Rising Populism Amidst Terrorism

The dark specter of evil (the begetter of war) smiles upon this earth, and humanity, at least once every decade, year, month or day. The world has never known a respite. In the 20th Century though, the carnage and destruction perpetrated by World War II convinced world leaders that war was no longer a sane alternative to solving differences.

At that rate of modern military technological advancement, and the development of the hydrogen bomb, it was clear that humanity cannot possibly survive another global war. Peace treaties were signed, multilateral and non-profit organizations were set up and foreign policies were reformed. But war never went away, because differences never disappeared and mankind never really learned to resolve disputes without bloodshed.

Large-scale conflicts between major nations were never waged (at least not yet), but a different type of conflict still threatened citizens.

Most of these conflicts came in the form of revolutions. Some of them might have been justified, but a majority, were not. Thankfully, good won; communism collapsed, under its own weight, because of its rigid, and stunted principles. What triumphed was not just capitalism, but liberal democracy.

In the greatest experiment of the 20th Century, mankind examined what type of government was best suited for rational beings: imperialism, majority rule or liberalism?

We know the answer now. But liberal democracy, and all the nations that tried to follow this brand of governance, never ran out of enemies. Increasingly, as most of the world’s governments became more stable, the antagonists, the warmongers, the ochlocracies, became more and more faceless. War was waged not against an entire nation but against civilians. It is not declared anymore, so much as sneaked upon.

This new type of war is called terrorism, and it is the most cowardly of its kind. Two years ago, Ethiopian migrants were in Libya, at whose borders they were hoping to be ferried across the Mediterranean into Europe on a small-sized boat. The journey was dangerous as it was. And it was about to get even more treacherous for this particular group.

When I first heard of the news that several Ethiopians had been killed – beheaded no less – by the Islamic State (IS), I did not fully believe it. It was so hard to comprehend. It is not always that terrorism knocks on the doors of this nation. I had to see the shocking – and perversely well-produced – footages to believe it.

On the days that followed, I was confronted with certain truths. I was able to understand firsthand, for the first time, the feeling of fear and paranoia such an isolated, but stark and brutal incident could send across a nation.

A close friend, in a moment of misguided passion, would confide in me that if he had been a follower of the religion on its name such atrocities were committed, he would somehow feel guilty in response to the pointless attack that victimized those migrants. And I knew right away what the purpose of terrorism was.

What is it that terrorists want? What is the end game, really? Kill all Americans and Europeans one car bomb at a time? Make a point, by killing innocent women and children? That further angers the adversary and disillusions supporters. Do they even have plans?

Contrary to popular belief, the aim of terrorism is not to defeat the enemy, but have the enemy defeat itself by planting doubt within its subjects.

What a terrorist wants is to persuade the world that anyone that does not think like him, or her, is an adversary. When IS killed those Ethiopians, what they wanted to do was plant a seed of distrust between people who follow different faiths in their country. The goal of terrorism is terror. This is the end game. And in some places, it is working.

Ethiopia is not a terrorist prone country; the effects have been contained. Other countries are not so lucky, especially western nations. The people of Europe and U.S. are largely losing the ideological war. Here and there, populists are popping up. They are threatening liberal democracy, offering majority rule instead. Their arguments are being sympathized with.

They are offering security, at the expense of democracy. The voters, who are getting more and more disturbed by the mounting number of terrorist attacks, seem to be giving up on the values they onece wanted the world to inherit. It is in the face of this that I say IS (or at least its ideology) is winning, and that terrorism is getting its way.

The wealthiest, mightiest, most militarily advanced nations of the world are scared of migrants, of people on boats or undocumented immigrants. They are losing hope of their democratic systems because it does not seem to protect every single one of their millions of citizens. A wedge is being driven between races and religions in societies. Jihadist organizations are not the only terrorists – there are nationalists, as there is the rising of far right political groups.

What makes them similar is that they all have narrow ideological mainframes, which is impossible to defeat with arms only. And nothing threatens the prospect of a liberal utopia than terrorism and, its snowball effect, populism. The only key to doing away with it is for the citizens of the world to be strong-willed, logical and farsighted. Arms, on the other hand, may prove inefficient in the face of such an impeccably shadowy adversary.


By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a regular contributor to Fortune. He could be reached at christian.tesfaye@yahoo.com.

Published on Feb 18,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 876]



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