jihadist terrorism; did we create the monster?

by Nick Kulda

Religious conflict, western intervention, along with the constant misinterpretation of the quran by radical muslims paired with the volatility of regions in the middle east led to the creation of terrorism. Figuring out how to solve the problem of terrorism begins with understanding the circumstances surrounding its origin and understanding the reason why certain people are compelled to and/or able to be convinced to commit acts of terror. There are many proposed solutions to terrorism, although many are mostly aimed at stopping the acts themselves and not solving the true problem of a lack of understanding of culture and lack of recognizing the west’s own role in the creation of the problem. Short term solutions, like those proposed by the EU, are increases in border security and preventing the travel of known foreign terrorist fighters (EU Counter-Terrorism). Other, more long term solutions include the collaboration and sharing of resources and information among government agencies globally. However, this paper will not only explore solutions like these, but also what we, as a global community, can do to delve into the root of the problem by recognizing why certain people who commit acts of terror are upset with the west and try to change their perception of us.

The first accounts of what we now define today as “terrorism” can be traced back to an internal conflict in the middle east. This conflict is known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which can, itself, be traced back to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (EthicalFocus). The conflict between these two highly religious states began with David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaiming the establishment of the State of Israel On May 14, 1948, and U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognizing the new nation, legitimizing its existence, on the same day. This angered many Palestinians, who viewed Israel’s land as theirs. The early UN plan to divide up the land fairly failed, which then lead to war. The modern borders between Palestine and Israel were mainly decided by two major wars, the aforementioned one in 1948 and a second in 1967. Although the war of 1948 was important in establishing Israel as a nation, the war of 1967, also known as the Six-Day War, is much more important to the topic at hand, for it is accepted as the sole, singular event that birthed terrorism as it is defined today. The Six-Day War is relevant because it left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two areas densely populated with Palestinians (Beauchamp). During the war of 1967, the Palestinians realized they could not win a conventional war against the incredible might and determination of the Israeli military and realized they must switch tactics in order to actually have an impact on their enemy. This resulted in a transition from regular, military-on-military, soldier versus soldier warfare to tactics that people would now recognize as terrorism. Nationalist Palestinian groups like the PELP began targeting not only enemy soldiers, but civilians as well. The conflict continued and has yet to end to this day. The structure of those early groups, like the PELP, would come to serve a guide for modern-day terrorist organizations (Wilson Center). Years pass, and then comes the Iranian revolution. The Iranian revolution began in 1978 and provided what seemed like a great opportunity for Soviet Russia to spread its communist ideology and influence into the middle east. At the end of December, in 1973, the Kremlin sent thousands of troops into Afghanistan and immediately assumed control of its capital, Kabul. This lead to what would become a nearly decade long attempt to end the Afghan civil war while maintaining Afghanistan as a functioning socialist nation. There were multiple coups by different groups, and ultimately, the situation boiled down to a conflict between the Soviet-backed, more likely Soviet-controlled, Afghan government and the Islamic tribal areas outside of Kabul. Soon, the Islamic insurgents’ influence and power began to grow exponentially, becoming a real threat to the Soviet-controlled government that held power at the time. Then the insurgents revolted, making it possible for a new group, headed by a man named Noor Taraki, to take over the old government and establish a new one still backed by the Soviets. This gave the United States, who had been watching the entire conflict with utter disgust, an opportunity to make a move. The Carter administration chose to formally recognize the new government headed by Taraki, in an attempt to contain Soviet influence. However, this action came to be unnecessary as the Islamic insurgents began to become a problem again. The U.S. began to supply the insurgents with weapons and other resources. By 1980, Moscow finally withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving a shattered country behind. This is what allowed for the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group, to seize control, effectively beginning the reign of terror against the West. The Taliban would grow to become one of the worst terrorist organizations in the world, providing the infamous Osama Bin Laden with a base that enabled him to launch terrorist attacks worldwide like the tragedy that occurred on September 11th, 2001 (Office of the Historian, US Dep. of State).

