In Fighting Terrorism, The Past Serves As A Valubale Teacher
When History Repeats Itself
“History does not quite repeat itself, as differences of conditions, place and time are as significant as similarities. Still, history is the best we have got,” writes Azar Gat in The National Interest.
In today’s Middle East unrest, Gat sees reflections of Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s when initial hopes about democratic upheaval were replaced by concern.
“What makes nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and the current Middle East similar is their relative position on the road to modernization. According to the most authoritative estimates, by Angus Maddison, real GDP per capita in non-oil producing Arab countries is in the same range as mid- to late-nineteenth-century Europe (roughly one-tenth of today’s affluent world). Urbanization rates in Egypt and Syria are, respectively, just below and above 50 percent, a level crossed by the United Kingdom around 1850 and by Germany around 1900. Illiteracy in the major Arab countries still hovers between 20 to 30 percent (greater among women than men), again in the same range as in mid-nineteenth century Europe (with the exception of the continent’s highly literate northern countries),” continues Gat.
Finding Lessons In Past Civil Wars To Take On Al-Qaeda’s Recruitment Efforts
David Malet of Foreign Affairs has written an interesting piece on transnational insurgencies and how lessons learned from the Spanish Civil War and the Texas Revolution can be applied to the fight against al-Qaeda.
According to Malet, at least 70 insurgencies in the last two centuries have “gone transnational” and there have been foreign fighters in one in five recent civil wars. In addition, foreign fighters have been on the winning side in half of the wars in which they have fought.
“As in decades past, foreign fighters have been involved in more recent conflicts around the world. Everyone knows about their presence in the Middle East, but there are others. In the late 1990s, 200 Albanian-Americans fought alongside the Kosovo Liberation Army. A few years later, members of the Irish Republican Army fled Colombia after they were arrested on charges of training rebels in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). And today, several thousand foreign combatants, constituting what the United Nations has termed an “insurgent diaspora,” are spread across the African Great Lakes region, some tied to the Lord’s Resistance Army, others from Rwandan rebel groups,” he notes.
The reasons why individuals are drawn to become involved in foreign wars, he says, is key to combating the desire of those who might be susceptible to propaganda and recruitment. Acknowledging that radicalization is a real concern for governments, but the positive side is that “militants who return home are also likely to bring with them tales of disillusionment” about the recruitment process that could serve as disincentives to others.
“As with the Syrian quagmire itself, the best response for governments of countries whose citizens have gone to fight there is watchful containment. Like previous foreign fighters before them, those volunteers in Syria are there to wage what they see as a defensive war. So employing the lessons of the past, most of all by trying to reduce the perception that a specific ethnic or sectarian group is directly under threat, may be the best way to break the cycle of recruitment,” he concludes.
Attacks In Nigeria Raise Concerns About The War Spreading
The repeated terror attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram which culminated in a series of bomb blasts at a bus station in the capital Abuja have many concerned that the war is spreading.
““Monday’s bombing was the first successful terrorist attack in the federal capital since 2011 and it has further raised concerns on the potential spread of the Islamist insurgency beyond its traditional strongholds in the North East,” Poole, U.K.-based risk consultancy Drum Cussac told Businessweek magazine.
According to a report by the International Crisis Group, the government’s failure to provide security and basic services has opened the door to Boko Haram, which is finding recruitment of the nation’s youth relatively easy. The violence there has claimed more than 4,000 lives and forced almost half a million to flee their homes.