In trying to prevent terrorism at home, the West must leave the Muslim world
Sir Isaac Newton’s famous ‘Third Law’ stipulates that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. This profound principle and logical theory can be applied to a plethora of tangible realities, and is how I tend to make sense of human warfare – especially, the West’s “home-grown terrorism” quagmire with “Islamism”. Where Newton’s ‘Third Law’ states that every action has an “equal and opposite reaction,” the proportionality of “actions” and their subsequent “reactions” significantly vary when analysing the dynamics of the War on Terror in relation to violence committed by state actors in comparison to non-state actors, which are neither “equal” nor “opposite” – though a “reaction” from either belligerent is certainly inevitable.
I would argue that the domestic terror threat from “Islamist jihadists” in the West is, generally speaking, a direct “reaction” to military intervention, political interference and historical injustices committed by Western powers in the Muslim majority world. However, the deplorable violence carried out by non-state actors like ISIS cells and Al Qaeda inspired lone wolves are neither “equal” nor “opposite” in their reaction – whether one quantifies this via death toll or by the usage of sophisticated warfare.
Before I proceed with elaborating on the above, I want to briefly touch upon three prevalent strands of thinking presented by western academics, think-tanks, and politicians who have attempted to explain this problem with Islamism – both its violent and non-violent forms.
Some commentators come from the perspective that the global War on Terror is an ideological conflict between modern secular liberal pluralism and an intolerant, politicised and out-dated interpretation of Islām, which has yet to undergo a systematic process of reformation like Christianity did in Europe during the 16th century. This line of thinking perceives the current ‘struggle’ as a battle of hearts and minds, where military intervention can be ‘justified’ when necessary – whilst the more desired strategy is to support Muslim civil society groups, reformist movements, and secularists in the West and abroad.
Others have presented a more orientalist and Manichean reading of the current conflict – one between two Abrahamic faiths with expansionist ambitions: Western Christendom and the Islamic East, which have been at loggerheads since the dawn of Islām and its initial battles and conquests of Byzantium territories, right through to the Crusades and up to World War One with the subsequent abolishment of the Ottoman Empire. This line of thinking perceives the War on Terror as a mere continuation of a civilisational conflict which has been ongoing for over a thousand years. This school of thought also favours military intervention abroad and draconian counter-terrorism laws at home to contain the threat of Islamism.
Both groups have numerous variations within the political spectrum between the left and the right – from neoliberalism and neo-conservatism to the far-left and the far-right. But whilst far-right populism is undeniably on the rise in the West due to various socio-political and economic factors, it was neither the far-right nor the far-left that were responsible for the most recent conflicts which have destabilised the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan under the banner of the War on Terror.
There is a third group, and it too has its own sub-groups. It comprises of those who, whilst believing in aspects of an ideological conflict with Islamism, accept to differing degrees that historical and contemporary injustices committed by Western powers in the Muslim majority world has significantly contributed to the problem of domestic terrorism. The birth of ‘Islamism’ is understood by them as a post-colonial reactionary ideology that is culturally rooted in discourse not entirely alien to the Muslim world. Dubbed by their critics as “liberals”, “Islamist apologists” and “regressive lefties” – what makes this strand of thinking unique is that it has never manifested into state policy.
Whilst I do not entirely accept the ideological premises of the third group, I cannot deny the arguments that historical crimes and foreign policy injustices committed by Western powers in the Muslim majority world have been causative factors in politically motivated violence perpetrated by a handful of Muslims in mainland Europe and the United States since 2001. It is also important to note that those who consistently cite historical and contemporary grievances do not necessarily enjoy the mainstream platforms, state funding or media limelight as compared to those who advocate an interventionist, draconian and reformist approach to tackling the “Islamist terror threat”.
Basic, but important definitions
Before I proceed with proposing a radical solution to significantly decrease the threat of “home-grown” terrorism, I must state that there are Muslim “equivalents” of the aforementioned schools of thought that exist all over the world and that they are not exclusive to non-Muslim academics, thinkers and political movements in the West.
