We feel Europe’s fear — and need its help

Isis is a threat but so is the general chaos and collapse in the Arab world, says Jamal Khashoggi
Europeans are scared, and so are we in Saudi Arabia, for the jihadis of Isis also threaten us.
The attackers in Paris claimed to be targeting civilians in revenge for the actions of the French government. Saudi Arabia has also taken part in air strikes against the group and there can be little doubt that Isis could target civilians in Jeddah, too.
Yet in addition to Isis, Arabs are menaced by a more pervasive threat — the state of chaos and collapse that is creeping across our world — which Europeans do not see as easily. Our victims are greater in number and their murderers are more diverse. Along with Isis, the killers include the oppressive regimes that Isis says it is out to avenge.
This broader chaos is connected to the threat we confront jointly with the west; indeed, it is what has given rise to it. The seemingly endless list of Arab victims stirs a fear of the future, which jihadis have learnt to exploit. Under the banner of revenge, they recruit the people who torment us all.
Consider what lies behind these fears. There is the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has been killing its own people for four years. There is the Shia militia that is pouring into Syria to fight the Sunni majority’s revolt against oppressive minority rule. There is the prospect that Iraq might once again be governed by a sectarian government backed by a merciless militia.

There are the tens of thousands of people detained in prisons across the Arab world, the shooting of peaceful demonstrators, the broader abolition of civil rights.

Isis is the result of ignoring the hopes of the Arab people whose desire for democracy, justice and decent living conditions gave rise to the Arab spring four years ago.

This is something that must be understood if the present danger is to be tackled. Europeans still focus on Isis as the enemy. That is Russia’s interpretation of the crisis, too, and many Europeans wish the US and Russia would unite to face the jihadis. Their analysis suggests a simple remedy — fight Isis — rather than a more comprehensive approach that would deal with chaos across the Middle East, tackling the cause that has unleashed the militants.
If Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the “Islamic State”, were killed in an air strike, many would rejoice in France and beyond. But the movement is bigger than Mr Baghdadi. Isis has a large stock of men who have memorised their Koranic verses and are ready to climb the podium and declare themselves caliph.

Isis does not want democracy or freedom. But, to many whose hopes have withered in the past four years — whose present options are to live under tyranny or risk life and limb trying to reach Europe by boat — this abhorrent movement is becoming an attractive alternative. It does not deserve to.

The modern Middle East was created by Europe a century ago. It is time for Europe to come back and to join forces with local powers to fix it. We in the Middle East do not yearn for a return to imperialist times but we need to work together to end the refugee crisis and defeat the terrorists.

What is necessary is for Europe to form an alliance with the capable countries in the region to halt Isis and to halt the chaos that is breeding more jihadi fighters. No country — Saudi Arabia, France or America — wants to send its army to fight in Syria. That leaves us with Syrians from various rebel groups. An army of Muslims is armed and willing to join the fight but they need support, organisation and air power. This is a way out of the current crisis that has been overlooked.

Two local powers, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, are capable and willing to intervene but, like Europe, they are waiting for America to lead. The three should stop hesitating and instead form an alliance, and there is a strong chance they could then bring the US with them. They should start by building a democratic Syria whose fighters will be the power needed to destroy Isis.

Riyadh has called for a secular, democratic Syria. That seems strange to some, since Saudi Arabia is neither democratic nor secular. The kingdom’s rulers are realists, however. They know that Syria, a pluralistic country whose people have revolted for freedom, will not accept the Salafist Islamic government that some groups are calling for there. Nor will the people accept the continuation of oppressive minority rule.

Europeans must realise that our real enemy is not Isis; it is the state of chaos and breakdown in the Levant. Nothing they have yet proposed stands the slightest chance of ending it.

The writer is general manager, Al-Arab news cannel

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