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Terror In The Name Of Religion – Analysis

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By Deepak Sinha*

Paris has been in the eye of the hurricane this past year, what with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office last January that resulted in killed 12, followed by an even more horrific attack 11 months later that has left 129 dead and hundreds more injured. While Paris may be in a shock, others in Lebanon and Russia too have reason to grieve. On October 31, terrorists planted an explosive device and destroyed an airliner over the Sinai killing all 224 on board, while a fortnight later two suicide bombers attacked a Shia neighbourhood in Beirut killing 40 and maiming many more.

While there is some truth in the statement that terror has no religion, sadly all these attacks were perpetrated by militants owing allegiance to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or more appropriately, Daesh.Why Daesh? As journalist Zeba Khan suggested in the Boston Globe, “Daesh is a better choice because it is accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, Daesh can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from ‘to trample down and crush’ to ‘a bigot who imposes his view on others’.

We do, however, need to keep things in perspective by reminding ourselves that if we were to go by statistics alone from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, then in all probability, approximately 260 fatalities occurred due to gun violence in the United States in the past month. That being said, one cannot avoid facing the fact that Daesh and its affiliates do pose an ever-increasing threat to global peace and communal harmony that needs to be neutralised at the earliest to avoid a conflagration that they are keen to initiate. Therefore, it would be beneficial to understand the nature of the beast before we can conclude that the campaign in progress to neutralise it is on the right lines or if it needs changes.

We need to accept the fact that Daesh represents an insurgency that afflicts the whole of West Asia and parts of Africa. Like all other insurgencies it has clear ideological underpinnings and a clear political aim: To wrest power from the governing classes in the region. In Iraq and Syria, it enjoys extensive support and sympathy among the marginalised Sunni community. That has enabled it to engage the Iraqi and Syrian Armies in a conventional conflict, for control of territory larger than the United Kingdom, in what can be considered to be the final offensive phase of any insurgency. While insurgents do normally resort to acts of terror against the population at large, especially in the early phases of their campaign, Daesh continues to simultaneously behave like a terrorist group in those regions it has little or no traction.

While insurgencies are restricted to countries or regions within them, the fundamental difference between Daesh and past and on-going insurgencies is that they see themselves as trans-national with the world as their target. Their literal interpretation of Islamic precepts that were embedded by Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers, requires them to act against non-believers and apostates alike. Despite vehement and universal opposition to its ideology from Islamic scholars and others, its brand of Islam has found resonance among young Muslims around the world, especially second and third generation immigrants in the West, among others, who face problems of racial discrimination, socio-economic deprivation and unemployment. They have no stake in the future of the countries their forefathers immigrated to, and are now looking for revenge against society at large, which they consider to be corrupt and discriminatory.

It stands to reason that the Daesh, its advocates and affiliates, must be tackled at several levels simultaneously. The civil war must be quickly brought under control by the use of conventional forces with greater combat capability and effectiveness than what the Daesh can muster. However, to expect militias and semi-trained, poorly led and motivated Syrian and Iraqi Government forces, even if supported by an effective air campaign, to pay dividends and inflict strategic defeat on Daesh is just wishful thinking. The complexity of the situation cannot be understated as the United States and its coalition partners have not exactly distinguished themselves with the locals with their earlier interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Add to this the ongoing fracas between Russia and Turkey and the likelihood of tackling Daesh in a coordinated manner appears remote.

One option available is to put in place a coalition force under a United Nations command, mandated by the Security Council, as was done in the Korean War. This force could be given the limited task of destroying Daesh’s ability to wage war and also to recapture territory that is presently occupied by it. In tandem with the military counter-offensive against Daesh, political and socio-economic measures must be implemented in a time-bound manner to win over the disaffected populations of the region, which will, in all likelihood, require political boundary re-alignments and leadership changes.

As for us, the possible spread of Daesh within the subcontinent is a contingency that our intelligence and security agencies will need to take a close look at, so that we are not caught off-guard in the future. There is room for optimism in the fact that, unlike in the West, out of a Muslim population of nearly 180 million, only 23 youths are reported to have joined Daesh. Despite the ongoing raucous debate on intolerance within the media and intellectual community, India continues to remain an island of religious tolerance and communal harmony.

*The author, a military veteran, is a consultant with Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

Courtesy: The Pioneer, December 4, 2015

Observer Research Foundation

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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