In the Harry Potter novels the villain is known as Lord Voldemort. He is in many ways a terrorist. He is ideologically driven (he wants to take over the wizarding world and force everyone to conform to his way of doing things) and he uses violence to achieve his goals. He recruits followers and tortures those who won’t bow to him. In effect, what he is and what he does and how he does it bear a lot of resemblance to the Zeitgeist and tactics of Islamic State.
We see in the fifth novel, The Order of the Phoenix, that Harry Potter is branded a liar for his claims that Voldemort is back (recall that he fought the evil wizard at the end of the fourth novel) and is ostracised and even mistreated for his “stories” (especially by everybody’s worst nightmare of a teacher – Dolores Umbridge). The Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, adamantly maintains repeatedly “he’s not back!’. The minister has to eat crow of course at the end of the book when he sees with his own eyes that Voldemort has indeed returned and is bent on vengeance.
Why am I belabouring this point in a terrorism blog? A few recent events have reminded me that we have no shortage of Minister Fudges in our midst. Whether a sign of naivete or unwarranted optimism, senior officials have made claims about the reality of terrorism in their countries that are not consistent with the facts at hand.
Case #1 – Bangladesh. That South Asian country has been afflicted with a series of terrorist attacks on a variety of targets (secularists, gays, Hindus, Westerners) for some time now and it is becoming increasingly clear that IS has a presence in Bangladesh. The group has even issued a video from Bangladesh vowing more attacks. And the government’s reaction: IS is not in Bangladesh and the video is a “conspiracy” In this way the Bangladeshi Home Minister is channeling his best Minister Fudge.
Case #2 – Nigeria. Late last year President Buhari announced that Nigeria’s terrorist scourge, Boko Haram, would be defeated by Christmas. Events have proven otherwise. And now a senior military commander has stated that Boko Haram is on the “verge of final defeat” In addition, Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, declared dead several times, has resurfaced in a video. Still, Boko Haram continues to terrorise northern Nigeria.
To these current events we could add President Bush’s Mission Accomplished in 2003 and countless assessments that one or more of Al Qaeda, IS, the Taliban, Abu Sayyaf and many others have been crushed. We hear that the IS Caliphate is shrinking and that it is only a matter of time before victory is ours. The war on terror is going well apparently.
Except that the war has no end, at least not if we continue to see this struggle as a war. We must think of other ways of dealing with this issue and we really need to be realistic about what is happening and what progress we are making. And our leaders need to be honest with us – without raising fear and panic (are you listening Donald Trump?).
If we stick with the Harry Potter theme you might point out that Lord Voldemort was eventually killed and all ended well. Yes, there are analogies: bin Laden, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Anwar al-Awlaki and others have been eliminated. And yet terrorism remains.
Sometimes life imitates art. Not here I think. I fear that the future of terrorism will bear little resemblance to a Harry Potter film. Terrorism is here to stay and we need to learn to live with it. This is not defeatism and I am not advocating lying down passively. There is much we can do and having a realist view is not a hindrance.