Today, terrorism’s effects are felt on a global scale. The countries most affected by terrorism, in order from most to least, are Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, The Philippines, and Somalia, with the most terrorist related incidents occurring within their borders in the last 2 years (Global Terrorism Index). The most active and prominent organizations are currently the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), Boko Haram, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These organizations, combined, are responsible for over 74% of all terrorism-related deaths over the past ten years (Dudley). Recently, there have been approximately 30 thousand people killed every year as the direct result of actions by jihadist terrorists (Global Terrorism Index). Many of these terrorist groups have survived with the help of state funding and aid from established, recognized nations, which is a major part of the problem today. The greatest state sponsors of terrorism, recently, have been Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria (Byman, Kaplan). A summation of the reason for why terrorists act as they do can be explained by Frederic Lemieux, the director of Applied Intelligence and Cybersecurity Risk Management at Georgetown University, in his words, “terrorists often justify their bloody acts on the basis of perceived social, economic and political unfairness. Or they take inspiration from religious beliefs or spiritual principles” (Lemieux). Terrorists blame the west for the adverse situation their region is in, and justify their actions by equating them with negative things that happen to them and people they know at home. They also utilize religious texts, like the quran, to convince each other that what they are doing is not just a claw at revenge for perceived injustices, but a religious duty that they must participate in order to be recognized in the afterlife (Bergen). Specifically, radicals site jihad, an idea in the quran that states that it is permissible for Muslims to wage war only if other Muslims or Islamic territory is under attack, that has been warped and molded into what is now interpreted as a constant religious struggle or fight against non-muslims, regardless of if they pose an immediate threat to Muslims themselves. Many terrorist organizations take advantage of the jihad and use it as a tactic to recruit people to join their cause. This manipulation of facts not only presents a danger to radicals’ targets, but to other Muslims as well because it associates their faith, a faith that is supposed to be a peaceful, tolerant religion, and subsequently themselves, with obscene, savage radicalism and violence (Subhayu).

The main reason for the problem of jihadist terrorism, must be, by default, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, solely because it served as the catalyst that lead to the birth of groups and parent-organizations of which the world now identifies as terrorists, along with their ideology. Terrorism was brought to the West for many reasons, but the two most critical being its backing of the nation of Israel, and western intervention in conflicts within the middle east, like Russia’s invasion and dismemberment of Afghanistan and its government and, later, America’s occupation and military action in 14 separate muslim countries from 1980 to date (Cordesman). Israel is generally viewed as an enemy to not just Palestinians, but many other muslims throughout the middle east. The United State’s support of Israel caused it to become just as hated and despised as Israel itself, giving radicalized jihadists an excuse to take action against America. Expanding on the second most critical reason for why terrorism was brought into America, the West’s apparent disregard for the lives of locals during events like Russia’s messy occupation of Afghanistan and controversy surrounding things like American drone strikes, where many argue that although they do make killing terrorists and enemy combatants easier, they also lower the standard for how much of a potential threat something or someone must be in order for it to be worth destroying, possibly resulting in an increase in authorized killings of people who do not actually pose a threat (Columbia Law, Drone Strike Statistics). Things like these all fuel radicals’ hatred for the West, providing them with a motive to attack innocent people just because they live in a country who they believe has wronged them and disagree with its values (Lazreg, McBride, Cordesman).

There have been many past attempts at solutions to terrorism, and many individual actions have been taken to try and stop different parts of the problem within itself. Pretty much all of these actions have been government led, with the exception of individual activists. These government actions include border control to improve border security, background checks to vet people coming into the country, and watchlists. Governments collaborate with multiple countries and nations to form things like the WHO watchlist (Sales). Although some past solutions have proven to make progress, many past solutions have actually resulted in negative impacts and worsened the problem greatly. An example of this is Dick Cheney's recognition of an individual named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who, because of that recognition, went on to become the leader of one of the worst terrorist organizations in the world, ISIS. Dick Cheney, former Vice President of the united states under the second Bush administration, needed to put a name and face on the enemy to justify the President’s, or more likely his, decision to invade Iraq. Because of this, Cheney found a man with ties to Al-Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, that also had ties to Iraq, and publicly recognized him as a terrorist that needed to be stopped. Of course it is true that anyone with intent to harm United States citizens, or any innocent person, for that matter, should be dealt with and neutralized, but Dick Cheney’s public recognition of him as a notorious terrorist, which was most likely an exaggeration, for al-Zarqawi was little known at the time, made him a hero among radicals in the middle east. He gained popularity and support because of the recognition and went on to form one of, if not the worst, terrorist organizations we know of today (Schippa). Other past solutions include actions such as anti-terrorism campaigns, like the trademarked, “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign spearheaded by the Department of Homeland security. Also, the Department of Homeland Security, itself, was created as a solution to terrorism after 9/11. It’s own description is that the “Department of Homeland Security works in the civilian sphere to protect the United States within, at, and outside its borders. Its stated goal is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism” (Dep. of Homeland Security). Finally, the biggest past solution has been military action in general. This is described in the United State’s foreign policy in regard to its relations and interactions with the middle east as whole. Previously, as was stated earlier, the United States has either occupied or carried out some type of military action in 14 different Islamic countries, ranging from Afghanistan, to Somalia, to Kosovo, Yemen, and most recently, Syria (Cordesman, Dep. of State). These solutions have had varying levels of success, with programs like background checks, the sharing of information and intelligence with other nations, and the founding of the Department of Homeland Security all proving to be successful in America’s war on terror, whereas military action and occupation do not always prove to work (Dep. of State, Dep. of Homeland Security, Cordesman, Schippa).

