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5 Reasons Why the West Got Islamist Terrorism Wrong

23 9 43
14.03.2019

The ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis has become fashionably outdated but still shapes the way we understand the connection between Islam, terrorism and the Middle East. In 2019, it is time to ‘forget the Middle East’ and change the way we perceive Islam. Vera Mironova, in ‘The New Face of Terrorism’, claims that the way Westerners think about ‘Islamist terrorism has grown dangerously outdated’, and the terrorist attacks at Western targets have been increasingly coming from militants of the former Soviet Union, not the Middle East. Following on these insights, I argue that it is time not only to ‘forget the Middle East’ but also stop essentializing Islam in the Middle East.

For Mironova, the relative increase in anti-Western terrorist attacks emanating from the post-Soviet world is a result of several national, regional and international factors. On the one hand, with the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), militants from Russian-speaking areas turned from domestic to regional concerns. “By 2017, at least 8,500 fighters from former Soviet republics had flocked to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State”. In early 2019, following its almost total defeat in Iraq and Syria, the ISIS has lost its power and lure for these militants. Many ISIS fighters and brides have surrendered and want to return to their countries of origins, as the stark example of Shamima Begum’s case shows in the UK. On the other hand, the growing numbers of prosecuted Muslims in Asia has created new grievances to turn the militants’ focus from domestic to transnational issues. However, this is not a surprising trend. A careful student of Middle Eastern politics could easily identify the link between regional and international terrorism. For example, the Iranian Revolution in 1979 had a direct impact on the following Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which eventually led to the rise of mujahedeen, and then the Taliban, that are seen as the epitome of Islamist terrorism that defined the last decade of the 20th century.

When the world moved to the 21st century, the issue of terrorism has been carried over but with a new twist. It was ‘the crisis of globalization’ and neo-liberal international (dis)order, which had unprecedented impacts on anti-Western terrorist attacks, and the relationship between the West and the so-called rest of the world – the Global South. For centuries, the Middle East was the essence of the rest of the world. It was also regarded as a unique region because of Islam’s presumed essential place in regional politics. Many readers are familiar with the age-old narrative of the ‘clash of civilizations’, which presumed a stark division between the West and the rest of the world, and an inherent tendency towards conflict between the West and Islam. Originally, Bernard Lewis coined the term in the 1950s but it was Samuel Huntington who revived and reinserted it into political discourses in the 1990s. Huntington’s thesis was conceived in the........

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