I take this opportunity to join all men and women of good conscience to convey my most prayerful condolence to the families and friends of the victims of the senseless suicide attack that targeted mostly young people attending a music concert in the city of Manchester. My thoughts are with the dozens of victims who sustained injuries and are admitted in various hospitals. We pray that God eases the pain of those who lost loved ones and grants quick recovery to those who got injured.
This and others attacks that took place in different parts of the world, including Europe and Africa, in the recent past are a constant reminder that there are many foot soldiers out there who have been recruited into violent extremism and are ready to be deployed to unleash terror in our societies.
Recent high-profile attacks, including in Paris, Nice, Brussels, St Petersburg, Berlin and London, have shocked Europeans and other people across the world who are already anxious over security challenges from mass immigration due to conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq; open borders; and pockets of religious radicalism.
But as we express solidarity with the British people during this period of extreme sorrow, it is also important for us to make a broad analysis of such attacks in order to put ourselves in a position of finding appropriate solutions to threats.
First, the timing and place of the attack is telling. That the attack targetted a key European city and came barely a day after US President Donald Trump delivered a thought-provoking speech in Saudi Arabia on the need to fight and “annihilate” terrorists is proof that the merchants of death intended to make nonsense of Trump’s visit to the Middle East, his first foreign trip since taking office.
A comparison of President Trump’s speech to the Muslim world as delivered from Riyadh with that of his predecessor Barack Obama delivered to the Muslim world from Cairo in 2009 reveals fundamental differences that are likely to impact on how the international community deals with the threat of terrorism and violent extremism.
While Trump, like Obama, avoided using words such as ‘Islamic terrorists’ in his speech, he took a stance that is likely to escalate the sectarian rivalry that is mainly blamed for the rise of violent extremism in the Middle East. One could not fail to notice that as much as Trump’s message was very strong and clear against terrorism and violent extremism, most of his energy on this matter was directed towards Iran and in what he described as its “network of terror”. He avoided in his comments the suffering and the mass killings of the Syrian and Yemini people.
When we consider the fact that the conflicts in Syria and Yemen have unmistakable sectarian underpinnings pitting Sunni against Shia interests fighting through proxies, then the war against terrorism could have just gotten more complicated. I say complicated because the militant groups involved in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen are backed by powerful governments both in the Muslim world and beyond. And these governments are motivated and guided by ideological differences.
Hence, since the Saudis will acquire new advanced weapons from the US for use in conflicts such as the one in Yemen, the Iran-backed insurgent groups in that country will certainly not accept to be outdone by the superior weapons acquire by the Saudis — they are likely to approach other arms dealers in the vast arms market to acquire weapons to match what their adversaries will have acquired. Who suffers? Your guess is as good as mine.
And as the conflicts in Syria and Yemen escalate because of renewed inflow of superior weapons, there is likely to be a concomitant escalation in the recruitment of young people into militant groups for deployment as foot soldiers to fight on both sides of the conflicts defined by sectarian differences.
The worst is likely to come when battle-hardened young people recruited by militant groups on both sides of the sectarian divide are redeployed from the frontlines in Syria and Yemen to cause mayhem in European and American cities in the name of settling scores with what the violent extremists believe are the ‘evil’ powers out to undermine Islam.
In as much as Trump has taken a commendably and more aggressive approach to fighting terrorism and violent extremism, the sectarian differences and the governance issues prevailing in the Muslim world inspire violent extremism in fundamental ways that cannot be ignored.
Hence, there is need for the US government to continue engaging the various stakeholders in countering violent extremism in a manner that does not ignore the socioeconomic and sectarian issues that inspire violent extremism.
The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.