Should We Expect More Terrorist Attacks?

The West should finally realize that coping with challenges facing all of humankind and averting impending threats can only be achieved through common efforts and cooperation, primarily with Russia.

The current dramatic events unfolding worldwide are largely due to misinterpretation and underestimation by the Western leaders of the extent of the threat posed by international terrorism. Although some have recently made statements to the effect that they do recognize the fact that it is a danger of planetary proportions, not much is being done beyond acknowledging this fact. Occasionally, one can’t help getting the impression that they are simply unable to plan long-term and to predict possible outcomes. Such short-sighted policy is fraught with terrible implications for the entire planet. At times, the short-sightedness of many modern Western politicians is stunning, as is their reasoning, which is limited to fleeting considerations of their current tenure in government offices, issues of personal prestige or upcoming elections.

Perhaps it would be appropriate to cite Vladimir Putin's words at the UN General Assembly in September 2015. When analyzing the Western states’ policy and actions, which had led to rampant terrorism and bloodshed in the Middle East and North Africa, the President bluntly asked them a legitimate question: "Do you realize what you've done?"

Clearly, the Islamic State with all its military formations (about 50,000 fighters from 80 countries), equipped with modern weapons, as well as economic and administrative bodies did not come about overnight or accidentally, leaping out like a jack-in-the-box. It began to take shape after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to the disintegration of that strong and dynamic country and the collapse of its army, the largest and most effective in the Gulf region, as well as the disintegration of all state and public institutions, including the ruling Baath Party, the governing body of which included well-educated and professionally trained specialists. It was precisely these former servicemen and party officials, who had suddenly become refugees and outcasts, who largely formed the backbone and became the leaders of an organization that started referring to itself as the Islamic State (Daesh) in 2014. Driven by the desire for revenge, they made terrorism their weapon and proclaimed the revival of the Islamic Caliphate their goal. Their banner features an intuitive and attractive slogan of fighting for justice and Islamic values. The organization took on a structured appearance fairly quickly, and military successes came quite unexpectedly as well. Within a short time, Daesh militants seized large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, where they began to make their own rules.

Within a year after the official announcement of the Caliphate, the United States and the coalition it created have regularly attacked Daesh positions in Syria and Iraq. The result of these strikes puzzled everyone: the territory controlled by this terrorist group has markedly expanded, and the extremists have consolidated their positions. Even more amazing is the fact that the Western powers, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, believe that, just like during the Afghan war, they will be able to take advantage of the Islamic extremists for their own purposes - to overthrow or degrade unwanted regimes.

There’s a saying that everything new is well-forgotten old. In April 2004, the Jordanian authorities reported that they had exposed a conspiracy, the purpose of which was a suicide attack on the US Embassy in Oman using chemical weapons. Then, Jordanian television showed Hussein Sherif Hussein, who said that al-Qaeda was behind this conspiracy. Citing official sources, the Jordanian media reported that if this plan were implemented, up to 80,000 people could be victims.On April 30, 2004–May 2, 2004, the Wall Street Journal noted that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, was behind this. The newspaper quoted the then-British Prime Minister, who said that it’s a matter of time before terrorists lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction. However, the West didn’t learn from these events. As a result, today we have a new wave of terrorist attacks, but on a new basis this time - more professional, more elaborate and better organized.

Today, many in Europe and the United States recognize that the incumbent politicians are unable to provide security. They incorrectly identify priorities, and this is what makes the current situation dramatic. This is especially dangerous given the fact that the leaders of Islamic terrorist groups are looking for ways to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to take over strategic facilities. In March 2016, following the terrorist attacks in Brussels, the Belgian police discovered that Islamist extremists had a nuclear power plant as one of their targets. There’s no telling what kind of a disaster Western Europe would be in for were the terrorists successful in carrying out their plan.

Add to that cyber terrorism, the very real ability of terrorists to disrupt the proper functioning of all kinds of organizations by hacking their computer networks. Today, this is not just some distant threat, but a clear and present danger.

We note in this regard that in his remarks at the nuclear security summit in Washington D.C. on April 1, Barack Obama acknowledged that "the threat of nuclear terrorism persists and continues to evolve," and that "there is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material they most certainly would use it to kill as many innocent people as possible." The US president called on all governments to strengthen the protection of nuclear facilities, in light of concern that Daesh and al-Qaeda may want to use “a dirty bomb made of radioactive materials."