Let us start by defining “Islamism”. While there are many frequently used definitions, the most popular is:
“A political interpretation of Islām which seeks to establish an autocratic government ruled by Sharīah law.”
What I understand “Islamism” to be when it is described by policymakers and the corporate media is:
“A Muslim who adheres to Islamic laws and values in their private and public life, as well as believing in the undisputed truth of Islām as the only salvation for humanity”.
Why do I believe this? Because a “Muslim” is the one who submits in totality to the will of God and “Islām” means to “submit” to God, and through this submission a Muslim attains peace (the “peace” is conditional to submission).
Lastly, what is “terrorism”? “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”
Can this widely accepted definition of “terrorism” be applied to the actions carried out by modern nation states or liberal democracies? Of course, it can. However, is it applied by Western governments, the United Nations, the European Union, or NATO when referring to illegal wars, complicity in war crimes, genocide and human right abuses committed by the West and their allies? Rarely, if ever. The term “terrorism” tends to be exclusively reserved for non-state actors or “rogue states” that Western governments bear grudges with. Therefore, for the remainder of this article, the term “terrorism” will be equally applied to actions committed by western countries as well as non-state actors.
Leave the Muslim world alone
The following is my 10-point solution to significantly limiting the “Islamist terror threat” in the West. Taking into consideration that practically everything from de-radicalisation programmes, funding Muslim reformers to endless domestic countering-violent extremism policies have been tried, tested and arguably failed, the only strategy that remains is to holistically review Western foreign policy in the Muslim majority world:
- Bring back all Western soldiers including NATO and UN troops, as well as secret service personnel stationed in Muslim countries.
- Close down all military bases in Muslim countries whilst keeping Western embassies and diplomats there.
- Review the West’s unstinted relationship with Israel.
- Stop propping up despotic regimes that oppress, kill and imprison non-violent political and religious opposition groups.
- Stop invading and occupying Muslim countries and monopolising their natural resources.
- Stop meddling in the political affairs and “derailing democracy” in Muslim countries. If Muslims want to be ruled by Islamists and governed by Shariah law then so be it.
- Stop selling arms to regimes that go onto use these weapons against their own people or neighbouring countries, which further destabilises the region. 
- Stop criminalising non-violent Islamic movements and Muslim resistance groups under the disingenuous and irrational pretext of “combating terrorism”.
- Shutdown all secret torture camps and prisons in Muslim countries that are used for illegal rendition.
- Respect the land, air and maritime sovereignty of Muslim countries.
I know what you’re thinking – the above is too far-fetched and outrageous to even dream of, let alone be uttered as a solution. Well of course it is! Because to implement my 10-point proposal ultimately means for Western governments to have a miraculous epiphany in minding their own business, and stop acting as modern day Romans. As well as minding their own business, Western governments need to fundamentally abandon their neo-colonial mindset, ideological arrogance, and hegemonic approach to how they perceive and deal with the Muslim world.
A case of survival and safeguarding
But this will never happen. Simply because there is too much at stake. The geopolitical and economic implications of even remotely implementing half of what I have proposed is for Western governments, namely the US, Britain and France, to essentially allow other powers, be it Russia or China, or Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Turkey to undo the hard work of their colonial forefathers. 
In addition to this, since the onset of the War on Terror, American and British military generals and security officials have consistently stated that countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and now Syria, are important to contain, amongst other reasons, due to the “evil ideology” of Islamism, which seeks to resurrect a polity – the Caliphate – in an attempt to revive the medieval golden age of Islamic civilisation.
Putting the barbaric and unIslamic practices of ISIS aside (who were born out of the US-led invasion of Iraq), Western think-tanks have also stated that the likelihood of such a polity re-emerging from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire is not something that should be dismissed – especially given the Islamic world’s track record of leading humanity in the arts and sciences, as well as stretching its authority deep into Spain, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.
With all these hypothetically undesirable scenarios troubling western policymakers, why would they be stupid enough to just pack up, leave and abandon their geopolitical safeguarding and survival measures?
