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Jihadi Janes and Johns: The Seduction of the Islamic State for ‘Westerners’

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Media outlets and government circles cringe when trying to understand why Westerners leave the West to go fight in Syria and Iraq with the Islamic State. While calculating accurate numbers wildly diverges from source to source, there is no doubt that the fact that ANYONE at all wants to leave and join ISIL/DAESH makes the U.S. and EU both uncomfortable and perplexed.

In short, how does one leave the land of the free, tolerant, open and just in order to go fight for a group that represents horror and atrocity? Unfortunately for all those shocked by the images of beheadings and immolation, understanding this process (and more importantly the failure of intelligence and diplomatic communities in the West to prevent it) requires one to accept something most EU and American passport holders cannot: that the dream of Western civilization for too many in the modern day seems more myth than reality.

The true reality in the West is if you are not able to hook into upward mobility and access privileged success, then a dull and depressing life awaits you: studies, for example, show a disturbing percentage of Americans are born, live, and die within an incredibly small 50-mile radius. They also show that the classic parental definition of the American Dream – that your children will be better off and have more than you – has become murky and ill-defined with the Millenial generation. When you travel into most cosmopolitan urban centers in America, you will find not a smoothly fitted mosaic of multiple cultures and cross-cutting identity cleavages that make people realize that there are always important similarities linking people together. Instead you find Balkanized enclaves where ‘people stick to their own’ and the ‘well-to-do’ are quickly made aware of the places not to go and where not to congregate. Almost exclusively those areas are ‘ethnic’ bastions and de facto segregated sections of the city. To be completely honest, this ethnic balkanization, semi-voluntary/semi-forced, is arguably even more pronounced in major European hubs like London, Paris, and Berlin. The idea of Western Civilization is an amazing testimony to what any country should be and strive for: namely, that anyone can succeed based on talent, ambition, merit, and effort; that despite obstacles and adversity there will always be opportunity; that all people can live, love, and dream without interference or harassment. This idea, however, too often remains distant and unreachable to many, making the dream seem deeply taunting and an inducement to self-loathing.

Against this backdrop, it is inexcusable that American and European actors find themselves at a loss to understand the appeal of that small percentage willing to abandon the West and go fight for a cause that they believe to be barbarous, for a group and a cause that seems most ignoble. To see the problem in this light is not so much a failure to understand the enemy as it is a failure to see how Western civilization has created for some a modern living reality that is dominated by less-appealing shades of grey: flawed, unfulfilled, denied, isolated, violent, and poor. Perhaps worst of all, it is a reality of irrelevance. The people going off to fight with the Islamic State are able to ‘leave the West’ because they clearly don’t feel as if they are leaving anything at all, except a myth not available to them or a taunt to make them feel demeaned. Turning hatred of self into hatred of other with this group is what the Islamic State is so good at.

The U.S. State Department clearly does not do a great job recognizing this reality of the denied underground. The EU does no better. What you come across instead when discussing this issue are confused looks and exasperated gasps at the inexplicable stupidity of people leaving to go fight with the Islamic State. That incredulity, however, is based on a vision of the West that the underground does not see and, more importantly, does not believe it will ever be given access to. In short, one can live ‘in the West’ and never feel a true part ‘of the West.’ This is not semantics. Nor is it a matter of dismissively sneering at people who are supposedly too lazy or too unwilling to assimilate the values of Western civilization. Rather, it is a complex interwoven sociological failure that fuses together politics, economics, geography, religion, and psychology. While that failure makes too many feel isolated from the dream of the West, it does not stop people from still wanting to believe in some form of greatness and destiny: people will always love to dream. And if the brand-name dream of the West seems shut off to them, it doesn’t mean another dream cannot replace it. Indeed, any greatness, any higher calling that gives purpose and a sense of larger destiny to life, can gradually become incredibly seductive. If the American Dream classically defined is deemed inaccessible, then we in the West must be ready to believe more radical and seemingly inexplicable visions will be able to take its place. The vision of the Islamic State, which Western media portrays in finely-tuned snippets heavily laden with atrocities and bloodshed, is in fact a slickly produced inundation of media-friendly images focused on religious epiphany, glorious sacrifice, and noble causes to battle. It is a clarion call heard through the ages, across all continents and within all countries, which has always been able to find willing ears and malleable minds. Only now this call is being powerfully pushed with the advantages of 21st century virtual technology, making its reach and scope far beyond anything the West could ever think plausible or find believable. In today’s world, style trumps substance for most. And as anathema as it may seem to the West, that axiom applies even to groups like the Islamic State.

