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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

FROM A BYSTANDER An ambiguous UN resolution and a downed warplane

THE situation surrounding the Syrian civil war is getting worse by the day. The war on terrorism is getting more complicated. Two developments deserve close analysis: the open-ended, ambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249 (2015) adopted on November 20, and the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish air force near the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24. 
The audacious attack, amid monumental intelligence failure in Paris, by ISIL on November 13 was a direct challenge to France. France is a Nato power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In a way it was a challenge to all the five powerful permanent members of the United Nations. ISIL has demonstrated its reach and ability to attack a powerful country. ISIL also had the temerity to threaten attacks on New York and other western targets. 
French President Francois Hollande has declared war on terrorism and has vowed to destroy ISIL. Hollande was in Washington on November 24 to meet President Obama and met President Putin on November 26 to discuss the formation of an international coalition to fight ISIL.
Earlier, on November 20, 2015, the UN Security Council met to discuss the threat posed by ISIL. The Security Council adopted French-sponsored Resolution 2249 unanimously, which is open to interpretation of convenience. The positive element of Resolution 2249 is that it was adopted unanimously, which is rare these days. Terrorist attacks have spurred the P5 members to close ranks. The Resolution unequivocally condemned the Paris attack. 
A careful reading of the Resolution will reveal that French Quay d'Orsay drafted the resolution cleverly, which none of the members found difficult to vote for. Legal experts have pointed out some of the lacunae in the language of the Resolution. The Resolution has been described by experts as 'creative ambiguity'.   
First, the 8-para Resolution, with the usual preamble, was not adopted under Chapter VII. Chapter VII actually authorises military action in order to restore peace and security. The Resolution urges member states to “take all necessary measures in compliance with international law” against ISIL. Here 'necessary measures' have been left vague – open to interpretation of convenience. Thus an aggrieved France took a strong standpoint of authorising self-defence against armed attacks and tripling its air strikes against ISIL, under article 51 of the UN Charter.  
Interestingly, the Resolution has not authorised military action directly – but has authorised it implicitly. It has now given post-facto legitimacy to French and American bombing of ISIL. Earlier, Russia entered the war on Syria's request. Britain, which has not yet joined, is now invoking self-defence to go after ISIL. Prime Minister Cameron is currently seeking House of Commons' approval. China is unlikely to join the fray.
Second, Res. 2249 has implicitly recognised ISIL as a state, as it has elements of a state – such as significant territory, a population and access to natural resources (oil).   
Third, in its preamble, the Resolution talks about 'respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and unity of all states' – but by authorising actions against ISIL it has purposefully ignored the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq.
The other extremely dangerous development that put everyone on tenterhooks was the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkish air force on November 24. Since Russia started its operations in Syria, such an incident was just waiting to happen. 
Turkish military said it shot the plane after it was repeatedly warned about violating Turkish airspace. Moscow said that the jet was well inside Syrian territory. The Russian plane fell inside Syrian territory and one of the two pilots was killed by a Syrian rebel commander who boasted of the killing. The bellicose narratives coming out of Ankara and Kremlin are contradictory. Who is telling the truth is difficult to ascertain at this stage.
Outraged President Putin has described the incident as a 'stab in the back… by accomplices of terrorists'. He also said Moscow-Ankara relations will have 'serious consequences' and has imposed sanctions on Ankara. Russia has accused Turkey for this “planned provocation”, hinting that it was instigated (by US?) to scuttle the Syrian peace process. 
The shooting created panic in Europe as Kremlin is already at odds with Nato because of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Alarmed Nato members went into huddle on November 24 at its headquarters in Brussels. Nato and the United Nations have urged Turkey and Russia to show restraint and to deescalate the tension. Russia, however, has moved anti-aircraft missiles in Syria to protect its warplanes. 
This sudden escalation of tension between Turkey and Russia will have wide ramifications for the war against ISIL. The UNSC Resolution 2249, despite its vagueness, created an opportunity to build a broad international platform to defeat ISIL. That may now be difficult. The possible casualty of the shooting will be the Syrian peace deal, which is being negotiated in Vienna. 
Defeating ISIL will be an impossible task because of differences in the strategies of the players engaged in Syria. ISIL cannot be eliminated by bombs. It can be dismantled only by ground forces, which none of the western nations are willing to commit at this stage. 
The fight against ISIL is actually not a fight between Islam and the West. It is in reality a fight by young people, who happen to be Muslims, against depravation, alienation, discrimination and gross injustice. One has to go into the origins of the rise of this violent force and its ability to survive and grow in strength over the past three years. But that is another story.  

With so many players in the war against ISIL the situation has definitely become extremely complex and dangerous. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

PARIS ATTACKS Sad but not surprising at all

THE terrorist attack in Paris on November 13 has rocked the whole world. Some people have already started calling the attack the “French 9/11”.  Meanwhile, Facebook users globally, including Muslims (among others, our daughter and friends), have changed their profile, temporarily using the French colours in solidarity with the innocent victims of the attack. President Obama was among the first Western leaders to condemn the attack in unambiguous terms. He considered the gruesome attack “not just on the people of France, but [also] an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”
Despite ISIS's claim, there's no solid evidence of ISIS involvement in the Paris Attack. However, there is nothing so surprising about a Syrian – Islamist or secular – backlash against France. France's direct involvement in bombing ISIS positions in Syria since September and its plan to bomb ISIS Headquarters at Raqqa and the French support for the US-sponsored Regime Change operation against Bashar al-Assad could be important factors behind the Paris Attack.  
The US and its allies have been quite ineffective in neutralising the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Since the US-led Coalition has been mainly interested in overthrowing the Assad regime – a common enemy of the ISIS as well – there seems to be no logical explanation behind the purported ISIS terror attack in Paris. In view of the formidable pressure by the Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces on ISIS strongholds in Syria, the terror outfit is least likely to provoke France by a mega terror attack in Paris. Then again, one is not sure. The ISIS could have taken a suicidal move, out of total desperation.
However, whoever was behind the attack, has successfully implicated the ISIS in it. Thanks to the online circulation of videos of brutal execution of Muslim and Western captives by ISIS terrorists, the terror outfit has outperformed al Qaeda and all other nihilist Islamist terrorist groups to emerge as the most dreadful and hated terrorist group in the world. The Paris Attack has given a loud wake up call to France and the world at large. Muslims and non-Muslims seem to have no reservations about waging an all out war against ISIS. France has already accelerated its aerial bombings on ISIS targets in Syria. It might be the only positive outcome of the attack. Unlike what followed the 9/11 attacks – the enigmatic and vague “War on Terror” – the Paris Attack has led to the French Declaration of war against the ISIS in the most unambiguous terms. Let's hope a concerted Russo-American-French attack on ISIS will soon decimate the terrorist group.
However as 9/11 has left behind unanswered questions and unresolved issues, so has the latest Paris Attack. Apparently, they were terrorist attacks by ideologically motivated people to draw global attention to their cause to establish the supremacy of Islam as an alternative order to Western capitalism. We can't convince ourselves that the desire of establishing the so-called “Islamic World Order” could at all be a motive behind the attacks. Gallup polls of global Muslims reveal that the Ummah (Global Muslim community) is least interested in an “Islamic World Order,” let alone supportive of terrorism and anarchy. We need to know who were behind 9/11 and the Paris Attack. We need to know who benefitted most from the attacks. After the American-sponsored invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the world has been further polarised between the Muslim and Western worlds. America's keeping the military option wide open has further aggravated the situation, especially in the wake of the American-sponsored selective “regime change operations” in the Muslim World. 
We have reasons to be optimistic about the end of the ISIS menace within a year or so, but we also have reasons to worry about the US's persistence that “Assad must go.” We believe immediate removal of Assad from power would not resolve the ethno-national and sectarian conflicts in Syria, which like Iraq, is an artificial entity, not a nation state like France or Germany. We believe the US policy of limiting the influence of Iran in Syria and Iraq, and the US policy of destabilising Iraq and Syria to the benefit of Israel, would backfire to the detriment of regional and global peace. Due to the lack of well-entrenched liberal democratic and secular traditions and institutions in the Middle East, the people in general are vulnerable to religious extremism, and subject to mobilisation along sectarian and tribal lines.
In the backdrop of Western cover-ups, the erosion of liberal values and the non-existent “soft power approach” by America, there is nothing to celebrate about winning the “War on Terror”. The public demonisation of Islam and Muslims won't do any good to anybody. The end of the Cold War – roughly coinciding with the beginning of the Globalisation Process and the IT Revolution – paved the way for another Cold War between the West and its real and imaginary adversaries in the Muslim World and beyond, in China and Russia. In the wake of the end of the bipolar world, the so-called unipolar world created new problems between the Western and Islamic worlds. These conflicts – reflected in ethno-national, sectarian and class conflicts – are about conflicts of interests and hegemonies, not “clash of civilisations”.
The end of the Cold War did not bring the promised peace, prosperity, justice and freedom for the Muslim World. However, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, many Muslims started thinking of staging revolutions in their own countries. The four Arab-Israeli wars since 1948, the Indian occupation of Kashmir and Western invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq embittered Muslims against Jews, Hindus and Christians. Muslims, as aggrieved victims, have been going through the following stages of: a) Denial; b) Shock; c) Grief; d) Compromise; and e) Acceptance. Nine-Eleven led to denial, American retaliation to the attacks shocked and further attacks and humiliation brought grief.
Without being cynical and disrespectful to the 129 innocent victims of the Paris Attack, one may wonder why no Western leader has ever said similar things in solidarity with the Indians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans or Lebanese in the wake of major terror attacks in these countries. The day before the Paris Attack, ISIS suicide bombers killed 43 and severely wounded around 200 people in Beirut. And Western leaders, media and people in general were indifferent to the tragedy; Obama did not consider the Beirut massacre “an attack on all of humanity”.
I am not the only “cynic” around! Some Western writers and bloggers have raised the similar question if some deaths are worth mourning, while other deaths are insignificant. David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, and a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, questions why “We Are All France! Though We Are Never All Lebanon or Syria or Iraq!” He is also critical of the West, which never declares “deaths in Yemen or Pakistan or Palestine to be attacks on our common humanity.” Australian blogger Chris Graham critiqued Western vulnerability to “selective grief and outrage.”

