President Obama’s objective to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) involves a multi-pronged strategy. It includes “a systematic campaign of airstrikes,” increased American service members to support forces in Iraq, training and equipment for moderate Syrian rebels, humanitarian assistance, and a continuation of counterterrorism capabilities. While President Obama’s approach has a strong emphasis on the use of force, countering ISIS militarily can contain them, but it will not eradicate them in the long-run. The conversation needs to emphasize that a dynamic, long-term solution is needed to address the many facets of Middle Eastern instability and insecurity. A military solution is not the only one.
The United Arab Emirates is part of the broad international coalition that is supporting the US-led airstrikes on ISIS. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in “The intellectual battle against ISIS,” stressed that, while military force can and will defeat ISIS, “Lasting peace requires three bigger ingredients: winning the intellectual battle; upgrading weak governance; and grassroots human development.”
The Sheikh began by highlighting the need to wage an intellectual and ideological battle against ISIS.
Its seeds are growing in Europe, the United States, Asia, and elsewhere. With its twisted religious overtones, this pre-packaged franchise of hate is available for any terrorist group to adopt. It carries the power to mobilize thousands of desperate, vindictive, or angry young people and use them to strike at the foundations of civilization.
The Sheikh’s views were also echoed by Secretary John Kerry, who stated that this is “not a clash of civilizations. Muslim scholars are outraged about the Islamic State’s brutality and perversion of Islam, calling its savagery deviant and heretical. Sunni and Shiite alike have joined forces against this outrage.”
Maktoum commended Saudi Arabia for its deradicalization programs, which aim to give extremists a true understanding of Islam and its virtues.
Only one thing can stop a suicidal youth who is ready to die for ISIS: a stronger ideology that guides him onto the right path and convinces him that God created us to improve our world, not to destroy it.
Islam values peace, life, dignity, and human development. Emphasizing these values will serve to delegitimize ISIS by crumbling the religious foundation upon which its ‘caliphate’ is built.
Building strong government institutions is the Sheikh’s second ‘ingredient’ in a long-lasting solution. Shadi Hamid, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, emphasized the need to address the root causes of extremism: government failure. He states, “If the general failure of governance is one of the contributing factors to extremism… then looking at the root causes of terrorism and extremism” become very important.
The Sheikh expands on this notion by saying, “when governments fail to address instability, legitimate grievances, and persistent serious challenges, they create an ideal environment for hateful ideologies to incubate – and for terrorist organizations to fill the vacuum of legitimacy.” The United States’ military strategy arms Iraqi and Kurdish forces, as well as moderate Syrian rebels. Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, providing these groups with arms and limited training “improve their ability to kill. It will not unite them, create a viable power-sharing arrangement among fractious ethnic and sectarian communities, or build strong government institutions.” Supporting the development of effective government institutions will give the Iraqi government legitimacy, creating an uninhabitable environment for ISIS.
Finally, Maktoum underscores the need for grassroots human development and its significance in creating lasting peace. Providing “opportunity and a better quality of life for the people of this region is guaranteed to ameliorate our shared problems of instability and conflict.” He further stresses that this “is not only an Arab responsibility, but also an international responsibility.”
During ASP’s recent event, Fadi Elsalameen stated that the United States must also focus on the “young, unemployed poor people, who aren’t being included in political process, who aren’t being included in economic process. There are many, many, many sides to this issue; it’s not just the military.” At the heart of instability and conflict is the desire for opportunity, security, and a better life. The international community can increase regional and global security by addressing the underlying political socioeconomic issues.
The Arab world’s “power of hope, and a desire for stability and prosperity” underscores the Sheikh’s unwavering belief that intellect, ideology, effective governance, and sustainable development are “the most sustainable answer[s] to terrorism.” President Obama’s military solution can temporarily contain ISIS as an organization. But it is imperative that the United States and the international community inspire the Arab youth, and address the more fundamental socioeconomic issues within the Arab world. Doing so will destroy the core “ideologies of fear and hate,” and will result in long lasting peace.