The 9/11 attacks were shocking. And so were the 2004 Madrid train bombings. After all, they represented the first major terrorist atrocities committed by modern jihadism on Western soil. Accordingly, our politicians framed the events with various cognitive metaphors pertaining to the domain of exceptionality, madness and irrationality. Fast forward 15 years and regardless of hundreds of additional attacks, yielding thousands of deaths and casualties, it would seem as though, we are still in “shock”, as per the statements made by an overwhelming majority of our political representatives. Consider, for instance, Jeremy Corbyn’s description of the latest London attacks as “shocking incidents”, or Andy Burnham’s claim that “It is hard to believe what has happened here in the last few hours, and to put into words the shock, anger, and hurt that we feel today”.
In other words, in spite of staggering evidence to the contrary, Western leaders continue to frame jihadist terrorism in their own backyard as the exception, rather than the rule. Their inability to acknowledge what has now become an undeniable reality, and to readjust their counter-terrorist strategy accordingly, is providing us tons of feel-good hashtags, yet at the same time is costing us hundreds of lives and millions in taxpayer money.
If the West is to put an end to this bloodbath, its political representatives ought to stop merely echoing the concerns and fears of its citizens. In addition to this, they need to show political leadership, i.e., they need to put forward realistic and effective measures that help protect the lives of its citizens. While this is certainly not an easy task, there is nothing heroic in it: simply put, it is their duty as political leaders to fulfill this requirement. If they cannot live up to this legitimate expectations, they should step down as quick as possible and let doers take over. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, here are some of the steps that ought to be taken in the right direction:
- Let’s acknowledge that we are at war. There are two sides: Western Liberalism and Jihadist Terrorism. They are at war because no side has any longer the alternative of whether to go to war or not. On the contrary, the last years have made evident that one side’s victory represents the submission of the other (zero-sum game). We can call it names (WWIII, <<war on terror>>, etc.) . but denying its existence will not change the basic reality that we are at war and we need to acknowledge it if we are to prevail.
- Let’s learn from those who have done (1) and based on this, have gone on to adopt a successful model to deal with Islamist terrorism: Israel. This is, perhaps with the exception of the United States, the only real-world model known to us. We can draw a number of lessons from the way this country has managed to protect its citizenship against the enemy:
(i) Change is not negotiable, only its direction is. Contrary to your regular Western PM talk on how terrorist “won’t change our way of life”, Israel shows us that they surely will. At the level of civil society, we will have to sacrifice some freedoms of convenience, which means that more profiling and security checks will have to be politically enforced and socially encouraged as the lesser of two evils. After all, there is a reason why Israel excels at effective airport and mass-gathering security. At the foreign policy level, de-colonizing the Middle East might result in the West losing control over rich natural resources coming from these latitudes, which in turn contribute to the high living standards currently enjoyed by its citizens, yet it is downright utopian to pretend that one can continue to exploit those lands without fuelling retaliation.
(ii) Deterrence. Israeli forces know that when it comes to effective counter-terrorism, flowers and candles do not quite cut it these days. Targeting the family homes of terrorists, while not being altogether just, makes for a much more effective tactical manoeuvre.
(iii) Zero-tolerance on ideologues. You do not need to hold a PhD in Gramscian studies to know that prosecuting those who recruit, motivate and inspire jihadist terrorists is part and parcel of a useful counter-terrorist strategy.
(iv) Border control. Enforcing the strict regulation and monitoring of national borders, while unpopular, is to be favoured over paying the price for not doing so. Trump is right to claim that “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people. If we don’t get smart it will only get worse”
Go ahead, I will be in shock if that does not work. And mind you: that would an honest shock.
Press Statement: This article reflects only the viewpoint of the author, which may or may not be shared by the rest of the MCRC members.