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Civilisation & barbarism: A perspective on the ISIS assault

June 25, 2014 15:25 IST

ISIS fightersThe Al-Qaeda and its patrons seems to have outsourced, for the time being, the achieving of that larger, civilisationally retrograde goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle-East, to the ISIS. The symptoms are all similar; the difference lies only in the expressions, says Dr Anirban Ganguly.

One of the cradles of world civilisation is in the throes of a barbaric convulsion which threatens to forever decimate some of the most enduring symbols of man’s struggle for mastery over nature and of the elements. For those who watch and examine, from a civilisational dimension, the advance of the ‘armies of Allah’, animated this time with a new and a more bloody vision of world domination, however chimerical it may appear to the sane, the destruction of the civilisational heritage of the region, a possession of mankind as a whole, must be a cause for deep anguish.

For us in India the destruction of heritage by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in its ongoing rampage for erecting an arc of extreme intolerance across the region, is reminiscent of the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas -- it was done in adherence, not only to the iconoclasm of these mercenaries of faith but with spite towards the Indian -- Dharmic civilisational ethos -- that had, in its heydays, inspired and encouraged such an art and expression.

For the hoary land between the Tigris and the Euphrates this may be one of its greatest civilisational challenge -- the physical expressions of its five thousand years old history -- expressions of man’s early quest for survival, growth and progress may soon be reduced to a pile of rubble. Most threatened and the prime target is the region’s pre-Islamic heritage -- the cuneiform tablets, the Assyrian statues, Babylonian artifacts are all threatened, and some, ever since the crisis in Syria erupted, have already been trampled and destroyed.  

It was against this latest round of cultural genocide that the UNESCO Director-General Irina Brokova appealed to the Iraqis to unite for protecting their country’s cultural heritage which “represents a unique testimony of humanity, of the origins of our civilisation.” But for a group that is itself antithetical to the concept and definition of civilisation, these appeals hardly matter – they come rather, as the expressions of weakness and -- of a state of helplessness -- a condition d’impuissance.

The ironical news of the Al-Qaeda being shocked at the excesses of the ISIS can at best be termed as puerile and concocted. The composition or texture of intolerance are same and originate from the same source -- the intensity may be different -- those who seek to first measure the intensity and then decided on corrective actions are only deluding themselves, in this case at least, and allowing crucial strategic time and space to flow away. If the new edicts of the new ‘dispensation’ in Mosul is a pointer, the region is fast receding into a shadowy past that has always functioned and defined itself within the parameters of a dark and regressive world view.

The so called ‘contract of the city’ with its 16 notes for the residents of Mosul issued by the ISIS talk of implementing the ‘Sharia law’, order that “graves and shrines are not allowed, and will be destroyed” and tells women that “stability is at home and they should not go outside…and they should be covered in full Islamic dress” and lastly decrees that all should be happy “to live in an Islamic land.”

To compound the various intertwined and complex dimensions in this entire developing episode is this rising phenomenon of jihadis being recruited from Europe -- France, Belgium -- most descendants of second and third generation Arab migrants and Muslim converts and some Europeans as well. French and Belgian speaking brigades in the ISIS are becoming commonplace and the jihadist challenge for Europe may be far stiffer than Western intelligence agencies may like to admit.

In her legitimate quest for achieving a great power status India perhaps needs to rapidly evolve a grand strategy for this volatile region and its eruptions and its lethal refuses -- the mercenaries of Allah. The past decade has been one of a wasted opportunity in this aspect. The jihadi remnants that survive this theatre shall soon begin gravitating towards their preferred destinations of Kabul, Kashmir, Kathmandu and Chittagong, all regions which they shall aim to convert into launching pads for their vision of a ‘world jihad’, pushing through the long arc of extremism with the help of jihadi elements being spawned and incubated in India’s immediate neighbourhood and waiting in the wings for the final lunge to push forth the unfulfilled plan of the ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’.

Not long before he was brutally shot dead, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad in his provocative, ‘Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’, referred to the Al-Qaeda’s objective of bringing the major powers and their allies to the Middle East “for the final battles to revive the Muslim political order under the Caliphate, which would then lead to the liberation of all Muslims territories.”

The Al-Qaeda and its patrons seems to have outsourced, for the time being, the achieving of that larger, civilisationally retrograde goal, to the ISIS. The symptoms are all similar; the difference lies only in the expressions!

Dr Anirban Ganguly