Patrick J. Kennedy: Our fight is with Islamic extremism
By Patrick J. Kennedy
Posted Apr. 14, 2016 at 2:01 AM
In the wake of the Brussels bombings, it’s easy to focus our fears and firearms on the group with which the perpetrators identify. But the fight against Islamic extremism and global terrorism did not begin with the Islamic State. And it will not end when its strongholds are destroyed.
There is no question that ISIS is our immediate enemy. All available law enforcement, diplomatic, and military resources should be directed to ensure that ISIS is destroyed. But plunging ahead with tunnel vision will not keep us safe.
In order to effectively rout the threat of terrorism, we must confront extremism and religious fundamentalism in its numerous manifestations and localities. It will take a wide lens and nuanced strategy to end the kind of suffering that Americans endured on 9/11, Belgians experienced just last week, and the ordinary, non-radicalized people of the Middle East have lived with for many years. And when constructing this strategy, let us not forget that there are myriad extremist groups and terrorist states that are responsible for the spread of Islamic fundamentalism as an ideology.
A linchpin of this cycle of terror is Iran, the world’s most ardent state sponsor of extremist fundamentalism.
Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain — Western nations that have experienced terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists — are our natural and unquestioned partners in this fight. But we need more allies. In fact, we need all of the allies we can get. There are many other state and non-state actors that are eager to help us because they have been victimized by the same sort of extremism, and we must not miss out on opportunities to build those relationships.
One of our best hopes for defeating extremism in Tehran rests with the exiled Iranian resistance group, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which has for decades advocated a tolerant, democratic and vehemently anti-fundamentalist version of Islam.
The NCRI was subject to the same militant threats as were our own servicemen and women in Iraq, as thousands of its adherents reside in a prison-like facility called Camp Liberty. In fact, American forces worked closely with the group on the ground. But when it came time for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq in 2009, those expatriates were left behind. They have continued to suffer regular attacks, as was highlighted in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing chaired by Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., last year.
That the American mission in the region changed over time is understandable. But our support for democratic and anti-extremist organizations such as the NCRI never should have faltered. And this would not have been the case if Washington had been focused on confronting all forms of Islamic extremism at the root rather than swinging at its disparate offshoots.
In changing the mission to suit the demands of immediate threats, we lost sight of the scope of this existential threat. We will not be safe from extremism until the heart of fundamentalism stops beating in Iran.
Instead of supporting the Iranian people who could defeat the ruling theocracy, the United States has chosen to engage with the regime. Well-organized alternatives like the NCRI, which enjoys impressive support among Iranians at home and abroad, have once again been left behind.
These choices will only make it more difficult to achieve ultimate victory against Islamic extremism. Our current policy gives would-be allies the impression that the United States doesn’t care about moderate Muslims or supporting the people who are actually committed to making the world a safer and more peaceful place.
The right policy would focus on Islamic extremism in all of its forms, not just one manifestation. This comprehensive approach would put us in the best position to prevent another Brussels or Paris, as well as the smaller-scale attacks and repression that have been visited upon the peoples of Iran, Iraq, Syria and others, for generations.
Patrick J. Kennedy is a former Democratic U.S. representative for Rhode Island.