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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Paris Attacks: A Wake Up Call For International Community

The dastardly terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November hours after a similar attack in Beirut should wake up all actors in the Middle East theatre of proxy wars as well as the global Muslim community to the danger that ISIS now poses to the whole world. As of now, ISIS was seen as a region specific entity,  a quasi-state disconnected and autonomous but with a large number of fighters and more than adequate resources to continue expanding the size of its territory as well as attract more jihadis from across the world. What separated it from Al Qada both figuratively and literally is the fact that the latter believes in carrying on a long duration global jihad or prolonged war of attrition with Western powers and their allies in the region through decentralized network of terrorists or sleeper cells in key geographical centres around the world. It seeks to weaken and overthrow the global order through terror attacks like 9/11 believing the time was not ripe for establishment of the caliphate (read: gaining allegiance of majority of global Muslims community ). The ISIS on the other hand chose to declare itself as the caliphate on the basis of the territorial gains it had already made and with the ambition to conquer a sizeable territory in a short span. However, the attacks in Paris and the manner in which they were planned and executed indicate that ISIS may be adopting and improvising the modus operandi of Al Qaeda which is indeed scary given the number of recruits the terrorist group attracts from many parts of the world including Europe.


What makes ISIS far more dangerous than Al Qaeda is that while the latter chose to stay behind shadows and works through existing financial and communication systems and at the most relying on the Taliban for territorial space, ISIS already occupies a region roughly size of Austria. Unlike Taliban ruled Afghanistan which has been traditionally poor, areas captured by ISIS includes oil resources which it is able to sell in the black market using the numerous smuggling routes. Besides, its capture of cities like Mosul gave it opportunity to capture enormous amount of money deposited in the banks there. High rates of tax on citizens and ransom money received in return of hostages have been keeping it financially sound and since it deals in cash, checking the inflow of money seems pretty difficult from outside. Money and recruits skilled in modern technology has been instrumental in driving online propaganda and recruitment campaign over social media. While spreading it's tentacles into poor regions like Libya and Afghanistan where it faces direct contest from Al Qaeda and its affiliates like the Taliban, it is known to use money to poach jihadis from rival camps to its own.  According to a recent news report, ISIS is offering fighters in Afghanistan almost 10 times more than the Taliban does. It has also been alleged that ISIS was able to win allegiance of smaller jihadist groups and even larger ones like Boko Haram with monetary incentives and supplies of arms and ammunition and not exactly on ideological grounds. With the combination of ideological indoctrination and monetary bribery, it seems to have developed a strong base in Libya so as to suggest it's foreign recruits to go to Libya instead of Syria as it is becoming difficult for them to enter Syria or Iraq. But the most alarming instruction ISIS has issued to its wannabe recruits is to stay in their countries and and carry out terror attacks. This seem almost validated by the preliminary findings in Paris terror attacks which suggest that most of the operatives were French and Belgian citizens.

Clearly, this should send alarm bells ringing, especially since the terrorist group has already made clear that it wants to clear the gray zone (Muslims against it). Takfiri Jihadist groups like ISIS believe that Muslims that do not follow their ideology are apostates and need to be eliminated first. In fact, the barbarism of the group was first revealed to us when the footage of brutal torture and mass execution of Shia, dissenting Sunnis and also Al Qaeda jihadis were released. By using French citizens for the terror attacks it has deliberately provoked the French government, society and European society as well to take a hard stand against their own Muslim population as well as the freshly arrived Syrian refugees. One of the main objectives of any terror attack is to create distrust, suspicion and loosen social cohesion. In this case, since the ISIS already considers the refugees apostates, it doesn't really care if each and every one of them is executed, on the  other hand if there is reprisal forcing the refugees back to Syria or prevent them from fleeing, they would have no choice but to become workers for the terror groups.  How then can such a diabolic group be stopped?  The battle has to be fought on two fronts, a ideological one by mainstream Muslims and through bombs and bullets by a global military alliance.

Right after the Paris attacks a "terrorism has no religion" hashtag had began to trend on Twitter. It is true, terrorism has no religion but the fact is terrorists do. One would simply be living in denial to say that these terrorists are not motivated by religious ideology. However, it is also a fact that this particular ideology propagated by ISIS is rejected by more than 99% of Muslims globally. Mainstream media seems to have latched on to Wahhabism as the root of this ideology which is not entirely false Wahhabism is a regressive ideology but the ideology of ISIS is an much extreme form of it, so much do that even other Salafi Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda reject it and label it un-Islamic. Besides, ISIS seems to be more of a motley collection of foreign fighters who now depend on militancy for survival, local Sunnis uprooted from their homes in the civil war with no alternative employment opportunity available, ex-Baathist officers and soldiers, led by a group of extremely motivated takfiri jihadists, many of whom have arrived from abroad. Interestingly, Al Qaeda's war against ISIS stems from the belief amongst the leaders of the former that ISIS is a collection of criminal elements and power hungry leaders with little knowledge of the Salafist Jihadist ideology it seeks to represent. As a matter of fact while mainstream Muslims vehemently reject the extremist interpretation of Islam by Al Qaeda's, the latter's charge against ISIS on ideological bankruptcy offers new perspective on this barbaric terrorist organization. It is indeed a fact that ISIS with its horde of young militants has a very few Islamic scholars espousing its doctrine unlike other jihadi outfits like Al Qaeda or even Taliban. Further, the charge that a large number of ex-Baathist fighters who had been nothing to do with Islamist movement and spent most of their lives adhering to a secular and nationalistic ideology does hold true. For instance, lies, torture and execution of emissaries, genocide against minority communities like Yazidis, sexual exploitation of female captives, corpse mutilation and many more similarly unspeakable acts are more in line with what the Iraqi intelligence led by Baathist leaders were notorious for. Even extremist Salafi scholars have condemned ISIS extremism as un-Islamic.

