The finding that the Iraq war is cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement, contained in the recently declassified US National Intelligence Estimate report, is alarming. But it should not be surprising.
The report highlights a shortcoming in our approach to Islamist terrorism, characterised by an emphasis on military intervention and surveillance and detection of militants.
We seek to thwart terrorists — but only after they have formed the desire to terrorise us. By then it is too late.
Our security would be better served by coupling this focus with one whose objective is to prevent people forming this desire in the first place.
It is usual to treat threats to the wellbeing of society with a two-pronged response: neutralising both supply and demand. A good analogy can be found in action against illicit drugs. Society attempts to curb demand for drugs through education and supply through law enforcement.
By contrast, the way we respond to Islamist terrorism is telling — little is done to discourage the supply of terrorists.
Militants who cloak their misanthropy with an Islamist robe exploit those who feel hopeless and incite them to slaughter. Certainly these militants play a central role in the evolution of terrorists — and territorial disputes and the foreign policies of some countries provide ammunition for this.
But if the would-be terrorists did not feel hopeless, then the militants' rhetoric would find less sympathetic ears.
Our current focus on military engagement and rejection of extremism plays a key role in safeguarding society. But it does not reduce the supply of would-be terrorists.
What enables these militants to attract a ballooning number of recruits? The answer cannot be Islam, which has been around for more than 1000 years. This is a recent problem.
Instead, the supply of terrorists is better explained by the increasing numbers of dissociated and disenchanted people who feel hopeless. They seek hope — and the messianic ranting of the militants offers this in the afterlife.
It has been said that the half of the world's population who live on less than $US2 a day have little expectation of a gainful existence; affinity with this hopelessness is an underlying cause of terrorism.
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