Monday, July 4, 2016

A Tale of Two Horrors

Ramadan is a Holy Month for reflection, prayers and spiritual closeness to Allah; a month of fasting but also a month were patience and understanding and appreciating the message of Islam is utmost to Muslims. Clearly this was not the message that ISIS or its loosely affiliated groups wanted to give to the Muslims the world over. While there were scattered attacks elsewhere two of them stand out as the tale of horror; Dhaka shooting and the Baghdad blasts. Sure they follow the terrible attacks in Orlando and Istanbul but these two attacks need a fair bit of thought.

Baghdad Attack:

The awful attack in a shopping area of Baghdad killed over 200 Muslims who were busy shopping for the approaching Eid Festival; which is at the end of the month of fasting. For the people of Baghdad since 2003 there has been an undertone always of terror attacks, and this year alone it has been a vicious year of horror. In January 105 people were killed, February 66 killed, March 92 killed, April 32 killed, May 144 killed, June 15 killed, and July 215 plus killed. These attacks in the backdrop of major battlefield reversals for the ISIS in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq.

As the pace of attacks on ISIS has increased and have been more successful the battlefield in their eyes has moved to soft targets within the population of Iraq. I doubt given the disarray their command and control structure is in the ISIS would not be directing each attack with the traditional military intent. More likely for some time now the ISIS strategy seems to have been to have various militants prepared to carry out these attacks but leaving the timing and choice of the attacks to their local minders on the ground. These cells therefore would be operating under a very lose structure and little or no communication, other than within the cells, making interception and pre warning of the attacks impossible. This is precisely the most dangerous aspect of these attacks that a direct plan to stop each particular attack is quite difficult to implement.

The question remains what does the ISIS achieve from the political or military point of view?
Frankly from a political view such attacks actually alienate the populous from the ISIS even more given that the attacks kill Sunni, Shia and anyone who happens to be there. Militarily one could argue a small percentage of attacks were directly targeted at army and police targets, but of the 700 odd people killed this year in these attacks almost 80% very innocent civilians. So it would seem the purpose of the attacks is merely to give a message that ISIS may have suffered reversals on the battlefield but it has the ability to hit back whenever it wants.

Iraq is a fragmented country, a weak central government, sectarian discord and a propensity for violence on a scale that is unimaginable. One has to struggle to find a single strong unifying factor that can make Iraqi's, as a nation, say "ENOUGH". Somehow, as horrible as this attack was, I would hope this is the wake up call for the Iraqis to unify to bring peace to their land. Indeed this alone will not stop the attacks, a lot more effort has to be made to change the mind set of the people who get lured into the ISIS ideology, and indeed as ISIS loses foothold after foothold in the country one would imagine their ability to carry out the attacks would reduce.

Dhaka, Bangladesh:

I watch the TV and see images of the attackers posing in front of an ISIS flag, smiling, almost cynically prior to their carrying out their attack on a Dhaka eatery killing 20 people, mostly foreigners. What is alarming is that this attack is perhaps the first in the Indian subcontinent where direct allegiance to ISIS has been pledged by attackers before an attack. The radicalization of the youth in this manner is a surprise but can be explained by domestic political developments within Bangladesh. The Jammat i Islami (JI) party was aligned with a united Pakistan and during Bangladesh's war of Independence they sided with the Pakistan army. Since 2011, forty years after Independence, a series of legal steps were taken to deregister JI as a political party and from 2013 a number of its leaders were tried and sentenced for crimes related to the 1971 war of Independence.

In 2013 many of the JI followers took to the streets to protest the verdicts and attacked not only government buildings but also Hindu temples and other minorities. I believe that given the loss of their leadership and the sense of persecution by the government has driven these right wing elements into the hands of the ISIS recruiters. These attackers did not have the background and profile of the madrassa type indoctrinated youth, but came from middle class homes with a good education. I have always argued that an educated fanatic is the most difficult one to argue with because they have a sense of belief that they believe is intellectually well argued in their minds.

To me of the two trends the developments in Bangladesh are more serious as it indicates a policy and planning of attacks, coming from an educated militia of followers which are going to be hard to combat. This also ties into the passionate politics of Bangladesh and to the rank and file of the JI followers will be seen a just retribution for the verdicts against their leadership. One could argue that the trials of the JI leadership could have been handled differently, but then this is hindsight, for the moment the spectre of the ISIS finding a breeding ground for its twisted philosophy in the delta of Bengal is scary to say the least.

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