By Sandeep Bamzai*
In the immediate aftermath of 26/11 terror attacks, which brutalised India’s collective psyche, I met Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi, chairman of Oberoi Hotels whose properties in SoBo had been brought to their knees by the fidayeen buddy pairs. Oberoi himself was at Taj Land’s End that fateful night collecting a life time achievement award. Aghast at the happenings and the extensive damage to his own hotels, he was rueful about the deleterious impact of the multiple attacks on the hospitality industry and on the economy as a whole. An attack of this magnitude leaves behind many scars, none more noteworthy than a vicious cycle of slow economic recovery. It is remarkable that two of the mega attacks in recent times – 26/11 and now 13/11 have taken place in the month of November though there is no particular significance attached to that. But what these three attacks in the megalopolis of New York, Mumbai and Paris have done is left behind shattered families and shaken nerves. More than that they have called in question the role of security establishments which have been caught out in this inexorable march of the terror network. The attacks signify a deeper resentment of the Islamic State against the western way of life and increasingly the French support for the war against the Caliphate in Syria. The ferocity of the latest gambit has sent shock waves across Europe, for it seems that these attacks can almost be conducted at will, given that this is the third such instance in France this year. The scope and size by far the biggest. the uncanny and eerie similarity with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks means that the tell tale signature is now the same across the terror network.
On Wednesday morning, one watched the Saint Denis siege and the possible killing of mastermind Abdul Hamid abouud from the new jehadi central – Brussels borough moenbleek. The use of Internet and so c media is acting as a jump board for young men who are indoctrinated and taking to arms to fight for the Caliphate. There were many subliminal messages in the Paris attack. The IS will not back down of course emerging as the top message, but the attack near the Stade de France, where a France-Germany soccer friendly was on and President Hollande was watching meant that even he was not safe. It was a direct and fearful message to the French head of State and his country that the IS is coming after him. Like Mumbai, it was a coordinated attack – high profile targets were the focus – football stadium, serial blasts, Cambodian restaurant, a French cafe and a McDonald’s outlet were attacked in the 10th district, while hundreds of people watching a concert at the Bataclan theatre in the 11th district were taken hostage. Theatres may have changed, but the pattern to instill fear remains the same. Ideologies too may have changed and the jihadist terrorist is now the most destructive weapon known to mankind. The end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the Soviet Union as one knew meant that the world became West dominated. Now with the rise of the brutal Islamic terror network, bipolarity of a different kind has been restored. Suddenly East and West are both grappling with the same type of Islamic fundamentalist, as it flagellates under prepared nations. What makes it worse is that the unceasing waves don’t have any known antidotes, retaliation only spurs more sinister and better planned responses. The malaise of disaffection is deep rooted and well entrenched, cutting off one or two heads only helps in faster regeneration. Dialogue with these radicals remains impossible which leaves us at an even greater risk. A war waged by the radicalised against innocents in an unequal battle.
The world unfortunately is once again at a tipping point, the IS is going after France for its support to the war against the Caliphate in Syria. One of the foremost proponents of this clash of civilisations – Samuel Huntington – writing in Foreign Affairs had this to say in 1993, “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future…Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilisations has been going on for 1,300 years. After the founding of Islam, the Arab and Moorish surge west and north only ended at Tours in 732. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century the Crusaders attempted with temporary success to bring Christianity and Christian rule to the Holy Land. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance, extended their sway over the Middle East and the Balkans, captured Constantinople, and twice laid siege to Vienna. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Ottoman power declined Britain, France, and Italy established Western control over most of North Africa and the Middle East…Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilisations. The West’s “next confrontation,” observes M. J. Akbar, an Indian Muslim author, “is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Bernard Lewis comes to a similar conclusion: We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilisations-the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.”
The Green Crescent which if you plot it on the map starts in Turkey and extends right across to Kashmir Valley touching the Levant at the bottom unfortunately is now the greatest threat to the Western way of life. One can argue that American excesses in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Levant have aggregated and like Banquo’s ghost come back to haunt the western model of life. France under attack will retaliate, its presence on the ground in Syria will increase. Equally, the IS will not back down. So, the West and the IS are inevitably ranged against one another. The twisted radicalism and fundamentalism of the jihadist terrorist is now the most dangerous weapon in the hands of the IS. Every such attack will only set back the global economy and its recovery process. Terror knows no one enemy, it kills at will, not recognising faces, hues, religion or caste and creed. It is a killing machine which doesn’t choose its victim, it only fulfils its objective of demoralising nations and their inhabitants. The reprisals will be quick, France like the US and Britain will rise to this challenge.
At the very kernel of this debate is the fact that all this is nothing but a zero sum game, nobody wins and nobody loses. From the killing fields of Kashmir to attacks like December 13 on India’s Parliament and 26/11 In Mumbai, the jihadist will continue to plan and execute. Security apparatuses around the world have to go back to the grid and re-evaluate. None has really been able to draw a bead on the real psychology and pathology of a jihadist terrorist. Several theories have been propounded – replete with inducements, indoctrination, anger, sense of misplaced duty, deviance and what have you.
Abdullah al-Garni, a Saudi Arabia based clinical psychologist for the Mohammed bin Naif Counseling and Care Center, says that terror as a system stems from no religion, “To understand Islamic radicalism one needs to understand radicalism as a state of mind and being. While terrorists have claimed to express their goals through Islam, it is the psychosis of extremism which needs to be addressed. Religion just serves as a rallying flag, a tool of propaganda.”
The scourge of terrorism and its resultant asymmetrical warfare has cost India dear over the years. The world too has dealt with different forms of terror in the past from Black September to Baader Meinhof and Red Army Faction, none is more dangerous an adversary than the Islamic jihadist who goes beyond semantic aberration.
*The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi