Combating Terrorist Recruitment

CHICAGO – Can anything more be done to stop jobless, hopeless, rootless, and alienated young Muslim men, in the Islamic world and in the West, from embracing violent Islamism? Curbing the flow of recruits will not, of course, eradicate groups like the one calling itself the “Islamic State.” Nor will it ensure the prevention of atrocities such as November’s Friday the 13th massacres in Paris. But any long-term solution requires curtailing the ability of extremists to attract newcomers.

For the foreseeable future, hard measures will continue to be necessary: tough policing, intrusive intelligence gathering, effective border protection, and oppressive airport security. And sometimes, as well, outright military attack will be called for – particularly where the innocent are at immediate risk (as with the Yazidis in Iraq) and the targets are clear.

But violent jihadism is a complex problem that requires a similarly complex response. Because military force alone will always risk creating more new fighters than it kills, it is not softheaded to insist that we pay attention to the underlying causes of Islamist extremism, not just its surface manifestations.

In part, that means addressing the political grievances of the Arab and Islamic world, not least Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian land. This is not to appease the violent extremists, many of whom will not be moved in the slightest by such initiatives. The point is to change the atmosphere in the communities in which extremism ignites, denying it some of the oxygen it needs to spread.