Paris Attacks : The Who, What and How of ISIS

_86800302_paris1            People finish arranging candles into the word ‘Paris’ next to flowers and messages left. Image Courtesy :

On Friday, 13th November, a series of coordinated attacks across the French capital city of Paris left at least 130 people dead and an estimated 300 injured. Last month, in two separate incidents in Beirut and Sharm-al-Sheikh, the militants of ISIS killed 43 and 224 people respectively.
These are the latest in a long line of brutal and shocking incidents that have taken place since the ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, came to prominence a few years ago. The Paris attacks are the deadliest in France since the end of the Second World War and gave a chilling reminder to the whole world that the definitions and reach of terrorism are not restricted to West Asia and Third World. No condemnation of the attacks can be enough and it is in these times of unprecedented crises that countries and people need to keep a clear head. The whole world is with the French as they mourn those whose lives were brutally cut short.
Nabbing the Culprits:
In the aftermath of the attacks, French President Mr. François Hollande declared that his country was now on a pitiless war against the terrorists who carried out the attacks. Already France has committed more troops than even the US in its fight against IS in Iraq and Syria. The French Prime Minister Mr. Manuel Valls said that its impossible to carry out round the clock surveillance on the approximately 11400 people who have been classified as being dangerous simply because they don’t have the sheer manpower required to do that. The French police carried out raids in a Paris suburb on Wednesday in which 7 terrorists were killed. But waging a war against the IS, in its backyard in West Asia, is a different thing altogether and the chances of winning such a war are very weak, as the US can attest to with its experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The French need to be wary of diving headlong into a war that will be drawn out long and one which they might not possibly win, or even if they did, would come at a huge cost of money and manpower. To effectively fight ISIS, first it is necessary to understand what it is and how it came to be the greatest threat to the world.

ISIS: Origin and Working:


 Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Image Courtesy :
                The group originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004. It also participated in the Iraqi insurgency that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by US-led forces. Its leader was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who was a one-time thief and  considered by many to be the father of Iraqi insurgency. He was followed by the current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi Sunni cleric who is said to have an advanced degree in Islamic studies and who spent time as an inmate at Camp Bucca, an American prison in Southern Iraq widely acknowledged to be the breeding ground for the next generation of Iraqi terrorists. Read more about the group’s origin here. The group, through a single-minded drive to acquire territory and impose its dream of creating a Caliphate, has been wildly  successful in getting foreigners to fight for its cause, on its behalf, in the death arenas of Iraq and Syria. It has made excellent use of social media and internet with thousands of sympathetic Twitter accounts and chilling videos of beheading of western journalists and soldiers, spreading a propaganda that it will bring in a new world order, destroying the current one, which will be based on Allah’s decree and governed by Sharia Law. This goal of a dreamland, while horrific in the way IS wants to achieve it, is very alluring for a lot of disgruntled young men and women who find the morals and codes and way of living in their own countries unsatisfying and phony. Also, to those going to fight for IS and committing deadly suicide attacks, there’s the added allure of doing something for which they will be remembered by generations to come, a mighty leap forward to immortality in the public eye and a far cry from their insipid, mundane and totally unexciting lives. A lot of those travelling to Syria and Iraq are not hardcore Jihadi believers. In fact, many can’t speak Arabic and are disgruntled once they see the workings of the group, which include oil business, mass murder, sexual slavery and good old-fashioned torture and extortion, besides poor pay and execution of those trying to run away after having joined the cause. What makes IS different from an Al-Qaeda or a Lashkar-e-Toiba or any other terrorist organization is its vision of capturing territory and ruling over the whole world as a Caliphate. The rise of ISIS was unwittingly helped by, or one can even say created by the US’ war on terror in Iraq. After the US army left Iraq, it left behind a huge defence infrastructure for the Iraqi forces to use for maintaining law and order in the country. The comparatively weak Iraqi forces, after being defeated, lost these vehicles and ammunition which the IS promptly used for the expansion of its own territory. The US’ decision to support the Shiite Iraqi central government led by Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki, which all but marginalized the Sunnis, led to considerable disquiet amongst the Sunni populace and affluent class. The spate of drone attacks by the Americans further gave ammo to the fundamentalists brainwashing impressionable youngsters that they were up against mindless killers who didn’t care for the lives of their women and children. Added to this was the support the US gave to the Syrian rebels, called Free Syrian Army, starting 2011. Its fighters were trained by CIA and provided finance and ammunition to overthrow Syrian President Bahar al-Assad. These fighters, after gaining American knowhow and firepower, pledged their allegiance to the then-rising group, IS. And the result is in front of our eyes.

