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The Straits Times says

At sixes and sevens over war on terror

France and Russia have intensified their air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the militant group claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian airliner in the Sinai desert and the terror attacks in Paris that killed more than 350 people in total. British Prime Minister David Cameron believes there is "a compelling case" for his nation to join the coalition led by the United States and France in attacking ISIS by air in Syria. However, the case for declaring war on ISIS is anything but compelling to a good many. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pointed out that among leaders at the Group of 20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summits this month, "there is no support currently for a large US-led Western army to attempt to conquer and hold (ISIS-controlled) areas".

Those urging caution point to the shift in ISIS strategy as it perpetrates violence far beyond its area of influence. This is posited as retaliation against the attacks on the group's positions in Syria. "The harder the strike, the greater the terrorism," according to a Middle East expert from China. The sense among the Chinese is that the current Western approach to Syria and the Middle East is not working. In America, there are many who believe "the wrong kind of action can take the form of repression", as a security analyst noted. While military action can bring a nation to its knees, it is less effective in bringing an end to an ideology. Extremism which has no borders or ties to a place or a people requires more nuanced and multi-faceted approaches, it's argued.

There is no doubt that a comprehensive strategy is needed for the world to effectively tackle this complex threat. As terror straddles the globe, concerted efforts are required by all nations to track down and dismantle terror networks, as well as check terror financing. But just taking an "own time, own target" approach won't do. There is also a need to militarily tackle a potent force like ISIS which has control of considerable oil resources. It can easily metastasise out of control if nations shy away from cutting out the malignancy.

As importantly, the world must recognise that the cancer can reappear if the root causes of terrorism are not destroyed at source. For example, the attraction of extremist ideology among disaffected young people cannot be ignored. They will remain vulnerable if opportunities to do well in life are linked to ethnicity, religion and creed.

Muslim leaders of nations with large Muslim populations play into the hands of extremists when they veer away from moderate Islam for short-term political gains. In so doing, they indirectly lend credibility to hardline views held by ideologues who do not recognise the legitimacy of the secular state. Those in power must wise up to this and be prepared to wage war against terrorism vigorously.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2015, with the headline 'At sixes and sevens over war on terror'. Print Edition | Subscribe