The one thing that won’t stop terror is more war

Provoking retaliation is a key part of the jihadists' strategy, writes Alex Nunns – we need a different approach

November 14, 2015
4 min read


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent. He tweets at @alexnunns

Call me selfish, but I don’t want to get killed in a terrorist attack at a gig. So perhaps we could try something different from the War on Terror spiral? After all, it’s not going so well. In 2001, when 9/11 happened, the jihadis were a small group of Saudi ex-pats in the mountains of Afghanistan. Now jihadi groups control more than half of Syria, a third of Iraq, and large swathes of Libya. They’re fighting in Yemen, in Afghanistan (still), in Pakistan, in Somalia and in Nigeria. They’ve attacked in Paris (twice), Sousse, Sharm el-Sheikh, Beirut and other places just this year. If the West has been trying to stop jihadis since 9/11, it hasn’t worked.

But it’s much worse than that. The aim of jihadis is to shock Muslims in order to – as they see it – wake them up and get them to join their struggle. Bin Laden was explicit about it. One tactic to do that is to provoke an over-reaction from the West – and the West has been willing to oblige.

Invading and occupying Iraq is the most obvious example, which led directly to the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2007. But terrorist attacks also provoke increased government surveillance on all of us, the targeting of Muslim communities and social division.

The jihadis’ great allies are the politicians and journalists who shut down any attempt to understand this. The airwaves are full today of facile people saying that what happened in Paris is an attack on Western freedom and culture, so there’s no point in thinking any more deeply about it. But on Thursday ISIS killed 43 people in Beirut with two suicide bombs – because they hate Arab culture?

Pulling up the roots

I expect we’ll carry on acting out the cycle that has worked so successfully for the jihadis since 2001. But personally, out of a sense of self-interest, I’d prefer it if we tried something different. Like: tackling the problem of Saudi Arabia, where the jihadi ideology comes from, and which prefers ISIS and the other jihadi groups to succeed if it means Shia Muslims can’t live.

Like: withdrawing support from Turkey while its intelligence agencies help the Nusra Front and turn a blind eye to ISIS, all because it hates the Kurds more than the jihadis and bombs them with NATO’s blessing. Like: trying to refrain from destroying countries like Iraq and Libya, both now overrun by jihadis.

Like: actually attempting to end the war in Syria, which is complicated and difficult, but Britain could help by at least not blocking negotiations as it did in the Geneva I and II peace conferences in 2012 and 2014. The British, French and American governments thought for a few years that it was in their strategic interests for the Syrian war to go on, weakening Syria’s ally Iran and knocking out an enemy of Israel. But it wasn’t in the interests of us, the people, and certainly not of the thousands of Syrians who have died as a result.

Like: helping refugees who are fleeing from horror, mostly because we should obviously help people in need but also because it’s not wise to have millions of people languishing in squalid camps building up resentment.

I know people’s first impulse when a terrorist attack happens is to want to hit back in a direct way, to punish the people who did it and deter others. But that impulse has been tested to destruction since 2001. Jihadis bank on it, it’s a central part of their strategy. I don’t know why we always go along with it. It’d be better to do things that might work instead.


Alex NunnsAlex Nunns is Red Pepper's political correspondent. He tweets at @alexnunns


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue


913