When the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, cities across much of the Arab world came under fire from mass protest of citizens demanding change. From Tunis in Tunisia, Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt; to Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya; Sanaa, Yemen; and Damascus in Syria, popular uprising against decade’s long authoritarian rule came with a Euphoria that hung across most of the region. Even some of the richest Gulf States such as Bahrain felt the heat when their very own citizens took to the streets in protest. President’s Ben Ali of Tunisia, and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt were forced out by tumultuous crowds that lit the night time skies.
In Libya, Mohammad Qaddafi was killed by a mob of protestor turned rebels after several months of fighting across much of Libya. In Yemen, President Saleh was forced out after narrowly escaping a decapitation. In Syria, President Bashar Al Assad is able to stand his ground as protest movement shifted into a brutal civil war.
The euphoria that came with those tumultuous events seem to have dissipated, since the only two states (Tunisia and Egypt) that experienced transitions with some degree of success have intermittently come under scrutiny. Many have charged that those changes falls within the fulcrums of the old adage; “pouring old wine into new bottle,” largely denoting the status quo welding the most power and influence. In Libya, although longtime leader, Mohammad Qaddafi was killed and his regime ousted, thousands of citizens are displaced, and various militia groups continue to operate and battle the legitimate government with impunity. In Syria protest escalated into a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions, as President Bashar, Al-Assad continue to fight for his regimes survival. Even in Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the elections that ushered in a new government did not stabilize the country. Iraq continues to be gripped by a violent sectarian divide, and armed militia mainly from the deposed regime and other groups roving and disrupting peaceful coexistence in Iraq and across territories in Syria. Evidently instability in Iraq and tumultuous events of the Arab spring lit fires across several cities of the Arab world, from Tunis, Sid Bouazi, Cairo, Alexandria, Tripoli, Benghazi, Sanaa, Damascus and Manama.
While calm has returned to most of the cities, state fragility and failure in Libya, Syria and Iraq led to the birth of a new form of threat that shifted fires from cities of much of the Arab World to Western cities – the threats of transnational terrorism. The collapse of the Saddam Hussain regime in Iraq and protest movements that left Syria into a state of volatility and fragility, gave birth to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Our failure to stabilize Syria and Iraq in the framework of an international collective goodwill to protect human dignity has emboldened the ISIS network to share disturbing video messages showing the beheading of innocent beloved world citizens. Jihad John, the notorious executioner may be killed but his tale will continue to hunt mankind for good. The anger, fear, outrage and threat that came with those videos were both enigmatic and repugnant to our conscience as a human family. Our failure to act collectively in the name of humanity, irrespective of our divergent interests and power dynamics shows the volatility and weakness of mankind in a world polarized by interest. Hence, ISIS has shifted the path of the fires that lit the skies of cities in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring to cities in the western world.
ISIS reminds us of our own failures, challenges and contradictions. In the past decade, experts, policy makers, academics and think tanks have cautioned state failure and fragility, and poverty, as an international security challenge that could have lasting consequences on global stability. Prominent among them was the US National Security Advisor, Dr. Suzan Rice. In her 2006 policy paper titled, The Threat of Global Poverty, published in The National Interest Journal at Brookings Institute, Dr. Rice cautioned that “Americans can no longer realistically hope that we can erect the proverbial glass dome over our homeland and live safely isolated from the killers—natural or man-made—that plague other parts of the world” (2006,p1). She warned that in the long term, it can threaten US national security. Apparently, the underlying truth beneath the threats of poverty, state failure and fragility threatens both US national interest, and the peace and security of the modern world. ISIS has opened up training camps and occupied territory in the failed and fragile states of Libya, Iraq and Syria, recruited operatives in the west, carried out bombings, suicide missions, and indiscriminate killings in the heart of Paris, London, Beirut, and threatening to strike American and other western cities. Similarly, it is alleged that ISIS has set footprints in Afghanistan, Somalia and Nigeria.
Most disheartening of the ISIS inroads into prominence, is its ability to recruit young men and women in our very own backyards in the west. The majority of those recruited either have a polarized background entrenched in a troubled life or feeling of alienation or frustration from societies incapacity to provide an institutionalize support system. Such loopholes in modern western society, shows the unsafe nature of our very own communities. ISIS has tapped into such vulnerabilities to commit murder at an alarming rate.
On November 13, 2015, ISIS has struck hard, carrying out attacks in a massacre style that killed about 153 people and wounded hundreds of innocent citizens in Paris, France. On November 12, 2015, it carried out suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon that killed up to 43 people, and wounded about 153 citizens, demonstrating its determination to strike into our very own heartlands. Prior to these attacks, ISIS claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris that killed 12 people. ISIS did not limit its operations to only continental Europe, it had continuously redouble its efforts to strike in the United States of America (USA) with limited success. In the United States ISIS operational dynamism has been incapacitated in many regards with the exception of the May 3, 2015 attacks of a cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, depicting the prophet of Islam (May Peace and Blessings of Allah Be upon Him), and the December 2, 2015 San Bernardino massacre that killed 14 people and wounded 17. Investigations have so far concluded that both attacks were inspired by ISIS, which shows the strength and determination of the terror group to strike under all circumstances.
The debate on Freedom of Speech following the Charlie Hebdo, Paris, and Garland, Texas attacks did not do any good either in our collective effort of empowering citizens. Instead, we used the mantra of Freedom of Speech as an umbrella to pervasively intrude in to the arbiter of human dignity, culture and customs. We disregarded the mantle of the framers of freedom of speech as an institution that comes with responsibility. No one can deny that freedom of speech constitutes an integral part of our values. However, free speech that comes with da demeaning and devaluation of human culture constitutes irresponsibility in all its forms.
Arguably, the threats of ISIS that lit fires across cities in both the Middle East, the West and other parts of the world reminds us that state failure and fragility creates conditions of poverty, international criminal activity, terrorism and weakens state capacity to prevent violent threats. The world is no longer a safe place with, poverty, state collapse and political instability that has deepened poverty and displaced populations in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Defeating ISIS requires taking ownership of the failed and fragile states of Iraq, Syria and Libya in the framework of a collective goodwill of finding a lasting political solution, and containing pervasive poverty among the millions of displaced citizens. This means the world’s most powerful nations must take a leading role in helping resettle the millions of helpless Syrian refugees seeking security and safety. It will also require empowering the majority Muslim population in all facets of society committed to upholding the Islamic values of peace, love moderation, tolerance and respect for the people. Such an empowerment should take place at the work place and educational institutions, government institutions, community organizations, the private and public sector. Such a framework can be an effective de-radicalization mechanism, especially for the vulnerable young men and women of our communities. Perhaps the leadership role of Canada and Germany in resettling and integrating thousands of Syrian refugees provides concrete historical lessons for other nations.