(Non)Western responses to Islamic Terrorism


The Islamic State’s (IS) rise to being at the forefront of global security concerns has prompted an increasingly united international response. The current cocktail coalition, which includes the US, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, among others, have agreed on the need to respond militarily to the terrorist threat. Additionally, Russia and Iran have also proposed to be involved in the coalition, with the latter pushing for concessions on its nuclear programme in return.

The marked difference in the makeup of this response to the Middle East-originated threat is the inclusion of Western and non-Western state actors, both inside and outside the region.

The decision to take military action was reiterated on 24 September 2014 when US President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly, who emphasised that “there can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force [as well as carrying out strategies to cut the IS’ funding sources and provide alternatives to potential IS supporters].”

From a Western (US or European) perspective, this sits uncomfortably with Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace model from which international, national institutions and political systems have been derived. Indeed, the Western (including Western based organisations such as the UN, IMF and WHO), are rooted in the idea of increased integration through democracy, liberal economies and political inclusion are what bring an end to conflict. Therefore, the removal of the threat posed by the IS through this military lever of power is at odds with this liberal/Western philosophy.

Notably, from a Middle Eastern perspective, contemporary governmental reactions to terrorist threats have been consistent with this ‘language of force’ mantra.

For example, in the aftermath of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, the subsequent targeting and killing of civilians and military personnel prompted the current President Abdul Fattah al-Sissi to pledge that his government would not reconcile with groups who had committed acts of violence. Al-Sissi’s stance was lauded and supported by the likes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

The fact that these ‘groups’ included the former Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government does cloud the issue somewhat. However, Morsi’s MB directly and indirectly condoned and prompted acts of violence in response to his removal from head of state. This in turn, provided the rationale behind post-Morsi Egypt labelling the MB as a terrorist organisation.

Additionally, Egypt’s terrorist organisation list includes Islamic militant groups who have been carrying out attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. These groups significantly include Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, who have been explicitly encouraged by the IS to wreak havoc in Egypt. As a result, Egypt’s decision to join the coalition against the IS, is one which has been consistent with its domestic strategy against terrorist organisations.

The point being made here is that both Western and non-Western responses to terrorist organisations now seem to have colluded. Indeed, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s request to recall parliament on 26 September 2014 to decide on whether or not to join airstrikes against the IS in Iraq further demonstrates the momentum towards supporting and committing to a kinetic military response. The difference is, non-Western (in this case Egypt, and one could argue a similar case for Russia), have been consistent in their approach to tackle the problem.

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