A patchwork of measures won't do

A CALL for the West to form an alliance with Muslim states to fight radicalism and terrorism is strategically sound and timely, amid the high-profile carnage of Islamic extremists from Europe to Africa to Asia over the past two months. European Union foreign affairs minister Federica Mogherini noted that "terrorism and terrorist attacks are targeting most of all Muslims in the world". References to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taleban in Pakistan, however, provide just one dimension of the harm being wreaked on Muslim societies elsewhere too.

That also comes in the form of the rising influence of Salafi doctrines, partly due to the Middle East-trained ulamas in a position to shape religious affairs policy in government agencies. Nanyang Technological University Professor Barry Desker believes this lies at the root of the "Allah" usage controversy in Malaysia and the blocking of permits for new churches and temples in certain areas in Indonesia. "The greater risk is that governments in these Muslim-majority states may attempt to outflank Islamist opposition by adopting their programmes, undermining the region's reputation for religious moderation," he rightly noted.

The recent Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris and the Sydney cafe siege have caused tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in the communities where they had occurred and beyond. The French incident, for instance, has led to "anti-Islamisation" marches in Germany. For many countries, there is also the ever-present risk of harm posed by trained extremists returning to their homeland from foreign battlegrounds.

There is every reason, therefore, for all to work together to curb terrorism, an effort promoted by the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum which is chaired by the United States and Turkey and brings together 30 states and groupings such as Algeria, Australia, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the European Union and Asean.

The larger and far more difficult task is to cut off the head of terrorism. Former Pakistan ambassador to the United Nations Munir Akram sees Islamist extremism arising from the "failure of Muslim states, and other states with Muslim populations, to deliver jobs, justice and dignity to a growing army of young people". Youth facing discrimination, marginalisation and isolation "have always provided ready recruits for radical and rebellious movements", as he observed. People must see that stepping up to address such issues is far more productive than descending into Islamophobia. Such a mindset change calls for concerted effort across all borders and should involve Muslims and non-Muslims alike.