Nevertheless, as Indian blogger Karuna Ezara Parikh's poem (which has gone viral in social media) suggests, we should “say a prayer for Paris by all means but pray more, for the world that does not have a prayer.” We must pray for Beirut and Baghdad as well, and stop calling Arab refugees, who ran away from terrorists to freedom, terrorists. However, as the “selective grief and outrage” of the West is disturbing, so is its finger pointing at Syrian/Arab refugees in France for the Paris massacre. Politicising the Paris attacks, as US conservatives Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich have done, is even worse. They impute the attacks to the strict gun control laws in France. As if armed civilians have ever neutralised terrorist attacks in America!

STRATEGICALLY SPEAKING 'Islamic State': Let it not be a red herring

There is certainly a deep conspiracy against this country going by the series of events that we have witnessed in the last one month. Of course the killings had to be well planned. No hit man would embark on his mission without a thorough planning. But a well planned killing does not necessarily indicate the existence of a conspiracy. One must establish specific motives to pinpoint the culprits and their aim. The million dollar question is: who are actually behind the killings and what might their purpose be. 
Now that four persons have been arrested in this connection, the motives should become clear. If only one could identify the motives then perhaps one could put one's finger on the entire matter apart from identifying the people behind these incidents. But this is where all the problems reside. Let me explain.
If one were to go by the destabilisation theory, the motive, to make political gains, may be convincing enough to conclude that there is a political angle to the killings. And that would restrict our focus on internal actors only. But if one analyses the targets, one would find that the victims/targets were of different character. Two were foreigners (one had reportedly converted to Islam and was buried following Islamic ritual), two were religious figures, one among them a Christian cleric and the other a follower of a Sufi order. And this sort of killings one had also witnessed in the past. The killers of the bloggers, one might stress, were of the same inclination and disposition. And the latest target was the Ashura observance gathering that is generally, and perhaps wrongly, associated with Shias only. 
Would one therefore be remiss to suggest that the perpetrators were of different hue and had different motivations? Is it a plausible argument that those behind the foreigners' killing were moved by considerations quite different from the ones behind the attack and killing of the religious personalities and the bloggers; that the latter exploited the current uncertain situation to their own ends using the alleged IS connection to deflect attention? 
One could also argue that the perpetrators are one and the same, the aim being to destabilise the country and reap benefits, political and otherwise. Therefore, they wanted to exploit as many situations as possible to stimulate a law and order situation, that these two groups hold a common ideology and a common purpose and have coalesced in the killings.   
In this context it may be appropriate to analyse the likely involvement of political parties, as some ruling party members are alleging, in the killings. It does not need a genius to say that it would be suicidal for an established political party, with substantial following, to resort to a strategy that does not guarantee its success to power but instead holds the recipe for a disastrous outcome for the country, in which it would also not come out unscathed. The party should have learnt a lesson from the violence it perpetrated early this year. However, one cannot put it past a party that is politically on the throes of extinction, having had its registration rescinded by the election commission, to resort to a line of action that would generate exactly such an outcome. They feel that uncertain situation in the country may help prolong its political existence and these are acts of desperation prodded by survival instinct.  
But all the foregoing arguments go haywire with the alleged involvement of the IS in the matter. Yes, the IS seeks real estate to set up so called Islamic State. At present it controls an area larger than the UK, and has a large number of foot soldiers on ground. And although it aspires to territory unlike the Al-Qaeda, one wonders whether it has the manpower to move beyond the region that it holds now. And although there may be extremist elements in Bangladesh who are ideologically well disposed towards IS, is it likely to outsource its activity to groups that are not organically linked to it? 
Therefore, the quick 'acknowledgment' of the killings by the IS, the method of which does not fit the IS footprint, raises doubts about the veracity of the post.  

Let the IS issue not be a red herring. As we have said previously, the extremist organisation should not prevail over the minds of the investigators. They should focus on identifying the planners. If an IS link is found in the process that's ok, if not, so much the better. An open mind leads to sound conclusions. 

‘ISIS’ in Afghanistan: Spectre or mirage?

