We now find ourselves in the bottleneck of extremism, terrorism and global threats from violent armed groups—groups that without exception employ chaotic, destructive terrorism that undermines the fabric of states, when in the past they only sought to oppose the ruling regimes in these same states.
The issue is totally different now. Today’s terrorists aim to take territory and build states themselves, when previously their biggest ambition was to pressure Arab regimes by targeting US and Western interests.
However, the way the War on Terror was conducted also influenced the course of terrorism, reducing its frequency even as it took root in the Islamic and Arab worlds. It became part of the social fabric in the case of Iraq, Syria and Yemen; reached the upper echelons of power in Somalia; dominated the scene by destabilizing the state in Egypt, Tunisia Morocco, and other Arab countries, including the Gulf and its environs, which are awash with extremism.
The warning issued by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, in which he admonished the international community and major states, and even silent Islamic scholars, reflected this transformation of terrorism. King Abdullah once described the war on terror as a very long one, because the countries where terrorism has become symptoms of a disease and a reaction to historical circumstances were numerous, stretching across Africa, and in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. Even Western states have seen unprecedented recruitment activity, to a level which makes one realize that there are certain states that have not been directly targeted, yet today bravely take the lead and acknowledge that terrorism affects their national security. The experience of Norway is interesting example of this.
Therefore, terrorism is both a political tool and a social movement, not just the action of a misguided few who foolishly follow ideological slogans, as in the case of the violence in Egypt in the 1980s, which was linked to the relationship with the regime, or the internal violence which was sectarian in nature, not political.
The many forms and the different shapes terrorism is now assuming requires that we upgrade—to use a technical term—our perceptions, starting with the definition of terrorism and its various forms. More than 30 forms of armed violence and hundreds of organizations need different definitions, due to differences in context and objectives. Thus, Boko Haram cannot be defined in the same way as ISIS, and I would even suggest that the same organization can be defined differently depending on the area of its operations. So, Al-Qaeda in Yemen is different to Al-Qaeda in Libya, for instance.
But all these differences and variances add to the security problems and the strategic burden borne by the states they target, and on global stability. We must also taken into account the unprecedented recruitment and radicalization, thanks to the depressing circumstances in which many new recruits live.
The countries which benefit from terrorism, or those which are not harmed by it, or those who think it is a tool against oppressive regimes, do not realize that terrorism today is a fact of life, not just an anomaly.
In my daily observation of social attitudes towards the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), I can say that it is widely-admired in the societies in which it operates, despite its harshness, extremism and cruelty, which borders on madness.
As you enter the state of black banners you are faced with advertising boards calling for jihad and stamped with the ISIS logo, which is copied from the seal of the Prophet, with no condemnation for this audacity by “lazy” and “silent” Islamic scholars, as King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud dubbed them.
There is a mall being built by ISIS in Raqqa in eastern Syria, as well as workshops to teach people how to manufacture basic materials for construction projects and roads. ISIS has even managed to bring many damaged installations back to working order using revenue from the oil it sold cheaply to countries that turn a blind eye to its activities.
Vehicles belonging to ISIS move around the city distributing CDs and booklets about the ideology of the organization. In ISIS schools, children’s entertainment programs are amazing and varied, and youth organizations teach children to enthusiastically chant slogans as if they were at a football game.
We are facing a completely new kind of terrorism, and it will require new kinds of solutions.