Solution to ISIS Attacks Is in Muslim World, Not the West

According to Shlomo Ben-Ami, Former Foreign Minister of Israel (2000-2001), Co-founder and Vice-President of the Toledo International Center for Peace (Spain), ISIS and the attacks it carries out are only symptoms of deeper problems in the Muslim world. The solution, however, lies in the hands of the Muslim world and not the West.

There is no particular strategic reason for the attack to take place in Barcelona. Wherever they can find local elements that can execute a plan, they go ahead. It can be France, Britain or Spain. Spain was not at the vanguard of the war against ISIS, for example, so there is no particular reason to punish Spain. However, it is part of NATO and the EU. They found the right conditions, the right people to create a terrorist cell and went ahead with it.

The attacks started before ISIS lost territories in Iraq and Syria, but it is clear now that they have lost the territorial power base, the strategy of turning into a global terrorist group is second best. It started before: Bataclan in Paris and other places, but now this is the main focus of ISIS.

ISIS will not disappear; the socio-political ecosystem that produced ISIS in the Middle East has not changed. The weakness of the state, the Sunni protest against the rise of Iran. There was an advantage for the West of having ISIS as a territorial entity. You could create an international coalition to fight ISIS and then defeat it in Raqqa and Mosul. With clandestine cells spread throughout the West, an international coalition is not the way to fight against it. Now, a stateless ISIS is as dangerous and threatening as ISIS with a state.

ISIS is a symptom of the Middle Eastern problem, not the problem itself. The weakness, the melting down of the Arab state. If you look at the edges of ISIS expansion, they are in strong nation-states, such as Iran and Israel. Where you have a strong nation-state, you do not have ISIS. You have ISIS where the state is non-existent. Sunni warlords are bound to be a persistent phenomenon in the Middle East if the political ecosystem does not change.

What should be done is what they are already doing: international cooperation, intelligence sharing, controlling border. Schengen, for all political purposes, has disappeared. Now within Europe, you have to present your passport in customs; there are no longer open borders. They are doing the best they can, and are relatively successful, having developed a homeland security concept.

For example, the Americans developed a working homeland concept that is working, notwithstanding Donald Trump’s appearances. Since 9/11, there has not been a single terrorist attack that came into the United States from the outside. Therefore, there are obstacles to cooperation that need to be overcome, but essentially, there has to be police and intelligence cooperation.

I can see ISIS not disappearing territorially. They have a presence in the Sinai Peninsula; they can spread to weak spaces, where the state is not present. For example, even in East Asia, in the Philippines, in Indonesia, there are ISIS groups that have taken territory.

The solution lies within the Muslim world; the West cannot solve this problem. It is Islam that needs to solve it, to develop a dialectic that will neutralize the extremists. This is not happening. Some of the policies in the Arab world are targeting the wrong enemy. The Muslim Brotherhood is not the main Islamist problem that they have; the Muslim Brotherhood has been participating in politics. There is no liberal alternative to secular autocracy in the Arab world. The only alternative is political Islam.

If you work against the Muslim brotherhood, you are working against the only possible political alternative to secular autocracy, such as al-Sisi’s. His coup d’état was a major victory for al-Qaeda and ISIS, because the message that the coup conveyed was that political Islam is not relevant. ISIS and al-Qaeda could say “Didn’t we tell you? There is no need to participate in politics, democracy is not the solution, the solution is terror.” Al-Sisi’s coup d’état gave a push to this kind of organization. What should happen in the future is radical political change within the Arab states.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.