By Dr. Sayed Khatab*
In dealing with terrorism, generally speaking, one should be aware that radical religious violence in society in the East as well as in the West is very much the result of what happening in the Middle East.
Nowadays, the world is like a small village and the information is at the tip of one’s fingers, thanks to the internet and social media technology. So, what is happening in the East will be known in the West in a fraction of a second, and vice versa. In addition, Muslims in the West are counting by millions. Thus, radical religious violence here or there is basically correlated with what is happening in the Middle East.
To concede this reality, one should refer to just a couple of events that took place in the West as a result of what happening in the East. In this connection, one might refer to the event which took place in Australian Society, on Saturday, July 18, 2015. On that day, more than 450 police officers were deployed to keep the peace in society, and to separate two groups of people away from each other, when they were protesting against each other in Melbourne. One of these groups was described in the Media as “Anti- Islamic” and the other was called “Anti-Racism”. The police did their best, but also clashes occurred between the groups.
Further rallies were scheduled in all cities around Australia for Sunday, July 19, 2015. The member of the parliament George Christensen (Representative of Dawson in North Queensland) participated in Queensland rallies and stated his reason as “to defend Australia’s freedoms from” “the threat of radical Islam”. On his Facebook, he said: I’ve made the decision to speak … to support people who seek to defend our Australian way of life, our culture and our freedoms from the threat of radical Islam.” He added that “I made the decision to speak after reviewing the Reclaim movement’s 24 principles which include equality of law, equality of genders and freedom of speech, as well as supporting Australia’s right to exile or deport traitors.” 1
This indicates that the violent behaviors of those young Australian Muslims who have been radicalized and inspired by ISIS and travelled to fight in Iraq and Syria have reinforced support for Right-Wing groups such as “Reclaim Australia”.
In other words, what is going-on in the Middle East has its impact on radical religious violence in Australian society. Before these cases, we should remember the case of Haron Monis. On 15–16 December 2014 he held ten customers and eight employees of Lindt chocolate café in Sydney as hostages. He was not a terrorist but turned to terrorism and tried to use the events in the Middle East. Finally, the police was able to free the hostages and kill him.
Furthermore, I think the world remembers Abdullah Elmer of Bankstown in Australia. This teenager (17-year-old) told his mother that he was leaving on a fishing trip. However, later he appeared in a chilling video for ISIS, threatening Australia and declaring war on the West in general. This was on the televisions and newspapers worldwide. 2
Similarly, the terrorist Khaled Sharrouf3 left Australia for ISIS and his son (7- year old) was photographed holding a severed head in Raqqa (city in the northern Syrian).4 I think these examples are enough to consider the impact of the Middle East problems on radical religious violence in Western society?
In addition, one should be aware that the representative of Nusrah Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) is an Australia-Born and is called by the neck name Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir.5 He led his groups against the remained American allies in Syria (the Syrian Revolutionary Front and Hazm Movement “Harakat Hazm”, which trained and supplied with weapons by the US). His Nusrah Front defeated and expelled those American trained and allied groups and even expelled them from Syria and took over their territory and seized their American weapons. This is another setback for the American strategy in the region. The Nusra Front have further consolidated its hold on the northwest Syria, and planned to stay there for long-term.6 The United States then is very much responsible for this chaos in the Middle East. America should be aware that the chaos it has created in the Middle East has its impact on American Society as well. The attack on Boston marathon in April 15, 2013 7 is just an example to mention. Likewise, the recent attack in Chattanooga in the American state of Tennessee a gunman shot and killed five marines after opening fire at two separate military sites, on Thursday morning (July 17, 2015). The attacker Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez is 24 of age. He first opened fire at the military facility, and then travelled to a Navy center, roughly six miles away, and opened fire again. 8 These examples confirm the correlations between the chaos created by the United States in the Middle East and the radical religious violence in western societies. For this, one should note that Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait and came to the United States at the age 4, in 1996. He is not of Kuwait origin but descended from Palestinian parents who settled in Kuwait. He visited his relatives in Jordan in 2014 where his Radicalism was crystallized and legalized and then came back to the USA. His friend said that, after Mr Abdulazeez came back his talk about the Israeli war on Gaza, and the conflicts in the Middle East in general increased. The impact of the visit on him was clear. He bought 3 Pistols and started his training.9
In addition, there are more than one hundred and fifty (150) Australian citizens left Australia for ISIS. There are about 700 from the UK. What about France, Germany and the rest of Europe (East and West) if you like? Thus, violence and terrorism in the Middle East has its impact on radical religious violence in our western society. In this connection, one should note that violence does not result from nothing and does not exist in vacuum. Also, radicalism sustains violence and terrorism.
