Europe take note: stopping ISIS needs community-led strategy
The experience of India suggests grassroots community leaders hold the antidote to the jihadist poison being peddled to young Muslims in Europe
The emergence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has drastically changed terrorism. Since splintering from Al-Qaeda, ISIS has spread its decentralized form of terrorism around the world, succeeding where other extremist organizations have failed.
The foot soldiers of the world’s most dreaded extremist organization have sown terror among innocent civilians in 22 countries, repeatedly and frequently, while its radical notions pit Muslims against the rest.
Mohamed Ben Ghalbon, a veteran exile from and opponent of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya who lives in Manchester, England – itself recently visited by Islamist terror – warns against accepting, or mirroring, this twisted worldview. “Pushing to turn public opinion against Muslims is a wicked agenda aimed at polarizing societies and turning them into fields of potential recruits.”
Salman Abedi detonated a home-made nail bomb at the conclusion of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena on May 22, killing at least 22 people. Investigators currently believe the 22-year-old Briton, who had Libyan ancestry, acted independently but may have been assisted by ISIS.
It is estimated that 60% of Islamist extremists in Europe were born there, the offspring of Muslims who settled in European countries. They are often confused about their cultural identity, unable to reconcile their religion with the societies in which they find themselves.
What is it these circumstances that creates fertile ground for the seeds of violent extremism? A former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, Tarique Ghaffur, blames what he calls the “new global phenomena of radically theologizing and politicizing versions of Islam that propel vulnerable individuals toward defying local norms and values.”
Ghalbon believes Gaddafi is culpable for his role in ruining Libya and for deliberately starting the flow of illegal immigration from North Africa to southern Europe. Many immigrants failed to gel with the communities in their places of sanctuary and Ghalbon says Gaddafi’s aim was to burden Europe.
The Manchester suicide bomber’s radical Salafist upbringing was, says Ghalbon, at the root of the young man’s transformation into a monster capable of committing an atrocity. “My interpretation of the details that emerged would be that… somebody wickedly played with his mind and soul and offered him a shortcut back to God.”
In a world where being a jihadist is a fashion statement, where social media networks are awash with the ISIS logo, an antidote to the poison of terrorism is difficult to find.
A Brookings India foreign policy fellow, Dhruva Jaishankar, senses a correlation between prosperity, internet access and ISIS recruitment. Jaishankar sees this correlation everywhere – in the Western world, in the Middle East, in North Africa and in India – where people living in affluent and connected places are more vulnerable to radicalization.
“Nobody knows exactly the tipping point of violence, when an individual holding extremist views will be compelled to go out and commit no-notice mass murder indiscriminately,” Ghaffur says. To counter that menace, thinking outside of the box is essential. Ghaffur argues that communities should intervene as soon as an individual’s susceptibility becomes apparent. They should assess the threat of violence, he says, offering religious counseling and even, in some instances, interning people.
India has a holistic approach to countering radicalization that shifts the onus on to elders and religious leaders. To some observers, this offers a model for the rest of the world to emulate. Jaishankar, who has made a catalogue of cases involving ISIS and Indians, says a mere 150 people in the country claim affiliation to the organization. The world would do well, he adds, to observe and follow India’s example if it is to reduce vulnerability to recruitment and radicalization.