These names have figured a lot in international news coverage: Islamic State (IS), Islamic State of Iraq and Shams (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and DAESH. These aren't the names of countries or separate political/terrorist groups, they all denote the same entity.
DAESH stands for Daulat Al Islamiya fi al Iraq wa al Shams. Curiously, in Arabic, the letters that compose DAESH –  ‘dal’, ‘alif’, ‘yea’ and ‘shin’ – when put together, mean ‘tramples’ or ‘a trampler’.
The Saudi regime calls the group DAESH, as do Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, and US Secretary of State John Kerry. In fact, Saudi King Salman bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz once referred to the group as FAESH, an expletive.
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, DAESH’s putative leader and self-anointed Caliph, prefers the exalted term ‘Islamic State’. He has prohibited his enterprise being called ‘DAESH’.
It would be surprising if ISIS didn’t covet control over Afghanistan for its inestimable geostrategic and geopolitical importance, for its scope of doctrinal influence, its military power projection and for its financial gains.
Intercontinental overland routes connecting Europe, Russia, Central Asia and China with South Asia have to pass through Afghanistan. Acquiring interdictory potential vis-a-vis these routes affords huge monetary, strategic, tactical and political advantages.
ISIS’s aims include spreading its ideology of reductionism and violent extremism throughout the populations of Central Asian Muslim republics: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, and further afield, in Azerbaijan, Dagestan, Chechnya in the Russian Federation and Chinese Turkestan.
Its location in Afghanistan enables potential targetting of the Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Afghanistan is the most convenient geo-strategic location for the pursuance of these aims.  
Furthermore, consider the scale of the mercenary stake involved in the control of cultivation of Afghan poppy and the production, stocking, transport and trade of opiate narcotic derivatives, especially heroin. Just one province of Afghanistan, Helmand, accounts for 90 per cent of heroin consumed in Europe. Afghanistan’s narcotics have a worldwide reach. Afghanistan is rich in minerals, including 13 of the 17 rare earths, cobalt, platinum, gold, silver, and gems of the highest quality.
During the Mujahedeen war, Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud financed guerrilla operations to a substantial extent by selling emeralds and lapis lazuli extracted from mines in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley and Badakhshan Province.
The world’s largest stock of lithium, a key raw material for electronics, is in Afghanistan, as are copper and iron ore of the highest cuprous and ferrous content. Illicit mining, contraband mineral and gems trade, rapacious timber extraction and human trafficking have boomed in Afghanistan.
The Amu Darya basin has substantial hydrocarbon resources. The TAPI project envisages laying a pipeline from adjacent Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
However, the rationale of Afghanistan’s geostrategic and geopolitical value must be equally attractive to others, near and far, who are zealous to gain and retain dominance in Afghanistan.
Whatever the truth about ISIS being in Afghanistan, it is important to understand
that there is a profound conflict and tension between Islam as understood and practised in Afghanistan and ISIS’s ultra-reductionism and violent extremism.
Raising awareness on this score is vital to waging a concerted information war against violent extremism in Afghanistan and in Central and South Asia, China, South-East Asia and even in Europe and North America.
Afghanistan has a millennium-old rigorously conservative Sunni Muslim society, that is now perhaps 87-88 per cent of the country’s population. However, Afghan Sunni Muslims have adhered to Hanafi Sharia ever since Imam Abu Hanifa (who, incidentally, hailed from a Kabul-based family) generated and developed jurisprudence known as Hanafi Sharia (Sharia: literally, the path to the oasis) in the first century following the inception of Islam.
Under the Constitution of Afghanistan, Hanafi jurisprudence is privileged as a residual source of law in the absence of explicit legislation or other constitutional provisions.
Afghanistan also has an age-old Sufi tradition and the belief and practice of Islam in Afghanistan is suffused with Sufism.
Thus, Afghans of all sects regularly visit saints’ shrines, revere spiritual and holy persons, seek their intercession with the divine, and use amulets and other ‘protections’. Sufi saint Hazrat Shaikh Salim Chishti, whose dargah is in Ajmer, was from Afghanistan and his place of rest continues to exert a powerful pull on Afghans.
ISIS and Wahhabism emphatically trample on both the Hanafi Sharia as well as Sufism. Both denounce these as un-Islamic, Kuffr, Haram, opposed to the Quran and the Hadith, and say they must be destroyed and all adherents must be executed without mercy.
The brutality and sadism during the Taliban regime has not been forgotten by the people of Afghanistan.
In the current information age, ISIS is viewed by Afghans to be a worse proposition, advanced by a similar combination of external forces, for similar ends and purposes but on a larger and more alarming scale.
Chinese strategist Sun Tzu (4th century BCE) in his Art of War had enunciated the axiom: “Kill one, frighten ten thousand.”
There is, however, a Pashto saying: “An Afghan may with ease be led into Hell on courteous request, but will fiercely resist being forced to ascend to Heaven.”
Unlike peoples of other nations in the region, Afghans are not easily frightened, not easily subdued and cowed, nor easily dominated. Though riven with tribal feuds and inter-ethnic tension and conflict, they fight back and fight hard against external aggressors.
The masterminds of ISIS, Taliban, or any other such entity invented in the days ahead, even if a stupendously potent threat, will learn that lesson and it will be a costly one.   


After the exhaustive de-Baathification process, disbandment of 300,000 Saddam's Sunni army, and imprisonment of many Sunni leaders, the occupying power, mainly the United States of America, flared up hatred and revenge among the Sunni group that governed Iraq since the Ottoman Empire. Sensing a power shift in favour of Shias and Kurds, the Sunnis went on the offensive. The ensued inferno of sectarian conflicts, among other factors, destroyed an enormous possibility of a country which contains the second largest oil reserve in the world.
Much of these could be avoided if some visionary steps were taken, such as setting up a power-sharing arrangement among the three ethnic groups: Shia [60 percent], Sunni [18 percent] and Kurds [21 percent]. Each of these groups, with long regional connections, is indispensable in keeping Iraq as one united nation. If power-sharing arrangements and national reconciliation processes have turned arch enemies into partners in governance in places like South Africa, Kosovo, El Salvador, and now in Afghanistan, why wasn't something like this even tried in Iraq?
These steps, difficult in other times, could have been done relatively easily in the primordial period when there was a total power vacuum - except the occupying power [mainly America] - after Saddam Hussain was executed, and the Iraqi political factors and forces were just beginning to take shape. This is the way America's occupation created a total shift in the direction for Japan and Germany over half a century ago. Some of those steps were not democratic at all, but the initiatives helped turn these societies into democratic and successful nations in the long run. How did America fail to implement such a Marshall Plan for Iraq?
Extremism does not rise where good governance and stability prevail. Al-Qaeda, Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in Somalia and ISIS in Iraq and Syria all originated in utter chaos, turmoil, repression and subjugation of certain groups, and due to poor or lack of governance.
 In Iraq, under pressures from Shia and Kurdish groups and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who - in order to attain the Shia dominance - played on America's democratic ideology, America was compelled to announce a premature election in 2005. America complied and the American neo-conservatives, who wanted to influence Iraq through Shia rule, were happy. Consequently, the constituent assembly that the election produced consisted of 60 percent of Shias; however, the constitutional body framed was not acceptable by the Sunnis. Realising early on that this was a game they would invariably be made to lose, Sunnis boycotted the election and went on the offensive. Both Iraqi and American people paid a heavy price for this blunder.
Therefore, a step in the right direction could entail proper rehabilitation and integration of the Sunnis into the society. Similar integrating processes were undertaken for the Nazis and Japanese after World War II and later for South African whites. The integration of Sunnis would have saved Iraq from the horrendously destructive and bloody episodes following the Iraq War. America invaded Iraq, and so it was America's responsibility to take the right course of action and rebuild Iraq using a Marshall Plan.
The Muslim world, along with others, have been paying a high price for Western follies from a long time. The long reign and exploitation of colonial powers, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 and the post World War II period resulted in a conflict-ridden Middle East. Puppet governments and consequent repressions during the Cold War, the propagation of neo-imperialism and later globalisation by the West have also caused immeasurable injustice and trouble for this region. A vast number of the young generation – 65 to 70 percent of the population of the Muslim world is 35 years or younger – is frustrated and angry about what was done to their societies and their gloomy future. The breeding grounds for trouble and extremism loom large. In the name of security and national interest, the West has also done tremendous disservice to its own people. Western powers in general, and America in particular, should now be seen as part of the solution and not a part of the problem. After being the cause of all these misfortunes, they cannot now conveniently excuse themselves by stating that they “don't want to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.” 
No matter how wrong and oppressive a group was in the past, a substantial part of that can always be reclaimed and reintegrated into the society through a visionary process. In doing so, a win-win state of affairs ensues and the society becomes victorious. South Africa after the Apartheid, Europe after World War II, America after the Civil War in 1864, and many other examples in history remain a testament to this truth. Troubles ensue when these groups - the menaces of the past - are rejected and cornered.
One does not need reconciliation where there are no serious disagreements or a difficult past. Nelson Mandela realised that after seeing the consequences of Zimbabwe's failure to integrate. Right after he got out of prison in 1994, he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through which he punished only a handful of perpetrators but the rest were integrated into the society. This process of integration helped South Africa to become the 'rainbow' nation that it is now, and helped triple its GDP within twenty years. On the other hand, Sri Lanka and Nepal were on the right track but now they seem to be stumbling because they have still failed to completely incorporate a power-sharing system. Tunisia, on the contrary, is becoming a success story of our time by marginalising the lurking extremism through inclusive politics and power-sharing via proportional representation. A lion's share of the credit goes to the visionary leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi.   
As for Iraq, America, in collaboration with the international community, can still exert enough pressure to help bring about inclusive politics and power-sharing arrangements.

