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Terrorism Has No Religion

Terrorism has no religion and no homeland. It is wrong to attribute terrorism to the teachings of a specific religion. Terrorists do not distinguish between Christian churches and Islamic mosques. Places of worship, in fact, be they mosques or churches, have both been harmed routinely by terrorists.

In addition to Christians and Muslims both being victims of terrorist attacks, terrorist attacks have targeted Sunni and Shiite mosques alike across the Middle East. In attacking holy sites, terrorists seek to destabilize the security and stability of the state, especially the economic sector. They seek to spread chaos and confusion among multiple groups and they seek to stir sedition and sow the seeds of sectarian strife.

Christian Churches of Egypt:

Churches in Egypt have been targeted by a series of terrorist bombings. Who can forget the December 11, 2016, terrorist attack on St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church (commonly known as El-Botroseya Church) in Cairo’s Abbasia district? 29 people were killed and 49 people, mostly women, and children were wounded [1]. And who can forget the twin terrorist attacks on April 9, 2017, that targeted St. George’s Church in the Egyptian city of Tanta and Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria? These attacks left 47 people dead and 126 injured [2]. 76 innocent people lost their lives inside houses of worship in these three attacks. The peaceful sounds of hymns mixed with the evil sounds of explosions. The following video describes the attacks on the two churches:  

The Muslim Mosques of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia:

On Friday, June 26, 2015, an Islamic State (ISIS) militant bombed Al-Imam Al-Sadiq mosque in the Al-Sawabir district of Kuwait City, killing 27 and injuring 227 during Friday afternoon prayers [3]. Further, the attack took place during the holy month of Ramadan, during which time Muslims worldwide fast to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Those who were injured or killed were all praying when the terrorist entered the mosque and detonated his explosive belt [4]. The sounds of the peaceful Azan (the Muslim call to prayer) mixed with the evil sounds of explosions. Not only the Islamic, but the entire world was outraged by the attacks on the mosque in Kuwait.

These videos show the attack on the Shiite mosque in Kuwait:

On Monday, July 4, 2016, also during the holy month of Ramadan, a suicide bomb attack took place in the parking lot of Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the Prophet’s Mosque. Al-Masjid an-Nabawi is one of the largest, holiest mosques in Islam.It was built by the Prophet Muhammad [5]. The mosque is located in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Four policemen were killed and five others were wounded in the suicide bomb attack [6]. Two other attacks took place in Saudi Arabia. One near the United States’ consulate in Jeddah and another targeted a Shiite Muslim mosque in Qatif. Terrorists have no respect for what is holy. The attack on one of Islam’s holiest sites brought condemnations from all around the Middle East and the world. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “This bombing, which happened during Ramadan outside the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque, proves that terrorism has no religion and no faith.” [7]

The following video shows the attack on the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet’s Mosque). It also shows two other attacks that took place at the same time Al-Masjid an-Nabawi was attacked:

The sentiment “Terrorism has no religion,” is no longer just a slogan: it is a dictum. Terrorists do not care about the sanctity of a Muslim mosque or a Christian church. They don’t differentiate between Sunni and Shia. Terrorists commit vile crimes in the name of peaceful religions.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/11/world/middleeast/cairo-coptic-cathedral-attack.html
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/church-bombing-cairo-egypt-tanta-kills-dead-wounded-injured-latest-a7674761.html
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-33287136
  4. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kuwait-blast/islamic-state-suicide-bomber-kills-27-wounds-227-in-kuwait-mosque-idUSKBN0P618L20150626?virtualBrandChannel=11563
  5. https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12435.doc.htm
  6. http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/suicide-attack-holy-site-saudi-arabia-city-medina-reports-86052859
  7. http://www.bbc.com/arabic/middleeast/2016/07/160704_saudi_arabia_blast

More than Ideology: The Radicalized Identity

With the rise of violent extremism and terrorist groups like Daesh recruiting and radicalizing people all over the world, we have attempted to understand the root causes of violent extremism, often linking it to poverty, history of criminality, or even affiliation with certain religions. After years of trying, and failing to pinpoint an exact root — i.e., the evil gene in ordinary people —  one must acknowledge that the problem is more complex than that.

The British theatre play The Believers are but Brothers, which has become a smash hit in the last year, inadvertently underlines a fact researchers often overlook: identity. In the play, playwright Javaad Alipoor tells a striking story of the online radicalization of young men[1]. More than serving as a cautionary tale, it illustrates how radicalization can happen to everyday people, and that violent extremism is much more than just personal beliefs, it is an identity.

While ideology is the lifeblood of a terrorist organization, by offering an initial motive for action and a unique perspective of the world, it is the identity a person cultivates by being part of a group that is potentially so dangerous.

Ideology unites individuals; it is powerful at bringing like-minded people together. Yet it is the common identity that makes violence an option and can influence people to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the ideology.

The process of radicalization can manifest differently in distinct areas, varying in methods, populations, and rates of success across countries, yet the common factor is the vulnerability in individual identity that people who become radicalized share[2]. This vulnerability can be caused by concrete factors such as a lack of socioeconomic opportunity, societal marginalization, and institutional oppression and violence[3].

Let’s imagine a young man spending much of his time online, not unlike the ones portrayed in Alipoor’s play. He may not be intentionally seeking or even be exceedingly attracted to extremist ideology, but he might feel a void and question things he has been taught. As he finds himself immersed in a new community, he forms an attachment to it and its ideology. Organizations like Daesh gain support for their cause by creating a group identity through validating people’s grievances and creating a sense of belonging which bolsters confidence[4].