One of the fundamental principles in intelligence is to gain insight into adversaries by truly understanding their worldviews, self-assessments, cultures, and perceptions. How ironic then that this issue so close to home is not just about people rejecting the West and leaving but the intrinsic fear that these ‘foreign fighters’ might one day succeed in returning back to the West more radicalized, intent on committing mayhem on domestic shores instead of foreign. We do not understand this underground because we will not remove the blinders of the myth of Western Civilization. We are not just ignorant to the world that creates a group like the Islamic State: we are fairly ignorant of the very world right outside our door that might be taken by it. Consequently, the key to understanding this ‘perverse attraction’ to ISIL/DAESH might be first accepting the self-loathing resentment some have had symbolically burned into them, day after day after day, about the West. Keep in mind none of this is an entreaty to sympathize with those who leave Western shores to take up arms with the Islamic State. ISIL/DAESH is indeed a manipulative, corrupt, criminal, and mind-blowingly sadistic organization. Effective recruiting videos and social media campaigns notwithstanding, it is promising a life and society that is even more mythical than the American Dream. No, this is not an explanation justifying the decision to fight with them. It is rather the first step to expose why those of in the West charged with stopping this disturbing trend have proven, so far, to be utterly inept in unraveling its motivational calculus. We have made it more complex than it needs to be: it is not about espousing the sly seduction of the beast from without. It is about exposing the soul-sucking devastation of the beast from within.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Terrorism

Role of Pak-Military in Combating Terrorism: Post-2017 Analysis

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Over the past 20 years, Pakistan has continued to be a target of terrorism. It has endured a great deal of hardship as a frontline nation in the fight against terrorism being led by the United States. In the past 20 years, the bloodstained war against terrorism has claimed thousands of lives, including both civilians and security force members. Pakistan adopted a comprehensive plan and carried various operations to eradicate terrorism from its territory. The importance of Pakistan’s military cannot be overstated, especially given how successful that country has been in the last five years in combating terrorism.

In reaction to an increase in “terrorist attacks,” The Pakistani government declared a nationwide military operation with the codename Radd-Ul-Fasaad on February 22, 2017. This operation was not restricted to one area, but had been carried out across whole Pakistan and succeeded in driving out terrorist elements from Lahore, Sehwan Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the former FATA. The operation included the involvement of Pakistan’s air force, Pakistan’s navy, Pakistan’s police and other civil armed forces however, the Rangers performed special tasks ‘to operate in Lahore and different parts in the province of Punjab.

Similar to this, the Pakistani army began Operation Khyber-IV in July 2017 to purge the Rajgal Valley of militants in the Khyber tribal district. The primary objective of Khyber-IV was to eliminate the threat of IS in the tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. the declared the Operation  was concluded On August 21, 2017.

According to sources (PIPS), systematically compile data on militant and anti-state violence in Pakistan claim that 2018 saw an improvement in the overall security situation compared to previous years. The total number of raids and operations carried out against militants in 2018 were 31 as compared to 2017 i.e. 75. In addition to these operational assaults, security forces and militants engaged in 22 armed confrontations in 2018. This represents a 68% drop from 2017 levels.

In accordance with data from the Global Terrorism Index, terrorist attacks have decreased in Pakistan since 2018. The total number of terrorist incidents decreased from 369 in 2018 to 279 in 2019. While the number of terrorist deaths in Pakistan I.e.300, reached its lowest annual total since 2006.

The nature of the violence in 2018 was diverse the figure below presents a breakdown of the nature of violent incidents and the number of casualties’ recorded in 2018:

Source: PIPS, Pakistan Security Report 2018, 6 January 2019, p. 20

In comparison to 2018, the security situation was even better in the first half of 2019. Numerous counterterrorism operations captured several top commanders from various militant organisations, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). According to the data, the security forces engaged in 23 operations against militants in the first seven months of 2019. In addition to these operational assaults, security forces and militants engaged in 15 armed encounters. 

Source: 2019-EASO-Pakistan-Security-Situation-Report.pdf

There were 276 total violent incidents in the first seven months of 2019. As a result, 403 people died and 702 were hurt. A breakdown of the types of violent incidents and the number of fatalities reported in 2019 can be seen in the figure above.

In 2019, the Pakistani government also contributed positively to the US-Taliban negotiations. Moreover, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) collaborated to develop Pakistan’s Action to Counter Terrorism (PACT) with a specific focus on Sindh in order to equip the criminal justice systems with the tools necessary to prevent and combat terrorism in a proactive manner. The goal of PACT Sindh is to improve the capabilities and coordination processes of national and local counterterrorism and criminal justice institutions. PACT Sindh’s primary goal is to enhance the criminal justice system’s investigation, prosecution, and adjudication procedures. By working with other departments, it will increase the ability of the police, prosecutors, and judiciary. These counter terrorism efforts of the security forces and especially Pakistan Army are significant indeed, considering the ratio that Pakistan faced in the last two decades.

