From Lahore to Brussels to Baghdad: A Plan to Fight Back

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

What is starting to hurt me almost more than the continuous terrorist attacks—which make it seem as though the whole world is on fire—is seeing how we are becoming numb to these attacks. When bombs went off at the Brussels airport and in the subway in March, it was the first time I heard a commentator say the equivalent of “Well, we expected that.” People have come to view attacks in Baghdad as almost a daily event (maybe dropping back to weekly if the terrorists are on vacation). The reaction to the Easter Sunday bombing of a playground in Lahore, Pakistan, was similar. It seems to me that the media have a template that they use whenever they report a terrorist attack. They just change the name of the city and the date, and they think they are saying something new.

But between those who say these attacks have nothing to do with Islam (and who paint all those who have any criticism of the religion as motivated by racism or bigotry toward minorities) and those who say that we should ban all Muslims from coming in and put the ones who are already in the West under surveillance, there are a few signs of hope that there are actually some people capable of holding nuanced opinions. When such a one appears in the media, I share his/her interview hundreds of times on social media. It helps to keep alive the hope that one day we will be able to put these dark, sad days behind us.

Losing hope is too costly, and there is the unfortunate fact that if I give up—I, who now lives in the West, speaks more than one language, and am fairly well read, educated, and connected—that will send a message to the hundreds of thousands of people who are less privileged than I am and who are also under constant attacks and death threats that they may as well give up too. But I hope they are much braver than I am and will not have any doubts as to whether they can make a change in their lifetimes.

So with renewed determination, allow me to propose some ideas for reducing terrorist attacks in the East and the West—and hopefully eliminate them in the future (Inshalla—“God willing”).

To begin, a discussion of some commonly used terms may be helpful. I would like to start with “the Muslim world.” This is made up of people who subscribe to an identity as well as a religion called Islam. It could include a person born and raised in Saudi Arabia, or it could be a recent convert from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

People in the Muslim world can be placed on a spectrum. Let’s call it the “Muslim ideological spectrum,” with 0 being a cultural Muslim or an ex-Muslim who may keep some part of the Muslim faith or tradition but doesn’t necessarily believe in the supernatural elements of the religion itself and with 10 being a literalist. The ideological spectrum spans from ultraconservatives and conservatives to the liberal religious, the nonreligious, and atheists.

Then there is the “political spectrum.” There are Muslims as well as Christians who believe in theocracy. The Arabic name for theocratic law is Sharia. There are multiple ways of interpreting Sharia, but even the most moderate interpretation is radical by comparison to the principles of liberal secular democracy.

The methodology of establishing a theocracy differs within Islam. “Jihad­ists” believe that violence, including killing civilians and instilling terror, is a means to an end. They include followers of ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and others. Islamists also believe in enforcing Sharia law, but they work at the grassroots level to try to convince people that Sharia and Islam are the solution to society’s ills. This is the very motto of the Muslim Brotherhood (“Islam Is the Solution”).

The “Islamists” play with language to convince liberals that they are liberal and conservatives that they are conservative. One example of this is the American Islamists who say that they support same-sex marriage—because Muslims are a minority and they have to stand with other minorities. So they are able to convince liberals that they are on their side. But they tell conservative Muslims that if they became the majority or if one is a Muslim who lives in a Muslim majority country, it is totally fine to discriminate against the LGBT community. Islamists can have great meetings with President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders … as well as with theocrats in the Middle East.

Islamists dislike Republicans not because many of them are theocratic but because they are the other kind of theocratic—Christian theocratic. The Islamists joined with the liberals because they share the same enemy—Christian theocracy—not the same goals.

Yet another group is “secular Muslims,” who support secularism in the Middle East and globally. They are a minority but growing, to some extent in reaction to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Especially young Muslims are observing conditions in their countries and are asking, “Is this really Sharia? I don’t want anything to do with it.”

We can reduce and eventually eliminate terrorist attacks by doing the following:

  • Make a distinction between Islamists and jihadists, who have a theocratic, political agenda, and liberal Muslims who just want to go about their daily business and feed their families. Support secular Muslims—true secular Muslims, not the ones with double faces who only advocate for secularism in the West to protect their own communities.
  • Empower women. Christopher Hitchens advocated for “the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
  • Support liberals in the Middle East, including atheists, in their endeavors with funding and updated technology.
  • Combat the ideology of Islamism and Jihadism through social media because those followers use it heavily. Don’t ignore mainstream media, but put more focus on social media.
  • Scrutinize business and political relationships with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran. Those countries are state sponsors of Islamist, Wahabi, and Salafist ideologies as well as supporters of Wilayat al-Faqih and the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • Expose and shame Islamist apologists. Try combating them with humor.
  • Never lose hope and succumb to the fearmongering of people such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

If we remain consistent in our messaging and create a balance between Far Right bigotry and Far Left apologetics for terrorism, then we can find sensible solutions for the most difficult issue facing us today.

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is an Iraqi-born human rights activist and president of the newly launched organization Ideas Beyond Borders (IBB). The mission of IBB is to promote the free exchange of ideas and defend human rights to counter extremist naratives and authoritarian institutions.


“What is starting to hurt me almost more than the continuous terrorist attacks—which make it seem as though the whole world is on fire—is seeing how we are becoming numb to these attacks.

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