A suspected terrorist's aborted attempt to blow a Northwest Airlines plane out of the sky raises a burning question that we must address: Do we need only more security measures or more logic and common sense in countering the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism?
The question looms after Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young wealthy elite Nigerian Muslim with possible links to radical Islamic groups, tried to set off an explosive device as the plane was landing in Detroit, federal officials said.
The White House called the incident an attempted act of terror. If the mission of this man had succeeded, more than 270 people on board would have been killed — and both tourism and airline industries in the United States could have been affected seriously.
It is vital to emphasize that mostly luck prevented the explosion. Otherwise, Christmas day in the United States would have turned into a disaster.
The profile of Abdulmutallab adds another piece of evidence to support the view that lack of education and poverty are not the only causes of terrorism, as some suggest. Abdulmutallab is from a wealthy family and is highly educated, which fits the pattern of many other Islamic jihadists.
We would be wrong if we did not see this terror attempt in the context of the other recent terror plots, such as the Fort Hood massacre and the increasing homegrown Islamic radicalism in the United States.
Inability to see the common ideological thread linking these atrocities is like failure to identify the underlying disease that causes the patient’s symptoms. In such a situation, treatment would be directed incorrectly to treat the symptoms instead of the underlying disorder or the true cause of the problem.
The same can happen if we focus only on treating terrorism and ignore treating the underlying factor, namely the ideology behind radical Islam. Failure to address this ideological component will be disastrous.
Addressing the contribution of the religious ideology is crucial, as if al-Qaida adopted a new approach to attack Metro passengers, cinemas, sport stadiums, and other big gathering areas, it would be very difficult and extremely inconvenient to do a security check for every individual at these places.
If our only approach to terrorism is to increase security measures for individuals, the terrorists can paralyze our life if they shift their target from attacking airplanes to attacking the formerly mentioned places.
Our policy should move from only symptomatic treatment of the problem to include defeating the ideology behind it. It is vital in this situation to develop a complete comprehensive strategy to treat the cause of the problem at the psycho-behavioral and ideological levels rather than working only at the security front.
This is particularly significant when we realize that the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism is using several fronts both tactically and geographically. At the tactical level, terrorists planned to attack airplanes, buildings, and shopping malls.
At the geographical front, new fronts for terror include Yemen and possibly Somalia. Defeating al-Qaida at the military level in Afghanistan will not end the problem as new fronts for terror will develop as long as the radical ideology exists. On the contrary, defeating Islamism at the ideological level can add a needed and fundamental component to the current antiterrorism approach.
CNN quoted President Obama as saying that the United States is doing everything in its power to stop terror. This statement raises an important issue: If all the previous U.S. efforts and billions of dollars that were spent to defeat terror failed until today to end this problem, then the United States must adopt new approaches and novel strategies to deal with the terrorism phenomenon simply because the previous measures, including Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, were not very successful.
This does not mean that these approaches must be stopped, but such efforts certainly must be improved to be fruitful.
In short, using military and security approaches to defeat terror without addressing the ideology behind it is not sufficient. We need to improve our security measures and technology to protect civilians, but we also need more common sense to see the common factor behind terrorism and treat it.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad." A former associate of Dr. al-Zawahiri (second in command of al-Qaida), he now is a reformer of Islam. For information, visit www.tawfikhamid.com. Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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