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Is the destruction of IS enough?

  • Published at 12:05 am July 18th, 2016
Is the destruction of IS enough?

The first official knowledge of the existence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) became public when the militant group wrested control of a large chunk of Iraq including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and famously declared an Islamic caliphate in the captured territory in June 2014.

Their much touted victory over a thoroughly unequipped and decimated Iraqi army and retreating Syrian government forces made it possible for the Islamic radicals to find a home, and attract thousands to join the band from not only the Middle East, but also from other parts of the world including Europe, America, and Asia.

At the beginning, everyone among the political pundits and media dissed the idea of this militant group sustaining its gain, let alone expanding the territory and military organisation.

Even President Obama called the group a JV team (a term used for junior varsity sports teams), and did not direct any US resources toward containing or fighting this incipient band of militants. Meanwhile, ISIS expansion and consolidation of territory in Iraq and Syria continued, and reports of hundreds of youths from Europe and Asia joining the band continued to pour in.

The wake-up call would not come until about a year later, when ISIS-trained and inspired radicals carried out random bomb attacks, mass killings, and suicide missions in cities in France, Denmark, USA, Turkey, Tunisia, Yemen, and, of course, Iraq.

These activities doubled when the group or people swearing affiliation to it launched indiscriminate attacks on civilians in non-military bases in European and US cities as well as the Middle East, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The West’s response to contain and defeat the nascent militant state was tentative, with US reluctant to have a ground force engaged in yet another Middle East battle, except for sporadic bomb attacks from air.

Dilly-dallying on a sustained and determined approach by Western nations to contain and destroy ISIS partly happened because of unwillingness among most of these countries to get involved in another Iraq-type war, and a feeling that such an entity did not pose an existentialist threat to them.

Many political analysts and strategists argued that ISIS was an Arab problem, and should be dealt with by the Arab nations. Strangely, many other non-Arab Muslim countries, including Turkey, had denied to get involved militarily on similar grounds.

It took some time for the US and European countries, including the non-Arab Muslim countries, to realise that ISIS was not just an entity to remain satisfied with establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, but also, more importantly, was the sponsor and proselytiser of a concept based on a twisted interpretation of Qur’an and Sharia.

This concept not only advocated expansion of its dream of Islamic caliphate all over the Muslim world, but also wherever Muslims are, and it considered everybody who opposed this concept, irrespective of them being Muslims or followers of other religions a threat.

It may be possible that the group will finally retreat. But they will run and hide elsewhere. The ideology and promise they made to their followers will continue to attract and inspire other would-be militants and disgruntled elements worldwide

The concept of a state based on Islamic laws of Sharia, and rigid interpretation of the religion is not new. But the campaign launched by ISIS and its followers and sympathisers was also, in a sense, existential. It is existential because the supporters believe that their ideology is one that every Muslim should live by.

Ironically, although the ideology was born decades ago in one form or the other, beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood in the same geographic area, and was later followed by more extremists groups such as Taliban in Afghanistan, and more famously al-Qaeda in later years, ISIS (which broke away from Al-Qaeda) took it to new levels by adopting Trotskyite tactics of mowing down opponents in a brutal manner along with conventional wars.

They started to behead people they believed to be their enemies including all “non-believers,” and encouraged and undertook suicide missions in non-military areas and indiscriminate killing of civilians in foreign soil.

Their conquest of two cities of Iraq and proclamation of the Caliphate, an act that no other radical groups were able to do before, also fired the imagination and zeal of the romantic youths abroad who were either disenchanted with their environments, or the lives they were leading.

They joined ISIS in droves, either because of their disenchantment, or because they already had nurtured radical thoughts and temperament in them. What we witnessed in Bangladesh in recent times in growth of religious radicalism and its manifestation in many forms is also not detached from this global spread of such extremism.

Unfortunately however, our political leaders seemed to put the blame on their political opponents for such violence whenever it occurred. Violence during election times and other political protests is not the same thing as those inspired by religious radicals.

The goals of violence caused by established political parties are short term, but those caused by the religious radicals are long term goals. These are changing the country from its established principles to ones that are based on a different ideology.

We have had a variety of religious radicals sprouting in the country in last two decades, but none with the ferocity and viciousness of the groups who have been identified with some of the most violent acts of the last two years. The worst examples have been the tragic happening of Gulshan and Sholakia.

What is most revealing of the recent violent incidents is the identity of the perpetrators, who did not fit the usual profile of radical fighters emanating from religious institutions or from hardcore religious backgrounds.

They are youths drawn by a so-called ideal that has been able to draw many other youths like them from various parts of the world, and imbued them with hate, intolerance, and violence to spread that ideal. Now that a sizeable chunk of the territory occupied by ISIS has slid out of its hands, and it is poised to lose control of its last stronghold in Syria, it may be possible that the group will finally retreat, and the so-called Islamic caliphate might come to an abrupt end. But they will run and hide elsewhere.

The ideology and promise they made to their followers will continue to attract and inspire other would-be militants and disgruntled elements worldwide. They may be deprived of a home base, but they will strive for another in a likely soft state elsewhere.

What will prevent the further spread of this new radicalism is lack of public support. No movement can last for long on intimidation, terror, and indiscriminate killing. No religion sanctions that. The current movement of the so called jihadists, if we can call it a movement at all, is rooted neither in Islam, nor the vast followers of Islam.

It is a false movement based on false interpretation of the religion and its doctrines. No movement without mass support can survive for long. While countries gear up to confront the menace of this radical group, and take measures to stop their youth from falling prey to such ideas, alongside they will need to raise mass awareness about the falsehood of this radical thought, and the danger confronting us all.

In Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, this will mean more reforms in our educational curricula and institutions focusing on teachings of religion, values of life, liberty, and freedom of thought.

These will also need to be cast in the overall framework of transparency in governance, rule of law, and equality before law of all citizens in the country.  Maybe we can see a better future free from violence for all our next generations if we strive together.