One way inter-dependency could be achieved is by setting two legislatures, the lower house elected on the basis of universal suffrage and the upper one consisting of equal number of elected members from each group, and striking a balance between the two houses under a presidential form of government. Furthermore, all important posts including that of the president, the Supreme Court judges, and army heads could be assigned to leaders from each of these three groups on a rotating basis or some other preset formula as was done in Lebanon in the past. Striking a delicate balance between the national and provincial governments is also imperative. The army should consist of all three groups with specific quotas assigned to each group to ensure inclusiveness. Only then can groups like ISIS be subdued and transformed. 

How to think about Islamic State

VIOLENCE has erupted across a broad swath of territory in recent months: wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, suicide bombings in Xinjiang, Nigeria and Turkey, insurgencies from Yemen to Thailand, massacres in Paris, Tunisia and the American south. Future historians may well see such uncoordinated mayhem as commencing the third — and the longest and the strangest — of world wars. Certainly, forces larger and more complex than in the previous two wars are at work; they outrun our capacity to apprehend them, let alone adjust their direction to our benefit.

The early post cold war consensus — that bourgeois democracy has solved the riddle of history, and a global capitalist economy will usher in worldwide prosperity and peace — lies in tatters. But no plausible alternatives of political and economic organisation are in sight. A world organised for the play of individual self-interest looks more and more prone to manic tribalism.
In the lengthening spiral of mutinies from Charleston to central India, the insurgents of Iraq and Syria have monopolised our attention by their swift military victories; their exhibitionistic brutality, especially towards women and minorities; and, most significantly, their brisk seduction of young people from the cities of Europe and the US. Globalisation has everywhere rapidly weakened older forms of authority, in Europe’s social democracies as well as Arab despotisms, and thrown up an array of unpredictable new international actors, from Chinese irredentists and cyberhackers to Syriza and Boko Haram. But the sudden appearance of Islamic State (Isis) in Mosul last year, and the continuing failure to stem its expansion or check its appeal, is the clearest sign of a general perplexity, especially among political elites, who do not seem to know what they are doing and what they are bringing about.
In its capacity to invade and hold a territory the size of England, to inspire me-too zealotry in Pakistan, Gaza, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Libya and Egypt, and to entice thousands of camp followers, Isis represents a quantum leap over all other private and state-sanctioned cults of violence and authoritarianism today. But we are not faring well with the cognitive challenge to define this phenomenon.
For Obama, it is a ‘terrorist organisation, pure and simple’, which ‘we will degrade and ultimately destroy’. British politicians, yet again hoping against experience to impress the natives with a show of force, want to bomb the Levant as well as Mesopotamia. A sensationalist and scruple-free press seems eager to collude in their ‘noble lie’: that a Middle Eastern militia, thriving on the utter ineptitude of its local adversaries, poses an ‘existential risk’ to an island fortress that saw off Napoleon and Hitler. The experts on Islam who opened for business on 9/11 peddle their wares more feverishly, helped by clash-of-civilisation theorists and other intellectual robots of the cold war, which were programmed to think in binaries (us versus them, free versus unfree world, Islam versus the west) and to limit their lexicon to words such as ‘ideology’, ‘threat’ and ‘generational struggle’. The rash of pseudo-explanations — Islamism, Islamic extremism, Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic theology, Islamic irrationalism — makes Islam seem more than ever a concept in search of some content while normalising hatred and prejudice against more than 1.5 billion people. The abysmal intellectual deficit is summed up, on one hand, by the unremorsefully bellicose figure of Blair, and, on the other, the British government squabbling with the BBC over what to call Isis.
IN THE broadest view, Isis seems the product of a catastrophic war — the Anglo-American assault on Iraq. There is no doubt that the ground for it was prepared by this systematic devastation — the murder and displacement of millions, which came after more than a decade of brutalisation by sanctions and embargoes. The dismantling of the Iraqi army, de-Ba’athification and the Anglo-American imprimatur to Shia supremacism provoked the formation in Mesopotamia of al-Qaida, Isis’s precursor. Many local factors converged to make Isis’s emergence possible last year: vengeful Sunnis; reorganised Ba’athists in Iraq; the co-dependence of the west on despotic allies (al-Sisi, al-Maliki) and incoherence over Syria; the cynical manoeuvres of Assad; Turkey’s hubristic neo-Ottomanism, which seems exceeded in its recklessness only by the actions of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The failure of the Arab Spring has also played a part. Tunisia, its originator, has sent the largest contingent of foreign jihadis to Iraq and Syria. Altogether an estimated 17,000 people, mostly young men, from 90 countries have travelled to Syria and Iraq to offer their services to Isis. Dozens of British women have gone, despite the fact that men of Isis have enslaved and raped girls as young as 10 years old, and stipulated that Muslim girls marry between the ages of nine and 17, and live in total seclusion. ‘You can easily earn yourself a higher station with God almighty,’ a Canadian insurrectionist, Andre Poulin, exhorted in a video used by Isis for online recruitment, ‘by sacrificing just a small bit of this worldly life.’
It is not hard to see that populous countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia will always have a significant number of takers for well-paid martyrdom. What explains, however, the allure of a caliphate among thousands of residents of relatively prosperous and stable countries, such as the high-achieving London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria this spring?
Isis, the military phenomenon, could conceivably be degraded and destroyed. Or, it could rise further, fall abruptly and then rise again (like al-Qaida, which has been degraded and destroyed several times in recent years). The state can use its immense power to impound passports, shut down websites, and even enforce indoctrination in ‘British values’ in schools. But this is no way to stem what seems a worldwide outbreak of intellectual and moral secessionism.
Isis is only one of its many beneficiaries; demagogues of all kinds have tapped the simmering reservoirs of cynicism and discontent. At the very least, their growing success and influence ought to make us re-examine our basic assumptions of order and continuity since the political and scientific revolutions of the 19th century – our belief that the human goods achieved so far by a fortunate minority can be realised by the ever-growing majority that desires them. We must ask if the millions of young people awakening around the world to their inheritance can realise the modern promise of freedom and prosperity. Or, are they doomed to lurch, like many others in the past, between a sense of inadequacy and fantasies of revenge?
RETURNING to Russia from Europe in 1862, Dostoevsky first began to explore at length the very modern torment of ressentiment that the misogynists of Twitter today manifest as much as the dupes of Isis. Russian writers from Pushkin onwards had already probed the peculiar psychology of the ‘superfluous’ man in a semi-westernised society: educated into a sense of hope and entitlement, but rendered adrift by his limited circumstances, and exposed to feelings of weakness, inferiority and envy. Russia, trying to catch up with the west, produced many such spiritually unmoored young men who had a quasi-Byronic conception of freedom, further inflated by German idealism, but the most unpromising conditions in which to realise them.
Rudin in Turgenev’s eponymous novel desperately wants to surrender himself ‘completely, greedily, utterly’ to something; he ends up dead on a Parisian barricade in 1848, having sacrificed himself to a cause he doesn’t fully believe in. It was, however, Dostoevsky who saw most acutely how individuals, trained to believe in a lofty notion of personal freedom and sovereignty, and then confronted with a reality that cruelly cancelled it, could break out of paralysing ambivalence into gratuitous murder and paranoid insurgency.
His insight into this fateful gap between the theory and practice of liberal individualism developed during his travels in western Europe — the original site of the greatest social, political and economic transformations in human history, and the exemplar with its ideal of individual freedom for all of humanity. By the mid-19th century, Britain was the paradigmatic modern state and society, with its sights firmly set on industrial prosperity and commercial expansion. Visiting London in 1862, Dostoevsky quickly realised the world-historical import of what he was witnessing. ‘You become aware of a colossal idea,’ he wrote after visiting the International Exhibition, showcase of an all-conquering material culture: ‘You sense that it would require great and everlasting spiritual denial and fortitude in order not to submit, not to capitulate before the impression, not to bow to what is, and not to deify Baal, that is, not to accept the material world as your ideal.’