There are endless proposed solutions to terrorism, but the most prominent concern border security. In order to harm people within a nation, extremists must first be able to actually get into or operate within that nation with the exception of attacks from long-ranged attacks using ICBMs, or inter-continental ballistic missiles, something that terrorist organizations do not have the ability, as of yet, to acquire, and even if they did, western establishments like the European Union, the United States of America, and the United Nations all have measures to easily counter those kinds of attacks (NATO Counter-Terrorism, UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, Majumdar). The problem now has an apparently obvious solution: stop terrorists from gaining access to the country. However, this task is nowhere near as simple as it is to state it in a single sentence, and has required, is requiring, and will require massive amounts of effort and collaboration between nations to make it work. Like the United Nation’s Office of Counter-Terrorism initiative lays out in their current initiative, there are many components that factor into having good border security, something that the UN affirms is vital for its member states to maintain in order to assure the positive status of their national security. Examples of these components include effective surveillance and vetting technology at the border, government engagement with border communities, and cooperation with the country on the other side of the border. Effective surveillance and vetting technology at the border is vital to maintaining national security because without it, a nation has no way of knowing who is and is not within their borders. Government engagement with border communities is, also, important because it encourages cooperation and proper enforcement of local laws with regards to border security (UN Office of Counter-Terrorism). The EU, or European Union, has similar plans for their future in the fight against terrorism. They plan to focus more on consistent, widespread background checks on who is entering and leaving the the different nations that it is comprised of, and it has just begun a system of recording the movements of non-EU citizens to try and track potential extremist movements (EU Counter Terrorism).

Another solution to the threat of jihadist extremism is to prevent the travel, communication, and funding of radical individuals and their respective extremist groups as a whole. This combination of preventions is meant to first, stop organizations from spreading their influence, second, prevent individuals from meeting to plan things such as potential attacks, and finally, choke the groups by cutting off the resources they need to carry out their activities and eventually their everyday operations, effectively killing the organization. These methods were all outlined in both the UN Counter-Terrorism initiative and the European Union plan to combat terrorism (UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, EU Counter Terrorism). Although in reality, travel is extremely hard to regulate because terrorists make up such a small percentage of the people who travel around the world, the best security, in regards to traveling, is what the Department of Homeland Security calls “due-diligence security.” Due-diligence security means that a nation must uphold and fully enforce its security measures without compromise so absolutely no one can slip through the cracks and make it into the country. This entails things such as only allowing people entry with all the necessary identification, checking everyone using databases available to security officials, thoroughly checking for forgeries, and other things such as the implementation of facial recognition software and cross checking records with multiple databases and watchlists (Dept. of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection). Despite this, there have been acts passed by the government that actually do have a significant impact on the ability of an extremist to enter the US, like the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act became law n December 18, 2015. In the program’s own words, “the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act) became law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2016. The Act, among other things, establishes new eligibility requirements for travel under the VWP. These new eligibility requirements do not bar travel to the United States. Instead, a traveler who does not meet the requirements must obtain a visa for travel to the United States, which generally includes an in-person interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.” This new interview requirement adds an extra layer of security to the process of coming into the US while also giving the people who did not meet the requirements a second chance. (US Customs and Border Protection). Next is the regulation of communication. Governments must monitor communication for indications of terrorist activity which can be done by using keyword recognition programs that selectively monitor calls that are deemed at risk. For example, the keyword recognition software will monitor all calls for specific words and phrases like ‘bomb,’ or ‘allahu akbar,’ and only monitor calls with those specific keywords that are deemed at risk. Finally, the most important action a government can take to fully disable an extremist organization is to cut its funding. Without money, organizations cannot operate. They can not buy weapons and vehicles or even pay their own men, all of which leads to the organization eventually suffocating and falling apart (NATO Counter Terrorism, Kaplan).

