We can win the global war on terrorism
President Donald Trump’s top security advisers, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and (until recently) Michael Flynn, get one thing right: We are in a global war against terrorism.
But all three get one thing wrong: They think the so-called Islamic State (which is neither Islamic nor a State) is not fundamentally un-Islamic, and so they conclude we are at war with Islam. That kind of thinking is how to lose the war.
The distinction is this: True Islam, as defined by the actual teaching of the Prophet Mohammad in the Holy Quran, forbids the killing of innocents, forbids killing by fire, forbids attacking in a marketplace and forbids taking of hostages for ransom (practically a national sport in some countries). The Quran does, however, permit the taking of prisoners in wartime, but requires they be taken safely to the rear, fed and treated well, and if feasible used for negotiated prisoner exchange.
Does ISIS and other terrorist organizations obey these provisions of the Holy Quran? Absolutely not. What can be done about it?
While serving as director of a support program in the Eastern Mediterranean region and as general legal counsel of the World Health Organization, I became involved in helping to negotiate the safe release of hostages taken for ransom in the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s. The formula for success was use the “carrot and stick” — that is, withhold needed assistance on the one hand, and draw on the authority of the true Islamic Quran, representing the word of the Prophet and the will of God, on the other. How was this done?
In one example, six Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) were kidnapped by a renegade Somali tribe and taken out into the remote Ogaden desert between Ethiopia and and Somalia. Working with MSF personnel in many perilous locations, we in WHO decided to go to bat for them. The Ethiopians said they could not control a renegade Somali group in that disputed territory. So, one of our top medical doctors in Egypt, Dr. Ali Khogali, and I flew to Mogadishu and met with leaders to persuade them to form a team and track the hostages and hostage-takers. This search was successful, using the “carrot and stick” method. This meant temporarily withholding of several million dollars worth of health support services and water treatment and sanitation facilities. And it meant citing the Quran’s outlawing of hostage-taking for ransom. All the MSF personnel were safely released without paying a single dollar of ransom or shedding a single drop of blood.
Not long after that, 12 International Red Cross workers were taken hostage by warlords in the mountains of Afghanistan and held for ransom. Again, WHO intervened. I met with leaders of three different competing groups: First, the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, then the Mujahideen or “Freedom Fighters,” and finally a small group who called themselves Talib, meaning “scholars and teachers of the Holy Quran" (today better known as the Taliban). It helped that our local WHO office contacts informed me confidentially that the minister of health in Kabul and the leading medical man in the opposition Mujahideen had come from the same Afghan village, and had even been roommates together at medical school. At first each denied this, but eventually admitted it. I then asked each whether he would trust the other, his ex-roommate, with his life, and each swore he would. That made reaching an agreement easier.
We pointed out that WHO had just received $50 million from the World Bank to immunize every child in Afghanistan and the means for self-reliant child immunization services in the future. But we said we cannot do this if ambulances are blown up, and if WHO, UNICEF, IRC and local Afghan nurses, doctors and other personnel are constantly being shot at and taken hostage for ransom. We said, “You are in a state of civil war, but answer us this: Do you love your children?”
The “carrot and stick” method worked in Afghanistan as it had in Somalia. The hostage-takers, who professed to be good Muslims and believers in Islam (but apparently had not read the Quran on the matter of hostage-taking) realized they were in violation of their own fundamental belief system.
We made use of the fact that the Quran calls for social justice, the fair treatment of all, including due process of law, and the education of women. By contrast, it is parts of the various so-called Hadiths and Sharia Law, written hundreds of years after the Quran and the death of Mohammad in 632 A.D., and largely in contradiction to the Quran (e.g. the denial of education and the stoning of women), that falsely inspires ignorance, lunacy and terrorism, and calls for ISIS-style jihadi violence against the rest of the world.
If the Quran forbids “killing by fire,” then how can it be justified to put a downed Jordanian pilot in a steel cage and burn him to death? If an “attack in the market place” is forbidden, then how can an ISIS attack on the Christmas market in Berlin be justified?
ISIS is not Islam; it is the antithesis of Islam. They violate basic human rights as well as the teachings of most religions, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
If we don’t recognize and exploit the fundamental divide within the Muslim world, and if we don’t work together for basic human rights and morality, then even if we win all the pitched battles, using more and more “boots, bombs and drones,” we still will lose the global war against terrorism.
Yes, we also need to accelerate the public relations war, especially in cyberspace, to “win hearts and minds.” But above all, we must all ally ourselves with true Islam, a religion of peace, justice and submission to the will of God. We must enlist Islam to defeat evil. This is a war we can win, but only by understanding and bringing all to bear on the truth.
Anthony Piel is former director of program support for the Eastern Mediterranean region and general legal counsel of the World Health Organization. He now is retired and living in Stuart.