The Brussels suicide bombings add to rising fears that Middle Eastern and North Africa immigrants, particularly those connected to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, expose Europeans to added security risks. Whether the Brussels attackers were pressured to react after those who were responsible for the Paris Terrorist Attacks were arrested in Brussels or the Islamic State is planning a series of attacks across Europe as the US State Department has warned, the frequency of these crimes is extremely alarming. Like all crimes, terrorism cannot be eliminated, but these types of events instill a sense of fear that tends to enflame prejudices and incite counterproductive policies.
Carried out in the very capital of the European Union by a locally embedded Islamic State terrorist cell, which was apparently responsible for the Paris Terrorist Attacks months earlier, this terrorist attack demonstrates an inability of European leaders to secure their countries and keep their own Peoples safe. If EU leaders cannot secure their own capital, Europeans are left to question if their governments can protect them. Unfortunately, the growing list of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe is likely to provoke the same harmful reaction seen in the aftermath of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks. Learning from past mistakes, there are, at least, four pitfalls that must be avoided.
First, the costly ripple effects of the poorly conducted Iraq War, the adoption of the USA PATRIOT Act, which dismissed civil liberties, the circumvention of human rights violations, including those against suspects in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, and the Edward Snowden Revelations should alert Europeans to the very real dangers that emotion-driven efforts to counter terrorism can create.
Just as fraud, theft, and violent crime must be addressed on a daily basis, the threat of terrorism must be combated without destroying one’s way of life. The world cannot have a perpetual war on terrorism that dispenses with civil liberties. Declaring a war on terrorism, as George W. Bush did when he named his “War on Terror,” was a very colorful means of telling the world there is a need to address terrorism, but a war on terrorism cannot be found like an actual war. War is about winning and winning is about meeting a goal through a highly focused campaign. Like crime, drugs, disease, and so many other examples, a war to eliminate, versus address and limit, terrorism is an unachievable goal.
One of the most important lessons learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts is that the United States did not have enough ground forces to fully eliminate a highly mobile insurgency and terrorist group, especially after unchecked collateral damage sparked increased anti-American sentiments. This means terrorism cannot be policed by nations acting alone. What the world needs is an enduring, substantial campaign against worldwide terrorism, instead of expensive, short bursts of fervor that sizzle out with broken nations providing safe havens to violent extremists. In short, the world needs a war on terrorism that is sustained by the efforts of nations working as allies to police violent extremists.
Second, Islamic extremists are the enemy of the West, peaceful Muslims, and the rest of the world, because they have declared war on anyone who does not share their radical beliefs. Amid growing anti-Muslim sentiments cross Europe, due to the financial strain of the Syrian Refugee Crisis and a series of sexual assaults perpetrated by foreigners, Europeans have grown increasingly hostile toward Muslims. Although people need to honestly express their views, even when doing so is offensive, government policies that cultivate and reflect these feelings will prevent the Peoples of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the rest of the world from uniting to fight violent extremism.
Third, Europe’s complex history of colonialism and America’s support of authoritarian regimes demonstrate how the West has failed to honestly engage the Muslim world. Going forward, the International Community must be far more direct and sincere when engaging the Middle Eastern Peoples. This means the West must stop trying to shape the destiny of the region for our convenience. Democracy, economic development, and social values cannot be neglected nor forced upon the Peoples of the Middle East for our interests. In short, the West must help empower the Peoples of the Middle East to properly govern their selves.
Unfortunately, a major cost of propping up non-democratic governments has been a lack of trust and weak development among the populations of the Middle East. While it is one thing to cooperate with whatever ruling body governs a territory, it is quite another for the governments of democratic countries to forget their values and get in bed with oppressive, abusive leaders as we did in the Middle East. Outsiders may pressure the Peoples of these lands to consider different perspectives of other individuals, but social evolution cannot be substituted with sermons from the West. The Peoples of the Middle East must be empowered to properly govern themselves.
The Middle East is defined by great oil wealth and vast spans of impoverished communities, which are characterized by cultural differences that are accentuated by lagging civil and economic development. Instead of addressing the interests of the many Peoples across the region, those in power and those who control the region’s wealth have neglected the interests of the masses. This is what created the instability, which will persist for some time, of the Arab Spring Revolutions. Beyond bombing the Islamic State, the role of foreign powers in the Middle East is, therefore, to help improve governance in the region. This means confronting regional leaders on their failures.
Fiscal constraints, massive budgetary issues, and economic uncertainty limit what the International Community can do for the Middle East. Considering the relatively small nations of Iraq and Afghanistan cost the US over $4 trillion, the entirety of the International Community does not have enough resources to adequately support and sustain the current governments of the region, especially those under pressure from civil unrest and discontent. Material and financial support will be extremely limited, so writing massive checks is not an option while doing so will only subsidize corruption and undermine the policies of those in power.
Western expertise can help establish necessary political institutions and provide regional leaders guidance on how to cope with the cultural and social changes needed for the Peoples of emerging democracies to define the role of government and participate in government. Although the majority of foreign assistance must come in the form of civil and political development, coequal economic partnerships must be built to ease dependency on government. Because the oil based economy of the region is insufficient, Middle Eastern rulers can no longer fulfill the needs of their populations by forcing them to depend on government spending and foreign aid.
Fourth, terrorism in Europe demonstrates the need for the West and Russia to cooperate on international security matters like terrorism. The rising regional security threat of the Islamic State was, however, overshadowed by the Ukraine Crisis for a very good reason. A domineering Russia that turns away from economic competition and diplomatic engagement in order to embrace brute force to achieve its self-serving interests makes it a rogue state that undermines, instead of strengthens, the International Community. Due to its size, military prowess, and influence, Russian aggression makes it a greater threat to the peace and stability of the International Community than terrorism.
Russia’s intervention in Syria, which has exasperated the Syrian Refugee Crisis, further degraded Syria’s civil infrastructure, and created a situation where factions are likely too weak to secure Syrian territories against extremists on their own, has essentially recreated the conditions that resulted in the decade-long Iraq War fiasco. Although Russia has been able to force a “cessation of hostilities,” it appears the Putin government prefers to use the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the Syrian Civil War, and terrorism in European to disarm European defenses against Russian dominance instead of properly resolving the issues surrounding the Ukraine Crisis or the Syrian Civil War.
That said, the need to address the domineering behavior of Russia does not mean the threat of terrorism is diminished in any way. In fact, efforts to address the regional threat of the Islamic State are needed to prevent the Islamic State from strengthening its grip on the territory it has seized and propagating throughout, as well as beyond, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Unfortunately, the need to address the threat presented by the Putin government will continue to undermine the capacity of the International Community to address the Islamic States and threats from other terrorist groups, unless the underlying grievances between the West and Russia are properly resolved.
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