However, as Dostoevsky saw it, the cost of such splendour and magnificence was a society dominated by the war of all against all, in which most people were condemned to be losers. In Paris, he caustically noted that liberté existed only for the millionaire. The notion of equality before the law was a ‘personal insult’ to the poor exposed to French justice. As for fraternité, it was another hoax in a society driven by the ‘individualist, isolationist instinct’ and the lust for private property.
Dostoevsky diagnosed the new project of human emancipation through the bewilderment and bitterness of people coming late to the modern world, and hoping to use its evidently successful ideas and methods to their advantage. For these naive latecomers, the gap between the noble ends of individual liberation and the poverty of available means in their barbarous social order was the greatest. The self-loathing clerk in Notes from Underground represents the human being who is excruciatingly aware that free moral choice is impossible in a world increasingly regimented by instrumental reason. He dreams constantly and impotently of revenge against his social superiors. Raskolnikov, the deracinated former law student in Crime and Punishment, is the psychopath of instrumental rationality, who can work up evidently logical reasons to do anything he desires. After murdering an old woman, he derives philosophical validation from the most celebrated nationalist and imperialist of his time, Napoleon: a ‘true master, to whom everything is permitted’.
THE bloody dramas of political and economic laggards can seem remote from liberal-democratic Britain. The early and decisive winner in the sweepstakes of modern history has guaranteed an admirable measure of security, stability and dignity to many of its citizens. The parochial vision of modern history as essentially a conflict between open society and its enemies (liberal democracy versus nazism, communism and Islam) can feel accurate within the unbreached perimeters of Britain (and the US). It is not untrue to assert that Britain’s innovations and global reach spread the light of reason to the remotest corners of the Earth. Britain made the modern world in the sense that the forces it helped to originate — technology, economic organisation and science — formed a maelstrom that is still overwhelming millions of lives.
But this is also why Britain’s achievements cannot be seen in isolation from their ambiguous consequences elsewhere. Blaming Islamic theology, or fixating on the repellent rhetoric of Isis, may be indispensable in achieving moral self-entrancement, and toughening up convictions of superiority: we, liberal, democratic and rational, are not at all like these savages. But these spine-stiffening exercises can’t obscure the fact that Britain’s history has long been continuous with the world it made, which includes its ostensible enemies in Europe and beyond. Regardless of what the ‘island story’ says, the belief systems and institutions Britain initiated — a global market economy, the nation state, utilitarian rationality — first caused a long emergency in Europe, before roiling the older worlds of Asia and Africa.
The recurrent crises explain why a range of figures, from Blake to Gandhi, and Simone Weil to Yukio Mishima, reacted remarkably similarly to the advent of industrial and commercial society, to the unprecedented phenomenon of all that is solid melting into thin air, across Europe, Asia and Africa.
‘Spectres reign where no gods are,’ Schiller wrote, deploring the atrophying of the ‘sacral sense’ into nationalism and political power. Fear of moral and spiritual diminishment, and social chaos, was also a commonplace of much 19th-century British writing. ‘The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism,’ Shelley wrote in 1821, blaming inequality and disorder on the ‘unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty’. Coleridge, denouncing ‘a contemptible democratical oligarchy of glib economists’, asked: ‘Is the increasing number of wealthy individuals that which ought to be understood by the wealth of the nation?’ Dickens did much with Carlyle’s despairing insight into cash payment as the ‘sole nexus’ between human beings. DH Lawrence recoiled fruitfully from ‘the base forcing of all human energy into a competition of mere acquisition’. Proximity to British arguments helped shape Marx’s vision of a proletariat goaded by the inequities and degradations of industrial capitalism into a revolutionary redemption of human existence.
The actual revolutions and revolts, however, occurred outside Britain, where liberal individualism, the product of a settled society with fixed social structures, seemed to have no answers to the plight of the uprooted masses living in squalor in cities. Its failure first motivated cultural nationalists, socialists, anarchists and revolutionaries across Europe, before seeding many anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa. In an irony of modern history, which stalks revolutions and revolts to this day, the search for a new moral community has constantly assumed unpredicted and vicious forms. But then the dislocations and traumas caused by industralisation and urbanisation accelerated the growth of ideologies of race and blood in even enlightened western Europe.
‘THE way of modern culture,’ the Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer once lamented, ‘leads from humanity through nationality to bestiality.’ He died too early (1872) to see another landmark en route to barbarism: modern European imperialism, whose humanitarian rhetoric was, like one of its representatives, Conrad’s Kurtz, ‘hollow at the core’.
In Asia, the usual disruptions of an industrial and commercial system that transcends political frontiers and destroys economic self-sufficiency, enslaving individuals to impersonal forces, were accompanied by a racist imperialism. The early victims and opponents of this ultra-aggressive modernity were local elites who organised their resistance around traditionalist loyalties and fantasies of recapturing a lost golden age — tendencies evident in the Boxer Rebellion in China as well as early 19th-century jihads against British rule in India.
Premodern political chieftains, who were long ago supplanted by western-educated men and women quoting John Stuart Mill and demanding individual rights, do not and cannot exist any more, however ‘Islamic’ their theology may seem. They return today as parody — and there is much that is purely camp about a self-appointed caliph sporting a Rolex and India’s Hindu revivalist prime minister draped in a Savile Row $15,000 suit with personalised pin stripes. The spread of literacy, improved communications, rising populations and urbanisation have transformed the remotest corners of Asia and Africa. The desire for self-expansion through material success fully dominates the extant spiritual ideals of traditional religions and cultures.
Isis desperately tries to reinvent the early ideological antagonism between the imperialistic modern west and its traditionalist enemies. A recent issue of their magazine Dabiq approvingly quotes George W Bush’s us-versus-them exhortation, insisting that there is no ‘Grey Zone’ in the holy war. Craving intellectual and political prestige, the DIY jihadists receive helpful endorsements from the self-proclaimed paladins of the west, such as Michael Gove, Britain’s leading American-style neocon. Responding to the revelation on 17 July of secret British bombing of Syria, Gove asserted that the ‘need to maintain the strength and durability of the western alliance in the face of Islamist fundamentalism’ can ‘trump everything’.
Clashing in the night, the ignorant armies of ideologues endow each other’s cherished self-conceptions with the veracity they crave. But their self-flattering oppositions collapse once we recognise that much violence today arises out of a heightened and continuously thwarted desire for convergence and resemblance rather than religious, cultural and theological difference.
The advent of the global economy in the 19th century, and its empowerment of a small island, caused an explosion of mimetic desire from western Europe to Japan. Since then, a sense of impotence and compensatory cultural pride has routinely driven the weak and marginalised to attack those that seem stronger than them while secretly desiring to possess their advantages. Humiliated rage and furtive envy characterise Muslim insurrectionaries and Hindu fanatics today as much as they did the militarist Japanese insisting on their unique spiritual quintessence. It is certainly not some esoteric 13th-century Hadith that makes Isis so eager to adopt the modern west’s technologies of war, revolution and propaganda — especially, as the homicidal dandyism of Jihadi John reveals, its mediatised shock-and-awe violence.
There is nothing remarkable about the fact that the biggest horde of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria originated in Tunisia, the most westernised of Arab countries. Mass education, economic crisis and unfeeling government have long constituted a fertile soil for the cults of authoritarianism and violence. Powerlessness and deprivation are exacerbated today by the ability, boosted by digital media, to constantly compare your life with the lives of the fortunate (especially women entering the workforce or prominent in the public sphere: a common source of rage for men with siege mentalities worldwide). The quotient of frustration tends to be highest in countries that have a large population of educated young men who have undergone multiple shocks and displacements in their transition to modernity and yet find themselves unable to fulfil the promise of self-empowerment. For many of them the contradiction Dostoevsky noticed between extravagant promise and meagre means has become intolerable.
