Tackling the wider dimensions of terrorism

Dhaka,  Tue,  25 July 2017
Published : 09 Jul 2017, 20:49:46 | Updated : 09 Jul 2017, 22:02:29
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Tackling the wider dimensions of terrorism

Muhammad Zamir
How can one forget the mindless massacre that took place on July 01, 2016 in the Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, Dhaka? Innocent lives were lost and violence reigned supreme. Religion was used to explain actions that were in total violation of international norms and human rights.

This incident led to the killing of the six Bangladeshi gunmen, the arrest of one other alleged gunman, and the rescue of 13 hostages that included both Bangladeshis and foreigners. The rescue team subsequently discovered, on the conclusion of their operation, the corpses of 20 others - 17 of them foreign friends of Bangladesh and three Bangladeshis. The murdered included nine Italians, seven Japanese nationals, one Indian, one US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and two Bangladeshis who were here to enjoy the coming Eid or to complete business activities. Two police officials were also killed and a few others injured.

The evolving dynamics of dynamism has now spread not only across frontiers but also religious faiths and beliefs. It is affecting personal security, individual and collective socio-economic rights. The terrorists now use guns or daggers or motor vehicles to ensure harm or death of individuals. The idea is to spread terror among ordinary citizens. Perpetrators of such indiscriminate violence seem to forget that the Creator does not distinguish between His Creation. Instead He has always directed that we need to help and support each other and ensure that we do not harm others.

In the latest in this series of unwanted incidents a man, of Armenian origin, tried to drive his vehicle into a crowd outside a mosque in the suburb of Creteil, Paris in the last week of June, 2017. The police was able to arrest him after he was apparently thwarted by barriers put up to protect the mosque. It was later reported that the suspect, a non-Muslim, had wanted to avenge attacks on the Bataclan theatre and Champs-Élysées, both linked to so-called Islamic State (ISIS). It may be recalled that in April, a gunman killed police officer Xavier Jugelé on the Champs-Élysées before being shot dead. A note defending ISIS was found near his body. France has remained under a state of emergency since attacks on the capital in November 2015.

This trend of vehicle-ramming terrorist attacks on innocent civilians has gained in frequency in Europe over the last year. On July 14, 2016 a man drove a lorry for more than one mile through a large crowd gathered to watch Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, France. Eighty-six people were killed, and more than 300 injured. On December 19, 2016 a man drove a lorry through the crowded Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, killing 12 people and injuring 49. ISIS later claimed it had carried out the attack. On March 22, 2017 six people died and at least 50 were injured in London, UK, when a car mounted the pavement on London's Westminster Bridge and drove at high speed through pedestrians. The attacker then entered the Parliament complex on foot and fatally stabbed a police officer, before being shot dead. On April 07, 2017 four people were killed in Stockholm, Sweden when a lorry crashed into the front of a department store. The Uzbek driver was arrested and he confessed to the "terrorist crime". On June 03, 2017 eight people were killed when three attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge, UK and launched a knife attack in Borough Market. The attackers were subsequently shot dead. Another attack took place on June 19, 2017 in London, UK when a non-Muslim man drove a van into a group of worshipers close to a mosque in north London during the month of Ramadan. One man of Bangladeshi origin died and the perpetrator was arrested on suspicion of terror offences.

The unfortunate dimension of such unwanted violence has now started to expand because of fundamentalism, populism and communalism. To such occurrences has now been added a growing number of violent incidents in India, being carried out in the name of protection of cows. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared that murder in the name of cow protection is "not acceptable". This comment came after criticism of Modi for not doing enough to condemn the attacks.

On June 29, Mr Modi told a gathering in his home state Gujarat that killing people in the name of cow protection was "not in keeping with the principles of India's founding father, Mahatma Gandhi". He also added that "as a society, there is no place for violence", and that "no person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands".

