Opinion piece by Katarzyna Mortoń
Our contributor and menac-founder Katarzyna Mortoń on the Western perspectives on terrorism after the Paris attacks. Have we understood yet our responsibilities in a global world?
Today some may think that what is predominantly relevant in countering terrorism is whether Western industrial nations bomb Daesh’s positions in Syria. Unfortunately current decision makers in the United States of America, Germany, France and UK are part of this group too. The question of a moral justification of bombing and it’s efficiency should not distract us from the real challenge we face: Can the West understand that in the interconnected world we live in we share good and bad times equally, not only if they knock at our doors?
In the West we hope that ”all that” – war and turmoil – will stay in the Middle East. Because as many think though little of them will admit – the Middle East has been always a mess and that is considered normal. We all know – in theory – that the world is interconnected and interrelated. We keep repeating, that we live in a global village, we are culturally mixed, we travel, we share, we influence each other across continents, we connect with different people in other parts of the world so easily. But yet we think, that we can chose when this connection takes place. We can take what is the best that comes from the global world, but can postpone, avoid or just ignore the responsibility that comes with it.
Creating a power vacuum
The fact that the terrorists from Daesh reached European shores motivated some Western governments to increase military actions against them. Some of the comments of Western politicians after the Paris attacks indicated that this time the self-called Islamic State took it to the whole new level. They coordinated things, acted strategically and on a larger scale (terroristic operation were conducted in Lebanon, Paris, Mali, alleged attempt in Belgium and more) etc. It rushed governments to conduct more intense air strikes in Syria, led by France and the United Kingdom. This response seemed to be an emotional reaction, maybe even one of revenge. Why was there no political will to look at the threat more closely before? It is not a secret how advanced and organised Daesh is, how structured they are, how they use the most powerful mixture of all: extreme religious doctrines, technology, and now add to it marketing skills with Hollywood-style promotional videos. They reach to all those that feel excluded from society – they inspire them – and they are serious about doing it even more.
In my eyes Western politicians lack political proficiency in predicting the future linked to an unwillingness to articulate the responsibility for the past. We could go back to colonial times, but let us just stay in the present. Going to Iraq, taking down the dictator (based on false evidence) and assuming that things will go fine after that. Never mind a power vacuum, never mind evaluating the process, never mind having a plan, never mind the details. Wait – don’t they say that the devil is in details? Literally it is. Alright, that was indeed George Bush’s administration. Yet today the president of the United States Barack Obama says that they could go further in destroying Daesh but as the Daily Beats reports in the article U.S. War on ISIS Will Still Be Half-Assed they won’t:
“Not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before… [I]”
This is not entirely accurate. Before the United States of America and its coalition invaded a state (yet a relatively stable country) based on false evidences, very much contributed to the creation of Daesh that are believed to be lead by former Saddam Hussein intelligence. Today the situation is slightly different – in the region there is an actual war going on and attacks on humanity around the world are conducted by a group of a group of well organised psychopaths. All of this partially, because the first action, namely the invasion of Iraq, took place. The actions of the United States and their allies created a political vacuum in Iraq that contributed to the growth of terrorism. But did the Western politicians learn their lesson? Or are they falling into the same fallacies again? : 1. As mentioned above, ill-comparing the challenge of Daesh to previous scenarios in Iraq or Afghanistan. 2. Underestimating the enemy and hoping the mess will just stay in the Middle East 3. Pursuing an incomplete strategy for the Middle East that includes mainly military intervention in the form of airstrikes .
The Western narrative and double standards
To be confident and to strongly believe in certain principles is a good thing. But there are limits to what is a healthy portion of it. We are so much into ourselves that we stop to be critical about our own perception. On one hand, we do not want to decide over the Middle Eastern politics and we do claim our respect to its people, yet at the same time we create the narrative that does define the relationship between regions accordingly to how we see it.
Source: Facebook post of Tunisian activist and Young African Leader, Aya Chebbi from November 19, 2015.
There are many voices that do want the Muslim community to feel more accountable of what their peers are doing. ”Why neighbours do not react when they see some suspicious behaviours in their own environment?” – argues a citizen of Poland I speak with – ”If I see an issue in my community I do react upon it” – he adds. He may indeed react, but as each community and each country (regardless of its religion) is full of various pathologies, such a pro-active attitude and awareness is not always there. After each tragedy all the signs of the crime seem to be obvious, but right before it, a community may have a hard time to see the difference between a future terrorist and a troubled teenager. Is this their duty to counter terrorism and are even they capable of it? Do you always know what your neighbour is up to?
Source: Facebook post of Sofia Belegrinou from November 18, 2015, shared from The Independent.
As a consequence, we know the terrorism card will be played against refugees, immigrants and Muslims in general and we know Daesh wants this to happen. It is in their favour to create fear in society and turn people against each other. They know there has to be an enemy that the public can comprehend and can feel is capable to defeat. So it has to be something they can imagine is solvable. In this regard how often we underline the following:
Source: Instagram of Samia Hathroubi from November 18, 2015, showing her comment on BBC ”the world have your say”.
It is not like Muslims do not want to contribute to the solution. But their narrative and perception should be heard not laid out for them: Sanaa Afouaiz , a human rights activist in the field of women and youth empowerment says: ”I would say that the migrants, who exclude themselves from an open dialogue and those who don’t voice their voices, and break those stereotypes represented by the media and the extremist groups, might be themselves one of the radicalization groups that feed the negative views on migrant contribution to the host countries. For this, I say; if we don’t speak our rights as Diaspora, anti-migrant groups will speak on our behalf and come up with agendas that will not go with our benefits. ”
We are global – at times…
We are global but do not dare to be global in our thinking just yet. We select when the ”global” matches our national interests and ignore the rest until it comes back in full effect. Somehow we think and believe that the world will change but we do not have to change our thinking with it. And by “we”, I mean Western politicians and the public. Because I think no one addressed the European (and rightfully multicultural) public frankly enough, explaining that the big responsibility of integration is now on all of us. We should be reminded to be ready for it and to abstain from the tempting possibility of projecting a terrorist threat on challenges related to immigration, because it does not come from it.
Why do we not learn to calculate and think in a long term perspective and dare to voice an uncomfortable truth (not only in reaction to this or that attack): All the nations of the West have to learn to adopt a global perspective and the public has to be educated to do it too. National interest as much as it serves the unity of a group and keeps its identity – which is great – won’t turn the river to flow in the opposite direction. It’s done, we are global, the world changed and now we need to change and adapt too. In the interconnected, global world, every problem is our problem – even if we wish to select only those we want to take care of.
About the author: Katarzyna Mortoń is a MA graduate in Political Science, working as media and civil society capacity builder. She is a blogger, commentator and analyst on political and social affairs.