Ideology is only one layer of radicalization. Underneath it, deeper is a shared sense of belonging and personal significance. Members do not believe in their cause — they are the cause. It is the sense of being part of something, it is a validation of your personal existence.

Group identity is incredibly influential. It can lead to an escalation of violence, group think, or even the rejection of outsiders, simply because they are not part of the same group. This is especially amplified when the identity is threatened, i.e. through war or other types of conflict, when “Us versus Them” dynamics become more powerful[5]. It can even increase adherence to extremist ideology since everyone else in the group believes in it too[6].

Acknowledging identity, unfortunately, does not make the fight against violent extremism and terrorism any easier– quite the opposite. There is no antidote that could make it all disappear. One small step in combating extremism and its ideology is recognizing the attachment people cultivate and the meaning they find in their causes. There is little logic to identity, but it is the most powerful tool extremist organizations have.


Sources:

[1] Lukowski, A. (2018, January 30). What Radicalizes Young Men? This Show Tells You via WhatsApp. The New York Times.

[2] Provines, C. G. (2017, September 29).Understanding Radicalization Through the Lens of ‘Identity Vulnerability.’ Columbia University Journal of International Affairs. 

[3] Provines, C. G. (2017, September 29).Understanding Radicalization Through the Lens of ‘Identity Vulnerability.’ Columbia University Journal of International Affairs. 

[4]Provines, C. G. (2017, September 29).Understanding Radicalization Through the Lens of ‘Identity Vulnerability. Columbia University Journal of International Affairs.

[5] Musgrove, Luke & McGarty, Craig. (2008). Opinion-Based Group Membership as a Predictor of Collective Emotional Responses and Support for Pro- and Anti-War Action. Social Psychology. 39. 37-47.

[6] Musgrove, Luke & McGarty, Craig. (2008). Opinion-Based Group Membership as a Predictor of Collective Emotional Responses and Support for Pro- and Anti-War Action. Social Psychology. 39. 37-47.

The Laptop Bomb: The Latest Extremist Weapon and Homeland Security Nightmare

© Harun Maruf-Daallo Airlines Flight 159 after an explosion from a laptop bomb

The new threat for TSA and Homeland Security officials is not suicide bombers, but what is being described as a “laptop bomb”. For many years now, terrorist organizations – such as ISIS, Al-Shabaab, even dating back to Al-Qaeda – have been working steadily to create a bomb that can slip through x-ray machines and make its way onto an aircraft. This has caused a nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security due to the worry “that ISIS is particularly tech-savvy and has shown an unusual willingness to turn consumer tech into weapons” [1].

One event that sparked the questioning of x-ray machine usage at U.S. airports was the detonation of a laptop bomb on a Daallo Airlines passenger plane back on February 2nd, 2016. Officials say that “suspect Abdullahi Abdisalam Borleh, a Somali national, carried the laptop computer with a bomb in it onto Daallo Airlines Flight 159” [2]. The bomb detonated before the plane reached its normal cruising altitude, essentially saving the plane and its passengers from something that could have been devastating. It still raised the question of exactly how Abdullahi managed to slip this explosives-laden laptop through security systems and x-rays at the airport. A scarcity of upgraded systems could have caused the bomb to slip through security. “Most airports in the developed world use the latest generation of multiview X-ray machines, but some airports in less developed parts of the world still use single-view X-ray machines significantly less reliable in detecting explosives” [2]. The U.S. has state of the art security and x-ray machines in its airports, but it would take only one snafu to allow a bomb through.

The laptop bomb’s arrival has coincided with attempts to smuggle bombs in shoes, purses, and even underwear. “Saudi-born (Ibrahim al-)Asiri, 34, who was based in Yemen, was behind the failed Christmas Day attempt in 2009 to bring down a Detroit-bound plane by a suicide bomber with plastic explosives sewn into his underwear” [4]. This demonstrates how dedicated to achieving their goals terrorists are and the lengths to which they will go.

©AFP/Getty Images-TSA screening laptops for bomb material/residue

One of President Trump’s principal campaign objectives was to tighten U.S. security and border protection. In response to a growing number of threats from ISIS and other intel, the Trump Administration announced a ban that “forced passengers to put any devices larger than a cell phone in their checked baggage,” [3] from, “10 airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.” [3] A foiled plot that involved “explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing” [4] was one of many factors that prompted the ban. Public outrage soon followed, and people began to question if it was a requisite security measure or “Islamophobia”. Since then, security procedures have been revamped and new measures have been implemented, discontinuing the ban.

© Department of Homeland Security

There will always be a struggle to stay one step ahead in the battle between Homeland Security and terrorist organizations. As Homeland Security updates their technology and screening processes for passengers, terrorist organizations will continue to test their newest variants until they fulfill their perennial goal of taking down a U.S. (or U.S. bound) commercial airliner. It will be a difficult task; U.S. airport screening processes are top-notch.

Sources:

  1. http://www.popularmechanics.com/flight/airlines/news/a27432/laptop-bomb-airplane/
  2. https://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/11/africa/somalia-plane-bomb/index.html
  3. http://time.com/4867860/laptop-ban-lifted-airline-donald-trump-john-kelly/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/26/plot-explosives-ipad-us-uk-laptop-ban

Midwest and Terrorism

Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Everyone always says write about what you know, and I know the Midwest – especially Indiana.  The Midwest remains an amazing and welcoming place, but, like any region, there remain a few things that are dissatisfying.  The Midwest’s cultural understanding of terrorism endures as its most perplexing and unfortunate characteristic.

