Counter-Terrorism: Sanctuary Politics


September 7, 2007: Islamic terror organizations like al Qaeda, Hamas and Hizbollah remain alive and well six years after September 11, 2001 because many countries, including many that have always supported terrorists, still provide sanctuary and support. This is very odd because, basically, Islamic terrorism is a response to frustrations within the Islamic, and particularly, the Arab world. Most Islamic states, and all Arab ones, are run by dictators or monarchs. All of these nations suffer from low economic growth, rampant corruption and little opportunity for young people entering the work force. Women, in particular, have a hard time of it. But it is young men, and educated older men, who form the terrorist cells. They believe they have the solution to everyone's problems, and that solution involves a religious dictatorship. This particular strain of Islamic terrorism is particularly nasty because it embraces the heretical (and quite ancient) belief that any Moslem who does not support the terrorists is not a true Moslem, and can be killed without violating Islamic religious teachings (that strongly discourages Moslems from killing each other).

For centuries, the rulers of Islamic states have known how to deal with Islamic terrorists. Basically, you kill them, their families and many of the neighbors. You make an example. These days, in response to international opposition to mass murder, most Islamic states ease up on the collateral casualties. Instead, family and neighbors are thrown in jail, or suffer economic losses (a job, confiscated property) for the sins of their son the terrorist. Islamic despots have also learned how to use Islamic terrorists as a weapon against their enemies, including other terrorist groups. There are many terrorist groups in the Middle East (not all of them Islamic, some are secular), and they all need a sanctuary, a base area, so to speak. So Islamic dictators offer terrorist groups sanctuary. The deal was this. The dictator would protect the terrorist group, as long as no attacks were made against the dictator. It worked, and most dictators maintained sanctuary for several terror groups. As a bonus, some of the terrorists were available to do dirty work for their dictator protector.

The U.S. went into Iraq and Afghanistan to upset this sanctuary system. It worked, in that many Arab nations are much less hospitable to Islamic terrorists now. Al Qaedas popularity ratings in the Arab world have dropped sharply because of all the al Qaeda violence against Iraqis, and other Moslems. Because of Iraq, most Arab despots have had to reconsider their terrorist sanctuary policies.

But then there's Israel. After World War I, when most of the current crop of Middle Eastern states were carved out of the dead Ottoman empire, the dictators (that quickly developed in these new states) found anti-Semitism to be very useful. The dictators began saying, "don't blame us, blame the Jews." This became much more effective when the local Jews established their own state; Israel. Arab dictators found they could redirect popular anger, and terrorism, aimed at them, towards Israel. It worked for several decades. But by the 1980s, many of the Islamic radicals realized they were being played, and began concentrating their attacks on Arab despots. The dictators worked their usual magic, and crushed the Islamic terrorists. Then, groups like al Qaeda came up with the idea of attacking Western nations, under the guise of taking down the wicked foreigners who propped up the Arab tyrants. That grew and grew until we got to September 11, 2001, and today.

As long as Moslems in general, and Arabs in particular, cannot figure out how to govern themselves more effectively, we will have Islamic terrorism. But by bringing the war home to the Arabs, and Islamic terrorists, we can have less of the violence in the West, and more if it where the disease originated.


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