To defeat our foe, we must first define him
Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa/Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Tuesday, 17 February 2015/Al Arabiya
Almost 15 years since the current “War on Terror” began, we seem little closer to understanding and defeating a common enemy, which remains primarily defined by its tactics of terror and the underlying subversion of Islam. But terrorism is merely a tool of twisted ideologues, whose recent atrocities include the murdering and kidnapping of journalists, and the grotesque immolation of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh.
The weekend’s attacks in Copenhagen are a further reminder that if we’re meaningfully to address this spiraling global threat, we need to widen our understanding and define our foe, in order to refocus our efforts accordingly. Terrorism is not an ideology; we are not merely fighting terrorists, we are fighting theocrats. I use the term “theocrats” as the current war is not against Islam any more than it could be against Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or any religion. It is against those who commandeer religion for their own ends and, in the process, sully the name of great traditions and beliefs that many of us hold divine.
If we start to define ourselves as in a war with theocrats, however, then I believe we can begin the process of delivering the military, political, economic – and maybe even the social – policies to counter this threat together, as we have in the past. In the last century, the world faced a series of overwhelming threats: fascism, totalitarianism, cold-war communism. They were studied, however, as concepts, understood and clearly defined. We addressed them, clinically, as ideologies.
They spread their ideological message through a multitude of channels, old and new, from word of mouth, to proclamations from self-anointed pulpits, through to the wholesale embrace of the digital age
So what do we call this new form of ideology, how do we identify it and how do we define it? We must agree the specific terminology and identified characteristics to take us to the very root of the problem we face. For one group alone, we already struggle with an absurdity of titles including ISIS, ISIL, IS and Da’ish. We see the likes of al-Qaeda and its various offshoots. We have al-Shabaab and Boko Haram and that’s before contemplating yet unformed groups of their type that may develop in the future. In each case, however, we continue to hop blindly and haphazardly from one tactical threat to the other, without strategically understanding or categorizing our foe.
We can begin this process by more fully analyzing their characteristics. We know these are people who attempt to govern us here on Earth as well as in the hereafter. They isolate themselves and place no value on the social contract established among ourselves as societies of human beings. They oppress women and slaughter those who do not condone, approve of or subscribe to their own twisted ideology. They also govern by religious edict, constraining the use of reason itself among would-be believers. Their methodology combines the tactics of religious ideology alongside lawless paramilitary rule. It is fuelled by the gains of criminal enterprise in order to establish the fiction of governance, through which continues the desperate fight for geographic territory to claim, protect and rule.
Social upheaval and political turmoil
We know they are opportunistic, thriving in the midst of social upheaval and political turmoil, giving purpose and leadership to the disillusioned, disaffected and forgotten. While history will judge whether the Middle East’s own turbulent events of 2011 were the equivalent of a Berlin of 1989 or the Petrograd of 1917, one thing is clear – where state paradigms collapse, into the vacuum extremist ideology is more likely to come.
They spread their ideological message through a multitude of channels, old and new, from word of mouth, to proclamations from self-anointed pulpits, through to the wholesale embrace of the digital age. And in the Middle East itself, satellite channels unseen by Western audiences and free of either its restrictions or regulation, broadcast, with far greater impact than the internet, an almost continuous message of intolerance and venom to the ignorant and the susceptible. So, while we grapple with the conceptual, practical and legal protections of media regulation and online freedom, they ruthlessly exploit these platforms to sow hatred and showcase evil.
Ultimately, we face a new-world foe, one that while demonstrating many of the practices of the 17th century also pursues a strategy of the 21st. We will not be able to address them through old world solutions alone, but through a newly thought series of interventions, both modern and traditional. It is only through a concerted, collective and fundamental review of the nature of our threat that we will help refine the focus of our challenge and thereby bring us closer to achieving our shared goal. We can then strategically use our combined resources to hold accountable these criminal ideologues who place themselves above other ordinary human beings and claim divine authority for misrule.
While in all probability we will sadly be fighting them for a long time to come, barbaric and primitive though they are, it is naming and understanding of the ideology itself that should next be our target. These individuals and groups will of course ebb and flow, but it is the ideology that must be combated and defeated. In the process, we can replace the term “war on terror” and focus on the real threat, which is the rise of these evil fascist theocracies.
This article was first published in The Telegraph on February 16, 2015.
HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa is Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bahrain.