The challenge of non-state extremism
The massacre at the office of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in France on Jan. 7, 2015 topped headlines all over the world throughout last week, and world leaders marched across Paris to pay tribute to the victims and protest senseless violence against freedom of thought. The attacks have already been analyzed from various perspectives, ranging from Islamophobic equation of millions of believers with terrorists to insinuating that the West generally deserves such attacks for its callous political choices around the world.
Yet there is another dimension: The inability of the international system to deal with the rise of extremist non-state actors in international politics and their violent ideologies. The Charlie Hebdo attack was one of the latest manifestations of this and unfortunately it is not an isolated event.
2015 started with news of violence from around the world, committed by non-state actors. To recall: A car bomb exploded in Yemen, killing 35 people on the same day of Charlie Hebdo attack, while nine people were killed in Lebanon in suicide attacks on Jan. 11, 2015. Terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda perpetrated both attacks. Meanwhile, Boko Haram, the Nigerian extremist group, launched its deadliest attack and killed more than 2,000 people in just this week. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, its death toll reached over 10,000 people in 2014.
Throughout the last year, the world’s attention was on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for its brutality and rapid advances in Syria and Iraq. The ISIL’s success in using social media tools to attract new recruits and the fact that millions across the world watched the videos Western journalists being beheaded raises several unsettling questions.
Toward the end of the year, we were told the 14-year-old combat operations in Afghanistan, led by U.S. and NATO forces, would end soon, without actually solving the original problem; that is the challenge imposed by the Taliban and other non-state actors to the security of Afghanistan and its neighborhood. The fact that extremist ideologies and tactics now moved back to the Middle East from Afghanistan does not bid well for the future.
We also witnessed non-state actors taking up arms across eastern and southern Ukraine in early 2014, resulting in the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March and still continuing clashes with government forces in the Donbass region.
The recent attacks in Paris, having sparked fears for further violence across Europe, prompted world leaders to call for joint international efforts against extremism. President Barack Obama of the U.S. is expecting world leaders in Washington for a counter-terrorism summit next week and there will be another summit after that in Europe.
It is highly difficult to struggle against terrorism and extremism without focusing on their complex root causes. Non-state actors with their asymmetrical force structures have overstepped the state boundaries and became global with the advent of information technologies and globalization. Wherever they interact with extremist ideologies, they become deadly, brutal and formidable opponents of the modern world system, global peace and stability.
The traditional reaction of states of tightening security, deploying troops around the word, and so-called international co-operation against terrorism will not be sufficient to deal with this challenge.
What is needed is a sustained effort to win the hearts and minds of the people across the word, offering them alternatives, freedom of choice, independence to deal with their own problems, the chance for economic fulfillment and hope for future. Doubtless, these will increase dilemmas for security, but there is no other sustainable way out of this mess.