To fight Islamic terrorism a holistic approach is needed, of which there are two components: Firstly, and the easier approach, is that of eradicating terrorism using military force. The West, NATO and their allies have for at least 16 years tried this approach to eradicate al Qaeda and have failed to do so. While al Qaeda has been eliminated, a mushroom effect has taken place and ISIL took the stage replacing the earlier terrorist entity. Even the elimination of ISIL, which is now likely to occur, will result in the entrance of another jihadist entity to replace it.
The lesson to be learnt by a comprehensive study of the subject leads to the conclusion that the use of force to end terrorism is only a short-term solution at best. What is needed is a long-term plan which brings us to the second component: societal approach to tackle the root causes of terrorism in the first place. More importantly only a comprehensive framework to tackle the root cause of terrorism can possibly work. We need to address the causes of Muslim resentment against the West.
An understanding of the Muslim concerns indicates that the Muslim people care most about the suppression, violence, injustices and persecution of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis, Kashmiris at the hands of the Indians, Rohingya Muslims at the hands of the regime in Myanmar, Moros at the hands of the Philippines government and the Uighurs at the hands of the Chinese communist government. Alienation, a sense of hopelessness among youth, ignorance, widespread corruption, government persecution, government failure to provide essential social services, lack of social justice and bad governance, in addition to the abuse of religion for political purposes and gaining power in society.
An intellectual approach would entail a revision of syllabuses, texts, and provision of counter extremism narratives through the media, arts and cultural activities. The most important aspect is the elimination of corruption and bad governance in these societies that will eventually end alienation and hopelessness among youth. The argument that the total solution lies within Islam is correct and obvious. When I referred to bad governance and corrupt governments it was meant to address this aspect of the problem. However, it is also a historic fact that Muslims have been victims of atrocities by others. The whole solution would address both internal and external factors.
Sohail Mahmood is an independent global affairs analyst and the author of several books, monographs and research articles on Middle East and South Asian politics, governance and development issues. He has taught for about 30 years in various universities of Pakistan and US and has worked as a consultant for the World Bank, CIDA, SDC, IUCN and UNDP. Sohail is married and has two grown sons. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States.