THE BLOG

2015: A Year of Terror

20/12/2015 17:33 GMT | Updated 20/12/2016 10:12 GMT

How quickly we forget. Just a year ago, 132 children in Pakistan were killed in an attack by jihadi gunmen on a school in Peshawar. We recoiled in horror - and then we moved on.

Just as we did after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris last January when 17 people were killed. And the attack in Kenya in April when 148 students were killed. And the one in June in Tunisia when 38 people, most of them British tourists, were killed. And the one in October in Ankara when 102 people were killed. And the one three weeks later on the Russian passenger jet in Egypt when 224 people were killed.

(We haven't forgotten, because we never even noticed, that in March, more than 140 people were killed in suicide bomb attacks on two mosques in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.)

All that before the attacks in Paris a month ago, in which 137 people were killed. According to a list in Wikipedia of Islamist terrorist attacks during the course of 2015 - a list that must inevitably be incomplete and can be only a very rough tally (it excludes, for example, any attacks in Syria) - there have been 105 attacks this year, with a total death toll of around 2,800.

2015: the year of terror. An all-out assault on Western civilisation and our way of life.

Wrong.

Because the country that has suffered the highest number of attacks this year is Nigeria, thanks to the murderous activities of the jihadi group calling itself Boko Haram. Next comes Iraq, followed by Afghanistan. These are not countries that are 'Western' in the generally accepted sense of the word, yet they have been targets far more frequently than Europe or the US. Which means, of course, that the jihadis have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims.

It is also worth noting that the deadly attacks by jihadis long pre-date the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Who now remembers the attacks in Paris in 1995 by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria that killed eight people? Or the attack in 1997 in Luxor, Egypt, that killed 62 tourists? Or the one in 1998 when 200 people were killed in attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania?

How quickly we forget. And, more to the point, how quickly our political leaders forget. Which helps to explain why their responses to the threat posed by jihadis tend to be so piecemeal and ineffective. Perhaps they have never heard of the American philosopher George Santayana, who wrote: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'

Bombing Islamic State targets in Syria may, possibly, help to reduce the threat of further IS advances in Syria and Iraq and may, again possibly, help to reduce the threat of further attacks in Europe. What it will not do is 'defeat' the ideology that underpins its appeal to those who flock to join its ranks.

I'm not at all sure, in fact, that an ideology can be defeated. What we can do is propose an alternative ideology that offers a better future than a suicide vest and death. In other words, an ideology that offers young men in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Chechnya, Iraq and Syria, a future which offers more than a life of oppression and unemployment.

The same applies to young Muslims in Belgium, France and the UK, because those who join IS do so in the full knowledge that they are almost certainly going to their deaths. What a calamitous failure of Western policy-making it is that the message of jihadi zealots, whether online, in mosques or in jail, can be more attractive than the alternatives that should be on offer.

So the task for 2016 is to craft a far more sophisticated response. It needs to be a response that reaches young potential jihadis before they turn in desperation to an apocalyptic vision of a global caliphate. A response that encourages them to feel an integral part of the society in which they are growing up, rather than part of a suspect minority in which everyone is regarded as a potential terrorist.

In places like Nigeria and Chechnya, it means putting in place a governing structure that does not depend on cronyism and corruption. In Europe it means rethinking how political leaders refer to Muslim minorities. It means being prepared for the long haul and not falling into the trap of thinking that the only response to a terrorist attack is to introduce ever more oppressive 'anti-terrorist' measures.

The key is good governance. In a country where all citizens feel they have an equal chance of making something of their lives, where they don't come to believe that the odds will always be stacked against them because of their faith or ethnic origin, there will be far fewer tempted to end their lives by blowing themselves up in crowded places. It is a difficult message for politicians to sell - I don't see Donald Trump or Ted Cruz being much persuaded by it, for example - but it's a message that we need to hear.

And here's another message for American voters as they prepare to elect a new president in 2016. Remember those 2,800 deaths from Islamist terrorism worldwide this year? Each one of them a life cut short unnecessarily, leaving behind grieving families and friends in more than 25 countries across the globe.

So what about the 12,700 people who have been shot dead in the US since the beginning of this year? That's more than four times as many killed by guns in one country alone than by jihadi terrorism in the whole of the rest of the world.

I just thought it was worth mentioning.