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Why the ISIS is winning in Europe

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Message Prakash Kona

Sheik Osama bin Laden
Sheik Osama bin Laden
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The fact that after the Manchester Arena bombing the threat level was reduced from "critical" to "severe" seems to have made no profound impact on the terrorists who drove a van into the crowd on London Bridge and used knives to attack people. I am certain that the terrorists are not exceedingly worried about such "academic" distinctions.

In the brutal war in Syria and in Iraq where either you murder or you get murdered it is most likely that the ISIS is losing the war on the ground, which may be one good reason why they are determined to prove their newsworthiness in Europe or the US. ISIS needs propaganda to achieve its goals as much as the west does to defeat them.

The ISIS strategy seems to get simpler by the day: you just need a truck and a few knives to achieve your target of being in the news. No amount of networking or intelligence could ever beat such a seemingly simple strategy.

Life is cheap in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Life is costly in Europe and the US -- or in whatever used to be called the "West." Terrorism as a "weapon" works perfectly well where life is costly. People have more to lose in Paris and London than in Baghdad and Kabul. War is about economics and so is terrorism. President Trump recently supervised a weapons sale worth 110 billion dollars with Saudi Arabia who is a known sponsor of terror world-wide in a ten-year deal amounting to 350 billion dollars. Donald Trump had the nerve to speak in disparaging terms about the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan who himself perhaps is at a loss for answers like so many others. Can Trump say with confidence that these weapons will not be used by supporters of extremism against innocent people irrespective of where they are from?

I am not speaking of personal costs. Gandhi said: "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?" The suffering to individual persons is the same everywhere, whether in the Middle East or in Europe. The ISIS is however under no obligation to respond to such rhetorical questions from a man like Gandhi no matter how ethical their intent. Just as Donald Trump, the ISIS is a firm believer of economics.

Terrorism is real where the economic costs are significant. In a 2011 prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas one Israeli soldier was released for 1,027 Palestinians which included Arab Israelis and others. As much as I disapprove of Hamas, this is what I call a decent bargain however unfair it might seem to the naked eye. One Israeli life in economic terms is equivalent to more than a thousand other lives.

Western Politicians sound hollow and repetitive when they keep talking about terrorism being an attack on their liberal values. The terrorists are thinking in economic terms and not in terms of values. It is as simple as that. The ISIS is having its economic victories across Europe because they are able to stay in the news for as long as possible. They need recruits at the end of the day which is possible only if they are able to do something dramatic enough to keep them in the sight of mainstream media which does not have any serious issues to talk about anyway. If the police in Western Germany shut down a music festival a couple of days ago for fear of a terrorist attack, I guess the government was not willing to pay the political costs of the outcome. If the public who came to the festival politely marched out of the venue it is only because they knew that the ISIS had a way of executing business which their government or police would not be able to stop on time.

At the height of colonialism there was a think-tank of extremely knowledgeable men who did the job of learning the languages, thinking and writing about the lands and people under occupation. Though the term "Orientalism" has acquired a strong negative overtone since Edward Said's book, it would be unfair to say that every one of the orientalists had ulterior motives in providing the knowledge and justification for the colonial machinery to function the way it did. One thing for sure is that the Orientalists provided a world-view or a prism which enabled the colonialists to actually reach out to the colonized. Cynical as it may seem, the success of colonialism had something to do with the activities of missionaries and with the work done by the Orientalists. There was a way that the "natives" could be understood and the Orientalists could say how that was possible. It was important for the colonizers to know who it was that they were dealing with.

It is important for western governments to understand who is it that they are dealing with if they must confront terrorism. They need a think-tank of intelligent and rational people who have traveled widely, who can speak the languages and dialects of the social groups that produce the terrorists, and who are academics or scholars with high standing and with the capacity to provide the government with an underlying rationale behind these attacks. Merely terming the attacks as "acts of terror" is as unimaginative as calling the sky blue or sea water salty.

A good part of the victory in any war is about knowing what is going on in your opponent's mind. The great military commander Hannibal Barca could outsmart the Romans only because he never allowed them to get an insight into how his mind functioned. His moves were unexpected and often caught the Romans by surprise. It is impossible that these terror attacks across Europe or the US are random occurrences. Without doubt, there is an underlying connection and logic that needs to be figured out before everything else. This is as difficult as penetrating the uncanny mind of Hannibal. To enter the subconscious mind of the terrorists and to be able to read the subtext to their actions is the only way that terrorism can ever be defeated.

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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