I have spent most of my life in Indiana and I can attest to the friendly, humble people who appreciate hard work, hospitality and honesty. The Midwest, or maybe just Indiana, is a place where, if your car broke down on the side of the road, two or three people may pull over to ask if you are okay and whether there is anything they could do to help. They may even offer to take you to the nearest service station or wait with you until a tow truck shows up.

That earnest, amicable culture can hide some dark truths, though.  Unfortunately, since 9/11, the narrative regarding terrorism has led to a stigma about the Muslim community and its disposition towards terrorism.  The characterization of Muslims as terrorists often epitomizes many Midwesterners’ understanding of what is and is not a terrorist.  

Whenever an Islamic extremist is behind an attack in the U.S. the narrative quickly and inexorably ties the terrorist and the Islamic faith together. This narrative, thus, labels all Muslims as terrorists rather than a small subset who twist religious faith to fit a hateful ideology.  I would be lying if I were to say that I have not heard, “We should just kill them all,” or “Muslims just hate us,” in response to each new attack.  Ask a Midwesterner to identify notable acts of terrorism in the U.S. and I can tell you which ones will come to their minds: 9/11, the Boston Marathon Bombing, San Bernardino and the Pulse Nightclub.

Boston Strong Memorial before the 2014 marathon

However, those are not the only acts of terrorism in the U.S. and they are not the only attacks attached to a hateful ideology.  America has a history of activists killing abortion doctors in the name of religious faith. White nationalists have increasingly engaged in attacks, murderous or otherwise, in the U.S.  In 2012, Wade Michael Page shot and killed six people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  In 2015, Dylann Roof hoped to start a race war when he murdered nine African American churchgoers in South Carolina.  In 2017, a white nationalist drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19 others in Virginia.

While these events are equally horrific as any terrorist attack, these do not carry the same stigma as acts perpetrated by Islamic extremists.  Frequently, the discussion centers on mental illness or guns and their availability.  Unlike the Muslim community, few blame the entire white American population for the actions of select individuals.  Few question whether the religious or moral ideology to which these actors adhered was inherently incompatible with American culture and society’s well-being.

First responders address the wounded following a white nationalist’s vehicular attack on counter protestors at the “Unite the Right rally” in Charlottesville, VA.

I believe that two narratives are woven for the American people in the Midwest when it comes to U.S. terrorism. Terrorism is either Islamic extremism or just random acts of violence.  I believe the former (intentional or not) can be explained in two manners: an unfamiliar religion is easier to spurn when fewer people have a significant understanding of its practices or, alternatively, that the frequency of Islamic extremist attacks makes it seem like Islamic extremists are worse than other types of terrorists.

I believe that the average Midwesterner does not have a comprehensive grasp of Islam.  Growing up in a post-9/11 world, I recall that my primary and secondary education touched upon Islam only briefly and only in history courses.  I do not recall any substantial exploration of the teachings of Islam and I do not believe many of the educators would feel comfortable teaching something so unfamiliar to them.  Unless the curriculum has changed – it has been several years – I imagine that the academic courses remain similar today. For many, their understanding of the Islamic world is filtered through their education and copious TV viewing. Indiana, like much of the Midwest, remains a predominately manufacturing state wherein you needn’t have a theological education to make a living supporting yourself and a family.  

Alternatively, the media narrative with respect to Islamic terrorism frequently overshadows the regularity of other terrorist events.  It is true that Islamic extremists have engaged in some of the recent deadly attacks on American soil.  However, as noted, these attacks do not encompass all terrorist attacks in the U.S.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that from September 12, 2001, to December 31, 2017, far right groups have engaged in 62 extremist attacks resulting in 106 dead. In the same period, Islamic extremist groups engaged in 23 incidents resulting in 119 casualties. Notably, San Bernardino and the Pulse Nightclub resulted in 63 of the 119 fatalities.

This misunderstanding can be resolved with one simple change: education.  Education is key to helping bridge the divide that separates communities and creates radicalism.  Radicalism can develop not only in the Islamic world but also in our quiet communities across America.  The more we foster an “Us vs. Them” mentality, the more we radicalize our own society. In our communities, we must develop a better understanding of Islam and other religions. We must push back against hateful scapegoating based on religion, race or political views.

Terrorism is not tied to a single ideology.  Hate is its own ideology regardless of religion, race, or political system. Hate prevents us from engaging in open discussion to try to resolve our differences. Some people may be compelled to commit evil acts of revenge and chaos. Some, however, may simply be misguided individuals who followed a trusted family member or friend down a dark path or trusted a religious leader to teach them right from wrong. Some simply felt they finally found a group to belong to.

My cultural understanding from living in the Midwest leads me to believe that the Midwest is made of good people who want to raise families as best they can without living in fear, the same goal as a majority of people across the world.  To eliminate that fear we need to review how we discuss all types of terrorism and the many ideologies that compel terrorists to act.  The solution cannot be found in violence but in education.

Indiana Covered Bridge Festival

Sources:

“Boston Strong: Communal Healing After Tragedy.”, accessed Jan 25, 2018, 

Countering Violent Extremism: Actions Needed to Define Strategy and Assess Progress of Federal Efforts. 2017: US Government Accountability Office.

Peter Bergen. 2017. “Charlottesville Killing was an Act of Domestic Terrorism.” Cnn, Aug 13,. 

