Opinion | Terrorism has two faces

With chants like “The lives of whites are important!”, “They will not replace us!” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” several hundred nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus on August 11, 2017. File photo.

Moisés Naím @moisesnaim.

by Moses Naím

Before they were the jihadists and now they are the white supremacists. For years, Islamist terrorism was seen as one of the main threats, mainly to Europe and the US. Not anymore. Now the concerns are the coronavirus and the violence of white extremists.

White supremacist terrorism is very present and on the rise. According to Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, “the main threat we face is the groups that we call ‘violent extremists motivated by racial or ethnic factors’ and, specifically, we are concerned about those who advocate for the superiority of the white race.” The FBI has officially raised the threat arising from these groups, putting them at the same level of danger as the Islamic State. Wray also revealed that while last year the FBI investigated 850 cases of white supremacist terrorism, it now had 2,000 open cases. This terrorism is not just an American phenomenon. In recent years, their presence and violent actions have also increased in Europe and Oceania.

Of course, the diminished presence of jihadists in the news does not mean that the conditions that originate this violence have diminished. One indicator of the frustrations experienced by young Arabs is that about half of them have considered or are considering emigrating from their country. In some countries of the Arab world, the number of young people wanting to leave is overwhelming. It reaches 77% in Lebanon, 69% in Libya or 56% in Jordan.

41% of those surveyed believed that corruption is widespread in their country and 36% believe that there is corruption in the Government. This rejection of corruption is one of the factors that motivates the support that the wave of anti-government street protests has among the young people surveyed, which have become frequent in countries such as Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Iraq, among others. As in other parts of the world where the streets have become an important channel for political protests, in the Arab world these have been fueled by the use of social media. Five years ago, 25% of the young people surveyed reported that social media was their main source of news. Now that percentage has shot up to 79%.

The almost universal use of the internet among young people makes one of the survey’s findings very surprising. When asked about the main determinant of their individual identity, only a tiny 5% said that their gender was the most defining factor. Since the sample of the interviewees was designed so that there would be an equal number of women and men, the little weight that according to the respondents has gender in defining their identity is striking. This result is consistent with another that is also surprising: 64% of the young women surveyed think that in their country women have the same rights as men and 11% think that women enjoy more rights than men. Unfortunately, those who did the survey offer us no explanation for this unusual finding.

Finally, another interesting revelation from this survey is the magnetism that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) exerts on young people. 34% think the UAE has increased its influence in the region, an assessment second only to Saudi Arabia (39%). The Emirates are, for the ninth year in a row, as the country in which young Arabs want to live: 46% declare them their favorite destination to emigrate, over 33% who prefer the United States. It is perhaps the most shocking result: it suggests that the main desire of these young people is not necessarily to live in the West; it is living in a country that works.

This combination of expectations and frustrations of young Arabs presents their governments with formidable challenges. If before the pandemic and its devastating economic consequences, the 200 million young people faced the highest unemployment rates in the world, governments that were intolerably corrupt and incapable of making the necessary reforms, the situation is now much worse. We will see what the polls of young Arabs say next year.

Originally published in El País.


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