Leaving my heart with mother earth, I picked up my brain and called on Steve Clemons, the Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. He is the senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, DC, where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the DC political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.
I wanted to know more about ISIS, South Asia, and the future of Bangladesh from a foreign policy expert. My intuitive love of Bangladesh was no longer enough. I needed to arm myself with knowledge. The following is the transcript of my interview with Steve regarding terrorism and ISIS in Bangladesh. I cannot offer words of condolence or say that our Eid will be amazing and joyous but I can say that we will heal, ever stronger, ever more together because our heart is already there in nano bits.
Shireen: Is it IS (Islamic State), ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)?
Steve: All three. They call themselves all three; US media is trained to use ISIS. I use ISIS. President Obama uses ISIL.
Shireen: Putin says ISIS is a mercenary group. What is your analysis? Who is funding them?
Steve: That’s too simplistic. ISIS is an amalgamation of different disaffected groups of people coming together: the residue of leadership from Saddam Hussain's army; pockets of Salafasits; Mujahideens from the war with the USSR; alienated youth. Of course, the leadership wants to grab money, power, and land, while promoting Salafism (“A school of Sunni Islam that condemns theological innovation and advocates strict adherence to shari'a and to the social structures existing in the earliest days of Islam”).
Shireen: Why is ISIS interested in Bangladesh?
Steve: ISIS attracts “ascending and aspiring” followers in Bangladesh, which would be in the interest of ISIS because it is trying to brand itself as a global organisation. Bangladeshi terrorism is different. There are probably local groups who want to affiliate with ISIS but these people have not trained in Syria, and quite different from the terrorism we have seen in Western Europe. ISIS doesn't have any qualms about killing Muslims. It wants to show that it has the power to destabilise those who will not follow Islamic State norms, for example, Bangladesh, which is already under a government that has been ineffective and slow in coordinating intelligence with its western partners in addressing terrorist actions.
The two leading parties in Bangladesh have been knocking each other senseless for years. Politically, Bangladesh is not a pleasant place. There are several radical groups with roots back to Pakistan, as well as groups such as Ansar al-Islam, who wants to connect with al-Qaeda. When the hacking down of secularists began, Bangladeshi society largely did not galvanise around them, yet are quite triggered by the cafe murders.
This is sad because terrorism of this sort has been going on for the last 2.5 years, especially political assassinations. This is a wake up call. Bangladeshi citizens need to understand that they are stakeholders in their society. For example, when you see that 11,000 people have been arrested over a period of four days, you have to know that this will breed future insecurity.
There is no country in the world where there are 11,000 active terrorist members. The current government is using terrorism as an excuse to pursue their own political objectives and suppress any opposition. When you arrest 11,000 people, radical groups can then start to drive wedges further into the country. The United States will now focus more on encouraging the Government of Bangladesh to bring back stability.
Shireen: What is the future of South Asia and what sort of role is Bangladesh imagined to play, or needed to play?
Steve: South Asia should be the next wave of impressive civic society developments. Bangladesh is thought to be one of the next 11. South Asia in general is looked upon to be growing in economic opportunity. It is such a promising situation. It is the place where the future middle class will be. Bangladesh was on track to becoming a market society but it is now struggling to be a pluralistic system (which would support a market society).
Shireen: Considering the incredible amount of money in private hands, to the point where private individuals can imagine taking their own mission to Mars, have you come across any research into how private wealth also funds private armies?
Steve: This is one of the giant problems. The very rich oil sheikhs are doing this. I have written a piece about **Prince Bandar of Saudia Arabia covertly sending money to ISIS. Just this last week, Bob Casey, US Senator from Pennsylvania, introduced legislation to push the American government to find ways in holding private funders of mercenaries accountable for terror.
Shireen: How can we find out more about what the world wants from Bangladesh?
Steve: Create a news flow that’s a mixture of newspapers, journals, social media. For example, I use Google translate to follow the local newspapers in India and Pakistan.
Shireen: How does the Bay of Bengal fit into Nato's strategy to manage a pro-NATO world view? How does NATO coordinate their strategy with India's strategy for the region?
Steve: I don't know, but I can tell you after I attend the Nato Summit in Warsaw next week.
Shireen: Great, looking forward to that interview.
*Leela is a Sanskrit word meaning the divine play of God, in which things can be suddenly turned on its head or the expected can occur but with unexpected consequences in an infinite number of algorithms."
**Article by Steve Clemons in The Atlantic: 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-saudi-arabia-iraq-syria-bandar/373181/