How to control home grown terrorism

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The terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday of November 13th,2015 have revived the debate about the root causes of terrorism and what the world must do to deal with the threat. Some young people are voicing their rage through social media against Islam, western policy, refugees or whomsoever they might find objectionable. Politicians and world leaders are issuing statements depending on their political or community needs and obligations. The variety of arguments notwithstanding, one thing is clear. ISIS will not be deterred by air strikes inside Syria alone.

The devastating attack on the city of lights that killed 130 people, involved European citizens, including Frenchmen. Even if ISIS is deprived of its base in Syria and Iraq, its affiliates are now in the heart of Europe.  The battle for Syria may be important but the battle for Europe might not necessarily end with the end of the war in Syria. Moreover, homegrown European terrorists will continue to threaten Europe with arguments about a clash between Islamic and western civilizations. Barring immigrants trying to escape brutality in the Middle East will only strengthen the hatred that Jihadis thrive on.

France responded the attack by an air strike on Islamic State’s (ISIS) command and control system on the city of Raqqa. But what measures can a state take to control the rising home grown terrorism. From air strikes, to war, from destabilizing dictators to rebuilding nations; we have seen all the measures taken by the United States and its western allies.

Still, western citizens — our own citizens – continue to be used by terrorists to destroy our peace and freedom. After spending trillions of dollars and using most sophisticated weapons and surveillance technology, we are forced to think that the terrorists, whether Taliban, Al-Qaida or ISIS, have clearer plans than our leaders’ strategy.

 President Obama offered US assistance to France, while condemning the Paris attack. But after few days, ISIS threatened to attack Washington D.C.

The question is that, are these air strikes that we seeing for two decades enough to secure the homeland? Haven’t we seen this menace grown bigger and bigger every day?

In recent target, the places ISIS chose are mostly crowded by young people, and so were the attackers. If we do a little research on the assailants of Paris like attacks, they were mostly young men, which show that young people are highly vulnerable to fall for such ideology.  And sometimes, the constant media rhetoric against one community or religion also upraises the hatred in young minds against the system.

 In June 2015, Ali Shikri, a 17-year old young man, from Manassas Virginia was pleaded guilty for helping another 18-year old man, Reza Niknejad, who traveled to Syria to join ISIS.  Shikri would be graduated from high school but instead pleaded guilty for providing assistance to a terrorist. During investigation Shikri admitted of encouraging ISIS and its supporters on social media. He was managing a twitter account for this purpose.

No one can be radicalized over night by reading online material or seeing pictures of war torn cities or dead bodies. I personally know that a large number of Muslims take their children to either religious schools or religious groups, both held in their local mosques on Sundays. Usually, many Islamic countries offer mosques for fund and in return ask the mosques to spread their way of Islam (radicalized), and bring the preachers (Imams) of their choice.

Recently, Egypt Ministry has confiscated more than 7000 books written on Salafism from mosques and libraries due to immense threat of home grown terrorism spread through hate material.  Homeland security should do close monitoring on what material mosques are teaching to these young children in religious schools. Local representatives should do monthly questioning sessions with mosques administration to find out what activities are they holding recently.

Religious education is not harmful as long as the students are learning religion as a way of living a life of a civilized citizen. I send my children to a Sunday school, and feel that it’s my duty to closely watch their syllabus and lectures. Keeping eyes on religious school library’s books, available for children, can be a good step from parents. These are simplest roles we can play to save the future.  In past we had seen mosque like Dar al-HIjrah of Virginia’s involvement in terrorist activities. 

Therefore, close monitoring is important but closing down the mosques, as Donald Trump suggested in presidential debate, will create more polarization in the society. A community will go in isolation, which can result in backlash. The isolated, young men are vulnerable to get recruited by groups like ISIS. They easily get brainwashed against their own country and society due to unjustified measures.  The U.S and allies should share the information about the local terrorists of which mosques they visited daily? What books are being used in those mosques?  The reason is that, not all sects of Islam preach such hatred and promote killing of innocent people. In fact, with non-Muslims, many different sects of Islam have been targeted by terrorist groups like ISIS.

