were before, with fewer acts of terror than in the 1980s.

Second, traditional targets for terrorists, such as airliners, have become unfashionable due to effective security systems. In exchange, new methods of terror, such as suicide bombers, have increased from around four a year in the early 1980s to nearly 400 a year now.

Third, the new wave of terrorists are often engaged in international networks of both weaponry and volunteers.

Estimates suggest that Britain may already host over 1000 people willing to use indiscriminate violence to further their goals at home or abroad.

These people have easy access to small arms that remain barely regulated on the international market. They are known to be seeking bigger weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, the pretext for terror has changed from ideology to religion. This is not an exclusive trend.

Acts of terror in the name of political world views, the pattern which dominated the Cold War, continue to drive many who want to kill the unarmed to further their goals. Nevertheless, ideological terrorism is now playing second fiddle to that of religion, Islam in particular.

Other religions can, and have, behaved in a similar manner in the past. However the current trend, linked to both sides of the Islamic faith, is unique. The Sunni branch, of which al-Qaeda is the most obvious, has cousins in both al-Shabaab, who took out the mall in Kenya, and Boko Haram, who took out the college dorms in Nigeria.

In practice the division between the political and the religious blur. Many of the recent terror actions in Africa are about the securing of territory, in which the absolute control of the extremists and their theological views can be maintained.

This is not an impossible situation. Over the past 100 years, multiple terror groups have been brought to heel.

The greatest weapon against terrorists of any flavour is found in open, inclusive and tolerant democracies. The seeds of extremism grow best where the poverty, political exclusion and lack of hope is the deepest. The tyrannies that were much of the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa were veritable petri-dishes for the growth of such cultures in recent times.

It was, in part, for this reason that the Arab Spring represented a challenge to fundamentalists and tyrants of all kinds. Yet as the Spring has drained to form lakes of blood in Syria, and the West remained silent over the military coup in Egypt, the extremists are taking heart.

They can claim, with legitimacy, that their quests for lawful power within democratic frameworks are never taken seriously, even when in the majority.

In addition, when crimes are committed against them by tyrants or states which act outside the norms of international civility, silence is often the response of the global community.

Similar mistakes were made when the War on Terror turned into one of rendition, torture and Guantanamo Bay, through which more enemies were created than were removed. The effectiveness of drones in the long term remains uncertain. While a few heads may have been removed, it is arguable that a much greater loss of hearts and minds of resident populations has occurred.

The use of such remote technologies is in large part because many in the West wish to cut and run from such difficult situations. Exhaustion, lack of interest and fear of reprisals has forced many countries to re-evaluate their assistance to faraway lands.

The problem is that countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and Niger need more help than ever. Even countries like Kenya and Nigeria need enhanced assistance in intelligence, training, logistics, and modernisation of administrations, especially the political frameworks they must operate within.

All extremists who reject the multicultural, liberal and tolerant society need to be confronted, both domestically and internationally, by political processes they can participate in, but when their threats turn into acts of terror, by force.

The support from rich Gulf States to their favourite extremist groups must stop, and international law must control the flow of people and weapons when they are linked to acts of terror.

Until the apathy, inertia, inconsistency and hypocrisy stops, and meaningful, long-term action to confront the spread of terror to faraway countries begins, expect the problem to worsen.

It is likely that the spread and impacts of terrorism will continue, as at base, the mother of all battles - that of ideas - is being lost.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 24 Jul 2016 17:40:58 Processing Time: 406ms