The battle of ideas that must be fought against radical Islam and ISIS
Over the past few months, as it has found itself under increasing military pressure in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, Daesh has opened up a new front in Europe and North America. The call the organisation has put out to its supporters and sympathisers in the West to strike wherever and whenever they can in response to its mounting setbacks and defeats on the battlefield is being listened to and put into practise with deadly effect. And this is without factoring in the prospect of Daesh militants from Europe who’ve travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State being sent back to carry out prepared and planned attacks in the coming weeks and months.
The support Daesh has succeeded in attracting and cultivating in the West in recent years is confirmation of the emergence of a radical Islamic Ummah, one distinct from its traditional and mainstream counterpart which feeds on the alienation, marginalisation and social exclusion that is the lived experience of millions of young Muslims in the West.
Ironically, though, those responsible for the attacks that have recently taken place in Paris, Brussels, and Nice are the product of the very Western cultural values they rejected in the process of crossing the psychological Rubicon that lies between the aforementioned anger, alienation, and social exclusion, and the willingness to engage in random acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. Those values, by way of a reminder, include a propensity for unleashing indiscriminate violence on an industrial scale — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya — under the rubric of democracy and humanitarian intervention. The indiscriminate violence part has been imbibed by radical Islam, while the democracy and humanitarian parts have been rejected.
Though Daesh is on the way to being crushed in Iraq and Syria, the long term struggle that also must be won amounts to a battle of ideas, based on the unalterable truth that an idea can only be defeated by another idea; one that is better, more attractive and compelling. As such, we cannot avoid the socioeconomic consequences of neoliberalism and the way that minority communities, such as Muslim communities throughout Europe and the West, have seen their access to full participation in the economic and social life of the societies in which they are located blocked or severely circumscribed.
In a BBC report on the riots that erupted in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities in 2005, suburbs populated by the country’s large Muslim community, Henri Astler describes how “radicals are able to tap into the alienation felt by many ghetto youths,” before going on to quote a youth worker by the name of Farid Khelifi, who tells him, “They [Muslim youth] have no jobs, no future. They do not know who they are. They are told they are French but they are not given the same rights as the French. Necessarily some become radicals.”
A rejection of the West and its values under such conditions is inevitable, with the attenuation of the left as a counter-hegemonic alternative to the status quo on the basis of class also playing a role in allowing the politics of identity — race, religion, etc. — to fill the space left behind when it comes to channeling the anger and, with it, militancy of young men who find within radical Islam the camaraderie, purpose, and self esteem denied them as outsiders at the banquet of Western democracy.
This battle of ideas can only be won in the context of a struggle against neoliberalism and its replacement by something approximating to capitalism with a human face, which some might be bold enough to describe as socialism. It can also only be won when the West finally accepts that the Middle East and North Africa do not constitute one giant chessboard upon which its governments, peoples, and societies can be moved around like its pieces in service to their own economic and strategic objectives. For it is imperialism not terrorism that poses the real threat to humanity, with terrorism its inevitable symptom. The chaos and carnage that has engulfed the Middle East and North Africa in recent years is a monster of the West’s creation, one with historical precedent in rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s on the back of the mass bombing of the country by the United States. It is an historical precedent that disproves the causal link applied by apologists for Western intervention between Islam and terrorism.
In 2016 what we discern is a circular relationship between the industrial violence unleashed in the name of democracy across MENA and its bastard child otherwise known as Salafist-jihadism.
It is why we can say without fear of contradiction that we have met the enemy and he is us. And it is why we can also say that winning the battle of ideas between the idea of radical Islam and the idea of a modernity which rests upon an economic system that serves humanity rather than is served by humanity, winning this battle is crucial in the interests not only of this generation but in the interests of generations to come — Muslim and non-Muslim alike.