Now is the time to fight this war at home by respecting the citizens’ rights. The measures like monitoring the mosques and ideology they spread, engaging the administration in dialogues and doing background check of Imams of the mosques can become useful. We also need to bring the real face of Muslims (those who are against terrorism) forward, where they can preach a peaceful message among other sects (who have been misled) and other communities.

Raza Rumi: Living in Denialistan

Raza RumiThe following post was written by Raza Rumi for Pak Tea House:

The recent attack on Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine is another reminder of the plain truth that the Pakistani state needs to focus on its domestic crises rather than remain obsessive about external threats. The unholy conglomerate comprising al Qaeda, sectarian outfits and elements within the state has targeted Karachi’s best-known public and cultural space. This is a continuation of Islamist battles against Pakistan.

Yet, apologists remain adamant. Butchering of civilians and annihilation of a plural Sufi culture is a reaction, we are told. First, it was the US occupation of Afghanistan, then the invasion of Iraq and now drone attacks in Pakistan. True, Muslims and Pakistanis are enraged at US policies and its sheer arrogance in dealing with the region. But using anti-Americanism as an excuse to overlook the growing cancer of bigotry at home is disingenuous and dangerous for our future.

Denial is etched in our memory and cultural ethos. Even today we are not willing to admit that the majority of Indian Muslims did not migrate to the Land of the Pure. And that we mistreated the Bengalis. We are also in denial about the ever-growing crop of suicide bombers and how sectarianism has penetrated our society over the last three years.

The truth is that we are a fractured and crumbling society in denial. Even the glorification of our nuclear weapons is an act of denial: such prowess does not provide social services, internal security and economic prosperity. We are paranoid about our nuclear weapons — the common view is that everyone in the world is out to forcibly remove them.

Despite the common perception that it wants to denuclearise us, our military is dependent on the West. American culture is now the standard culture, our students yearn to be in US universities and migration to the Newfoundland remains a desirable ambition. Such schizophrenic realities are also denied and swept under the carpet. Until we confront ourselves and admit some home truths we are not likely to get far.

The reach of Islamism is also palpable. Watch a standard TV show, read the Urdu press (a leading newspaper quotes Taliban links and websites as references and prints their adverts), or participate in a regular drawing room conversation — myths have become real and the penetration of political Islam is capturing the discourse amid confusing globalisation.

Worse, the de-legitimisation project of secular, moderate political parties is ongoing. The wise know that if anything prevents political Islam taking over the state, it is parties such as the PPP, the ANP and the PML-N. Even the JUI is no longer Islamic enough — hence the recent attacks. These forces are a bulwark against the tide of Islamism and its agenda. But the historically naive and complicit middle class of Pakistan refuses to smell the coffee. It beats its proverbial chest over fake degrees, why the ‘corrupt’ are in high places and why the Taliban sympathisers, such as a sportsman-turned-politician, are not in power. It fails to see why reactionary movements are effectively ‘anti-change’. The recent gibberish about revolution and clean politics is familiar but comes at a make or break juncture.

The PPP government, despite its uncertain shelf life, owes it to the people of Pakistan to forge consensus on a new education policy, madrassa reform and developing a national counter-terrorism plan. This is an area where initiative is lacking. Detoxing Pakistan is not a short-term process. It will be a five to 10 year unavoidable battle if Pakistan wishes to remain a viable state and relatively functional society. Reform should start with revisions to curricula and focus on a grassroot campaign against sectarianism. The prerequisites for such reforms are political stability, policy continuity and a growing economy.

Unelected institutions of the state no longer have the luxury of orchestrating games of musical chairs amongst politicos, technocrats and opportunists. ‘Denialistan’ and its masters must wake up.