Facts, not fear, should drive anti-terrorism policy

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In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, panic, grief and confusion are natural reactions to a seemingly random act of terror. Terror is not random, however. It is planned and executed with precision and designed to create a specific reaction that forwards the goals of the terrorist. It is up to us not fall into the trap of giving them the reaction they want to induce.

{mosads}However, it seems that some of the presidential candidates and right-wing politicians in the U.S. have already fallen into the trap, declaring with what seems like decisive certainty the necessity of enacting reactionary measures — measures that are tried-and-true failures.

I say tried-and-true failure because this kind of global terrorism has gripped the West before. 9/11 shocked us to our core and pushed the Western public to go along with reactionary measures that have since taken a life of their own. Declaring war before we even knew who the real enemy was and choosing “shock and awe” might over reason brought forth the dichotomies that have dominated our public discourse: individual rights vs. security; state surveillance vs. security; accepting “collateral damage” strikes (meaning, the killing and imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of civilians) vs. security, anti-Muslim racism vs. security, xenophobia vs. security.

What have these post-9/11 policies done? What kind of society have we become? Are we better or worse than we were? The answer should be about more than “security” as defined by the state.

Fifteen years later, in the middle of a presidential campaign, terror struck again at the heart of our collective imagining of what makes us, the West, “exceptional.” Many candidates, politicians and talking heads are living up to our worst expectations. Even though the French ambassador called Donald Trump a “vulture” after mistaking an older Trump tweet (which Trump sent out after the Charlie Hebdo attacks to forward his views on guns) to be in relation to the latest attacks, I think his description accurately describes the behavior of many politicians. The impulse of some politicians to feed on the fears and anguish of the public after such horrific incidents, for the sake of their own political agenda, was evident in the past few days.

Some of the talking points by politicians that are going unquestioned by a media hungry for dramatics include: the increase of surveillance of Muslims in the U.S. (as if that is not already taking place); barring the arrival of Syrian refugees who themselves are running away from the horror that we got a taste of this Friday; blaming Edward Snowden for making us question how far the state has gone in infringing on our rights to privacy; and allowing for more tolerance of even more “collateral” damage.

Talking points and sound bites should not be the animating forces behind global policies.

We have a notoriously short historical memory span, but this is not even history. Fifteen years is the present and what is happening is a continuation of the same failed policies that have already inflicted an untold amount of horror and terrorized generations of “collaterals” and reduced our society to one operating on the most base of emotions: fear. We know the outcomes of these policies and the horror and insecurity it has produced in the world.

There is another way.

Instead of allowing terror groups and power-hungry politicians to dictate the terms of the fight yet again, we need to step back and consider the facts. 

Who is “us” and who is “them?” If we look at the facts, which are clear as black and white, it is not Muslims vs. “us.” Even though it makes for better sound bites and simple dramatic explanations that serve extremist world-views on all sides, the truth is that it is not race, ethnicity nor religious distinctions that delineate the battle lines. As much as organizations like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) want us to believe otherwise, 95 percent of the victims of ISIS and Assad regime terror are Muslim civilians. ISIS and state-sponsored terror is the enemy of all of us.

So we need to ask our politicians: Why are politicians scapegoating the victims of terror who have fled their own destroyed villages, towns and lives? In the G-20 summit taking place in Antalya, Turkey, why are we still reaching out to states in the Middle East that are known supporters of terror in Syria — whether it is ISIS, the Assad regime or other state-sponsored terror — if we are serious about tackling global terrorism? If blanket surveillance, which has been the rule for the past decade, has not managed to stop horrific and well-coordinated terrorist acts, such as those that have taken place in Paris, the Sinai, and Beirut, Lebanon, how would more of the same make us safer?

Isn’t it time to ask our governments the tough questions about the failure of their intelligence services methods? How could the answer ever be in increasing the public tolerance for more civilian casualties, when years of bombing villages and towns in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, among others, have done nothing but prolonged wars and benefited the terrorists’ cause and the military industry?

This is the time for the brave politicians to stand against fearmongering populists and demand that the right questions be asked and that the truth be told. This is an opportunity to allow logic, and not fear, to win. Don’t waste it.

Minawi is assistant professor of History at Cornell University, where he is also director of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Initiative (OTSI). His forthcoming book, The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz, will be published by Stanford University Press in 2016.

Tags 9/11 Donald Trump ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Paris attacks Terrorism terrorist
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