Wilson, Nick and Writer, Staff. “Covered Bridge Festival upon Us.” Greencastle Banner Graphic., last modified 2016-10-14T00:00-0400, accessed Jan 25, 2018, 

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: Europe unsure of how to reintegrate the offspring of the Islamic State

As ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate has collapsed in Iraq and Syria, many European States have to decide whether or not to let the children of European women who have joined the terrorist organization back into their country of origin.

Last December, three French-born children of suspected Islamic State members were flown back to Paris as the first act of repatriation of this kind. Similar kinds of appeals have been made by families from Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This does not mean that these countries have agreed on a procedure, however.

In Belgium, the Council of Ministers has decided to allow entry to children younger than 10 if DNA research confirms their Belgian heritage.  Similarly, in the Netherlands decisions are based on DNA tests to determine that a child has a Dutch parent.

Some have argued that letting former militant families back into their countries of origin would be a security risk that could make states increasingly vulnerable. While the caliphate might have collapsed, the ideology can last and has the potential to spread. According to researchers in Germany, radicalized children do not integrate well and “know nothing but war”.

However, many of these arguments seem only to emphasize the impact that the wrong kind of education has on children instead of trying to implement the right kind. This means tackling extremist ideology with education, new ideas, opinions, and a lot of family assistance. Many of these European states do not have an agenda that targets reasons people leave their home countries and join the caliphate in the first place.

While it might be easier to leave these children alone and not repatriate or educate them,  it is better to take control of the situation and understand the radicalization process in order to avoid these instances in the future. These children are often born into a terrorist organization, rather than having chosen to be in it.

It is understandable that authorities in European states are hesitant to invite members of terrorist organizations back into their countries, even if these “members” are small children. On the other hand, it is important to remember that if radicalization is possible, so is de-radicalization.

The Defeat of ISIS’s “Caliphate” Does Not Mean the Defeat of ISIS’s Ideology

What Does the Future Look Like for ISIS?

Though the international coalition in the war against ISIS has experienced more gains than losses over the past few years, by no means is the enemy defeated. However, ISIS remains a fragment of what it once was and its goals appear even more unattainable. ISIS will never fully disappear. Its ideology is just as dangerous as its fighters, and while fighters can be physically defeated, an ideology cannot. This is especially true in the era of the internet, where an entity does not need to control a territory and its people to espouse ideas and maintain a following. While ISIS, as a physical organization, may become greatly diminished to the point it seems non-extinct, radical extremist ideology will prevail.

Background

ISIS formed out of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a splinter group of Al-Qaeda central that emerged after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and aimed to entice a sectarian war and establish a caliphate [1]. In 2006, AQI was rebranded as the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). They held a large swath of territory in Western Iraq, but in 2008, U.S. troops and Sunni tribesman significantly degraded the group [2]. As the Syrian Civil War ramped up in 2011, ISI used this state of turmoil in which the government was distracted by rebel groups, to try and govern land, led by their Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [3]. After U.S. combat forces withdrew, a vacuum was created that allowed the Islamic State to exploit the “weakness of the central state” and the “country’s sectarian strife” [4]. After growth in Syria, in 2013 the group began seizing land in Iraq leading to the adoption of the name Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) [5].

In June 2014, ISIS seized Mosul and announced the creation of a caliphate. This move prompted military action from the U.S. in the form of Operation Inherent Resolve. According to the Department of Defense, as of August 2017, the Coalition had conducted 13,331 airstrikes in Iraq and 11,235 airstrikes in Syria. As of May 2017, ISIS has lost 70% of the territory it controlled in Iraq in 2013 and 51% in Syria [6]. ISIS is rapidly losing its seized territory, and with it goes its dreams of a global caliphate.

Iraq and Syria: May 2017 (Source: theglobalcoalition.org)

Why Won’t Traditional Counterterrorism Work Against ISIS?

ISIS’s goal is to establish a caliphate and enact Sharia law. The counterterrorism tactics used against ISIS did little to degrade them initially. According to David Kilcullen of the book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla, ISIS does not hide out in rural deserts like past terrorist groups; they live in urban areas amongst civilian populations. This means drone strikes are difficult because of the almost guaranteed collateral damage. Furthermore, killing leadership will not harm the group because of its cell-like structures. Attempts to cut off funding did very little to degrade the group because the land they held sustained them with oil fields, banks, and antiquities. Countering their propaganda remains difficult because young, susceptible men find the ideology incredibly inviting. Pure military strength has taken most of the physical caliphate away from ISIS, but their ideology remains and their ability to inspire attacks is an enduring threat. Thus, the answer to the question is such – traditional counterterrorism did not work against ISIS because ISIS is an insurgency, not just a terrorist group.

Will ISIS be Defeated?

According to Audrey Cronin, Professor of International Relations at American University, ISIS is not a terrorist organization; it is an insurgent group that uses terrorist tactics [7]. This is important to keep in mind when attempting to discover what the future may hold for ISIS, as well as figuring out what are the best ways to respond to the continued threat. It is still absolutely vital to respond to the terroristic aspects of the organization, but it is important to keep in mind that the end of terrorism does not mean the end of its other elements.

Cronin has explained six ways in which terrorism ends – success, failure, negotiation, repression, decapitation, and reorientation [8]. ISIS will not succeed in establishing a global caliphate; it has lost too much territory and it was never a truly achievable goal. It will not fail or self-destruct because it functions in a cell-like structure, so while one cell may struggle, another cell can still operate unaffected. Negotiation is not feasible as the group’s demands are simply too ludicrous. Decapitation, in which a leader is killed or arrested, will do nothing to degrade ISIS because, while Baghdadi is a powerful symbol and well versed in Quranic studies, he is just that; a symbol of the movement, but not a real leader [9].