In other words, radicalism is only one step away from violence and terrorism. This means that all terrorists are radicals but not all radicals are terrorists. What this means? It means that radicalism is a good singe on the potential of violence and terrorism. So, wherever radicalism exists, the risk of violence and terrorism exist as well.
In this connection, if we ask where radicalism or violence is? Or where terrorism is? The answer will be vary and ranging from the Middle East and North Africa to Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. So, radical religious violence is a global or transnational phenomenon affects human security and should be dealt with seriously The impact of religious violence on society and human security has been real enough while the war on terror which started by America still raging without a clear end.
We are fighting Terrorism for many years, but terrorism still able to fight back and even appeared stronger than ever. We are fighting radical religious violence for more than a decade but failed to bury this enemy. Fifteen years ago, there was an International Coalition let by America fighting radical religious violence. Today, as we speak, there is an International Coalition led by America fighting radical religious violence. Fifteen years ago the coalition led by America was fighting one violent organization in one country. Today, the coalition led also by America is fighting a number of violent organizations in a number of countries of which two (i.e. Iraq, Syria – the seats of the caliphate) are on the verge of collapse, and without the support of Iran, these Islamic countries where run over by terrorist groups. Why the United States is going after Syria? There are about 30-40 violent groups at least in Syria alone; what about Libya or Yemen, Iraq…etc.)? The United States is training some groups and supplies them with weapons. In addition, we see some countries are currently fighting radical religious violence on their own; away from the coalition led by the US (i.e. example, Egypt). The US supports a number of terrorist groups but does not support Egypt’s battle with terrorism? Does the US want to break Egypt as well (the 3rd seat of the Caliphate)?
The international coalition is fighting radical religious violence or terrorism (ISIS) in Iraq, not in Syria. Why the coalition led by America does not fight ISIS in Syria? Does terrorism in Iraq is different from terrorism in Syria or Libya, Yemen, or even Somalia and Nigeria? Here, I think political interest involved. Political interest contributed significantly in the expansion of terrorist groups, including ISIS in the region. So, political interest distinguishes between terrorist groups and decides which terrorist group that should be fought and that which should supplied with weapons. This also is very much a reason explains why there is no a universal definition for terrorism. The West should be aware that plying the game of political interest in the case of terrorism in the Middle East is not in the West’s interest as Western political centers might think. As we have seen in the pages above the chaos in the Middle East has its impact on radical religious violence in the Western society as well as in the Eastern society, and that the West is not immune. The game of political interest should not happen because, at the end, terrorism is terrorism and that destroying is opposite of building and human life is precious in any society.
Terrorists, individuals and groups derive their ideas from the same source; they drink from the same spring, and see the world through the same ideological prism. We should be aware that the difference between those terrorist groups is only tactics and funds. So, religious violence in any society in the Middle East is a stereotype and a pattern of behaviors that we are witnessing every-day in some other societies, around the world. This pattern of behavior in the West is very much influenced by the Middle East. Therefore, the problems in the Middle East should be dealt with seriously. Religious violence is not local; as such, but it is a transnational phenomenon of ideological dimension and should be challenged with the same weapons and on the same levels, both on local and global scales.
