Reflections on a New Year
“The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try to understand the present.” John Naisbitt
“We don’t see the world the way it is. We see the world the way we are.” Leif Hetland
I can only imagine what many of you must think about that second quote, especially as it relates to me. You may think that I am a pretty pessimistic dude and that I am a purveyor of gloom and doom. I assure you however, that is far from the truth. I am a natural optimist. I have an easy going joyful outlook on life. I lay down and sleep like a baby every night, even in the midst of what I see as a degrading situation in the world of global security. My hope is built on something different than most. I know how the story ends!
Today I want to make a few prognostications about 2018. I will do that by looking at 2017. I will examine some trends and extrapolate through reflection what we can most likely expect in 2018. I am not trying to prophecy in the classical sense of the word. I simply want to give all of our readers a sense of what we can expect globally in 2018.
What were the significant global events of 2017 that might set the stage for this upcoming year? There are events which I believe will directly or indirectly contribute to the world in respect to Islamist violent extremism in 2018.
- Fall of ISIS?: Down, but not out. On December 9th the Iraqi government announced that it had defeated ISIS and that it’s war to expel ISIS from within its country had been completed. After almost a year of fighting, not only had Mosul been liberated, but the self styled capitol city of Raqqa in Syria had also been defeated by a coalition of forces including US Special Operation forces and a US led coalition of Air Forces. As ISIS loses its geographical strongholds their threat will become more global, especially as many of their fighters are being repatriated back to their home nations. The diversification and decentralization of terrorist activities across the world continues to pose a serious problem for the international community in the fight against terrorism. Whether Iraq can rebuild is a key question for 2018, for only then will Baghdad regain the authority to govern the whole country.
- Brexit- In 2017 Britain initiated its divorce proceedings from the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is a move from which there is no coming back for Britain. This will impact Britain’s intelligence collecting within the policing sector, while not affecting its intelligence collecting ability within NATO. The less coordination between nations hinders their ability to effectively defeat future terrorist attacks.
- Reemergence of al Qaeda– The danger posed by Al-Qaeda to the United States is still significant. Al-Qaeda’s structure has become more decentralized, less of an integrated corporation, and closer to a franchise. Its chief terrorist activities are now being conducted by its local and regional affiliates. Ibrahim Talib, head researcher and deputy director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Damascus says, ”I can say with full confidence that there are more than 130,000 foreign and Arab terrorists who are fighting in Syria — I can fully confirm this number, which is huge and dangerous, Tunisians come first, with about 15,000 fighters, then Libyans, then Saudis, then Egyptians and Palestinians followed by Lebanese. After that comes the [fighters] from outside the region. There are more than 40 countries that have citizens fighting in Syria.”
- Election of President Donald Trump- Despite a year-long court battle, the Trump administration was able to enact a ban on travellers from six mainly Muslim countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Although the latest version of the ban also covers people from North Korea and a selection of senior officials from Venezuela. President Trump’s hardened position against terrorism will create an environment where victories and defeats will be many. The Jihadists clearly see President Trump as their enemy now. This does not come without problems. The problems were bound to occur anyway but they will happen sooner than they would have.
- Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ascends to throne in Saudia Arabia- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) is a young man in a hurry. Back in June, his father, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, made the thirty-two year-old his heir, after deposing the previous crown prince, the king’s nephew and MBS’s cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef. MBS immediately got to work. His vehicle for remaking the country is Vision 2030, a two-year-old initiative that seeks to modernize Saudi Arabia’s economy and society. The idea is to prepare the country for a post-oil future and to loosen its conservative social strictures. The former goal has Saudi Arabia proposing to take its state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, public, while the latter has it allowing women to drive. Along with his futuristic visions, the crown prince also talked of returning his country to ‘moderate Islam’. MBS moved quickly to consolidate power. In November, he had eleven of his cousins arrested on corruption charges. (Their jail cell was a Ritz-Carlton.) President Trump applauded the move. But MBS isn’t only looking inward. He is moving aggressively to counter Iranian influence in the region. He championed Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen in 2015, which created a humanitarian disaster for Yemenis and a quagmire for the Saudis. He also pushed for this summer’s Saudi-led embargo of neighboring Qatar. Some experts think that MBS is Saudi Arabia’s best chance for a moderate and prosperous future. In making all these changes, in a world where change comes with great difficulty, the young prince has made enemies of the Saudi aristocracy, its billionaire class and their foreign business partners, who will eventually be looking for revenge. 2018 could see some dramatic events take place in the Kingdom.
- President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city— In a break with international consensus, Trump sent shockwaves around the world when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. The decision triggered protests across the Muslim world and drew strong condemnation globally. The emergency session of UN General Assembly later declared Trump’s declaration “null and void”, with the motion being adopted by a decisive vote of 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions. One week later President Trump cut $285 million from the US’s annual contribution to the UN. He has also threatened to cut over $20 billion in assistance given to the countries who did not support the US’s decision. This poises the international community for a rough year in 2018, should the US decide to pull $20 billion off the table in assistance. The US remained defiant despite the vote, vowing to “put our embassy in Jerusalem”.