Forgive me for presenting such a daunting reality that may read like a Manichean translation of Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of civilisations’, but I genuinely believe there are undeniable truths to what I have stated. Francis Fukuyama’s gross assumption that mankind had reached the “end of history” in the advent of Western liberal democracy, which apparently signalled the endpoint of human government, was simply a fallacy. The secular nation-state and liberal democracy should not be blindly accepted as the eternal form of nationhood or government, especially as the former is barely two hundred years old! However, what should be acknowledged is the industrial scale death and destruction that has resulted from the birth of secular nation states – just the twentieth century alone has resulted in more than 87.5 million deaths according to former US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezunski.
And it is in light of this context and paradigm that we must try to understand where and how the West’s paranoia of Islamist inspired terrorism fits in. From trying to contain existing superpowers, to violently preventing the birth of an Islamist empire, tackling domestic terrorism is ultimately the circular game of how the West manages to stop the chickens from coming home to roost. And these chickens are not just motivated by War on Terror foreign policy grievances, they include historical grievances dating back to European colonialism and World War One, with the unnatural borders of the Sykes-Picot Agreement still affecting the Middle East and North Africa today. With the well-established and normative Islamic concept of “Ummah” (global community of Muslims bound together by Islām) it is impossible to deny that what I have discussed has affected the psyche of hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide.
To conclude, Western governments must look in the mirror and ask themselves the following questions which have glaringly obvious answers:
- * Did mass-scale Islamist inspired terrorism exist before 9/11 in the Western world? No.
- * Did poverty, high unemployment, “ghettoisation”, lack of integration, and racial and religious discrimination of Muslims exist in Europe before the War on terror? Yes.
- * Did these sociological and socioeconomic realities ever transpire into religiously or politically motivated violence before the War on Terror? No.
- * Lastly, did Western powers begin their political and military interference in the Muslim majority world after 9/11? Of course not, it has been an on-going foreign policy for at least 150 years (in the case of Europe).
Blaming the West and ignoring ideology
A legitimate counter-question would then be: what role does “Islamist”, “Salafist” or “jihadist” ideologies play in all of this? Surely, it cannot be entirely the West’s fault?
Ideology or theology does play a role – a very important one – but not a causative role which necessarily leads to violence. Studies carried out by social scientists and the British secret services have found that the perpetrators of Islamist terrorism in the West are usually religious novices who justified violence through the language, culture or religion they felt most comfortable with. In the same way Christian terrorists, Jewish extremists, Hindu fundamentalists, Irish Republicans, South American communists, and Kurdish separatists (PKK) all justify violence through the distorted language of their respective worldviews, the lone wolves and terror cells of ISIS are no different.
There is an argument that if Western powers militarily abandoned the Muslim world, nihilistic groups like ISIS would continue to attack mainland Europe. But there are two very simple points which would nullify this unsubstantiated assumption.
Firstly, ISIS was born out of the industrial scale death and destruction of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Therefore, the desire to seek revenge would not immediately diminish, especially as the wounds of losing Mosul and being bombed in Raqqa by Western forces are still very fresh.
Secondly, the abandonment of Western military interference would have to be coupled with the abandonment of the West’s political interference in the Muslim world; which includes its support for Israel and other despotic dictators in the region, as well as selling weapons to these regimes – all of which has violent consequences that lead to grievances that are subsequently used to justify politically motivated crimes in the West.
As for the wider issue of non-violent manifestations of “Islamism”, in more cases than not, they tend to be advocates of normative Islām who want to regain control of the Muslim world’s political destiny whilst safeguarding its Islamic identity from what they perceive to be a cultural invasion by the West.
As idealistic as the prospects of halting western interference and meddling in the Muslim majority world may seem due to the gravity of hegemonic geopolitics at stake, let us at least be honest enough to admit that the streets of North America and Europe were much safer from the threat of “Islamist terrorism” before the US-led War on Terror ensued. In the likely case that the status quo persists, let us at least reflect on the fact that, upon balance, our governments have made the conscious choice of maintaining unjust foreign policies at the calculated expense of our safety.
The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.