Despite global military efforts to thwart extremist groups worldwide, numerous organizations have continued to gain traction by brutally competing for more attention. Al-Shabab’s recent attack in northern Kenya is another reminder that radical terrorism cannot be stopped by military interventions alone.
In response to this attack, which claimed nearly 150 innocent lives at Garissa University College, the Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to respond to the attack “in the severest way possible.” However, waging retaliatory wars may not be the best way to cripple radical terrorist organizations. The Western world has generalized these organizations simply as different branches of radical Islam, given their similarities in policies and tactics, but they emerged from very distinct situations of turmoil. Al-Shabab, for instance, originates from the prolonged chaos of state collapse in Somalia, and Boko Haram has its roots in chronic poverty in northern Nigeria. As long as these regional problems remain, even if Al-Shabab or Boko-Haram is defeated, other radical groups will continue to emerge.
Nonetheless, military intervention seems necessary in the face of crimes against humanity committed by extremist organizations. When the videos of ISIS militants destroying the priceless artifacts in Mosul Museum in Iraq appeared in March, the United Nations Security Council strongly denounced the inaction of global powers. It is indeed the responsibility of world leaders to take more active roles in bringing any individual or organization committing such heinous acts to justice. However, they should be cautious when using force as a reactionary policy because it often exacerbates the existing political situation without tackling the systemic issues. The military interventions of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq failed to enforce peace and stability in the region, creating instead a political void that gradually disintegrated into disorder. The sectarian conflicts in northern Iraq in the wake of this turmoil gave rise to ISIS.
Precedents have shown that without addressing the root cause of extremism, eradicating an existing extremist group by force will merely lead to a rise of another. Finding the true causes of extremism is challenging, but a 2013 study by Vision of Humanity, a think tank for global peace, found hostility between identity groups, high levels of political instability and weak government authority as three common factors within countries of higher levels
Military interventions may thwart imminent threats, but to put an end to the persistence of extremist ideology and organizations, world leaders must find a way to help establish the political stability, intergroup cohesion and legitimacy of the state in their neighboring nations.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 7 print edition. Email Kenny Kyunghoon Lee at [email protected]