The French initially said it would only take weeks to eliminate the jihadist threat in North Africa; British Prime Minister David Cameron said this weekend that the West faces a “large and existential threat” from jihadis that could last a lot longer: “This is a global threat and it will require a global response. . . . It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.”
The world faces a long, hard struggle against a hateful ideology. It does no good to pretend otherwise. The mainstream media is reluctantly starting to see this picture. As Robert Worth reports for the New York Times:
Coming just four months after an American ambassador was killed by jihadists in Libya, those assaults [the French in Mali and the Algerian hostage crisis] have contributed to a sense that North Africa — long a dormant backwater for Al Qaeda — is turning into another zone of dangerous instability, much like Syria, site of an increasingly bloody civil war. The mayhem in this vast desert region has many roots, but it is also a sobering reminder that the euphoric toppling of dictators in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt has come at a price. [ . . . ]
The crisis in Mali is not likely to end soon, with the militants ensconcing themselves among local people and digging fortifications.
In a geographic sense this conflict ranges widely, and so too must the response. As former CIA analyst Paul Pillar told the NYT, we should avoid putting “a transnational framework on top of what is fundamentally a set of local concerns.” The jihadi and Islamist groups in North Africa are flexible; they can operate alone or together, with or without guidance from “al Qaeda central.” Alliances shift. “If the rhetoric of the Islamic militants now fighting across North Africa is about holy war, the reality is often closer to a battle among competing gangsters in a region where government authority has long been paper-thin,” reports Worth in the Times.
It’s not quite blood, toil, tears and sweat, because the enemies for all their hostility and drive have limits and problems of their own—and even in the Islamic world there are more people who oppose them than support them. But the enemies are real and they aren’t going away, and in this age of high technology and rapid travel we can’t keep the danger away from our shores unless we take a proactive approach in places far beyond them.