The recent shooting in the US city of Las Vegas demonstrated that the terrorism of “lone wolf” attackers is a major and terrifying danger. The massacre, the worst in the US’ modern history, left an unprecedented number of people dead and injured and officials are still confounded as to what prompted Stephen Paddock to go on his horrific rampage.
Europe was not spared the danger of lone wolves with Marseille witnessing one that left two people dead. What we need to ask now is: What is the best way to confront this inhumane and very complicated phenomenon, especially since no one has so far been able to find out what pushes someone to commit such atrocities?
We should at first distinguish between the American and European lone wolves. The former have easy access to weapons, while the latter obtain weapons only for the intention of committing such terrorist crimes.
With the Las Vegas shooting, the US Congress will once again be faced with the debate over the freedom to purchase and own weapons. Any change to this reality would require an amendment of the country’s constitution, which no one at Congress has yet dared to demand.
In confronting lone wolves in the United States, we must distinguish between those who commit their crime out of national extremist and racist beliefs and radicalized others, who use the excuse of Islamic extremism.
Even though lone wolf attacks in the US are less common than those in Europe, they often claim the lives of more victims because the shooter has access to a more lethal arsenal. This therefore demands that the confrontation be waged against the legal regulations that permit the possession of arms. It also demands logistic, security and intelligence operations to counter these crimes. This second form of confrontation is similar to the one being wage against the phenomenon in Europe.
In previous articles, we had stated that lone wolf attacks were originally adopted by al-Qaeda and later ISIS. It was first born from the womb of the Islamic resistance of the Soviet occupation of Muslim territories in Afghanistan and later, with the emergence of ISIS, it was born out of the US military invasion of Iraq.
At this point, we can assert that major unjust policies around the globe and in the Islamic world are a factor that can produce more lone wolves, who believe that a life without dignity or independence is meaningless and not worth living. American and European policies in the Middle East, in recent years in particular, have had disastrous results in this regard.
These powers did not foresee the unexpected repercussions of and reaction to their destruction of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and their random dismantling of systems that have been around for decades. This opened the door wide for lone wolves to run rampant and commit their crimes.
We are now faced with the equation: As long as injustices remain, lone wolves will continue to threaten the world and its security.
Tackling open humanitarian wounds and achieving international justice could be the main solution confronting this phenomenon.
Over the years, it became obvious that many of the lone wolves in Europe often are second generation Europeans, who were born there or who arrived there at a young age. They grew up and were educated in Europe. They all however have one thing in common, which was their major failure to integrate into the new societies that had adopted them. The massive degree of their failure was reflected in the extent of their criminality in their attacks.
Why did this failure to integrate take place and who is responsible for it? Are the migrant youths to blame or did Europe fail in providing the necessary cultural, social, political and economic environments to achieve this integration?
The emergence of lone wolves in Europe is enough indication that there is a flaw in the integration mechanism. There is no doubt that the host country should be blamed. The first step to addressing this flaw lies in bridging the mental divide that separates the lone wolves from their host societies. In return, respect and appreciation should be shown for Islamic and Muslim beliefs. This respect should be reciprocated by the new migrants and refugees.
Furthermore, European countries should exert greater positive efforts to support integration through free courses that are linked to obtaining residency permits and local nationalities. This means that the migrants should be helped to learn the local language. Authorities should also prepare camps where the new arrivals could mingle with the locals. The locals in turn should be encouraged to interact on a human level with the migrants and stand with them against extremists, who are seeking division between the two sides.
It goes without saying that this type of individual terrorism has nothing to do with the right form of Islam. The severity of the situation however demands a united stand and approach. There are several major Muslim authorities that can all take such a stand and unite against forces that are deliberately trying to distort the correct image of the religion.
These authorities should project the image of the tolerant Islam that believes in coexistence and the respect of human rights regardless of their faith, race or gender.
In this regard, European governments should open the door wide for these enlightenment efforts through providing all possible means for Islamic centers to achieve this purpose and allow the voice of moderation to be heard throughout the continent. This will help achieve coexistence and rapprochement against those seeking division.
One of the most important mechanisms to confront the lone wolves phenomenon is deepening dialogue. There should be a dialogue between different generations, between locals and naturalized citizens, and between different religions. This is undoubtedly one of the most important forms of dialogue that will help eliminate the misconceptions clouding people’s hearts and minds.
Arab Muslim and Christian authorities have a role in this regard. As roots of the Arab world, they have played a part in forming this civilization. Their voice is therefore invaluable on the European scene where they will likely be welcomed by moderate Christians, who honestly seek the integration of the migrants in their new societies.
In order to close the door against the preachers of hate, we recommend that these dialogues be based on the common characteristics shared between the followers of the monotheistic religions. Going into the theological details of the religions will not help anyone because the whole purpose of the dialogue is to find common factors, not differences.
Have we forgotten or overlooked something in our search for the best means to confront lone wolves?
The lone wolf himself remains at the heart of the problem. It is a stretch to say that this phenomenon can be eliminated permanently because no one can really know what lurks in the human psyche and what their real intentions towards others are. This is a complicated case for the sociologists and psychologists.
There are however several mechanisms that can isolate the lone wolf, meaning his chances of getting together with terrorist elements can be narrowed down. The less likely the chances of the would-be lone wolf meeting these elements, the weaker his threat becomes.
How can such an isolation take place in the world of social media, the internet and modern technology?
This places a major responsibility on the shoulders of those in charge of those sites. The first step lies in shutting down websites and social media accounts that are suspected to be terrorist, especially those that seek to recruit members and others that promote murder.
Another factor to look into when addressing lone wolves is the time they spent in prison. Jails have become a hatching plant for would-be attackers due to their negative interaction with radicals, who preach their hate speech. Prisons have become beacons for terrorist thought. Very dangerous inmates should be isolated and prevented from contacting others in order to halt the spread of their terrorist propaganda.