For the past decade the issue of radicalization has been grabbing attention of the international media. Global terrorist attacks such as the Boston marathon bombings or the Charlie Hebdo shootings have exposed a negative light on Muslim communities.
Many Europeans are dissatisfied with Muslim response to such attacks and consequently lack of condemnation and rejection unnerves the suggestion that Islam itself may be to blame.
But in reality the role of Islam found within the process of radicalization is lesser than one may expect. So far there has been no research found which supports the theory that any religious ideology may become a major influencing factor. In fact, many of those willing to fight in Syria and Iraq have a limited knowledge of Islam. It is other contributing factors that play a much greater part in one’s journey towards radicalization. The legacy of the War on Terror, the torture and human rights abuses found at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons, the promise of martyrdom and adventure, or the Western double-standards reaching from Palestine to Western Sahara, have all been connected to cases of radicalization.
In order to better understand why and how some people become indoctrinated one needs to accept the fact that the reasons behind radicalization are much more complex. In the case of the Kouachi brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the road to violent jihadi involves a criminal and unstable past. For individuals with a similar background, the use of religious ideology is an escalation of what is an already violent lifestyle. Over the past years, prisons have been viewed as a safe haven for extremist recruitment. France is a prime example as over half of its inmates are Muslim due to the growing poverty and unemployment. This disproportionate figure of young and disadvantaged Muslims being imprisoned in overcrowded and poor conditions does little to discourage radicalization.
However, if you study the case of Mohamed Merah who killed four Jews and three Muslim soldiers in south-western France, the picture appears much more complicated. Despite being under surveillance by French domestic intelligence after being identified in Afghanistan, Merah gave the impression of a well-integrated individual who led a normal life, when in reality he trained with Pakistani Taliban to fight against NATO forces supporting the Kabul government. There is a growing trend in ‘lone wolf’ militants who after being lured into violent Islam become foot soldiers used for carrying out terrorist attacks. In the case of self-radicalized individuals, the Internet is often a major influencing venue. Despite Britain’s best efforts at removing over 30,000 pieces of terrorist material since the start of the year, the struggle against viral extremism is on-going.
While Western efforts have focused on the large numbers of male jihadists travelling to Syria and Iraq, security officials are becoming increasingly concerned about a steady stream of female groups heading the same way. Young and educated Muslim girls brought up in the West are regarded as rewards for fighters who are keen to marry. According to Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at Sweden’s National Defence College, of 85 jihadis who have left from Sweden, around 20 are women. Muslim girls residing in the West are often targeted by recruiters through social media and false friendships as a way to convince them to volunteer in war-torn areas. The promise of an adventure and a contribution towards the holy war is just the kind of jihadi romance propaganda used to recruit women.
So what can be done? Well Britain may have lessons for others. After the shock of 9/11, the UK adopted a two way approach to counter extremism. The first aim was to remove hate preachers, while the second part of the programme, known as “Prevent”, saw assistance given to Muslim leaders to counter radicalization found throughout communities. However, the programme proved to be a total failure with many flaws including misdirection of funds, poor communication and difficulties in identifying those vulnerable to radicalization. Britain’s 2.7 million Muslim population viewed Prevent as nothing more than a police-led spying exercise. Identifying those at risk is extremely difficult, however Germany is succeeding in its family counselling approach. It is often the family members who first notice any signs of radicalization, and so the German Hayat programme offers counselling used to resolve any outstanding issues or leave positive influences on confused individuals. The programme has been recently adopted in Canada, France and Britain.
As an indifferent world looks on, the Syrian nation is dying posing an increasing risk at becoming “Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean” (Abdullah Gul, Turkish President). The international community’s and UN’s security council’s response to tackling humanitarian and moral challenges presented by the Syrian crisis fall nothing short of disappointing.
People need to comprehend the idea that radicalization is not some evil brainwashing, but a gradual process by which people come to freely accept a violent path. There is no psychological explanation to it, as the journey to inhuman terror begins with human error. The best we can do is to promote good values, as well as tackle racism and poverty.
ISIL’s ‘legacy of terror’ in Iraq: UN verifies over 200 mass graves
Investigators have uncovered more than 200 mass graves containing thousands of bodies in areas of Iraq formerly controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), according to a United Nations human rights report out on Tuesday.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the 202 mass grave sites were found in governorates of Nineveh, Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Anbar in the north and western parts of the country – but there may be many more.
In the joint report, Unearthing Atrocities, the UN entities said the evidence gathered from the sites “will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions” in accordance with international due process standards.
Ján Kubiš, the top UN official in Iraq and the head of UNAMI, said that the mass grave sites “are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty.”
“Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice,” he added.
Between June 2014 and December 2017, ISIL seized large areas of Iraq, leading a campaign of widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, “acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possible genocide,” the report states.
Traumatized families have the ‘right to know’
The UNAMI-OHCHR report also documents the “significant challenges” families of the missing face in trying to find the fate of their loved ones.
At present, they must report to more than five separate authorities, a process that is both time-consuming and frustrating for traumatized families.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored that the families “have the right to know.”
“ISIL’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for,” she said.
“Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL.”
Victim-centred approach needed
Among its recommendations, the report calls for a victim-centred approach and a transitional justice process that is established in consultation with, and accepted by, Iraqis, particularly those from affected communities.
It also urges a multidisciplinary approach to the recovery operations, with the participation of experienced specialists, including weapons contamination and explosives experts and crime scene investigators.
Alongside, it also calls on the international community to provide resources and technical support to efforts related to the exhumation, collection, transportation, storage and return of human remains to families, as well as their identification, particularly by helping strengthen the national Mass Graves Directorate.
