OpEd: The root causes of terrorism and solutions


Terrorism is using violence against civilians to achieve social, religious or political gains. It can also be termed as violence against legitimate authority, on the basis that such violence undermines the social contract built on the existing democratic system of governance, as in Egypt, after the coup against legitimately elected president by the army who killed a large number of civilians.

The phenomenon of violence and terrorism has a social, intellectual and behavioral context that needs to be objectively analyzed. This is because the young men and women involved in this deviant behavior find financial assistance and supportive environment as well as intellectual incubation within the societies in which they live.

Most of the people affected by the terror attacks come from countries who rebelled against dictatorial and authoritarian regimes such as the Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, as well as the countries that suffered lack of democracy and good governance such as Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

In the Western countries and non-Islamic nations like Kenya, those who gravitate towards terrorism are among the most educated. In Europe, for instance, those joining ISIS are the intelligent, second-generation Muslim youth or the new Muslims who couldn’t find a place amongst their communities after their conversion to Islam. Those elites are the ones that plan the terror attacks but those executing them are from the poor and the needy.

Breeding grounds

Backwardness and ignorance are the underlying causes of terrorism, ignorance of the fact that the Supreme Islamic religion and values are based on peace. The Quran states: And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. The prophetic tradition also shows the high premium placed on kindness. It was narrated from the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) that a woman was punished in hell fire because of a cat she tied to a tree, she neither fed it nor let it out to fend for itself.

Unemployment, especially of youth, is another contributor to the spread of terrorism for it generates a sense of helplessness and despair on the one hand and frustration on the other. This is exacerbated in many affected countries by administrative corruption which in turn is fed by the continuing economic crises in many countries – starting from inflation to economic recession, to illegal cases of graft in deals that are sanctioned by state officials, or even engaging in the trade of illegal goods under the auspices of influential people within government. Such practices generate amongst young people aggressive behavior of violent repression, which soon turns into organized aggression that targets people, institutions or the state.

Lastly, occupation of countries and people by great powers, like America did in Iraq generates a public outcry, resulting in the establishment of resistance movements, which ends with terrorism and violence. This is exemplified in Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia – as terrorism did not exist as a phenomenon before that. Ethiopia’s invasion of the Somali capital is the reason al-Shabaab was born, as the young Somali did not have enough mechanisms to defend his honor and country except by turning their bare bodies into bombs facing the Ethiopian army. After the occupiers left, they veered from their direction and became fighters aligned with al-Qaeda against the people of their own country.

In short, a mix of ignorance, poverty, oppression, repression, exclusion, marginalization  and occupation explain the phenomenon of terrorism.

Terrorism and methods of recruitment

Recruitment varies from country to country and from environment to environment. In the Arabian Peninsula, recruitment became widespread after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the early 1990s, and the creation of American bases in the Arabian Gulf. These became a prominent rallying call to (kick off the “infidels” from the Arabian Peninsula) referencing a saying by Prophet Mohamed (Peace Be Upon Him) stating that “..two religions do not meet in the Arabian Peninsula.”

This was the beginning of recruitment for al-Qaeda and the spread of hatred towards the West and for non-Muslims. This explains, in large part, why most of those blew up the New York Towers were Saudis.

In Iraq and the Levant, recruitment takes another form, which is about creating hatred between sects like Shias and Nusayris and persuading youngsters of injustices incurred against them/their group.

And in Africa, particularly in the east, recruitment varies from country to country.

In Somalia, recruitment starts by declaring the government and anyone associated with it “heathen.” By doing this, they call for the killing of individuals, and anyone allied with them. You also find them blowing up mosques, and educational premises, government establishments and public spaces. This is a destructive violence, which has made it permissible to kill people and infringe on their honor.

In Kenya, they avoid the killing of Muslims as much as possible, and distinguishing between Muslims and others so as to drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims, and thus stoking a religious war amongst Kenyans. Thus, you notice that there are two approaches in Kenya and Somalia.

In Kenya, there is an additional reason, which is the oppression and injustice, which is shouldered by Muslims, especially the Somalis. This is because they are deprived of government services and are subjected to all forms of discrimination and persecution. They are deprived of identity cards, education opportunities and the basic public services. These are issues in the public domain and documented by various commissions including the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

So, when young men graduate from high school, they do not get proof of identity cards so as to go to university. That’s why they escape to Somalia, thinking that Somalia is their original home country where they belong, after which they come back home to Kenya a ticking bomb because of the injustice that was done against them. Even those who get a national identity, their patriotism is questioned, and thus have to pay bribes to live in their own country.

Most politicians in Kenya are elected through tribal math and do not have detailed knowledge about their communities. They live in a completely different world alienated from the concerns and aspirations of the youth. This is even worse in northeastern. Instead of defending the civil rights of their communities in their own country, the politicians are busy politicking and demonizing any opposition to the voice of the government. Thus, the young people are in one valley and the leaders are in another.

How to tackle the issue of terrorism

There are a number of interventions that will help alleviate the problem of terrorism:

1. The correct understanding of Islam because you cure this disease only through Islam not fighting Islam. It has been proven that terrorists exploit the lack of understanding of Islam. Groups who are ignorant of the high purpose and objectives of this religion and lack the power of persuasion and dialogue have distorted this tolerant religion.

2. Spreading the culture of tolerance, coexistence and acceptance of others because religion cannot be forced upon people, and thus, we must fight extremism in all its forms. The Qur’an says: There is no compulsion in religion.

3. Removal of injustice, poverty, corruption and upholding the values of justice and equality amongst societies, because most of the communities who are marginalized in their own countries will have no option but turn to violence and terror.

4. Listening to the demands of the people and giving them their civil rights, such as identity cards and passport, besides lifting the injustice from Somalis residents who live in Nairobi who are frequent targets of the police, whether they have legal documentation or not. Such behaviours generate hatred, anger and a feeling of lack of belonging to the country.

5. Creating a serious dialogue with the groups in society who are most exposed to these ideas, such as the youth and children. This is because killing them does not bear any results, for the maximum penalty you can incur on a human being is by killing them. This is actually what these terrorists are looking for – for they have turned into an explosive object that wants to exterminate others. So what’s the point of imprisoning them or killing them? We should employ persuasion and dialogue for they are the right way to get them back to their conscious and to humanity.

Finally, the phenomenon of terrorism is complex and the reasons vary from country to country, and from one environment to another. It would be an injustice to analyze it from one point of view – for there’s difference between al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the same way there’s a difference between Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt, al-Shabaab in East Africa, Taliban in Afghanistan, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

Every one of them kills for political purposes, and the world has to save the affected communities.

Leaders should remove injustices, poverty, hatred, and ignorance so that equality can prevail in the distribution of wealth and resources. Occupation of countries also has to end, especially the Islamic holy site in Palestine so that peace can prevail and love can spread in the world and that’s when we can all enjoy the culture of harmony and dialogue.

Ahmed Sheikh Mohammed is the former president of the Muslim Association in Britain and a former member of the Executive Office of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

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