- Qatar: boycotted by Arab countries- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced on June 5th that they had severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed sanctions on the country, citing Qatar’s “supporting terrorism” and “undermining regional security,” following which came a multinational declaration of disconnection with Qatar. Qatar failed to comply with the demands of Saudi Arabia and other countries to cut off relationships with Iran. Instead, it declared a resumption of full diplomatic relations with the country in August. Qatar’s diplomatic storm has caused a serious rift between the Gulf states. Along with the Syria issue, Yemen civil war and Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it reflected the intense game between the United States and Russia in the Middle East and the complexity of struggles between countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
- Syria, Yemen and Lebanon face uncertainty- In 2017 the wars in Syria and Yemen have continued. While military operations in Syria have tapered off with the fall of Raqqa almost 25 percent of Syria remains in the Kurd’s hands. This will be the imminent problem of 2018 in Syria. Turkey refuses to allow the existence of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) to be recognized, but they continue to prove to be the most effective fighters on the battlefield. This will pose a great dilemma for the governments of the region. Winning the peace will prove to be much more difficult than winning the war.
- Terror attacks that rocked the world: The first big terror attack of 2017 came on New Year’s Day — a gunman killing 39 at a nightclub in Istanbul. Subsequent targets of global terror included an Ariana Grande concert in England, a bike path in New York City and the historic La Rambla promenade in Barcelona. In October, a truck bombing in Somalia killed more than 500 people; in November, an attack on a crowded mosque in Egypt killed more than 300. A 64-year-old high-stakes video poker player, after amassing an arsenal of weapons, unleashed a barrage of gunfire from a high-rise casino-hotel that killed 58 people and injured hundreds among a crowd attending an open-air concert along the Las Vegas Strip. A vehicle assailant killed 8 in New York City, another stabbing took place a month later. This year has witnessed over 300 fatal shootings in the United States, as well as frequent outbreaks of terror in Europe such as the Manchester concert bombing, Champs-Elysees shooting in Paris, and van attacks in Barcelona. Reports of the Australian Economics and Peace Institute showed that the number of violent deaths in the United States as well as in the developed countries in Europe in 2017 is expected to hit a record high in the past 16 years.
- I could also include Iran’s re-emergence in 2017 as well as the massive unrest in that country at the beginning of 2018. We will watch how the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism will handle the internal struggles that have been brewing for years. We could also include the emergence of the clout of the Muslim Brotherhood within the United States, especially at the high governmental levels. Lastly, Cyberwarfare will become a “thing” within the terroristic community. There will be an acceleration of terrorist cyberwarfare attacks across the world wreaking havoc through hacking, phishing and identity theft.
The list above seems formidable. How do we thrive in a world that looks like this? It is important to remember that even though many of these things will indeed unfold poorly, we are not to fear. Our goal is not to simply survive in this kind of world; it is to thrive. We’ve got to move from a survival mind-set to one of overcoming servant. Our goal as Christians is to bless in the midst of the chaos and confusion. There are people out there who are determined to kill and destroy all that we hold dear. We don’t need to fear them. We need to help them. They are victims of incredible lies. They need to see the truth alive in us. If they don’t see it it in us, how will they ever see it?
Two thousand eighteen must become a year of respondence, one in which we “rise to the occasion” with love and grace. How else will a force such as terrorism be defeated? Muslims are not our enemy. Islamist Jihadists are not our enemy. Violent extremists are not our enemy. We don’t wage war against flesh and blood. My mentor told me years ago, “If you can pinch it, it is not your enemy.” I have never forgotten that.
Get involved. I used to think that people have to care before they will get involved. I have since learned that involved people care; not until then actually.
Join a movement. Frederick Buechner once said, “Purpose is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” There are millions of people in the world who suffer from a deep hunger. My question as we start a new year is, “Who will satisfy that deep hunger?” How easy it is to point a finger at the other guy. Begin by becoming informed. Read, study and learn all you can about how these human beings in the world are really struggling. Join with others to see what they are doing to help them.
Start a movement. Once you have learned what the deep hunger of certain people is and have seen how others are responding to that, you will find a place of deep gladness as you discover what or who you are most passionate about. For some it is children, for others, women. Perhaps you are passionate about the deaf or youth or the wounded. The point is that the need is so great that I assure you that you will find a place to make a difference.
Change the world. Do not be content to just watch from the sidelines or send someone in your place. There is something you can do. It may be to pray. It may be to give or it may be to go. Do something. I am certain that when you do you will discover the deep joy that only comes when you find yourself fulfilling the purpose for which you were created.
Make 2018 an amazing year! If you want some help discovering how you can learn about your calling and passions you are welcome to write to me. We will work through it together. firstname.lastname@example.org
Middle East in 2018: A look at Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria and Iraq… https://www.dawn.com/news/1378592
The Rise of Al-Qaeda 2.0… https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/…
2017 Year in Review: Here are the top 10 biggest news stories… https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/2017-year-rev…
Yearender: Top ten world news events in 2017 selected by Xinhua…. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-12/30/c_136861283_10.htm
May triggers article 50 with warning of consequence for UK… https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/29/t…
How ISIS Survives the Fall of Mosul… https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/…
Saudis Are Hoping Mohammed bin Salman Will Drain the Swamp… http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/21/saudis-are-hop…
Saudi crown prince promises ‘a country of moderate Islam’… https://www.dawn.com/news/1365957/saudi-crown-prin…
Trump flouts warnings, recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital… https://www.dawn.com/news/1374932
Saudi, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain and Yemen isolate Qatar over ‘terrorism’ as rift deepens… https://www.dawn.com/news/1337555
STRATFOR 2018 Annual Forecast… https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/2018-annual…
The Rise and Fall of ISIS… https://thewire.in/192633/the-rise-and-fall-of-isi…
The re-emergence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb… http://mediterraneanaffairs.com/the-re-emergence-o…
Jihadists Could Use US Travel Restrictions as Recruiting Lure, Analysts Say… https://www.voanews.com/a/some-analysts-see-us-tra…