Hindus believe that cows are sacred and killing them has been banned in some of the Indian States. The latest political dynamics has seen the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India. AFP has reported that since 2010, in 63 attacks, twenty-eight Indians, 24 of them Muslims, have been killed and 124 injured in cow-related violence. Most of them have suffered after being accused of either transporting beef in their cars or supposedly having beef in their residences. The latest violent incident led to the death of a 45-year-old Muslim man in Jharkhand after he was attacked by a mob of more than 100 people, only hours after Modi's comment. He was accused of transporting beef in his car. Pictures on social media showed him being beaten as meat lay strewn on the road and his car was enveloped by flames. He died in hospital. Such unwarranted attacks are also being carried out against Dalits by Hindu vigilante groups. Targets are often picked based on rumours and Muslims have been attacked for even transporting cows for milk.

One must admit that the response from the Indian civil society towards this growing trend of violence has been laudable. In the last week of June protests under the banner #NotInMyName were held in several Indian cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Allahabad, as well as in London. Gatherings have also been planned in July in Chennai, India as well as in Toronto in Canada, Boston in the US, and Karachi in Pakistan.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government in India has come under increasing pressure from Hindu hardliners to do more to protect cows. Unfortunately, they seem to forget that although the majority of India's estimated 1.2 billion population is Hindu, the country is also home to large Muslim, Christian and Buddhist minorities.

We need to turn now to what is happening in the Middle East. Violence emanating from this arena is polluting the calm waters in different parts of the world - in Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. The sectarian divide juxtaposed with political ambitions is creating instability and lack of accountability. We have seen examples of this also in Bangladesh. Many have consequently welcomed the prospect of ISIS finally crumbling in Iraq.

At its peak, ISIS or ISIL controlled territory across Iraq and Syria roughly equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom. It has now lost nearly 47 per cent of its territory since January, according to Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit, a security and defence observer.  

An Al-Jazeera commentator has, however, made an interesting observation: "As ISIL's 'caliphate' crumbles, its ideology remains - the end of the self-proclaimed caliphate's territorial rule does not mean the end of ISIL". That is something which needs to be understood by those carrying out the campaign against terrorism-prone organisations.

Syria's civil war, now in its seventh year, has killed more than 450,000 people, forced more than five million civilians to flee the country, and has internally displaced more than six million people. What started with anti-government protests in Syria's major cities has escalated into a bloody civil war involving various factions, conflicting in religion, ethnicity, and political objectives. Foreign armed support from leading powers such as Russia, the US and Iran has only exacerbated the reality on the ground.

On the other hand, according to the United Nations, about 2.6 million Iraqis have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis in January 2014, when ISIS took over vast swaths of land. Three million internally displaced people also presently reside in camps away from their homes.

Currently, the battle against ISIS, now in its final stages, is centred on the group's last two urban strongholds: Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa, the group's self-proclaimed capital in Syria. ISIS is expected to be militarily defeated by the end of the year, according to Strack. Its territory will then be reduced to a number of "small isolated pockets" in Iraq and to "a narrow strip of towns and villages" in Syria's Deir Az Zor.

Despite this expected evolution, Professor Ranj Alaaldin, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Doha, has made an interesting observation: "The end of the so-called caliphate does not mean the end of ISIS. It could splinter into different groups or align themselves with other extremist groups."  That would create a real challenge against security forces. It has also been mentioned that currently, there is no "political and humanitarian strategy or framework for the day after ISIS".

In this context, regional powers, the USA, EU and Russia need to understand that without efficient resources to rebuild the destruction in Iraq and Syria, it might be challenging to restore stability and implement good governance initiatives that will give people jobs and basic services. 

I believe that the most effective way to limit the growth and stop the expansion of violent terrorism is to eliminate factors that encourage such activities and belief. This will require focus on eradicating obstacles that breed mismanagement, corruption and lack of political participation. One way forward to this destination would be to follow John Milton's observation: "Discussion is knowledge in the making".

The writer, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst  specialised in foreign affairs, right to  information and good governance. 

muhammadzamir0@gmail.com


 
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