Effectively Fighting ISIS:

It is unlikely that any attack on IS in Iraq and Syria will be able to decimate the group completely and provide a long-term solution. No. That would not stop the attacks by the suicide bombers who blow themselves up in packed concert halls and markets. It would not stop those who have come back to their respective countries indoctrinated in the IS’ philosophy and vision of Jihad. Killing the leaders of IS or other groups won’t make a difference either. If one is removed, another more radical terrorist will take his place. Making this a Muslims vs Rest of the World fight will not be the right course either, in fact it’ll be counterproductive. To all those who are mistaking ISIS for being religious-minded, here’s the thing. They are killing not just non-Muslims, but Muslims too, including Shias, Kurds, Yazidis and other sects. The US’ war in Iraq led to a full-blown sectarian crisis that hasn’t yet been mitigated. Also, the millions fleeing to Europe for refuge are largely Muslims too, who see no way of taking the lives of their families forward in such extenuating circumstances. So no, these are not the solutions.
The US and other western powers who are bombing oilfields in IS territory need to take a step back and think what purpose that’ll serve. The oil being produced is being sold internationally through oil companies and international banks. Pressurizing these parties will be far better than destroying precious oil infrastructure that can be used once IS is removed from the picture. Also, America needs to make sure it puts pressure on countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE who have used their petrodollars to fund the largely-Sunni extremists throughout the region just to keep themselves safe and their perceived local rivals suffering. Accountability must be fixed and the culprits must be brought to book in all of these countries. For too long these countries have kept good relations with the West and have been rewarded by the Western powers turning a blind eye to their wrongdoings and their poor human rights records, Qatar’s poor treatment of the workforce for the 2022 FIFA World Cup being a recent case in point. That has to stop.
Another thing that needs to be done is to ensure that the minorities in the West feel safe and cared for, not discriminated and targeted. While its true that by and large countries try to be equal towards all their citizens, the growing Islamophobia and far-right ultranationalism in politics needs to be checked. E.g., France’s Muslim population is just 7-8% of the total population but the ratio of Muslims in jails there is about 70% of the total number of inmates, leaving a large number of people prone to picking up radicalism in prisons.

A Thought for the victims in Africa and Asia:


Pakistani tribesmen show a placard of alleged drone strike victims. Image Courtesy: AFP/Getty Images

Facebook offered a choice to its users to change their profile pictures in support of the victims of Paris attacks. That was meant as a gesture to show solidarity with the victims. Why didn’t Facebook offer something such when terrorists stormed a hotel in Mali and killed innocents, or when the Russian airliner was shot down over Egyptian airspace in the Sharm-el-Sheikh incident mentioned at the beginning of the post? Why doesn’t the western media highlightthe plight of the scores of innocent people who are killed daily in American drone attacks in Asia? Are their lives not precious? Is their pain somehow less than those dying in Europe or North America?

Indian Angle:

News reports last year told of a few youngsters from Kalyan in Mumbai who had travelled to Syria to fight for IS. These youngsters had contacted their family members from Syria, having kept them in the dark before that. Then there was the case of a techie from Bengaluru who was acting as a recruiter for IS through Twitter. And earlier this year, a woman from Hyderabad, who also worked as a recruiter for the outfit, told of how she believed in the dream of the Caliphate and that whatever the IS was doing was right. These people might have been misled/brainwashed or might even have been fanatics already. But what is worrying is the question about the kind of impact the return of other people who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight will have? Attacks of the kind witnessed in Paris last week could be a possibility.
In this regard, I felt glad when I came to know about the Indian government’s decision not to pursue criminal cases against the Mumbai youngsters upon their return. The government’s plan was to bring these youngsters into the mainstream through deradicalization and counselling. Make no mistake, I definitely support that these people should be kept an eye on upon their return and that the government must work towards breaking the online modules that help groups like IS. But if we can reassimilate these youngsters in society through peaceful means, it’ll be a great victory in the long run as it will give us a blueprint to fight the ideological war against these terrorist groups and ensure that no more impressionable young minds are corrupted in their deviant ways. And the victory thus achieved will be that much more sweeter. Here’s to World peace.

For further, in depth reading, here are some articles,in addition to the link provided above :

1. Islamic State of Iraq and Levant via Wikipedia

2. Paris: The war ISIS wants-

3. There is only one way to defeat ISIS-

4. ‘The attacks will be spectacular’ –

5. ISIS, a history: how the world’s worst terror group came to be-

6. Confessions of an ISIS spy-

7. We created Islamic extremism: Those blaming Islam for ISIS would have supported Osama bin Laden in the ’80s-

8. Our terrorism double standard: After Paris, let’s stop blaming Muslims and take a hard look at ourselves –

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