 Most commentators on Islamist movement seem to be of the opinion that the ISIS runs more on fear factor, money and spoils of war while very few members appear to have in depth knowledge of Islam. As a matter of fact, most ISIS members we see on TV seem young people revelling in murder and mutilation of corpses, not well-read scholars expounding merits of jihad. So how is it then that they are able to indoctrinate young people and lure them into these orgies of violence?  While I am yet to come across any such material, what I can guess is that with well-qualified recruits amongst its ranks, ISIS is able to target potential recruits and repackage and market their ideology that appeals to them the most. Many of the European recruits seem to be recent converts or Muslims with petty crime antecedents, the common thread being the identity crisis in European society and little knowledge of Islamic theology. ISIS bribes them with the promise of accommodating them in a true Islamic society and give role to play in the impending apocalypse. This is where global Muslim community, especially it's scholars need to come in and counter ISIS propaganda to stop more gullible youths falling prey to its false ideology. That ISIS acts least in accordance to even extremist interpretation of Islam is evident from the  fact that it mostly presents scriptural arguments tailored to justify it's barbaric acts after having committed them rather than presenting a more coherent argument in the beginning and then proceeding to act on it. Another example is its use of a single "prophecy"  to convince it's supporters that we are living in end times and apocalypse is imminent in the very near future. Traditional scholars do not interpret "prophecies"  in general in such a simplistic manner but rather through a very rigorous method.  Yet it seems, the apocalyptic narrative is helping radicalization of youths in different parts of the world.

The mainstream Muslim scholars need to take the ideological fight not just by condemning the extremists but countering their arguments in the loudest way possible,including through social media. While the two leading Islamic seminaries of the Indian subcontinent, Darul Uloom Deoband and Dargah-E-Aala-Hazrat in Bareilly have issued fresh fatwas declaring ISIS as un-Islamic, Indian Muslim scholars cutting across sects have unitedly and vociferously condemned the vile acts of ISIS. A protest in Kanpur led by Muslim clerics condemning Paris terror attacks and ISIS in particular as well as a signature campaign by Bareilly based Madrasas against the terror group are exactly the kind of response needed to counter ISIS propaganda. Further,the deputy sheikh of Al Azhar Institute,one of the world's leading Islamic learning centre, has called on for an ideological battle with terrorist groups like ISIS. Clearly, the Muslim world is not entirely living in denial but how it translates to action without state assistance needs to be seen. Also, it would crucial to see how Saudi Arabia in particular acts in response to call for ideological battle. It definitely has resources to make major impact and is in the cross-hairs of ISIS too but would it forsake its most potent tool to check Iranian influence in the region, is an open question.
Protests by Indian Muslims against ISIS After terror attacks in Paris
There already is a deafening call for a united global military crackdown on ISIS but there are too many fault lines among the participating nation-states, I have previously posted a lot on how ISIS has been consistently gaining out of the disparate goals of the different actors in the middle east conflict, especially the struggle between Saudi Arabia led Arab countries and Iran for hegemony over the region. Western powers have been supportive of the Saudi bloc even turning blind eye to its allies funding radical outfits which led to the rise of ISIS. Meanwhile, Russia continues to bomb Syrian opposition to help the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad remain entrenched in his office. It is high time countries like Saudi Arabia realise that ISIS has grown too big to be seen as a deterrent to Iran, it can now take on the Arab Kingdom itself and judging by the way the numerically superior Iraqi army fled from a paltry ISIS fighters leaving behind precious US supplied arms and vehicles, how armies of other Arab countries would fare is questionable. Similarly, Turkey should already know that ISIS fighters attempting terror attacks in Istanbul, which was luckily thwarted, is a much bigger and immediate threat than Kurdish secessionists who now are leading the offensive against ISIS on the ground. Then it is also a fact that Al- Assad has as much blood on his hands as the ISIS does even if he brutalizes in the name of secularism, the US and its Arab allies as well as Turkey are unlikely to agree to any terms that cements his position in Syria but if an arrangement for a future transition could be reached giving him option of dignified exit, his opponents might just acquiesce to make elimination of ISIS the top prior. It also means that Russia and Iran should be willing to relent from their current stand on Al-Assad as well as treat ISIS as a much bigger threat than anti-Assad Syrian rebels. But even that would be only a part of a long term solution.

French airstrikes on ISIS bases in Raqqa
Even if combined airstrikes are able to degrade ISIS completely without an effective alternative we might again witness sundry jihadists groups rushing in to take control of the region in fresh chaos. It is imperative that the world powers and the regional powers look for a long term solution which implies that each one of them has to compromise for the sake of millions of lives that are at stake. If continuation of Al-Assad repressive regime and Iran's attempt to gain hegemony over middle-east needs to be addressed then Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies promotion of Salafi Jihadist doctrine is certainly unacceptable as is flow of funds from these states to Jihadist groups. Then Iraqi establishment should also realize the role it played in the rise of ISIS through its sustained prosecution of Sunni population and it cannot expect to be a stable polity without sharing political power with its Sunni population. As far as Kurds are concerned, their fight against ISIS has brought their ethnic identity and political grievances to the fore. If not for their right to self-determination, the Kurds could still be given the state they demand as a bulwark against Jihadist groups. Of course that is asking a lot from countries that have shown no intent for cooperation on any level even as hundreds of thousands of innocent people are being killed but the threat of ISIS looms large and concessions and cooperation are the only route to any long term solution.

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