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The shortcut to deradicalization is the long road

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 21 April 2015


Every Arab state, regardless of the extent to which it is involved in combating violent extremism, must recognize that there is no shortcut to defeating this scourge, and those who are looking for quick fixes are in for a rude awakening. Whereas military force is selectively necessary to destroy irredeemably ruthless and bloodthirsty organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), to neutralize violent extremism in the long-term, no amount of military muscle will suffice. The Arab states must realize that the root causes of radicalization are embedded in their internal socio-economic and political disorder, and only by undertaking systematic and consistent measures to cure this domestic malaise will violent radicalization abate.

Although the West, especially Britain and France and at a later stage the US, have not been without fault and contributed to the plight of the Arab masses, Arab leaders can no longer blame their problems on Western powers.

The decades-long suppression, suffering and servitude that the Arab masses, especially the young, have endured under largely corrupt and uncaring leaders with an insatiable hunger for power in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and others has reached a new tipping point.

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The Arab states must now understand that their youths' awakening, manifested in the Arab Spring, is only at the beginning stages. Those states who have not, as yet, been engulfed by the Arab Spring and argue that it was only a fading phenomenon are deeply misguided, as it is only a question of time when the rise of Arab youth will reach their shores to haunt them.

The convergence of a plethora of jihadist groups into Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen is not accidental, and as long as grievances, hopelessness, and desolation prevail, they will continue to provide fertile ground for radical Islamists to step in and capitalize on public despair.

There is certainly no single road to radicalization – some join violent radical groups to acquire a sense of belonging, others seek to shed their daily indignities, some are swayed by the desire for recognition or integration, others are drawn by the lure of adventure or heroism, and yet others because they have no other outlet to vent their grievances in the absence of due justice or any access to the political process.

The common denominator is that these young men and women have become estranged from their own communities and are open to almost any path that would lead them to a new meaning and purpose to their lives, even in death. Voltaire got it right when he said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Not surprisingly, for every terrorist or jihadist killed or captured, two or three more are recruited. This suggests that regardless of how much military force is used and irrespective of the efforts made to rehabilitate captured radicals by some Arab states (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq), there will be no end to violent extremism.

Therefore, Arab states must either embark now on social, economic, and political reforms that offer a new horizon and hope for a better and brighter future, or be swept away by escalating violent extremism that will destroy the political foundation on which these regimes rest; Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen provide glaring examples.

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There is no panacea that would bring an end to violent extremism. It will take a decade or more before meaningful change and stability occurs, and only if a) there is a strategy in place to deal with the aftermath of the defeat (as a prerequisite) of ISIS and other major violent extremist groups (to be discussed in next week's article), and b) the Arab states embark upon building a sustainable socio-economic and political structure (while the war against extremism is continuing) to mitigate the outcry of the masses who want these changes that they will otherwise seek by some other means, including violence.

In order to do this, the Arab states must first begin to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor. Nothing is more devastating than witnessing how the wealthy in most Arab states ride on the backs of the poor, and how the governments do next to nothing to lift the majority of the people from abject poverty.

Equitable distribution of resources is not a handout that provides temporary relief from daily hardships. Equitable distribution means, among other things, the allocation of funds to build infrastructure as well as schools, health clinics, and water management systems, and the creation of new jobs that benefit the average person.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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