Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Western engagement required to stem rise of Muslim extremists

By Will Hutton  /  The Observer

The intensity and scale of Muslim extremist terrorism is getting worse.

It was only in June that we were horrified by 38 dead in a beach hotel in Sousse, Tunisia. Now the black box from the downed Russian tourist jet, with its reported recording of an explosion, seems to confirm the findings of British and US intelligence — that a terrorist bomb destroyed the airplane 23 minutes after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport.

It is part of a litany of dreadful incidents. Recall the acid attacks on female tourists in Zanzibar or the terror that engulfed Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall. Yet the magnitude of this latest crime might suggest a tipping point.

Muslim extremist terrorism, with its horrifying images of beheaded hostages or indiscriminate killing everywhere from Nigeria to Syria, is no longer something sadly to shake your head over as the TV pictures speed by.

The mounting wave of violence, and the perpetrators’ barbaric indifference to the deaths of innocents, is beginning to change our mental map of the world.

Be careful as a Westerner where you go for that winter suntan or exotic diving trip. The wrong choice could cost you, if not your life, then a considerable amount of time and money. It is a mood of closure that, while understandable, has dangerous ramifications.

Yet, the facts speak. There is a lengthening list of destinations to which Western governments advise us not to travel. Flights to Libya, Somalia, Iraq, Crimea and eastern Ukraine, among other nations, are prohibited by the US, while there are restrictions to Mali, South Sudan, Kenya, Congo, Iran and Afghanistan. Now add Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh to the list.

A growing and vast arc of the world’s territory from North Africa through the Middle East to Iran and Afghanistan is becoming off-limits — you travel there at your peril.

It might be true that the probability of being a victim of terrorism is low and that the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of Muslims living in these nations are as horrified by the capture of their religion by crazed zealots as those in the West are, but who would voluntarily now vacation in Tunisia, Sharm el-Sheikh or Zanzibar — or even spend time in the Middle East if it could be avoided?

There is a progressive erosion of trust. Airport security is one obvious flash point.

In nations where the rule of law is insecure, transparency minimal and democratic accountability non-existent, can a Western traveler be confident that the security checks are not compromised?

Equally, you could be forgiven for asking whether you can trust the apparently friendly tour guide, beach attendant or restaurateur. Any one of them could be tempted by the vast ransom money offered by groups such as the Islamic State for Western hostages.

Nor is it just Western tourists beginning to vote with their feet. The inhabitants of the worst affected nations are fleeing the mayhem, inducing the greatest humanitarian challenge in Europe since World War II.

Herein is the risk. The tourists’ instinct simply to stay clear, compounded by the mind-boggling scale of the refugee crisis, is closing down the options of Western governments. The causes of the terrorism seem so intractable that to engage with the issue is to invite defeat and so inflict political damage on those who try.

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