Reverse Swing: After the horror in Brussels

On March 22, multiple explosions in Brussels left 31 dead. Five takeaways from the most recent act of Islamist terrorism in the West.

Written by Tunku Varadarajan | Published:March 27, 2016 12:05 am
(Source: Reuters) (Source: Reuters)

1. This isn’t the latest “chapter” of terrorist violence against a Western city by the Islamist death-cults that began a transnational jihad on September 11, 2001. It is the latest paragraph. Attacks are getting ever more frequent. It is ghoulish, I know, but I predict another Brussels-style assault on a soft urban European target within a month, especially as Islamic State continues to take a pounding on its own soil. The increased incidence of terrorism isn’t merely because IS is now alive to the ease with which acts of carnage can be conducted in open societies. It is also because IS is on the back foot in Iraq and Syria, and taking the war to the streets and subways of Europe makes tactical sense.

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2. Especially when there is a new — and panicked — determination on the part of Europe’s security forces to uncover sleeper cells as rapidly as possible. An upsurge in attacks will inevitably result, as IS seeks to use its deadly resources before they are neutralised. IS boasts that there are 400 terrorists embedded in Europe, primed to strike. I shudder.

3. The mounting toll from terrorism will require unprecedented levels of maturity from Europe’s political class. There are millions of Muslims resident across France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, the vast majority of them law-abiding citizens who want no more than an unmolested life. Politicians on the nativist right have been quick to demonise these people. Morality aside, it is a recipe for civic disaster to treat such a high percentage of your society as the enemy: The Muslim population of France is at 7.5% of the country’s total; the Netherlands’ at 6%; Belgium’s at 5.9%; Germany’s at 5.8%; Austria’s at 5.4%; Greece’s at 5.3%; the UK’s at 4.8%; Sweden’s at 4.6%. (To put that in perspective, Sikhs comprise only 1.8% of Indians.) You cannot cordon off populations of this size, nor place them under open surveillance. These “in-house” Muslim populations have to be enlisted in the fight against Islamist terror.

4. To that end, ways need to be found to integrate Muslims more thoroughly into European society. While there is no doubt that sections of these populations reject Western values — especially when it comes to education and female equality — it is also true that they face discrimination in their daily lives. In this, the US is unlike Europe, being a country that is — Donald Trump notwithstanding — immeasurably more tolerant toward Muslims. There is also the truth that it is easier for outsiders to integrate into economies, like America’s, that aren’t stagnant. Why else do so many people fleeing the Middle East attempt to transit through France and get to the UK?

5. The fight against terror needs to become more sophisticated. Even as there is — and must be — a drive to capture or kill Islamist terrorists, our combat must also include a war for Muslim minds. Bernard Lewis, the great historian of the Islamic world, once told me, “Women are half the world, and mothers of the other half.” The terrorists are men, but it is in women that we must place our faith. Efforts such as those by Edit Schlaffer, the Austrian founder of Women Without Borders, are priceless. Her NGO’s project, Mothers Against Extremism, recruits Muslim mothers as foot soldiers against jihad. Muslim mothers can shield their children from toxic ideologies and fight the myth of jihadi masculinity that fuels IS. Terrorism may be learned at radical mosques and training camps, but it can be fought most effectively at home.

The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. @tunkuv

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