SEAN CULLIGAN/OZY

Reorientation is how ISIS will end; they will transform into a different type of group. It is important to note that the end of terrorism does not mean the beginning of peace [10]. ISIS will no longer remain an insurgent group that uses terrorism as a tactic, but they will continue to pose a threat in terms of sporadic attacks via its cells. Daniel Shapiro, professor of International Affairs at Princeton, does not think ISIS “has significant prospects for renewed growth anywhere” but does agree that the threat of attacks do remain [11].

What Will Work Against Radical Ideology?

The threat of terrorism will never fully go away. Diminishing ISIS’s territory has hindered their ability to finance themselves, coordinate, and plan large-scale attacks. However, taking away their physical caliphate does not mean ISIS cannot continue to propagate on the internet in the form of a virtual caliphate. We cannot win a war on ideology with weapons. The threat of a global caliphate is no longer existent, but the dangerous ISIS-inspired mindset will remain. As Scott Atran argues in his book Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (un)Making of Terrorists, de-radicalization, just like radicalization, works from the bottom up, not the top down [12]. This begs for continued advancement of community programs, including those that stress education and reinterpreting theology, to ensure susceptible young men and women do not radicalize via the internet, as well as collective vigilance to stop homegrown attacks.

Sources:

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/19/AR2007111900721.html

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/12/middleeast/here-is-how-isis-began/index.html

[3] The ISIS Apocalypse. William McCants 2016.

[4] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/isis-not-terrorist-group

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/12/middleeast/here-is-how-isis-began/index.html

[6] http://theglobalcoalition.org/en/maps_and_stats/daesh-areas-of-influence-may-2017-update/

[7] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/isis-not-terrorist-group

[8] How Terrorism Ends. Audrey Cronin. 2009.

[9] http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/30/can-the-islamic-state-survive-if-baghdadi-is-dead/

[10] How Terrorism Ends. Audrey Cronin. 2009.

[11] https://www.princeton.edu/news/2017/10/20/shapiro-what-fall-raqqa-means-future-isis

[12] Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (un)Making of Terrorists. Scott Atran. 2010.

The Latest Spat of Terror Attacks Threaten to Alter or Halt the Provision of Humanitarian Aid

On Wednesday, January 24, 2018, the headquarters of the humanitarian aid organization, Save the Children, was attacked by ISIS. The attack occurred in the city of Jalalabad located within Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. The official death toll currently sits at six and over twenty-five people were injured during the assault. The attack began with a suicide bombing outside of the organization’s headquarters destroying a van belonging to the organization. Following the bombing, gunmen stormed the headquarters building. The attack lasted a total of ten hours until the Afghani Security forces subdued the assailants. Four of the group’s employees were killed in the attack.

The attack was initially thought to be the work of the Taliban, but the Taliban denies responsibility. On Wednesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid insisted the bombing and assault were not carried out by the Taliban. (1) The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Jalalabad via the group’s news agency Amaq.

Following the attack, Save the Children announced that it would temporarily halt all operations in the country. Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children, responded to the attack on Wednesday saying, “We have temporarily suspended our operations across the country following today’s events, however, we remain fully committed to helping the most deprived children of Afghanistan.” (2) On Thursday, Carlos Carrazana, the Chief Operating Officer of Save the Children, assured observers that the organization would not be pulling out of Afghanistan.

The staff members of Save the Children are the latest victims of the evolving phenomena of extremist violence perpetrated upon humanitarian aid groups and NGOs. High-profile attacks upon aid groups burst into the public consciousness afresh in 2003 following a series of attacks upon the Red Cross and UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. At the time, such attacks were beyond the pale; this is no longer the case. Aid organizations are now well aware that they are targets and can become victims of extremist violence. While the media profile of attacks upon aid groups grew, so did public perceptions of their frequency and impact.

The number of documented violent attacks on NGOs rose sharply in 2013. According to the Aid Worker Security Report, 475 aid workers were the victims of violence in 2013. (3) While the profile and prominence of these attacks in media and news coverage remain large, it appears that the number of attacks and their efficacy is on the decline following the 2013 spike. In 2016, 288 Humanitarian aid workers were killed or injured in violent attacks. (3)

Zarghoona* is a 13 year-old girl, in grade 6 at school in Afghanistan. She has four brothers and four sisters. She has been receiving training in Child Focused Health Education (CFHE) from Save the Children. *name changed for protection (PRNewsfoto/Save the Children)

Save the Children’s decision to not conclude its operations in Afghanistan speaks to the dedication of the organization’s staff to its mission, but it might also expose a disconnect between the media narrative surrounding attacks on humanitarian aid organizations and NGOs, and reality as these organization’s see it. The number of attacks upon aid workers in 2016, when compared to the number of attacks carried out between 2008 and 2015, excluding 2013, is fairly consistent. The relative consistency of such attacks is even more striking when we consider the large spike in attacks carried out in 2013.

Any attack on humanitarian aid workers is an attack too many, however, the media frenzy associated with these sorts of events may hurt aid groups rather than help them. The larger a group’s profile may be, the more value there will be in attacking said group. In addition to increasing the profile and then vulnerability of aid groups, intensive media coverage of attacks may exacerbate difficulties attracting funding and recruits. Several aid groups have already begun to scale down their operations in Afghanistan, as the result of violence.  An outsized discussion of risk may further damage humanitarian efforts, hindering the provision of humanitarian aid. Nonetheless, humanitarian aid remains a significant tool in combatting extremism and radicalization.

