Thursday, July 7, 2016

From Nice to Baghdad: the horror, the horror!

Terror truck driven by Bouhlel. Daily Mirror image.
IN Joseph Conrad’s famous novel, The Heart of Darkness – which is an anti-imperial statement on Africa – one of the main characters, Kurtz, utters “the horror, the horror” as he lies dying. These are the words of a man commenting on his crumbled sanity, as he faces the bitter truth of his dissolute life exploiting the Congolese.

What the suicide bombers and attackers uttered before their recent nihilistic acts of terror in Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Medina and now Nice, I do not know. All I’m sure of is that God would not have accepted their dying prayers. But on initially witnessing these incidences via social media, my first words were the same as Kurtz’s, “the horror, the horror!”

I’m not Kurtz, but his deathbed utterance did seem to express what I was feeling at a time when I was lost for words. The sheer effrontery of it all and the darkness of the minds that must have concocted the idea of killing innocent people in public places during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic year and during Bastille Day, one of France’s biggest holidays, just beggars belief.

Medina, the Saudi Arabian city where the Prophet Muhammad lies buried, is regarded by Muslims as one of the most sacred places on earth, and yet, a misguided young man with explosives strapped to his body wanted to kill innocent worshippers. It’s the horrible equivalent of someone trying to bomb St Peter’s Square at the Vatican over Easter.

The same can be said about the young men who attacked a restaurant in Dhaka (killing 20), those who blew themselves up in a Baghdad market-place (killing 250) and the wild shooters at the Attaturk Airport in Istanbul (killing 41) who also ignited suicide vests when security guards closed in. And then, what about Mohamed  Bouhlel driving a truck into a crowd in Nice and killing 84 more innocent people?

The attacks have been accredited to the Islamic State, and even if a subsidiary group was responsible for the terror (which is likely in some instances), IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s edict in the IS magazine, al-Dabiq, that IS supporters should commit terror attacks on “infidels” should be borne in mind as the nucleus of the evil that started it all.

However, whilst centres outside of the IS caliphate have been targeted – especially as IS takes a hammering from coalition forces inside Syria and Iraq – historically it is mostly Muslims who’ve had to bear the brunt of IS, as utterly tragic as any other fatality has been.

Indeed, it is ironic that IS, claiming the voice of true Islam, has proved to be totally anti-Muslim in its behaviour. Fostered by its belief that every Muslim who disagrees with it is an infidel, and whose blood it is permissible to spill, IS in reality represents less than 1% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

IS’s enemies within Islam are expansive: Sufis, Sunnis, Shi’as, political leaders, religious leaders, Deobandis, Barelvis, inter-faith workers, journalists, scholars, the Islamic Brotherhood and even Salafis.  And in addition to being anti-Muslim, IS is also anti-faith. And in addition to being anti-Muslim, IS is also anti-faith, as faith universally holds human life sacrosanct.

Space precludes an examination of the political, if not secular, birth of IS in the US detention camps in Iraq in 2003, and the political vacuums it exploited in Syria and Iraq, especially in 2014, when it finally captured world imagination by declaring a “caliphate”.

IS is, however, different to its extremist forerunner, al-Qaeda, in that it became an identifiable geographical entity with the primitive strappings of statehood – and an economy – when it robbed the banks of Mosul, Raqqa and Fallujah and gained access to northern Iraqi and Syrian oilfields.

But back to the terror attacks. Istanbul can easily be attributed to revenge for Turkey’s role in combating IS, and Turkey’s vulnerability due to its porous 1,200 km border with Syria and Iraq. However, stories that the attackers had merged with refugees is unlikely as most of the three million Syrians in Turkey were fleeing IS themselves.

What is not widely acknowledged is that Turkish security guards fingered the three attackers early, and had they not done that, possibly thousands could have died. Without detracting from the fatalities, Istanbul was an epic IS failure. But not so Baghdad, where most of the victims were innocent Shi’ah shopping for the post Ramadan ‘Eid festival. And not so Nice, where people were innocently celebrating a French public holiday.

The attacks on three Saudi Arabian cities, Jeddah, Qatif and Medina (which caused a minimum of casualties) were – according to my sources in the kingdom – locally engineered and directed against the Royal family’s patronage of the Holy Sites, the US embassy in Jeddah and the Shi’as in Qatif.

But what sent a tremor throughout the Muslim world on the eve of the Eid ul-Fitr holiday at the end of Ramadan was the attempt to blow up the Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina. The bomber raised suspicion, and when four security officers spotted him at the breaking of the day’s fast, he detonated his vest.

Without the sharp eye of the security – and the Saudis use the eagle-eyed Bedouin for such purposes – one can only wonder at how many innocent people would have perished had the bomber succeeded. Again, thankfully, another IS failure – although four young men had to sacrifice themselves to save thousands.

Unfortunately, whilst we all reel from the tragedy of terror, trying to locate the roots of extremism – and even creating a psycho-social identikit of an extremist who would join IS – is an almost impossible task. This is something that the French, who’ve had the worst of it in Europe, would agree with.

Dr Madawi al-Rasheed, visiting professor of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, says the task is indeed made difficult because there are different streams of localised grievances in different states that feed into a global IS – or even al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or al-Shabab – perspective. This is something she feels we need to understand.

Amidst all the dust and aftershock of places such as Nice and Baghdad there is perhaps one lonely certainty with regards to Islamic extremism: the most vulnerable are usually the most ignorant about Islam, and the most naïve about world politics. This is something we’ve witnessed in Lebanon, Europe, Somalia, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, the Far East and even, now recently, South Africa.

However, the solution does not lie entirely in the lap of Islam – which is trying hard to face the challenges – but also in the domain of world leadership where the bitter wars, the political power plays and the simmering conflicts need to be peacefully resolved, the affected countries rebuilt on the foundations of true justice and the hopeful youth given jobs.

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