THE sacral sense — the traditional basis of religion, entailing humility and self-restraint — has atrophied even where the churches, mosques and temples are full. The spectres of power reign incontestably where no gods are. Their triumph makes nonsense of the medieval-modern axis on which jihadis preening on Instagram in Halloween costumes are still reflexively defined. So extensive is the rout of pre-modern spiritual and metaphysical traditions that it is hard to even imagine their resurrection, let alone the restoration, on a necessarily large scale, of a non-instrumental view of human life (and the much-despoiled natural world). But there seem to be no political escape routes, either, out of the grisly cycle of retributive bombing and beheading.
The choice for many people in the early 20th century, as Rosa Luxemburg famously proclaimed, was between socialism and barbarism. The German thinker spoke as the historical drama of the 19th century — revolution, nationalism, state-building, economic expansion, arms races, imperial aggrandisement — reached a disastrous denouement in the first world war. The choice has seemed less clear in the century since.
The mimic imperialisms of Japan and Germany, two resentful late-modernisers in Britain’s shadow, played out on a catastrophic scale the conflict built into the capitalist order. But socialist states committed to building human societies on co-operation rather than rivalry produced their own grotesqueries, as manifested by Stalin and Mao and numerous regimes in the colonised world that sought moral advantage over their western masters by aiming at equality as well as prosperity.
Since 1989, the energies of postcolonial idealism have faded together with socialism as an economic and moral alternative. The unfettered globalisation of capital annexed more parts of the world into a uniform pattern of desire and consumption. The democratic revolution of aspiration De Tocqueville witnessed in the early 19th century swept across the world, sparking longings for wealth, status and power in the most unpromising circumstances. Equality of conditions, in which talent, education and hard work are rewarded by individual mobility, ceased to be an exclusively American illusion after 1989. It proliferated even as structural inequality entrenches itself further.
In the neoliberal fantasy of individualism, everyone was supposed to be an entrepreneur, retraining and repackaging themselves in a dynamic economy, perpetually alert to the latter’s technological revolutions. But capital continually moves across national boundaries in the search for profit, contemptuously sweeping skills and norms made obsolete by technology into the dustbin of history; and defeat and humiliation have become commonplace experiences in the strenuous endeavour of franchising the individual self.
Significantly numerous members of the precariat realise today that there is no such thing as a level playing field. The number of superfluous young people condemned to the anteroom of the modern world, an expanded Calais in its squalor and hopelessness, has grown exponentially in recent decades, especially in Asia and Africa’s youthful societies. The appeal of formal and informal secession — the possibility, broadly, of greater control over your life — has grown from Scotland to Hong Kong, beyond the cunningly separatist elites with multiple citizenship and offshore accounts. More and more people feel the gap between the profligate promises of individual freedom and sovereignty, and the incapacity of their political and economic organisations to realise them.
Even the nation state expressly designed to fulfil those promises — the United States — seethes with angry disillusionment across its class and racial divisions. A sense of victimhood festers among even relatively advantaged white men, as the rancorously popular candidacy of Donald Trump confirms. Elsewhere, the nasty discovery of Atticus Finch as a segregationist compounds the shock of Ferguson and Baltimore. Coming after decades of relentless and now insurmountable inequality, the revelation of long-standing systemic violence against African Americans is challenging some primary national myths and pieties. In a democracy founded by wealthy slave-owners and settler colonialists, and hollowed out by plutocrats, many citizens turn out to have never enjoyed equality of conditions. They raise the question that cuts through decades of liberal evasiveness about the cruelties of a political system intended to facilitate private moneymaking: ‘how to erect,’ as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it in his searing new book, Between the World and Me, ‘a democracy independent of cannibalism?’
And yet the obvious moral flaws of capitalism have not made it politically vulnerable. In the west, a common and effective response among regnant elites to unravelling national narratives and loss of legitimacy is fear-mongering among minorities and immigrants — an insidious campaign that continuously feeds on the hostility it provokes. These cosseted beneficiaries of an iniquitous order are also quick to ostracise the stray dissenter among them, as the case of Greece reveals. Chinese, Russian, Turkish and Indian leaders, who are also productively refurbishing their nation-building ideologies, have even less reason to oppose a global economic system that has helped enrich them and their cronies and allies.
Rather, Xi Jinping, Modi, Putin and Erdogan follow in the line of European and Japanese demagogues who responded to the many crises of capitalism by exhorting unity before internal and external threats. European or American-style imperialism is not a feasible option for them yet; they deploy instead, more riskily, jingoistic nationalism and cross-border militarism as a valve for domestic tensions. They have also retrofitted old-style nationalism for their growing populations of uprooted citizens, who harbour yearnings for belonging and community as well as material plenitude. Their self-legitimising narratives are necessarily hybrid: Mao-plus-Confucius, Holy Cow-plus-Smart Cities, Neoliberalism-plus-Islam, Putinism-plus-Orthodox Christianity.
ISIS, too, offers a postmodern collage rather than a determinate creed. Born in the ruins of two nation states that dissolved in sectarian violence, it vends the fantasy of a morally untainted and transnational caliphate. In actuality, Isis is the canniest of all traders in the flourishing international economy of disaffection: the most resourceful among all those who offer the security of collective identity to isolated and fearful individuals. It promises, along with others who retail racial, national and religious supremacy, to release the anxiety and frustrations of the private life into the violence of the global. Unlike its rivals, however, Isis mobilises ressentiment into militant rebellion against the status quo.
Isis mocks the entrepreneurial age’s imperative to project an appealing personality by posting snuff videos on social media. At the same time, it has a stern bureaucracy devoted to proper sanitation and tax collection. Some members of Isis extol the spiritual nobility of the Prophet and the earliest caliphs. Others confess through their mass rapes, choreographed murders and rational self-justifications a primary fealty to nihilism: that characteristically modern-day and insidiously common doctrine that makes it impossible for modern-day Raskolnikovs to deny themselves anything, and possible to justify anything.
The shapeshifting aspect of Isis is hardly unusual in a world in which ‘liberals’ morph into warmongers, and ‘conservatives’ institute revolutionary free-market ‘reforms’. Meanwhile, technocrats, while slashing employment and welfare benefits, and immiserating entire societies and generations, propose to bomb refugee boats, and secure unprecedented powers to imprison and snoop.
You can of course continue to insist on the rationality of liberal democracy as against ‘Islamic irrationalism’ while waging infinite wars abroad and assaulting civil liberties at home. Such a conception of liberalism and democracy, however, will not only reveal its inability to offer wise representation to citizens. It will also make freshly relevant the question about intellectual and moral legitimacy raised by TS Eliot at a dark time in 1938, when he asked if ‘our society, which had always been so assured of its superiority and rectitude, so confident of its unexamined premises’ was ‘assembled round anything more permanent than a congeries of banks, insurance companies and industries, and had it any beliefs more essential than a belief in compound interest and the maintenance of dividends?’
Today, the unmitigated exercise of the calculating faculty looks more indifferent to ordinary lives, and their need for belief and enchantment. The political impasses and economic shocks in our societies, and the irreparably damaged environment, corroborate the bleakest views of 19th-century critics who condemned modern capitalism as a heartless machinery for economic growth, or the enrichment of the few, which works against such fundamentally human aspirations as stability, community and a better future. Isis, among many others, draws its appeal from an incoherence of concepts — ‘democracy’ and ‘individual rights’ among them — with which many still reflexively shore up the ideological defences of a self-evidently dysfunctional system. The contradictions and costs of a tiny minority’s progress, long suppressed by blustery denial and aggressive equivocation, have become visible on a planetary scale. They encourage the suspicion — potentially lethal among the hundreds of millions of young people condemned to being superfluous — that the present order, democratic or authoritarian, is built on force and fraud; they incite a broader and more volatile apocalyptic and nihilistic mood than we have witnessed before. Professional politicians, and their intellectual menials, will no doubt blather on about ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, the ‘western alliance’ and ‘full-spectrum response’. Much radical thinking, however, is required if we are to prevent ressentiment from erupting into even bigger conflagrations.

