The bombing of a Russian passenger jet, suicide bombers in Beirut, and terrorist attacks in Paris. The Islamic State pretends to be a new caliphate, aimed at uniting Sunni Muslims throughout the world. In fact, it is a radical fundamentalist death cult – an extremist mis-interpretation of Islam — attracting young volunteers who long for a glorious martyrdom, as they commit acts of savagery. The group has strayed from the path of true Islam, and its actions do not reflect the religion’s true teachings or virtues.
How do we solve a problem like the Islamic State?
It certainly cannot be solved by any one country — least of all the United States whose credibility in the Arab world has never been lower. Solving this problem will require long-term international and inter-religious collaboration.
Short term satisfaction with long term results? Instant military responses, after terrorist attacks, are always very tempting. No political leader can survive if he or she does not immediately respond to the aroused fears and anxieties of his or her people.
Nevertheless, as long as the primary response to fanaticism is to keep throwing bombs on people and responding with our own violence to the phenomenon, we will not solve the problem. Bombs always boomerang. As Mahatma Gandhi said, if people follow the law of “an eye for an eye” long enough, everyone will become a one-eyed person! Military action can only be one part of a broader strategy that will have to be pursued over many years.
And so my own reflections about a strategy for understanding and solving the problem:
(1) Powerful Muslim nations, notably Saudi Arabia, simply have to stop paying for and politically enabling the mosques, imams and paramilitary groups that fuel extremists and their violent perversions of Islam.
(2) Difficult to understand, as it may be, many people sitting at Boko Haram and the Islamic State really consider us as the enemy. They are convinced we in the West are no good. They are convinced that Westerners are trying to marginalize Muslims, humiliate and belittle them, and give them no justice and no rightful position in the world.
(3) Thousands of non-fanatic Muslims across the world repudiate and condemn the actions of fanatic jihadists. We need to support them, dialogue with them, and collaborate with them.
(4) In place of providing weapons to Arab countries, we must begin providing humanitarian aid: rebuilding countries, building schools, offering financial aid, stimulating and supporting local agriculture and industry, providing housing, health care, etc.
(5) We need to study, and collaborate with Muslim scholars and political and religious leaders to understand and address the very real socio-cultural issues that promote fundamentalism and attract fanatics. Far too often when a Muslim arrives at the border of a country, he or she is picked out and humiliated. Thousands of Muslim refugees are now moving – or trying to move — across Europe from Syria and Iraq. Their humiliation feeds their view of history. What is our best humanitarian response?
(6) In parishes and synagogues and mosques, we need to set up continuing education programs: better educating people about the traditions and beliefs of people in all three Abrahamic religions.
(7) We need to establish international and inter-religious institutes – like the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in the Hague – to study and better understand what promotes and feeds terrorists and to develop strategies for dealing with their anger, objectives, and goals.
None of these strategies requires or should lead to demolishing the values at the heart of democratic societies, including the free flow of people and information. Certainly banning all refugees, as some in America and Europe are demanding, would be an ineffective and tragic capitulation to fear.
Around 420 BCE, the prophet Malachi – recognized in all three Abrahamic religions – spoke these words: “Have we not all one Father? Has not God created us all? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our Father?” Good questions for sure ……. For everyone.