The Islamic State’s reviving scheme
Despite the fact that ISIS lost 98 percent of its controlled territory, it is aiming for a reforming and coming back in the Sunni populated areas in Syria and Iraq. Due to the current war situation and its developed financial resource. ISIS used to relay on the territory under its control to collect billions of dollars through criminal activities such as taxation, extortion, robbery and the illegal sale of the curd oil. Now the group has shown its ability to collect money regardless of controlling large areas.
After the rise of ISIS in 2015 and the takeover of vast areas in Syria and Iraq, its budget estimation reached $6 billion, as a result, the Islamic State is considered as the wealthiest terrorist entity in the history. The question posed is how such a terrorist group budget could become equivalent to a state-nation budget? In 2015 the Islamic State main financial resources were; oil and gaze which gathered about 500$ million in 2015; taxation that generated approximately $360 million in the same year and finally; about $500 million robbed from bank vaults in Mosul.
Today the situation is different, the Islamic State has lost the majority of its territory. The global coalition had destroyed ISIS infrastructures in the Middle East as well as its communication routes and had killed the idea of the hegemonic Islamic caliphate in the region. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is struggling to control the last 2 percent of its territory. Therefore, its revenue stream from the main resources has been rapidly shrinking out.
As a result, ISIS no longer relies on the controlled territory for its financial survival. For example, ISIS leadership may have smuggled around $400 million out of Syria and Iraq. Laundering this money through fake entity is likely to occur especially in Turkey. Some other cash could be converted into valuable items and stockpiled to be used in the future.
The stockpile cash will provide the group with more than enough fund to continue as a clandestine terrorist movement with the ability to conduct campaigns of guerrilla warfare in the region. On the other hand, ISIS has supported its financial situation with a variety of funding portfolio. It has developed a range of criminal activities that do not require controlling territories such as kidnapping for ransom, drug smuggling and trafficking in antiquities.
Over the next years, the international community seeks to provide help for Syria and Iraq to recover. The reconstruction aid could provide an attractive target for the Islamic State and a possible financial boost to its comeback. It is possible that the Islamic State begins skimming off reconstruction contracts, the only way is to establish connections with the local officials which is not difficult for a terrorist entity with a huge amount of cash. Finally, the rise of the Iranian threats in the region reflects in many stakeholder’s fears from an Iranian’s control through Hezbollah over ISIS past territories. Therefore, a continuing support from regional states to the terrorist group is possible if ISIS adopts a suitable strategy to the supporters interests in the region.
The combination of the criminal activities, the reconstruction plan and the regional states financial support in the future will encourage the Islamic State to regroup and reorganize. For instance, in Kirkuk, the militants created a fake checkpoint to attack security forces earlier this year. Moreover, in Diyala and Saladin, sleeper cells activity began to hit back. The U.S. policy in the Middle East tends to view the war on terror as separate phases while jihadis consider it as one long war. Until the West recognize this, ISIS is likely to come over to repeat its strategy and to reviving the Islamic caliphate project in the future.
Religious radicalism as a trend
IN RECENT YEARS, much has been said about radicalism and its varied offshoots. True, the number of terrorist acts climbs up, the popularity of extreme right political forces grows, and the wave of left radical and anti-globalist movements, migration crises and international tension is rising. This is how everyday realities look in many countries of the world.
France is one of the European countries in which radical trends are only too obvious. At the 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, two radical politicians who represented anti-establishment political movements, reaped 41% and 51% respectively of the votes cast by young voters aged between 18 and 24. On the whole, the Fifth Republic is getting accustomed to violence against the law and order structures, destruction of material assets during rallies, protest acts that keep lyceums and universities blocked for a long time, and rejection of republican values that looked unshakable not long ago. Today, when fifty years separate us from the May 1968 events, we can talk about “banalization of protests” not only among the groups on the margins of society but also among its law-abiding part.
Late in 2015, after a series of terrorist acts in France a group of scientists, mostly sociologists of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) launched a large-scale research project to identify the factors responsible for the spread of radical ideas among the younger generation. In April 2018, the results were published in a monograph The Temptation of Radicalism one of the hits on the French book market.
The project is a unique one: for the first time, academic science turned its attention to the younger generation rather than to terrorist acts and those who commit them; it has become interested in the process of radicalization and the factors that plant the ideas of radicalism in the minds of high school students.
A vast, and most interesting, part of the book that deals with religious radicalism, one of the main objects of attention of the public and the media, offers two important conclusions that devalue the old and generally accepted opinions.
Sociologists have detected two component parts or two stages in religious radicalism: the “ideological” as devotion to the fundamentalist religious trends and “practical,” the adepts of which are more than just religious fanatics – they justify violence for religious reasons.
The authors of the book under review who obviously prefer the term “religious absolutism” to “religious fundamentalism” have repeatedly pointed out that it is present in all world religions; the poll, however, revealed that religious absolutism was more typical of Muslim high school students.
Religion, or to be more exact, extreme Islamist trends combined with the male gender is the main factor of religious radicalization of the French youth.
This sociological study has demonstrated that the French national and confessional politics that for many years relied on the thesis that radicalization among the younger generation was caused by social and economic factors should be revised. This book made a great contribution to the broad and far from simple discussion of the place and role of Islam in French society, into which not only extreme right political movement are involved. In his speech of May 22, 2018, President of France “poured cold water” on the plan to shake up the banlieues devised by Jean-Louis Borloo. The president pointed out that more money poured into sensitive zones would not solve the main problem of radicalization.
first published in our partner International Affairs
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