Margaret Thatcher once said…

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!

One of the collateral effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union was that it deprived Hollywood filmmakers with the ideal villain for political fiction movies. In the beginning, there was some confusion on how to fill the void but steadily religious fundamentalists from the Orient, let’s say, got the momentum. “True Lies” of 1994 with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis is a worth viewing case at point. But in the wake of 9/11, the confusion was no more. Salafi Jihadists, with their lethal actions, had indeed made themselves the West’s archenemy and since that day the threat refuses to disappear. Ergo, many rightly wonder whether this could end?

The good news is that, in the view of the tremendous imparity in resources, arms and technological infrastructure between the opposing camps, the West hardly lacks the ability to prevail in this unorthodox battle. So, what are we doing wrong? Why haven’t we yet given the alleged monster of terror the coup de grace?

The main problem with this “monster” is its nature. Islamic terrorism seems to belong to the Hydra’s kind. In this context, the striking (elimination) of a head (cell) guarantees the latter’s reemergence and multiplying. And the only way to neutralise a Hydra is to either tame it or, as Hercules’s legendary example demonstrated, to deal with the root of the problem early on.

The other good news is that these ideas not only are hardly a novelty, but also that the western governments’ actions are consonant with them. Yes, the cautious and the open-to-talks approach which was once lightly dismissed as loony-left nonsense has for some years now been the opted modus operandi. In the ongoing Middle East conflicts, the West, despite its indeed many mistakes, has adopted a less direct and aggressive approach. Hence, contrary to the letter of defiant public proclamations western operatives seek to reach out extremists when it is necessary. This is after all how certain hostages were released.

More importantly, talks, albeit via proxies, take place with IS combatants with the aim of convincing them to abandon their position in exchange for a safe exit. Finally, the West tries to minimise civilian casualties even if that means the prolongation of battles. Look for instance at what is happening to Mosul. Why do you think it is taking longer than Stalingrad? Doesn’t the western coalition have the firepower to do away with a few thousands IS fighters? Of course, it does. But a potential, say, carpet bombing will not only bring about a quick victory, it will also arm IS with convincing propaganda arguments which will thereafter fuel the anger of the West residing «lone-wolves«. Have no doubt about it, this cautious approach has so far thwarted more attacks than the costly efforts of the security services.

So where is the mistake? Why do attacks continue to occur? To believe that full security and safety will exist in the West when there is still no full prosperity, stability and justice in the Middle East is utopian. Fortunately, thanks to the technological advance we are heading there. However, it will take a few more decades before what Adam Smith described as scarcity of resources, will be behind us for good. But until we reach that point, we can further minimise future attacks by applying home some of the wisdom that we apply overseas.

It is currently discussed that there should be more intense monitoring of what is shared online and then charge people based on what they read and watch on the internet. Such an effort will need immense resources and its outcome can be no other than the further marginalisation of already marginalised communities. After all, this is what the Israeli authorities are already doing but without any great expectations for the long-term. The answer therefore cannot be restrictions. On the contrary, if some of the pompous defiant rhetoric from western officials was dropped and IS propaganda was refuted instead of persecuted and deleted, then the number of the radicalised would diminish. Never forget that an information becomes more attractive, especially for the young, when it is deemed as dangerous and forbidden.

To give a small example. In the wake of the London Bridge attack, many public figures rushed to stress that “their thoughts were with the families of the victims” and that they “condemn these cowardly actions”. Such statements, albeit correct, have become cliché and certainly do not appeal to all those representing the Hydra that needs to be tamed. Would-be attackers would get more confidence in the alleged hypocrisy of the West which ignores those who are killed in the Orient and which labels cowards people who undertake actions that will secure their death.

Call them what they truly are, disturbed and lost in identity, but not cowards, especially when this alienates those who need to be integrated. It is certain that the battle is not over and it will be fought again to win it, so let’s shorten the process by being smart. It’s easy!

See you soon

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