Sources:

  1. One dead and 14 injured after charity offices attacked in Afghanistan. (2018, January 24). Retrieved January 26, 2018
  2. Update on Attack at Save the Children in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (n.d.).
  3. Stoddard, A., Harmer, A., & Czwarno, M. (2017, August). Behind the attacks: A look at the perpetrators of violence against aid workers.
  1. ISIL claims attack on Save the Children in Jalalabad. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2018,
  2. Salahuddin, S. (2018, January 24). Islamic State attacks Save the Children charity in Afghanistan. Washington Post.
  3. Death Toll Rises to 6 In Save The Children Attack In Jalalabad. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2018
  4. Why are aid organizations increasingly targeted? (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2018,
  5. Ogwude, E. C. (2015). Twelve Years Later: Afghan Humanitarian Aid Workers on War on Terror (Ph.D.). Nova Southeastern University, United States — Florida.
  6. Thomas F. Lynch III (2015) After ISIS: Fully Reappraising U.S. Policy in Afghanistan, The Washington Quarterly, 38:2, 119-144, DOI: 10.1080/0163660X.2015.1064714

The More We Sweat in Peace, The Less We Bleed in War

 

The effects of War:

The political, sectarian, and ideological conflicts and civil wars taking place in the Middle East since the late 1990s have had devastating effects on social, psychological, and economic frontiers. These threaten to kill the aspirations of multitudes living in and around the conflict zones. These conflicts threaten society as a whole and put its very institutions at stake. The Middle East’s wars and conflicts cause many people in the region to live in despair. When war breaks out, state institutions are forced to close their doors to the citizenry, reduce jobs and services and lead to unemployment and an increase in poverty. This snowballs into more dire psychological consequences, negatively affecting minds and thoughts. A lack of funding and opportunities leads individuals to feel they are incapable of achieving their desired ambitions and goals. Not knowing when, how or even if a conflict will end leaves individuals intimidated and frightened of the future. The psychological pain that individuals endure as a result of recurring political, sectarian, ideological, and civil wars leave one with little choice but to consider leaving his or her childhood and school memories, relatives, friends, and even customs and traditions of his or her society he or she grew up in behind for other regions away from war to search for a more decent life. Family displacement and dispersion, the suffering of children and the deterioration of economic, social and political conditions all follow from war and conflict. Here are some other consequences:

  • Educators might be also forced to collect their belongings and flee when schools’ doors are closed due to war. Students lose access to more than education and role models they can emulate, they lose the desire to maintain their education.
  • War diminishes the effectiveness of law in keeping societal spectra organized and regulated. In light of the law’s weakness and ineffectiveness, criminality, looting, and theft all ensue. The consequence of such criminality is a deviation from social norms, social conduct and individual civilian behavior from a correct path consistent with historical traditions and customs aligned with ethical legislation and international systems.
  • Conflict and wars are major causes of the spread of deadly diseases such as Cholera among others. The international community has witnessed the spread of Cholera in Yemen beginning in 2016 due to a war whose roots political, civil and sectarian. Cholera spread rapidly through various cities due to the lack of safe, treated drinking water.
  • This video shows the impact of war on children: https://youtu.be/dG8qrqCDOmU

The individual’s role in spreading a culture of peace in Middle Eastern societies:

Each individual plays an essential role in the development of society and its foundations. Each individual can be a source of energy and power for his or her society. When society sets the general goals and expected tasks that need to be achieved, it is the individual who implements them, participating in different activities to turn societal goals into reality. Every person in the Middle East, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian or non-believer in the Abrahamic religions, male or female, is directly and indirectly linked to the security and stability of the Middle East and the world as a whole. Each individual in the Middle East must realize that he or she has great responsibilities as regards improving and building their societies. Each individual in the Middle East must also realize that he or she is the maker and source of peace and that peace is initiated from within each individual. If an individual wants to get rid of the scourge of war, if the individual wants to prevent the poisons of conflict from paralyzing society’s development, if the individual wants peace to prevail in Middle Eastern societies, then he or she must first understand the principles of peaceful societies and cultures that serve as a foundations for human coexistence.

Freedom is one of the most important principles on which a culture of peace is based. Freedom is a central and a fundamental pillar of peace and coexistence between the members of a society. We must recognize and assert that “absolute” freedom does not exist in any society in the world. We only think “absolute” freedom exists. Because “absolute” freedom can also mean “absolute” chaos and “absolute” corruption and this is unacceptable. Freedom itself does exist, but it is restricted in accordance with the agreed upon limitations of society’s values, idea, and traditions. Freedom comes in many forms. The following are some forms of freedom: freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, freedom of the press, freedom to wear the clothing you like, etc. One of the most important freedoms that must be understood thoroughly and appreciated by the individual living in the Middle East is freedom of belief and religion.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the three monotheistic and Abrahamic religions that constitute an integral part of Middle Eastern history and culture. It is also worth mentioning that the three religions were born, so to say, in and around the Middle East. Although there are differences between these religions, many religious scholars conclude that the similarities between these religions are more numerous than the differences. This video explains how these three religions are connected to each other https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xyE3ITVb6E

Because the similarities outweigh the differences, each individual in the Middle East should appreciate and glorify those similarities to pave the way for tolerance and coexistence to in turn increase cooperation and harmony between Middle Eastern societies. Individuals must respect differences between the three religions to stop the bloodshed and avoid ideological and sectarian wars. Differences in beliefs and religion should not spoil people’s relations with each other and people should not seek to eliminate a party or side that disagree with their views.

