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4 ways to tackle Islamic State's terror

By Colonel Anil A Athale
Last updated on: July 25, 2016 20:33 IST
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Truck used in the Nice terror attack


'The use of nuclear/biological/chemical weapons by Islamic terrorists is just a matter of time.'
It must be clearly understood what the world faces is a global level insurgency against the world order.'

'Terrorism is merely a tactic and Islamic State its most brutal face, says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

My 25 years of study of insurgency and terrorism in diverse countries/locations like Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Punjab and South Africa (during the apartheid regime) has yielded some interesting insights into the phenomenon.

In all the above mentioned struggles 'terrorism' was used as a tactic some time or the other. These studies are extremely relevant today as the Nice, France, killings on July 14 shows the ever evolving methods being used by Islamic terrorists to kill randomly and cause destabilisation in the world.

Unless the world unites and tackles this menace head on, there is a danger of the world reverting to tribalism and ghettos (that is what Brexit was all about) and bring economic ruin to vast swathe of mankind.

The use of nuclear/biological/chemical weapons by Islamic terrorists is just a matter of time. It must be clearly understood what the world faces is a global level insurgency against the world order.

Terrorism is merely a tactic and Islamic State its most brutal face.

In every insurgency/terrorism there are three elements: Leadership, organisationand cause/ideology. These three elements are not static and their relationship/importance is constantly changing in both time and space.

For instance in the current phase of Islamic insurgency, the period before 9/11 saw a prominent role being played by Osama bin Laden's leadership. In the subsequent phase it was the Al Qaeda organisation that gained prominence.

As the leadership got decimated and the organisation was disrupted by American military action, lone wolf attackers emerged on the scene

There is yet another complicating factor; the three facets themselves also undergo changes. For instance, while jihad may have begun as a quest for domination in Afghanistan and the defeat of 'Godless' Communism, it later transformed into an anti-West ideological struggle. The organisation has undergone a drastic change as well.

From a well knit group like Al Qaeda, terrorism has now evolved into a 'franchise' model with posts in cyberspace as the main motivator. This is not merely the shifting of goal posts, but a total game changer.

The changes in leadership are a function of time/counter terror operations. There is often a power struggle based on personalities or approach or ideology. Thus, there are hardliners and moderates or pro-peace or pro-violence leaders in virtually every organisation (the good Taliban and bad Taliban, for instance).

The problem this poses to counter terrorists is that if the relative importance of the three facets is not correctly assessed, then one ends up on the losing side by living in the past.

It is common wisdom that counter terrorism must adopt a multi-pronged approach. This is true at the policy level in the sense that the war has to be fought on five fronts, namely economic, social, political, psychological and military.

But at the strategy level as well, the approach has to be three-pronged, to aim at the cause, leadership and organisation. Weakening of only one or even two facets does not result in peace.

The counter-terror operations for the last 15 years or so have achieved some success in killing the leaders and disrupting organisations. However, due to the 'politically correct' approach to religion, the ideology of the terrorists has never been seriously questioned.

All this while the cause of converting the whole world to a (mythical Islamic State) Dar al Islam (from its current Dar al Harb) has continued unchallenged.

The idea of geographical divisions along religious lines -- the dar -- is not mentioned in the Quran or Hadith. The only 'dar' the Quran speaks of is 'the abode of the Hereafter (heaven) and the earthly life,' with the heaven described as clearly superior to life on earth.

This makes it obvious that what is claimed as sanctioned by religion is actually a 'political' tool that is being used by some elements/nations.

At the level of ideology, the false concept of dividing humanity into us versus them must be opposed and challenged. India and Indonesia, who together hold more than 2/3rds of the world's Muslims and have predominantly moderate Muslims, are ideally placed to play this role.

The Ma’din Academy of Mallapuram in Kerala recently set an example by making over 300,000 Muslims take an oath of brotherhood with other faiths. More such efforts are needed.

Indian and Indonesian Muslims must come together and question the two concepts of Dar al Harb and kufr (non-believers). It is these two concepts that are at the root of motivation of Islamic terror.

In order to effectively deal with this falsehood that has crept into Islam due to historical reasons (when religion was used as a tool to spread an empire), it is necessary to denounce these concepts as un-Islamic and excommunicate those who profess these notions.

In short, the kind of treatment that the world of Islam gives to Ahamadi’s and treats them as un-Islamic and even with wjib e katl (fit for assassination) has to be instead applied to its own radical and hate mongering cults.

In short, one is advocating a clear split between majority peace loving Muslims and its radical/intolerant part. This is a historical necessity and is not a new phenomenon as many other faiths (including Islam) have indeed undergone such convulsions in history.

The second agenda point is to put curbs on the means to carry out hate propaganda by Islamic radicals. More and more cases have come to light wherein many lone wolf attacks have been carried out by persons who were radicalised on the internet.

It is time for world organisations like the United Nations to come into play and put the internet worldwide under some sort of control.

The contents of cyberspace need to be monitored and any posts/communications that are detrimental to peace and harmony should be deleted and such individuals/organisations be banned from use of cyberspace.

Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Russian revolution, is often quoted as having said that 'ideas are even more fatal than guns', so if we do not permit easy access to guns to all and sundry, then why should we permit the same freedom in the realm of ideologies that propagate violence and are a danger to humanity?

The rise of global media outlets like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have empowered an individual at the cost of society. Freedoms have to be used responsibly. There is no real option to putting reasonable curbs on cyberspace use. Like child porn is monitored, so should be hate posts. While child pornography is criminal, so is terrorism and merit the same treatment.

The sad truth is while technology has progressed to give the human race unlimited opportunity to communicate freely, human development has lagged far behind. Mindsets and the attitudes of many betray a medieval mindset. In such a situation absolute freedom enjoyed in cyberspace is dangerous and needs to be put under some form of control like the limits on the press/public media.

The third point of the counterterror agenda is to deal with IS or the so-called Islamic Caliphate. Here is one issue on which all the UN Security Council members should be able to unite. IS poses a threat to all the permanent members of the UN Security Council. IS' brutality has many Muslims disgusted and there is a widespread support for military action against it.

Instead of the action being taken by the US or Russia in their individual capacity, it is time an International Force is formed with maximum participation from many nations to destroy IS.

The destruction of IS will send a very powerful message to would-be psychopaths and fanatics who wish to join IS that the whole world and humanity are against them and they can never win against a world united.

The fourth and final agenda point is regarding the human rights of the terrorists. For too long, this has been a one-way street. While the terrorists do not treat their victims as human beings, the counter terrorists are expected to follow humane tactics and procedures.

This gives the terrorists an unfair advantage when it comes to a confrontation. Any soldier/policeman will tell you that in such a situation, with one hand tied behind one's back, it becomes impossible to effectively deal with terrorists.

With the terrorists increasingly using sophisticated arms, it is the more unscrupulous that stands to win. At the ground level this is in any case already happening.

It is time the World Human Rights Organisation deliberates on the issue and decides to deprive terrorists of their human rights. If the terrorists do not believe in humanity and act in an inhuman manner, why should they be treated as human beings?

Terrorists have used airplanes, trucks, guns and bombs in the past. In a natural progression what stops them from using bacteria, chemicals and finally atoms in their next attack?

If the world is to stop the epidemic of terrorism, this four point agenda needs urgent implementation.

IMAGE: Security personnel near the truck used in the Nice attack.

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Colonel Anil A Athale