By focusing on the acts of violence after 9/11 we ignored the ideology that justifies, promotes, celebrates, and encourages violence.
There is still much fighting in Afghanistan, but jihad no longer has the bases of Mullah Omar to launch attacks on Western skyscrapers. Osama bin Laden has been killed. The Western coalition is closing the circle around Raqqa, the de facto Syrian capital of the Islamic state, and will soon (hopefully) strike the Caliph. And in Europe, anti-terrorism continues to dismantle new jihadist cells.
The jihad’s human “booty” is less good: 6,928 American soldiers have been killed and 170,000 people assassinated in 73,000 terrorist attacks in the world. Last year, more than 25,000 people were assassinated in 11,000 terrorist attacks in 104 countries. Compare these figures with the 7 thousand deaths in less than 2,000 attacks in 2001 (with almost half of those dead in a single day) and it is clear that the threat of Islamic terrorism has grown despite many Western efforts.
Why? Because the true battle we still have to win is the ideological one. There, radical Islam is getting stronger and stronger. “The dominant strategy from 11 September to today, focusing only on Islamist violence, did not work,” wrote Ayaan Hirsi Ali. By focusing on the acts of violence, we ignored the ideology that justifies, promotes, celebrates, and encourages violence. Islamist cells are now everywhere, from Birmingham in the UK to Bamyan in Afghanistan.
Before September 11, terrorism was confined to Peru, Spain and Northern Ireland. Today it has changed the landscape of almost all major European cities: Paris, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Stockholm, Manchester, Brussels….
The Muslim population is embracing Jihadism in huge numbers. Peggy Noonan recently wrote on the Wall Street Journal: “Let’s say only 10% of the 1.6 billion [Muslims worldwide] harbor feelings of grievance toward “the West,” or desire to expunge the infidel, or hope to re-establish the caliphate. That 10% is 160 million people. Let’s say of that group only 10% would be inclined toward jihad. That’s 16 million. Assume that of that group only 10% really means it—would really become jihadis or give them aid and sustenance. That’s 1.6 million”.
Before 9/11 there were not so many Islamic radicals. This is the war the West is losing. It can cripple the Jihadist hardware. But it has no idea on how to destroy the software of terrorism.
Here a few ideas to start dealing with it:
Western governments have to join the real “moderate Muslims”, who are not the “non-violent Islamists” such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Immigration must include the “ideological scrutiny” of those who require access to democracies.
We have to interrupt the flow of money from charities and regimes to the West to spread radical Islamic ideas through mosques and propaganda of many types.
Meanwhile, the conventional war against Jihad must be strengthened instead of abandoned, as was the case in recent years under Obama.
Osama Bin Laden rightly said: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will naturally want to side with the strong horse”.
That’s the most important issue: the West doesn’t look much that strong horse.