Meanwhile, the European countries are showing remarkable levels of helplessness even in dealing with the refugee crisis, which continues to expand. The British Times wrote on April 3 that the EU has started to realize that even if it shuts down its borders and writes big checks to its neighbors, it will not succeed in overcoming the crisis without establishing peace in Syria.

There’s more talk in the West about the need to reconsider stereotypes. Certain remarks by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump are quite remarkable in this respect. His tough rhetoric occasionally baffles his party mates, but Trump is believed to say what ordinary Americans are thinking. For example, his remarks that it’s time to disband NATO are in tune with the opinion of many people in America and Western Europe.

The inability of the current European leaders to set priorities correctly and to face new challenges is pushing public opinion toward support of extreme right-wing political forces. Fear will make them choose those who promise genuine security. The recent rallies in Belgium and Germany indicate that the threat of fascism is looming in Europe again, and some people have forgotten the lessons of WWII. A small but well-planned demonstration of right-wing parties in Brussels, which unambiguously identified Islam as the main enemy, was particularly alarming.

On the face of it, the heinous terrorist attack in Paris on November 13, 2015 should be a serious lesson and a warning to Western Europe. A few months later, on March 22, 2016, another terrorist attack took place, this time in Brussels, and it showed that words of sympathy, empathy, condolences and intentions to take the most stringent security measures are not enough to prevent new terrorist attacks, which the Islamic fanatics never stop threatening. Technical and administrative measures, which the anti-terrorist services mostly focus their efforts on, are clearly not enough. The bottom line is that the key question – why is there an insurmountable wall of alienation, even hatred, on behalf of Muslims with regard to Europeans? – is left hanging. Most political analysts offer a simple answer to this sacramental question: Muslims are immigrants from Oriental countries that are lagging behind in their economic and social development, and they are simply envious when they see the comfortable life in Western countries, and their anger and inability to change this situation translates into barbaric acts of violence and terror.

Of course, this approach is not the only one adopted by the European elite. Reasonable and realistically-minded public figures, scholars and experts realize that it is the policy of the ruling circles of the West, with their attitude to immigrants from Islamic countries as "second-class" people, that is causing rejection and ultimately alienates new generations of Muslims. (Notably, polls show that two-thirds of Muslims in the United Kingdom say they wouldn’t report to police their friends or family who have links to people involved in terrorist activities, The Times, Apr. 11, 2016).

Here are some considerations by American scholar Fareed Zakaria. He says that new generations of Muslims – who are being discriminated against, and who exist in a society and an environment that rejects them – are looking for a foothold. The young Muslims are trying to become aware of their religious identity, but they find encouragement in fighting the system that pushes them to reckless and criminal behavior, which is precisely the path toward jihad. The protest of the young Muslims against the system radicalizes them. For them, religion is a handy tool to justify their actions, since by doing so they acquire an ideological platform to support their revolt against the modern world. As a result, Zakaria concludes that measures to tighten laws, wiretap mosques, patrol Islamic centers and even limit fundamentalists’ actions are all steps in the wrong direction; terrorists can be anywhere – “in the bars, drug alleys, unemployment lines and prisons.” The bottom line is that they get “radicalized before they get Islamized."

Here’s how French political scientist and writer Olivier Roy explains this phenomenon. According to him, the new generation of jihadists has no experience of political struggle, neither do they have any fundamentalist beliefs; they are attracted by the rhetoric of nihilism, rebellion and violence, they rebel even against their parents.

Unemployment, and gaps in education and living standards marginalize young Muslims. (Fareed Zakaria provides the following numbers: 15 percent of Belgian citizens live below the poverty line as compared to 50 percent of Moroccans with Belgian passports who also live below the poverty line.)

Recent events clearly show that Western governments have lost their bearings. They do not have a clear idea of today's rapidly changing situation, nor are they elaborating tactics and strategies for the future. On top of that, the Russophobic sentiments of some Western elites still don’t let them realize that the risks for humankind have increased many times over, and if there’s no change in addressing global challenges, tomorrow may be too late.

The West should finally realize that coping with challenges facing all of humankind and averting impending threats can only be achieved through common efforts and cooperation, primarily with Russia.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.