Currently, religious violent groups are dominating the international media, at times, and influencing domestic and international relations, at other times. They produce media materials (films and others) at the time of their choice, to influence Muslim youths in Western and Eastern societies and to nourish them with lethal ideology. Currently, violent groups are capable of recruiting and mobilizing followers. They are able to challenge authorities through varying forms of symbolic rhetoric and real actions ranging from internet websites and the circulation of inimical leaflets to the perpetration of acts of extreme violence. Their blueprints have increased, and their websites which dedicated to radicalization and mobilizing followers for Jihad against countries deemed anti-Islamic, are always on the rise. 10
Here, the European and the US Society, as part of the World Society, are not immune from this impact of terrorism or ISIS. In this context, ISIS was able to successfully recruit Australians and currently there are about two hundred Australian citizens in ISIS. In an Interview with the CNN, Michael Steinbach, the head of the FBI's counterterrorist division, admitted the failure of the FBI to stop ISIS from requiting Americans. 11
In Australia, the threat of religious violence posed by home-grown extremists has increased, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. These States also provided a larger number of terrorists to ISIS. Recently, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that “on all metrics, the threat to Australia is worsening”. 12
Possible solutions to counter radicalization
One should note that the experience of those individuals who joined violent groups in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria demonstrate that there are no easy answers to the issue of radicalization. This is because each and every radical individual and groups, in this large number, has his own circumstances and grievances which derived him to violence and to join violent groups. Yet, if we strip away all the grievances and triggers of every individual, we will find identity and its related issues are among the main causes. Among the issues related to identity is the concept of nationality, homeland, loyalty and disloyalty…etc. None of these issues is new, because the underlying ingredients are always the same.
What we should do then?
• We should focus on education.
• Review, evaluate, and offer new educational policy recommendations.
• Help schools to filter its programs and develop the way of teaching.
• Pursue an agenda of promoting shared history and values and include them in the education system.
• Address the impact of internet. There are TV channels on Western satellites broadcasting ideas and messages inciting violence and hatred.
• Monitoring fund activities and money collection and be sure that the money spent in the right direction.
• Rethink the concept of Freedoms in general, and Freedom of Speech in Particular. Insulting Muslim symbols and sanctities is not freedom of speech, as such, but rather a freedom of insulting. Insulting Muslim symbols and sanctities is a terrorist style and behavior that instigates a violent response. Freedom is limited and never was absolute. Non in this universe or this world is absolute. Everything, including the universe, life and humanity is limited in the place and space. Freedom is not absolute because absolutism is not in the nature of things.
• Freedom of speech implements equality, so there is no superiority and inferiority; there is no us and them, our values and their values, but respect for all.
• Women should participate in all processes and develop a role for women to play in these difficult tasks. In September 2014, the Security Council issued a Resolution 2178 recognized the influence that women might have in stopping the spread of radicalism. Women might expose the reality of women’s life in radical groups; and how radicals deal with women in the reality on the ground. Women can play a significant role against radicalism and extremist propaganda and protect her family and community members.
• Government has a role to play in all of this but civil society will need to do much more.
* Dr. Sayed Khatab is Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at Monash University, Australia. He has written this note exclusively for Habilian Association.
1. International Islamic News Agency (IINA), “Anti-Islam rallies spark violent clashes in Australia”
2. News.com.au “Brandis One-in-four Aussie Islamic State jihadists ‘dead’”, December, 09, 2014
3. Sam de Brito “ Khaled Sharrouf: a monster of our own creation”, August 20, 2014
4. Sean Rubinsziein-Dunlop “Khaled Sharrouf: The Australian radical fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”, Jun 29, 2015
5. News.Com.au “ Most senior Australian in al Qaeda speaks about Islamic State and why men go to Syria” March 24, 2015
6. Stanford University “Mapping Militant Organizations”
7. CNN July 20, 2015, “Boston Marathon Terror Attack Fast Facts”
8. CBSNEWS Jul 16, 2015 “ 4 Marines killed in attacks on Chattanooga Military Facilities”
9. Elliot Friedland, July 19, 2015 “Chattanooga Shooter: Islamist Ideology Likely Motive ”
10. See, “The Encyclopedia of Hacking the Zionist and Crusader Websites” Terrorism Focus, March 4, 2008 – Volume 5, Issue 9; Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
11. CNN Politics: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/03/politics/fbi-isis-counterterrorism-michael-steinbach/ accessed 20/6/2015
12. Haroro J. Ingram, Get used to losing to Islamic State at home and abroad, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Jun 18 (2015).