Will ISIS Infect Bangladesh?

As militants loyal to Islamic State (IS) claim responsibility for increasing numbers of attacks across the Middle East and North Africa, including a recent massacre of European tourists on a Tunisian beach, questions are arising as to just how far-reaching IS’s reach is across the world.
There is good reason to be concerned about the global spread of IS. For example, there are indications that South Asia may be the group’s latest front. Fighters loyal to IS have deepened instability in Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar province where Taliban fighters have been pushed out. These pro-IS fighters may grow in number in light of the recently announced death of the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, which will likely lead some Taliban members to leave the organisation and shift their allegiances to IS.
In fact, terrorist factions in several South Asian nations have already pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
IS’s plans to deepen its global presence were made quite clear a year ago when pro-IS groups released a map detailing a five-year expansion plan. The graphic depicts the many countries that the group hopes to bring under its control as part of its self-proclaimed “caliphate.”
Bangladesh has apparently been spared.
This is surprising for several reasons. First, many European nationals of Bangladeshi origin have supplied IS with mercenaries. Additionally, the country is volatile, with constant political feuds and some radicalised elements of society. This makes the country quite vulnerable, particularly against the backdrop of IS’s increasing influence in nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So why has Bangladesh avoided IS’s crosshairs?
Part of the answer can be gleaned from comments made by a former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena. He has remarked: “A moderate, tolerant, democratic country, Bangladesh, the world’s seventh most populous country and third largest Muslim majority country, is a viable alternative to violent extremism in a troubled region of the world.”
Indeed, the majority of Bangladesh’s large Muslim population rejects violence, and the nation is more concerned with achieving economic prosperity amid numerous challenges. These all provide a weak foundation for economic modernisation. The lack of a national consensus on future policy has diminished momentum for economic reforms, and deteriorating prospects for near-term improvements in economic freedom make it unlikely that the relatively high growth rates of recent years can be maintained. And yet Bangladesh has somehow made great progress.
While Ambassador Mozena has rightfully described Bangladesh as a moderate and tolerant country, there have admittedly been instances of extremist violence. The Jamaatul Mujahidin Bangladesh (JMB) is a militant organisation in Bangladesh that originated in 1998. The group gained international notoriety when it coordinated an audacious, country-wide bombing campaign on August 17, 2005.
Ever since the execution of major JMB leaders, no major terrorist incident has rocked Bangladesh on that scale. Bangladesh’s current government has ushered in a process of de-radicalisation, with Dhaka ramping up efforts to rein in Islamist extremists. Dhaka’s modus operandi in de-radicalisation has increased law enforcement actions. In addition, the JMB’s top brass has also been arrested, effectively defanging the organisation and hindering its ability to continue with militant activities.
Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh does not only manifest as militant violence, but also as a political force in the form of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). This party has historically played important roles in coalition-building in Bangladesh’s 300-seat parliament. The JeI’s mantra of “vesting complete faith in Allah’s law,” however, was not enough to secure the support of militants such as Bangla Bhai, who rejected the JeI’s decision to accept female leadership in Bangladesh. Bangla Bhai, in fact, wholly rejected the JeI’s ideals, and instead charted a course of destruction and violence that thankfully did not last long. At any rate, today the JeI, as with the JMB, has been defanged.
Bangladesh is no stranger to mass violence. Nonetheless, this form of violence, seen in 2014 and during other election years, is different in a major way from the violence incited by the likes of Bangla Bhai: The former has traction, and the latter does not. During election years, activists of all political parties engage in bloodshed as part of their determined efforts to win elections for their candidates and to help them stay in power. Meanwhile, to reiterate, the ideals of Islamic extremism are largely rejected by the people of Bangladesh.
An example of Bangladesh’s moderate and tolerant posture can be observed when Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists join and enjoy each other’s religious festivals like Puja, Eid, Christmas, and Buddha Purnima together. National holidays are declared for the major religious festivals so that all people regardless of their religious identities can participate.
A large demonstration that included university teachers, artists, singers, other cultural personalities, students, and the general public mobilized against the destruction of a sculpture of folk singer Baul Lalon Shah, a symbol of secular culture, in front of the Dhaka Airport. Such widespread sentiment indicates that in Bangladesh, people generally reject communalism and intolerance. It is this mentality of the Bangladeshi people to embrace and enjoy each other’s cultures that makes Bangladesh less appealing for radicalisation.
The JeI, even with its mantra of “Allah’s Law,” which in some ways echoes IS rhetoric has a very different modus operandi and set of priorities from the likes of the JMB. The JeI, through its participation in politics, wishes for a larger say in the governmental politics of Bangladesh; several JeI top brass, in fact, have served as ministers in the cabinet. While the JeI has been described by some as a terror outfit, its activities are in fact more reactions to political decisions made by the ruling party. The JeI’s major protests are always in response to prosecutions of its top figures. The JeI does not protest about Bangladeshi women not wearing burkas, and it does not stage marches that advocate for the strict imposition of sharia law. The JeI seeks to regain its status as a key parliamentary player and influential coalition-builder that it enjoyed in the past.
Thanks to increased counterterrorism efforts spearheaded by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, IS has few allies that can help it tap into Bangladesh’s large Muslim population. Pro-IS sentiment, simply put, is very weak in Bangladesh. Consider that in an ignominious list of the most pro-IS tweeting countries, Bangladesh is nowhere to be found. IS’s much-vaunted social media reach has not had the desired effect on Bangladesh’s largely moderate and tolerant population, which at the end of the day is more concerned about putting food on the table than embracing religious fundamentalism.
Ominously, however, there are warning signs that the Bangladesh could one day succumb to IS’s influence. In addition to those European nationals of Bangladeshi origin who have fought for IS, two Bangladeshis were arrested recently for conspiring to fight in Syria. A British citizen of Bangladeshi origin was also arrested while attempting a recruitment drive in the northeastern districts of Sylhet and Habiganj, districts which border the Indian states of Tripura and Shillong. In early 2015, a regional co-coordinator for IS was arrested in Bangladesh along with eight other accomplices in attempts to “establish a caliphate state in Bangladesh.” There have also been reports of IS promotional activities over social media with an “ISIS in Bangladesh” Facebook page and YouTube videos showing individuals pledging allegiance to IS, all of which have been removed. Additionally, if the JeI is unable to rehabilitate itself and become an influential political force, its desperation may well lead it to start incorporating more extremist schools of thought.
Still, some perspective is in order here. To date, no Islamist group based in Bangladesh has declared allegiance to IS. In another development, Assad Uzzaman, the last member of a group of British men of Bangladeshi origin who travelled to join IS dubbed as “Britani Brigade Bangladeshi Bad Boys,” has died. The other five members of this group have either died or are in British prisons. These factors amplify the great difficulty IS will have in establishing a strong foothold in the country.
To successfully forestall possible IS advances into Bangladesh, the country must be vigilant and proactive in combating any IS attempts to court disgruntled JeI members or remnant factions of the JMB. Even though Bangladesh escaped IS’s crosshairs on that aforementioned map of expansion, it is important to avoid the temptation to be complacent. Indeed, it would be incorrect and even dangerous to flatly conclude that IS will not eventually look at Bangladesh as a potential target for recruitment or even as part of its envisioned “caliphate.”
Ultimately, the larger issue at hand, and the country’s core challenge, is to ensure political and economic stability. Above all the goal should be to drastically diminish the risk of radicalisation by having a more peaceful, prosperous, and politically stable environment.

Atif Jalal Ahmad is currently working on a thesis on the origins of corruption in South Asia, specifically Bangladesh. Michael Kugelman is Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.