Islam and the Freedom of Religion:

There are many verses from the Qur’an, the Islamic faith’s holy book, that show the importance of respect for others’ beliefs and religion.  The verses emphasize the importance of not interfering with other people’s affairs and of not forcibly imposing beliefs or religion on others. It is not the right of any person to interfere in the relationship of another person with his or her God. Everyone has the right to choose his or her own beliefs and religion. And everyone is responsible for his or her own actions. The following are some examples from the Qur’an:

“There is no compulsion in religion” The Cow: 256

“I do not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship, I will never worship what you worship, you will never worship what I worship, you have your religion and I have mine” The Disbelievers: 2-6

Human beings have no right to attack the beliefs of other people and the only one who can judge people is God. Human beings have the right to offer advice but without anger. Humans have the right to debate and support their arguments with proof and evidence in a calm and respectful manner. Humans have the right to express their opinions but without encroachment or assault on others. Humans do not have the right to force others to change their views and beliefs.

  • ({Prophet}, call people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way) The Bee: 125

It is crucial that we interpret and understand the verses of any religious text very carefully to determine the intended meaning. Proper interpretation requires careful study and this is not always an easy task. People should strive to embody the greatest integrity when they interpret verses of a religious text.

Organizing events, seminars, discussions, and workshops:

In order to create an atmosphere of cooperation and peace among individuals in Middle Eastern societies, to enable the individual to develop his or her interpersonal skills, and to encourage the individual to actively engage in the development of his or her society, we should organize and coordinate events, seminars, discussions and workshops that bring together individuals from different Middle Eastern communities to address important topics and instill peaceful values, principles, and behavior within every individual. Some examples of constructive topics that can be addressed through workshops include:

  • Teamwork and team building
  • Self and time management
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Work ethics and behavior
  • The idea of peace and the role of the individual in achieving peace and tolerance
  • The idea of freedom and how to carefully use freedom to build society and not to destroy it

This is just an example that shows how an individual can use his or her time wisely to contribute to society instead of wasting time in initiating conflicts with other groups of people.

FIFA World Cup 2018: Russia taking security measures to prevent terrorist attacks during tournament

© Alexandr Sherbak/TASS

Every four years societies come together to watch and cheer at the largest sporting events on Earth, the FIFA World Cup. Thirty-two teams from across the globe will represent their nations and compete to be the last to lift the winner’s trophy. Russia will have the honor of hosting the World Cup this year. The international soccer tournament runs from June 14th until July 15th.

While the World Cup remains a time of celebration and national pride, the event poses significant terrorist concerns. Russia plans to host sixty-four games in eleven cities scattered across European Russia. Of these locations, three cities remain close to Russia’s North Caucasus region, a hotbed for Chechen separatism and Islamic fundamentalism. Other cities represent high-value targets for their cultural or political significance, most notably St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Image courtesy Human Rights Watch[1]

Russian citizens, like the rest of the world, have become accustomed to the possibility of terrorism in their daily lives. In April 2017, a terrorist detonated an explosive device in the St. Petersburg metro system. In 2014, just before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, two deadly attacks in Volgograd killed 34 people.[2] A review of Russia’s recent history shows concerted terrorist efforts to attack metro systems, passenger planes, and government representations. These targets will remain critical during the World Cup as fans from across the globe travel to attend games and visit Russian tourist attractions.

(Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press)

Russia has had recent success in hosting a major international tournament. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics came off without any terrorist incidents. While their success is laudable, the 2018 World Cup is a much larger event. The Sochi games held a total attendance of three million people including those who attended concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions and more than four hundred thousand in attendance at the Olympic events themselves.[3] In comparison, the 2014 Brazil Cup included a total attendance of roughly three million people at the sixty-four games and more than five million attending local fan events and celebrations.[4] Additionally, while the Sochi games only occurred in one city, the 2018 World Cup will spread the Russian security apparatus across the county. This spreading of the security forces does not guarantee a terrorist attack will occur but does expose the possibilities of greater vulnerabilities for terrorist actors to slip through.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has discussed the required responsibilities in managing World Cup security. Lavrov stated, “Our ultimate priority is to ensure the maximum convenient and safe stay of players and fans in Russia. Russia’s law enforcement agencies are taking all the necessary steps in this direction.”[5]

Fighting terrorism remains a significant priority of the Putin presidency. Since his first term, Putin has sought to strengthen and reaffirm Russian presence on the world stage. By hosting notable international events, Russia hopes to demonstrate that it is a modern, bustling nation that is on equal footing with developed nations. The Russian government will seek to demonstrate that the 2018 World Cup is safe for international visitors and prevent any type of violence or terrorism from occurring. While Russia’s standing and relations with the rest of the world have fluctuated over the years, terrorism remains one front in which cooperation is possible with Europe and the United States to ensure a prosperous event.

Like any tournament, fans want to remember the events that occurred on the field, court, or pitch, not any acts of violence that shattered the spirit of the games. The 2018 Russian World Cup remains five months away. Russia has a significant task before it in assuring the safety of all international visitors. For their own national image as well as the safety of international fans, Russia will seek to rise to the challenge.

No state can guarantee 100% safety from terrorist actors who wish to maximize their message by targeting events that garner massive public awareness and notoriety. Large sporting events serve as appealing targets. Yet, fans of the game cannot let that dampen their spirits. If people start to allow terrorist actions to affect their lives and prevent the enjoyment of activities, then terrorists achieve their goal of creating disruption. So, go if you can, watch if you wish, but remember to enjoy the spectacle of some excellent soccer played out every four years.

