Ofer Bavly

Massacre in Orlando — What the West Can Do

When news of the horrible massacre at the Pulse club in Orlando reached Israel, many here felt an initial reaction of deep sympathy for the American people and a sense of shared fate. We know all too well the feeling of a people targeted so violently in an indiscriminate attack that combines fierce hatred with cold ruthlessness. Only last week, a Tel Aviv café was the scene of yet another terrorist attack by Palestinian gunmen, claiming the lives of four innocent diners. A thousand Israelis lost their lives in the second “intifada” (2000-2004), all killed in senseless, brutal suicide bombings and other attacks. For us, the sights and the sounds of the Orlando massacre were, sadly, all too familiar.

And there was an added element in this case: the fact that Americans were being killed was especially painful for Israelis who feel very close to the people of the United States. There is a vast consensus among Israelis that views America as more than a friend, more than an ally, even more than a partner. When America suffers, Israelis feel the pain in a very real manner – it is the closest thing to an attack inside Israel without actually happening here.

As details from the massacre emerge, it now seems that there is an additional, similarly familiar angle to this event: the Islamist angle. While Israel has been combating radical Islam in its various shapes and forms for decades, Europe and America have been targeted in a serious manner only since 9/11. Europe has suffered the brunt of radical Islam more often and more frequently than the US, but it is clear that the phenomenon of radical Islam hitting “soft” targets of civilian populations is spreading and will not soon be contained. As a global phenomenon, it needs to be addressed globally. When Israel was the sole target of radical Islam, we were told that its roots lay in the occupation of the West Bank, in the issue of the settlements and in Israeli policy. Israeli leaders tried in vain to convince the world that radical Islam is not an Israel issue but a global action against democracy and modernity. Today, that point is clear to almost anyone. Standing up to radical Islam must be a priority for global cooperation, as important if not more so than global warming or even the global fight against drug smuggling. It is arguably more imminent as a threat.

As democracies seek ways to protect themselves, their citizens and their values against the forces of radicalism that would do away with democratic systems, they must define the problem in clear terms and without political correctness tainting their vocabulary. Radical Islam is a phenomenon which cannot be halted without first being defined.

Once the phenomenon is defined, democracies must come to the realization that they are engaged in a war over nothing less than their values and their way of life. The fight for self-preservation of democracy and civil rights must, unfortunately, carry a price. That price is in forfeiting some of the most cherished features of democracy itself. Much like the story of the fox who chewed out its own leg to escape a hunter’s trap, and much like a surgeon sometimes needs to amputate a limb to save the rest of the body, so democracies must take measures that may be decidedly anti-democratic in order to preserve democracy itself. That may include deeper monitoring of radical groups inside their own borders, including wiretapping and surveillance, something that most European governments are still reluctant to do.

The fact that ISIS is training Europeans and Americans, indoctrinating them and radicalizing them and then sending them back home, means that there are radical elements ready to carry out more terror attacks on European and US soil. They must be halted with less regard to their civil or constitutional rights, which may need to be forfeited and sacrificed for the benefit of their own society. Having said that, care must be taken not to target wholesale communities, Islamic or other, because the vast majority of their members are not violent and are not a threat to democracy. Terror attacks must not be used by politicians and opinion-makers in order to encourage feelings of xenophobia and prejudice.

Finally, democracies must come to terms with the fact that Islamic terrorism is not rooted in poverty or in misery. It is politically motivated by leaders who are trying to harness the terrible power of religion in order to advance their very earthly goals of attaining power, influence and domination. They are making use of the fact that pious Moslems are willing to perform acts of violence if they are led to believe that their religion requires it. Combating such a phenomenon requires a two-pronged approach: it must be fought both top-down and bottom-up.

Radical leaders such as ISIS’ Al-Baghdadi need to be eliminated, with force if necessary (as was Osama Bin Laden). The sponsors of radical Islam, including the Iranian regime (an enemy of ISIS) must similarly be stopped from inculcating their masses with radical ideas and exporting their brand of radicalism across the Arab and Muslim world. But in order to be effective, the fight against radical Islam must also be waged at the grassroots level, with the people. Education is key, as well as a campaign that would make use of social media – the single most read source of information among young Moslems from Indonesia to Iran and to Algeria. A targeted campaign of positive information using Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter must be put together with international collaboration in order to counter-act the brainwashing and indoctrination taking place in Moslem societies the world over. Young people must be shown the futility of the messages that they are being dictated, not in order to convince them of the superiority of democracy (probably a futile effort) but in order to make them doubt – and ultimately reject – radicalism as a way of life.

Radicalism can be – and needs to be – combated. But it requires more than just showing sympathy towards its victims. It requires a pro-active, international approach that defines radical Islam as a threat and then sets out a clear program for halting it at leadership level as well as at grassroots level.

About the Author
Ofer Bavly was a diplomat with the Israeli Foreign Service from 1991 to 2014, serving in Israel's Embassies in Madrid and Rome. He was Policy Advisor to two Foreign Ministers and was Israel's Consul General to Florida and Puerto Rico. He currently heads the Israel office of the Jewish Federation of Chicago / Jewish United Fund