A third solution that may work positively to solve the problem of jihadist terrorism is to stop making people in the middle east hate the west, taking away their reason to cause others harm. Of course, none of the deaths, injuries, and overall damage caused by extremists is acceptable in anyway, but understanding how they justify what they do in order to identify and minimize as much of what is our fault as we can. We must recognize the causes of terrorism to truly understand why terrorists do what they do. There are two things that the west must do to even attempt to change how they are perceived by radical extremists in the east. One, they must stop intervening in their government and national affairs, and two, the west must make it seem like its interests in the middle east appear to be neutral. Stopping the west’s intervention in middle eastern countries would please the many people who believe that the west is incriminating on and disturbing their land and lives. Making ourselves appear neutral in regards to affairs within the middle east between groups would hopefully, overtime, cause extremists to lose their hatred for the west, and with it their will to randomly attack others. However, stopping our intervention with the east does not just mean leaving the region altogether, at least at first. The west must first focus its efforts on leaving the middle east in as best condition as possible. The west can do that by focusing its efforts on setting up strong governments for the countries in the region by promoting fair, democratic elections. After stable governments are successfully put in place, the west would then be able to safely take troops out of the region. Still, after the west pulls its troops out, it would need to monitor the region and provide help where it is needed. Much of the middle east is not literate, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation if they are exposed to falsely interpreted ideas from the quran (Lazreg). Providing education and facilitating a new culture where practical knowledge is valued would also help put an end to terrorism by informing the next generation of youth, hopefully strengthening them against the corruption and misinformation propagandized by extremist groups (Lazreg, Lemieux). The west can end terrorism with a thoroughly thought-out plan of slowly dissociating itself from the middle east while promoting a positive culture around the value of knowledge and freedom.

Terrorism impacts many different kinds of people in many different ways. Terrorism, although much less deadly than many other things that people do not fear nearly as much, like car accidents, causes people to live in constant fear. Aside from the mental toll that constant fear has on people, terrorism affects our lives in other, very real, ways everyday. Examples of this include increased security measures at airports, like the TSA, which make travel become more complicated and take longer than it used to, and increased security at events like metal detectors and pat-down searches (Gallup). Terrorism not only affects how people travel, but negatively affects the lives of muslims around the world purely by creating a stigma around the Islamic religion. This stigma only feeds the problem because it creates a divide between some non-muslims and muslims. Affected non-muslims become racist and xenophobic of all muslims solely because of the actions of radical, relatively small groups who claim to be of the same religion. This, in turn, makes radical muslims hate the west even more and may even cause non-radical muslims to become radicalized in response (Bandyopadhyay, Benjamin). The stigma and hate for muslims brought on by radicals is counter-productive to improving the situation and just leads to more conflict.

Overall, terrorism will come to an end. How soon that will be is hard to tell, but it is based on what the government decides to do about it and how much they are willing to sacrifice their own pride in exchange for solving the problem of terrorism. Any real change will most likely not happen fast, but the more connected and informed our world becomes, the less differences we will have from each other and the better we will be able to understand each other’s problems, resulting in everyone being able to relate with most anyone else in some way or another, squashing the idea of war and physical conflict. There are many solutions, that have been previously mentioned, to terrorism already in place today, and overall, the situation is improving (Benjamin, Dept. of State). However controversial, the West’s swift military action when dealing with terrorist organizations slowly kills them, one by one, with examples of this being the tactical complete dismemberment of Al-Qaeda, starting with the covert assassination of the organization’s leader, Osama Bin Laden (Majumdar). Although we may be able to physically destroy terrorist organizations, the only way to truly solve the problem of terrorism is through understanding and education.



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A message from the author:

Nick Kulda

"Growing up in Belgium, I have been inspired to learn and teach about the world around me. My unending fascination with other cultures has broadened my perspective of the world and my community. As someone who is inspired by education, I see my membership to the AHEO as an opportunity to serve my community in a field which I feel passion for. I truly believe that to fight racism, and highlight the need for cultural celebrations, people must stand together to defend the honor of justice and equality. For those reasons and more, I have committed my time to the AHEO as I see it as a real solution to a global problem. My goal is to navigate the AHEO ’s mission in a direction where it can be applied on a federal level through legislation. Through contacting government officials and federal agencies, I hope to implement a greater standard of racial diversity as well as cultural celebration throughout American schools."