Sources:

[1] Human Rights Watch | 350 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10118-3299, USA | “Red Card | Exploitation of Construction Workers on World Cup Sites in Russia.” Human Rights Watch., last modified -06-14T00:00:01-04:00, accessed Jan 20, 2018,

[2] “A Timeline of Deadly Attacks in Russia.”. Los Angeles Times.

[3] International Olympic Committee. 2015. “Factsheet: Sochi 2014 Facts and Figures.”: 1-7.

[4] “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ in Numbers.” FIFA.com., last modified -09-23 09:36:00, accessed Jan 20, 2018,

[5] “Russia Makes all Efforts to Ensure Security at 2018 FIFA World Cup — Lavrov.” TASS., accessed Jan 20, 2018,

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The International Community Questions Whether Pakistan can be Counted on to Combat Terrorism

The International Community Questions Whether Pakistan can be Counted on to Combat Terrorism

On January 16, 2018, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shahid Khaquan Abbasi, appeared on a program hosted by Pakistan’s GEOtv network and explained that Hafiz Saeed, the accused mastermind behind the infamous 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, was released because he has no case in Pakistan. The Prime Minister’s statement sparked controversy amongst Pakistan’s citizens, neighboring nations including Afghanistan and India, and members of the international community. Pakistan has been the subject of much criticism from the international community. Many of the community’s members question Pakistan’s commitment to combating terror.

Hafiz Saeed is the founder of Jamat ud-Dawa. Jamat ud-Dawa is thought to be an affiliate of the well-known terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamat ud-Dawa are credited with carrying out the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

NEW DELHI: Mumbai attacks mastermind and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed has filed a petition in the United Nations, asking his name to be struck off from the list of global list of designated terrorists.

Hafiz Saeed and the Mumbai Attacks

On November 27, 2008, 166 people were killed in a series of terror attacks in Mumbai, India. On December 12, 2008 Pakistani authorities initiated a country-wide crackdown on Jamat ud-Dawa, one of the groups believed to have orchestrated the attacks. Saeed was captured during the crackdown and placed under house arrest. Pakistani authorities have held and released Saeed multiple times following the 2008 attack. Saeed was released from house arrest this November, following the Lahore High Court’s review of his charges. Saeed was being held on house arrest under the Maintenance of Public Order Law. The governments of both India and the United States requested that Saeed be held and charged with the 2008 attacks.

Saeed’s release was met with condemnation from Pakistan’s neighbors, international observers, and the United States. Saeed’s release is significant and threatens the tenuous security balance within Central and South Asia as well as Pakistan’s status as a partner in the global effort to combat terrorism.

The Indo-Pakistani relationship is one wracked with difficulty and enmity. Since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it and the Republic of India have repeatedly engaged in direct combat and proxy warfare. The largest contributing factor to the ongoing tension between the two nations is the status of the Jammu-Kashmir territory. Both India and Pakistan assert claims over the region. Jammu-Kashmir is home to many extremist and separatist groups. India has long accused Pakistan of using these groups as proxies in Pakistan’s war on the Indian state. The 2008 Mumbai attacks attributed to such proxies further exacerbated the tense relationship between India and Pakistan.

International Condemnation

The decision of the Lahore High Court, to release Saeed, incensed the Indian leadership. The Indian foreign ministry voiced its frustration with the decision of the court. The Pakistani Prime Minister’s January 16, 2018 statement, meant to assuage worries and calm tensions, will likely have little impact on the perceptions of India’s leadership.  

India is not the only country outraged by the release of Saeed. Afghanistan, which shares a border with Pakistan, was also upset by the court’s decision. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry told TOLOnews, “the move by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry shows that Islamabad supports terrorists-Pakistan supports terrorist groups” (1)

The United States responded to Saeed’s release with condemnation. During a press briefing on November 25, 2017, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee-Sanders asserted that, “Saeed’s release, after Pakistan’s failure to prosecute or charge him, sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combating international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil.” (2) The efforts of the Pakistani state to combat extremism have received criticism from US observers and policy makers for some time. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad deeply damaged the relationship between the two nations. US President Donald Trump voiced his concerns regarding Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terror and threatened to end security aid on January 1, 2018. This month the administration acted upon its threats ending nearly 900 million dollars in security assistance funding to Pakistan.

Damage Control

The government of Pakistan has not shied from addressing the controversy, and has taken steps to assuage the concerns of Pakistan’s citizens and partners. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry shared the name of 72 terror groups with its citizens informing its citizens that they are not to cooperate with these groups or they will face prosecution.

The events of this month lend credence to those accusing Pakistan of neglecting its commitment and responsibility to tackle extremism and terror. It remains to be seen how or if the loss of US security funding will impact Pakistan’s will to combat terror. What is known, is that the seriousness of the Pakistani commitment to combating terror is in question and that Pakistan will have to produce results if it is to mend its reputation as an anti-terror state.

Sources

  1. http://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/pakistan-shares-names-72-terror-groups%C2%A0-its-citizens
  2. http://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/saeed%E2%80%99s-release-angers-us-who-calls-his-rearrest
  3. http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/no-danger-of-war-with-india-no-cases-against-hafiz-saeed-in-pakistan-says-pm-abbasi/story-pK6MZTTLiIHeSsF7jWFr9K.html
  4. Javaid, Umbreen and Marium Kamal. “The Mumbai Terror ‘2008’ and Its Impact on the Indo-Pak Relations.” South Asian Studies (1026-678X), vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 25-37.