There has been a significant development in the war against IS. Turkey has joined the US-led coalition.
Turkey has so long been sitting on the fence as far as containing IS on its borders was concerned. Despite criticisms, Ankara was reluctant to join the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve, which began in August 2014. Though a strong NATO ally, Turkey also did not agree to let the US Air Force use its airbases to attack ISIL positions inside Iraq. There were allegations that Turkey allowed ISIL sympathisers and terrorists to cross over the borders from Syria.
But all that changed on July 20 when 32 people were killed by a suspected IS suicide bomber at Suruç district bordering Syria. The incident shook Turkey.
On July 24, Turkish F-16 fighter jets launched air strikes against IS held positions inside Syria, reportedly killing 35 militants. Turkish jets also bombed Kurdish positions is Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a press conference that the operation was not a one-off move and would widen gradually based on security needs of the country. “The operations … will continue for as long as there is a threat against Turkey,” said Davutoglu. Police, so far, have arrested over 1000 suspected ISIL and Kurdish terrorists in raids after the suicide bombing incident.
Turkey thus opened two war fronts – one against IS and the other against the Kurds.
Turkey's strategic shift comes following an agreement reached between President Barack Obama and President Tayyip Erdogan on July 23, 2015. Turkey has also given permission to the US Air Force to use its airbases for attacks on ISIS. American fighter jets have so long been operating from its aircraft carrier based in the Mediterranean. Coalition fighter planes and drones will now fly from bases closer to enemy positions in Syria and Iraq.
The bombing of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) hideouts inside Syria and Iraq is puzzling. PKK and Kurdish Peshmerga are fearless secular fighters as opposed to IS. America supported the Peshmerga with huge arms supplies last year, when Erbil and Mosul came under ISIS attack. America looked upon Peshmerga as its ally on the ground against IS.
On the other hand, Ankara has been engaged in negotiations with PKK for a political solution to the Kurdish autonomy issue. Kurds, who constitute 20 percent of Turkey's population, have been fighting for autonomy since the early 1980s. More than 40,000 people have died over the past decades. The 2013 ceasefire with PKK is now dead.
What is baffling is that Turkey has gone after PKK, despite the fact that Turkey, the US, and PKK are on the same side fighting IS.
 Turkish media has welcomed the attacks on PKK. However, when an outraged pro-Kurdish party organised a “peace march” in Istanbul, it was quickly banned by the police. Turkey evidently is concerned about PKK's strength and resilience in fighting ISIS. The fear is that if PKK can push back IS from Syria, it can try to establish its own autonomous territory in South East Turkey.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused the PKK for the killing of several Turkish policemen. On July 28 President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey cannot continue the peace process with Kurds amid attacks by Kurdish militants on Turkish targets.
Ahmet Davutoglu explained that Turkey has come on board the coalition for two reasons: a) to eliminate criminal activities and threats on Turkish borders and establish an ISIL-free “safe zone” and b) to help 2 million refugees, currently in Turkey, return to their homeland, as it cannot carry the burden indefinitely. The humanitarian tragedy in war-torn Syria has to be stopped. In other words, non-Arab Sunni Turkey wants the Alawite (Shia) regime of Bashar Al-Assad and IS ousted from Syria.
 It is widely believed that President Erdogan's turnaround is linked to domestic politics. Erdogan was elected president in August 2014. Turkey held parliamentary elections in June 2015. Erdogan's Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP), with 258 seats, fell short of majority in the 550-seat House. A new government could not be formed, as no single party succeeded in getting the majority of 278 seats. No coalition has emerged either. The government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, sworn in August 2014, continues. Since the parliament failed to produce a new government, President Erdogan can legally call for fresh elections.
There is another angle – the Pro-Kurdish party, People's Democratic Party (HDP), entered the parliament for the first time in June 2015, with 13 percent of the votes (82 seats). If, at the next elections, HDP can be pushed below the required 10 percent threshold, the HDP will cease to be represented in the parliament.
Erdogan hopes that his hard-line policy towards ISIS and the Kurds will raise AKP's popularity in the next elections. Erdogan will show that he is determined to crush terrorism in Turkey. The redoubtable Erdogan has always wanted to amend the constitution and introduce a presidential type of government with more powers. To change the constitution, he requires two-third majority in the parliament, which he was denied in the last election. Many predict that Erdogan is planning to call for fresh parliamentary elections in November 2015.

However, the US welcomed Turkey's decision and NATO provided strong backing to Turkey's war on terrorism. Turkey's entry into the fray will undoubtedly give a new complexion to the US-led alliance but will also strengthen the coalition air power against IS. However, to defeat IS, the coalition will have to put boots on the ground.

The stalled war against Islamic militants

THE war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is about to observe its first anniversary. There is no sign of an immediate end to the war, neither to the hold of the militants over a sizeable chunk of land in Syria and Iraq. Despite the efforts to dislodge them through air strikes by Western nations, including the US, the territory in ISIS control remains pretty much the same (the size of many Middle Eastern countries). 
The air strikes caused ISIS militants some setback, and halted further aggressive advance. In fact, experts said that without ground military intervention it would not be possible to drive the militants from the territory they had seized.  But no country was willing to stake ground support, including the US. It was left to the Iraqi government to strike back with the forces at their command, with military advice from the US. 
The core of the problem in that part of the Middle East is not just a weak government in Iraq and an imploding Syria. The success of ISIS can also be attributed to the sectarian division of the area between Shias and Sunnis. The kind of welcome they received from Sunni territories of Iraq such as Mosul and Tikrit, where the Iraqi forces were viewed as oppressors, is evidence of that. But their ability to hold on to the territory and the apparent slow progress in the war against ISIS have more to do with the ambivalence of the countries in the surrounding area toward a determined effort to eradicate the forces occupying the area than the military strength of the militants. ISIS successfully exploited that fear and it has been relentless in promoting its appeal to the Sunnis in the area through protecting them from purported Shiite repression under a Shia dominated Iraqi government.  (In fact, when the battle to retake Tikrit began, a US fear was of reprisal by the conquering Iraqi forces on local Sunnis for their support to ISIS.)
The progress of the ISIS militants in expanding their territory has not been halted by air strikes alone, but also by the role the non-formal Shia militias are playing in this war. And this is largely because of the role that Iran is playing in this war. Iran is now wielding a greater influence in the counter offensive against ISIS, which became apparent in the recent battle around Tikrit. Reportedly, Iranian-backed militants are taking a bigger role in the fight against the Islamic State than regular Iraqi forces. Iranian leaders have been openly helping to direct the battle, and American officials say Iran's Revolutionary Guards forces are taking part. Here comes the great conundrum that dominates the current war against the ISIS, their continued presence and slow response of the neighbouring Arab countries to remove them. 
Iran's increasing involvement in the war against ISIS has brought to the fore the fear of the Sunni countries of a vigorous Shia presence in the Middle East that may lead to Iran's overwhelming influence in a vast territory stretching from Iran to Lebanon. The Shias dominate in numbers in the region but, except Iran, they were in the political backwaters until the fall of Saddam in Iraq. The new Iraqi government installed Shias in powerful places and lifted them from political repression to political control. Unfortunately, this also led to a new political paradigm that reversed the role of the Sunnis from one of hegemony to impotence.  
The presence of ISIS in some ways is counterbalancing the strength of Shia influence and political control in the area. The ISIS is playing on the Sunni fear of Shia oppression and backlash once the Shia-led Iraqi government regains the territories, and Iran's role in the war will fuel that fear. The Shiite militias on the other hand are motivated by ISIS's belief that Shiites are apostates who deserve death. As a recent report from New York Times states, involvement of the militias carries a risk of further inflaming sectarian tensions that ISIS has exploited -- as has already happened in some places where Sunni residents have reported abuse or summary executions by the militias.
The war against the Islamic militants of ISIS has to be viewed against the continuing Shia-Sunni strife in the area. The Western powers who would like to see an end to the militant state and the radicals who control it are caught between their reluctance to see a powerful Iran presence containing the ISIS militants and the implicit support to these elements from the Sunni countries in the area. Restraining and eradicating the ISIS militants and regaining the territory they control would have been easier if the Arab countries in the area were united and lent ground support to Iraq forces in this battle, just as Saudi Arabia did last week to stop the Shia rebels in Yemen. 
The war against ISIS will become more complex if it continues to be viewed by the neighbouring countries through a Shia-Sunni prism and not as a threat to the existence of all countries in the region. For the ideology ISIS is propagating, that harks back to a stern Islamic government, is not what these countries want to be thrown into. This is not what the harbingers of the Arab Spring (albeit deflated now) dreamed of or talked about. ISIS stands against the hopes and dreams that people chanted for in the streets of many of these countries only a few years ago.  

The West and all democracy-minded countries can support only as much as the countries that are directly affected by the ISIS threat want. This can be moral and, in some cases, auxiliary military support. But the real help and effort to eradicate this threat will have to come from the countries themselves. Sectarian strife and mutual distrust based on sectarian difference will only strengthen ISIS and its expansion.  The threat posed by ISIS will remain as long as the neighbouring countries do not work together to fight this.