How to fight ji­hadi ter­ror­ism

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Open so­ci­eties are al­ways en­dan­gered. This is es­pe­cially true of Amer­ica and Europe to­day, as a re­sult of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris and else­where, and the way that Amer­ica and Europe, par­tic­u­larly France, have re­acted to them.

Ji­hadi ter­ror­ists, like the Is­lamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda, have dis­cov­ered the Achilles heel of our Western so­ci­eties: the fear of death. By stok­ing that fear through hor­rific at­tacks and macabre videos, the pub­li­cists of ISIS awaken and mag­nify it, lead­ing oth­er­wise sen­si­ble peo­ple in hith­erto open so­ci­eties to aban­don their rea­son.

Brain sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that emo­tion is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of hu­man rea­son­ing. That dis­cov­ery ex­plains why ji­hadi ter­ror­ism poses such a po­tent threat to our so­ci­eties: the fear of death leads us and our lead­ers to think – and then be­have – ir­ra­tionally.

Brain science merely con­firms what ex­pe­ri­ence has long shown: When we are afraid for our lives, emo­tions take hold of our thoughts and ac­tions, and we find it dif­fi­cult to make ra­tio­nal judg­ments. Fear ac­ti­vates an older, more prim­i­tive part of the brain than that which for­mu­lates and sus­tains the ab­stract val­ues and prin­ci­ples of open so­ci­ety.

The open so­ci­ety is thus al­ways at risk from the threat posed by our re­sponse to fear. A gen­er­a­tion that has in­her­ited an open so­ci­ety from its par­ents will not understand what is re­quired to main­tain it un­til it has been tested and learns to keep fear from cor­rupt­ing rea­son. Ji­hadi ter­ror­ism is only the lat­est ex­am­ple. The fear of nu­clear war tested the last gen­er­a­tion, and the fear of com­mu­nism and fas­cism tested my gen­er­a­tion.

The ji­hadi ter­ror­ists’ ul­ti­mate goal is to con­vince Mus­lim youth world­wide that there is no al­ter­na­tive to ter­ror­ism. And ter­ror­ist at­tacks are the way to achieve that goal, be­cause the fear of death will awaken and mag­nify the la­tent anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ments in Europe and Amer­ica, in­duc­ing the nonMus­lim pop­u­la­tion to treat all Mus­lims as po­ten­tial at­tack­ers.

And that is ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing. The hys­ter­i­cal an­tiMus­lim re­ac­tion to ter­ror­ism is gen­er­at­ing fear and re­sent­ment among Mus­lims liv­ing in Europe and Amer­ica. The older gen­er­a­tion re­acts with fear, the younger one with re­sent­ment; the re­sult is a breed­ing ground for po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists. This is a mu­tu­ally self-re­in­forc­ing, re­flex­ive process.

How can it be stopped and re­versed? Aban­don­ing the val­ues and prin­ci­ples un­der­ly­ing open so­ci­eties and giv­ing in to an anti-Mus­lim im­pulse dic­tated by fear cer­tainly is not the an­swer, though it may be dif­fi­cult to re­sist the temp­ta­tion. I ex­pe­ri­enced this per­son­ally when I watched the last Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate; I could stop my­self only by re­mem­ber­ing that it must be ir­ra­tional to fol­low the wishes of your en­e­mies.

To re­move the dan­ger posed by ji­hadi ter­ror­ism, ab­stract ar­gu­ments are not enough; we need a strat­egy for de­feat­ing it. The chal­lenge is un­der­scored by the fact that the ji­hadi phe­nom­e­non has been with us for more than a gen­er­a­tion. In­deed, gain­ing a proper un­der­stand­ing of it may be im­pos­si­ble. But the at­tempt must be made.

Con­sider the Syr­ian con­flict, which is the root cause of the mi­gra­tion prob­lem that is pos­ing an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the Euro­pean Union as we know it. If it was re­solved, the world would be in bet­ter shape.

It is im­por­tant to recog­nise that ISIS is op­er­at­ing from a po­si­tion of weak­ness. While it is spread­ing fear in the world, its hold on its home ground is weak­en­ing. The United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has unan­i­mously adopted a res­o­lu­tion against it, and the lead­ers of ISIS are aware that their days in Iraq and Syria are num­bered.

Of course, the out­look for Syria re­mains highly un­cer­tain, and the con­flict there can­not be un­der­stood or tack­led in iso­la­tion. But one idea shines through crys­tal clear: it is an egre­gious mis­take to do what the ter­ror­ists want us to do. That is why, as 2016 gets un­der­way, we must reaf­firm our com­mit­ment to the prin­ci­ples of open so­ci­ety and re­sist the siren song of the likes of Don­ald Trump and Ted Cruz, how­ever hard that may be.

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