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Europe's New Normal

Europe’s New Normal


The Islamic Jihadist who attacked the British parliament, killed five and injured over thirty, doesn’t fall in the standard category of Islamists who have attacked Western institutions in the past.[i] This man was another second generation British citizen, born Christian, converted to Islam, but who was over fifty years of age, had chronic drug abuse problems, and was radicalized in the notoriously liberal prisons of United Kingdom; the reason why he was not in the radar of British intelligence. Usually the ISIS inspired lone wolves are all on a lower age range, from 20 to 35, radicalized online. This man was no lone wolf, as he had active help within Britain, and was radicalized in person, and had help, as per British security sources. [ii] Naturally this incident brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions for policy makers.

There are two differing arguments going on in British, and by large, Western and European policy circles, regarding Islamic jihadism. The first one is a liberal argument which states that the latest attack, while undoubtedly was targeted at the heart of Western liberal system, the British parliament, would do nothing to change the broader Western lifestyle, or alter the balance within the continent, nor would it inspire any people to join terrorist groups. It is just impotent rage of another psychotic insecure and broken individual, with countless perceived grievances about how his host society is run. Professor Tom Nichols termed this phenomenon as the Lost Boys.[iii]Someone already with anger problems, and drug issues and it manifested in him adopting an ideology which gave him a justification to kill. In simpler words, there will always be people like that in every society, especially in big cities, and there will be no shortage of places where people like these can strike.

However, the second argument is this. How long and how much more can this go on, and has the terrorism in West already morphed into an insurgency. When Theresa May talked vaguely about “International terrorism”,[iv]it raised a lot of definitional and social questions, like what is this “international terrorism”, who commits them, and why do we see these “international terrorists” in cities like Paris, London, Frankfurt and Brussels, but not in Prague or Budapest. What’s the single common factor here, that unites all this periodic outrages.


Dilemma in British and European Counter Terrorism Strategy

The terrorism evident in London, was nothing comparable to any other forms of extremism. European extremism was at its peak during the nineteen seventies. Other extremist movements, with questionable tactics had at least a fixed political aim, a goal and an objective. The Irish republicans and the Palestinian liberation movement separatists, wanted independent statehood. Whether or not one can agree with their aims, is not the question here, the fact is they knew what they wanted, which logically implies, that there was theoretically something which could be offered to them, in lieu of which they would negotiate and come to a table of talks and dialogue. The same cannot be said of Islamist extremists who attacked Bataclan or London for example. [v]

A second argument, that all of this was due to drugs, foreign intervention and social circumstances, also falls flat under further scrutiny.[vi]Australia for example has severe drug restrictions, but faced individual acts of terror. Indonesia which never took part in any campaign in Middle east, had the biggest bomb attack in Bali. Latin Americans are suffering from extreme poverty in a lot of places, but they are not looking to randomly go and kill people around the world. While drug trade undoubtedly funds Islamic jihadism, they are not the cause of Islamic jihadism. Thomas Hegghammer in his paper has pointed out that the macro trends of Islamic jihadism across continental Europe is only going to get worse in the next decade. [vii]


Counter Terrorism, or Counter Insurgency

The question therefore that is faced by British and European intelligence and policy experts are these. Is it still individual terrorism, or has it morphed to an insurgency against the British and European way of life and liberal democratic order? If it is, then what should be done? On that, there are two rational but opposing ways to go about , ones that again fall within the purview of another classical dilemma, the one between increased liberty and increased security.  The first one is to admit that there will always be individuals, who will not fit into Western society and lifestyle, looking for any ideology which gives them a chance to murderor commit other outrages. Also, it is a statistical impossibility to stop all lone wolves all the time. The second option is more provocative and therefore, naturally more controversial among policy circles. It is to admit that Britain and Europe is indeed facing an insurgency and by definition, change tactics from classical counter terrorism strategy of winning hearts and minds and information warfare, to a more wartime counter insurgency strategy of extreme infiltration and surveillance in affected communities. For comparison, during the end days of IRA troubles, before the peace negotiations, the British intelligence was successful in infiltrating the Catholic communities from top to bottom. It gave them eyes and ears to know and prevent and act preemptively to stop any crime or terrorism from happening.

But to do that, a country and this continent first will need to admit that they are facing an insurgency. If one country indeed is facing an insurgency, then the first order of business is to bring back and put soldiers in front of state buildings, and not police. Then UK would need to bring back the soldiers from Estonia, and positon them in Westminster. Russians are after all, not mowing down random children in the streets of Europe. Unfortunately, European (and British) governments, for reasons unknown, have shied away from admitting that they face bigger threat from insurgency within a section of their broken society rather than from rival great powers, and no actual policy has been implemented to tackle this threat, other than issuing lofty statements about democratic values and ideals.




[i] "Khalid Masood: Everything we know about the London attacker" March 26, 2017, The Telegraph, UK.

[ii] "Khalid Masood: London terror attacker ‘was not lone wolf’ but part of a wider conspiracy, security officials believe" Kim Sengupta, Lizzie Dearden, March 25, 2017, Independent. Also, on scholarly analysis of Lone Wolves, read, JytteKlausen - "Why the London Attacker Was No Lone Wolf: Dispelling a Dangerous Myth" March 2017, Foreign Affairs

[iii] “The Revenge Of The Lost Boys” - The Federalist, July 2015.

[iv] London attack: Theresa May tells MPs 'we'll never waver' - BBC, March 26, 2017

[v]  "The Actual Root Causes of Islamic Terrorism" February 20, 2015, National Review. Also, for further reading, "The Rise of the Islamist Terrorist Threat" Professor Christopher Andrew, author of "The Defence of the Realm". Available at https://www.mi5.gov.uk/the-rise-of-the-islamist-terrorist-threat?adhoc_referrer=011604001009

[vi] "Drug trafficking and the financing of terrorism" www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/drug-trafficking-and-the-financing-of-terrorism.html; Also, "The little-understood connection between Islamic terror and drug profits" https://theconversation.com/the-little-understood-connection-between-islamic-terror-and-drug-profits-53602

[vii]Hegghammer pointed out four reasons why Islamic terrorism is going to increase. “1) expected growth in the number of economically underperforming Muslim youth, 2) expected growth in the number of available jihadi entrepreneurs, 3) persistent conflict in the Muslim world, and 4) continued operational freedom for clandestine actors on the Internet.” See,  "The Future of Jihadism in Europe: A Pessimistic View" by Thomas Hegghammer, Perspectives on Terrorism Journal, Vol 10, No 6 (2016), Terrorism Research Initiative, Leiden University, Netherlands, available at  www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/566/html

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Sumantra Maitra
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