JOOST – Lone wolves and foreign fighters

Lone wolves and foreign fightersA random selection of news articles from the European and American press the last week shows how the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other forms of Muslim extremism has become a war without borders.In Cologne, Germany, a demonstration of andldquoHooligans against Salafismandrdquo (a mix of violent football supporters and extreme-right youngsters), enraged by the latest ISIL atrocities, gets totally out of hand.

Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reports about several former Dutch army officers who have joined the fight against ISIL because they canand#39t stand the jihadi cruelties anymore. The Guardian quotes a report by the UN Security Council that has found that, up to now, 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIL and similar extremist groups.

Most come from North Africa and the Middle East but more than 1,000 came from Europe. The report also indicates that andldquomore nations than ever will face the challenge of experienced fighters returning home from the Syria-Iraq conflict.

andrdquo The New York Times characterizes 12 men who were arrested in Australia and accused of plotting daring murders — including a public beheading — as examples of ISIL sympathizers in the West trying to strike back at countries that have joined the anti-ISIL coalition. In the same article, terrorism experts agree that ISIL is capitalizing on the inspirational power of its violence and territorial gains.

All these articles and reports make it clear that in Europe and across the Atlantic the war against ISIL has become much more than a faraway fight against terrorism without repercussions at home. There is no escape anymore: The actions of ISIL have become a rallying cry for both sympathizers and opponents of the jihadists in many countries around the world.

Although it is true ISIL is still focused on establishing a caliphate in the Middle East and on killing everyone in the region who stands in the way of that ambition, the US-led bombing campaign has globalized the conflict, with ISIL urging Muslims living in the West to retaliate against their home countries for joining the strikes.This perception of being under attack from an unknown number of homegrown ISIL backers, before or after they joined the fight in Iraq and Syria, was of course strengthened by the recent killing of a Canadian soldier and the shooting spree in the Canadian parliament in Ottawa by Muslim convert Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

It seemed to be another confirmation of the popular feeling in many Western countries that andldquothe killers are among us and we have no clue when they will strike again.andrdquoThese impressions are real and understandable and it does not make sense to deny or ridicule them What we should do, though, is put them into perspective.

In the case of the Ottawa shooting, information has since popped up making it plausible that the killer, Zehaf-Bibeau, wasnand#39t primarily driven by some grand ideology. His mother described him as someone who was not well in his mind and felt trapped.

Terrorism experts say he does not appear to be the classic organized lone wolf inspired by ISIL or other Muslim extremists.In an article in the journal Foreign Affairs, Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay made a powerful argument against the dominant sentiment in his country that the Ottawa killings were a turning point in Canadaand#39s history.

According to Kay, the attacks are not symptomatic of mass radicalization among the Canadian Muslim community. In the case of Zehaf-Bibeau, the attraction of jihadism was propelled by a full-blown mental illness.

We have been here before, Kay stresses: andldquoMentally unstable young men seeking to justify their violent and antisocial impulses will latch onto all sorts of fringe religious movements and cults to lend their urges ideological coherence. In 2014 they are drawn to militant Islam Twenty years ago, it might have been right-wing Christian survivalism Fifty years ago, it might have been MarxismandrdquoAll these qualifications donand#39t mean there is no problem with ISILand#39s global appeal for thousands of individuals.

But not every murder can be prevented or is politically motivated. Besides, sweeping statements about Islam or any other religion will only make it more difficult to find a proper solution.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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