Beyond Manchester: How to Stop Violent Extremism by State and Non-State Actors

Whenever another suicide-bombing takes a heavy toll of innocent lives, I revisit my list of ways to prevent another one. So here’s today’s list and the reasons for the items on the list.

First, I tend to agree with the views expressed about the Manchester bombing by Tariq Ali,  a British-Pakistani writer, journalist, historian, filmmaker, and political activist on a recent Amy Goodman show (May 24, 2017). Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

“This atrocity happens, we all denounce it, everyone says 95, 96 percent of the Muslim community is opposed to all this—which is all true. Then people like myself and a few others from the antiwar movement say this is not unrelated to the war on terror that has been going on now since 2001. Every Arab country that’s occupied, wrecked, has a consequence in Europe.

So it’s—we’re part of a sort of really vicious, now, cycle, where the wars go on, and terror attacks, carried out usually by tiny jihadi groups or by individuals, as appears to be in this case, goes on.”

Keeping in mind Ali’s comments and putting on my hat as a political scientist, I think we have to look at the over-arching circumstances and conditions that are leading state actors and non-state actors to engage in violent extremism against each other and kill innocent civilians who are directly targeted or get trapped in their cross-fire.

These circumstances and conditions, without drilling down into the colonialist history of the region and other regions that have been colonized, boil down to extreme inequality, impoverishment, and denial of the right to exercise fundamental civil, political and human rights on the part of literally hundreds of millions of people.

The non-state perpetrators of violent extremism in the Middle East, North Africa (MENA) and now Europe, regardless of what we think of their values and choices, have either been the direct victims of these circumstances and conditions, or are related to these victims, directly and indirectly. Needless to say, the barbaric acts carried out by extremist groups of these victims are completely unacceptable, as are the same barbaric acts carried out by nation-states in the MENA region.

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“Democracy campaigner: governments are scared of the participation revolution”

Governments are now the least trusted institutional globally, according to public opinion polls. Their constituents think their elected lawmakers are doing a poor job meeting their needs and addressing life-threatening crises like extreme climate disruption.  The result is low voter turnout, protests, confrontations, civil disobedience, and even violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement agents.

A number of governments are responding with efforts to limit and even suppress these manifestations of popular discontent.  They are using  a variety of means “to shut down the ability of citizens to collectively organise and mobilise,” according to a recent article  in the Guardian International.  These governments include those that have previously been regarded as well-established democracies.

Irrespective of these efforts, there appears to be a silver lining in these clouds. Danny Sriskandarajah, head of Civicus, a global civil society alliance, points to what appears to be the beginning of a “participation revolution”  where “people are using the internet to empower themselves.  “At a time when established political institutions are losing trust the world over, they’re organising in very different ways with the digital tools at their disposal. That poses a fundamental threat the world over to established power.”

Needless to say, the repressive aftermath of the “Arab Spring”, during which large segments of the populations in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region mobilized against repressive regimes, sets off cautionary alarm bells.  But these repressions may prove to be short-lived in the longer-term scheme of things. After all, the planet is populated by more than 7 billion people longing to be free and  have democratic governments that they control. While we keep seeing new ways and means by which a small number of people are trying to control and stifle dissent by massive numbers of people, it’s clear to optimists like myself which side is going to win in the end.