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Almost a year after Islamic State declared its caliphate, a wave of terrorist attacks has hit several countries on the same day. That raises uncomfortable questions, especially for Western countries, says Rainer Sollich.
Deaths at a tourist hotel in Tunisia, deaths at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, deaths in a bombing in Somalia, and the beheading of a businessman in France. Four horrific events on a single day, and that’s not even including the daily victims of terrorist violence in Syria, Iraq, and other countries in the region.
Terrorism is escalating, and affecting countries that previously were barely touched by such violent attacks. Countries like Tunisia, which are painstakingly trying to find a path to stability that includes moderate Islam and the secular world. The attack on the Bardo museum was an obvious attempt to make this model fail and sow chaos instead. The attack on the hotel in Sousse clearly has the same goal. In addition, it’s a strike on Tunisia’s tourism sector, which is key to the country’s economy.
Whether it’s Islamic State (IS) behind the attacks – or copycats, or other jihadists groups such as al-Qaeda – is secondary. The aim is to prevent any model for a functioning democratic, civil society in the Islamic world from emerging. And like most such attacks, supposedly in the name of Islam, most of the victims are Muslims.
Increasingly though, Western countries are the target – with France now in the headlines for the second time in recent months. Around six months ago, terrorists attacked the offices of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo”; since then there have also been deadly attacks with an Islamist background in other European countries.
Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told Germans quite openly that he cannot guarantee that Germany will be spared a terrorist attack. That is the sad reality. It could affect any one of us – in Arab countries, or in Europe or America, Africa or Asia.
It would be wrong to try and offer advice in the current situation. IS and other Jihadists cannot be defeated overnight – not in their region of origin nor any other part of the world. They are far too well organized for that – militarily and logistically as well as on the modern battlefields of Twitter and Internet propaganda. And gestures of solidarity with the affected countries fall short.
Those who want to effectively fight terrorism have to start by doing more to stop poverty and oppression in the Arab world. Just as we must do more to prevent young Muslims – including those in Europe – from falling prey to jihadist propaganda. And in the interest of our own security, we will likely not be able to avoid a further tightening of security measures, even if they are unpopular and can never offer absolute protection from an attack.
The question must also be asked, however, if the military fight against IS in Syria and Iraq can really be won with air strikes and support on the ground from local troops. It was one year ago that IS declared its caliphate.
And so far it doesn’t appear that this “state” is going away anytime soon, despite sporadic announcements of success by the United States. No sooner is IS on the defensive then it pulls back, only to attack again somewhere else. This is not some bunch of misled fanatics, but a professional army.
Also up for debate is the question of whether we, the West, are working with the right partners in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, to name just one example, allowed jihadists to flourish in Syria for far too long.
Over many years, it did nothing to stop money flowing to extremist Islamic groups from itself and other Gulf states. And with the war in Yemen and other attempts to gain the upper hand over Iran, it is pursuing a strategy that further fuels animosity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, playing directly into the hands of those behind the terrorist propaganda. There is no easy solution for this problem, but we must be able to address it clearly.