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Terrorism intensifying across Africa, exploiting instability and conflict

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A soldier from Burkina Faso stands guard along the border with Mali and Niger during a military operation against terrorist suspects. © Michele Cattani

The growth of terrorism is a major threat to international peace and security, currently felt most keenly in Africa, the deputy UN chief told the Security Council on Thursday.  “Terrorists and violent extremists including Da’esh, Al-Qaida and their affiliates have exploited instability and conflict to increase their activities and intensify attacks across the continent”, Amina Mohammed said on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres.  

“Their senseless, terror-fuelled violence has killed and wounded thousands and many more continue to suffer from the broader impact of terrorism on their lives and livelihoods”.  

Spreading terror 

With misogyny at the core of many terrorist groups’ ideology, women and girls in particular, are bearing the brunt of insecurity and inequality.  

And over the last two years, some of the most violent affiliates of Da’esh have expanded, increasing their presence in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger as well as southward into the Gulf of Guinea.  

“Terrorist and violent extremist groups aggravate instability and human suffering. And they can plunge a country emerging from war back into the depths of conflict”, reminded the senior UN official. 

Threatening States 

Meanwhile, terrorists, non-State armed groups and criminal networks often pursue different agendas and strategies, fuelled by smuggling, human trafficking and other methods of illicit financing – sometimes impersonating legitimate armed forces.  

And as digital tools spread hate and disinformation, terrorists and other criminal groups are exploiting inter-communal tensions and food insecurity triggered by climate change. 

Globalization of terrorism  

In today’s hyper-connected world, Ms. Mohammed remined that the spread of terrorism in Africa is “not a concern for African Member States alone”.  

“The challenge belongs to us all. Countering international terrorism requires effective multilateral responses”, she flagged. 

From the climate emergency to armed conflict and poverty and inequality to lawless cyberspace, and the uneven recovery from COVID-19, she also pointed out that terrorism is converging with other threats.  

For a holistic, comprehensive approach, the deputy UN chief cited the New Agenda for Peace – part of the Our Common Agenda report.  

Amidst increasing polarization, she maintained that it proposes ways to address risks and revitalize our collective peace and security system. 

Pushing back on terror 

Outlining five suggestions to advance counter-terrorism efforts in Africa, Ms. Mohammed reminded that “prevention remains our best response”. 

“We must address the instability and conflict that can lead to terrorism in the first place, as well as the conditions exploited by terrorists in pursuit of their agendas”.  

Secondly, she called for community-based, gender-sensitive “whole-of-society” approaches.  

Noting “complex links between terrorism, patriarchy and gender-based violence”, she said counter-terrorism policies needed to be “strengthened by the meaningful participation and leadership of women and girls”.  

She underscored in her third point that “countering terrorism can never be an excuse for violating human rights or international law” as it would “only set us back”.  

Fourth, she stressed to importance of regional organisations which can address challenges posed by terrorist and violent extremist groups in the local context. 

Finally, Ms. Mohamed called for “sustained and predictable funding” to prevent and counter terrorism.  

From economic deprivation to organized crime and governance challenges, “the magnitude of the problem calls for bold investment”, she told ambassadors.  

In closing, the Deputy Secretary-General welcomed the planned October 2023 Summit on counterterrorism in Africa as an opportunity to consider ways to strengthen the UN’s efforts across the continent overall.  

She expressed confidence that today’s debate would offer insights for the summit, and “help to build peaceful, stable communities and societies across the continent”. 

Restoring authority: Ghanaian President 

Chairing the meeting with his country assuming the presidency of the Council for November, Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, attested to the importance of restoring effective State authority and promoting inclusive governance across the continent. He also urged the Council to support AU-led counter-terror operations, including with predictable funding. 

African Union (AU) Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, drew attention in his briefing, to the daily physical and psychological damage caused by terrorism and reminded that conventional responses and old models are no longer relevant to counter evolving threats on the ground. 

And as terrorism extends to new parts of the continent, Benedikta von Seherr-Thoss, Managing Director for Common Security and Defence Policy and Crisis Response with the European Union’s diplomatic wing (European External Action Service) noted the need for security support while underscoring the role of sustainable development for nourishing peace. 

Comfort Ero, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, also briefed the Council, and maintained that technical and military solutions would not end terrorist threats on their own, calling for a new counter-terror toolkit that includes more dialogue with armed groups and can promote local ceasefire arrangements. 

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Crime and terrorism thriving again in Afghanistan amid economic ruin

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photo:. © UNICEF Afghanistan

Two-thirds of Afghans are going hungry, with girls’ education subject to “random edicts” of the Taliban, while crime and terrorism are thriving once more buoyed by a large spike in opium production, warned the President of the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

Csaba Kőrösi painted a near apocalyptic picture of ordinary life in the Taliban-ruled nation that has endured almost five decades of “relentless conflict”, urging the international community to make up the $2.3 billion shortfall in the UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion.

‘Moral imperative’

In a powerful speech to ambassadors in New York, during a full session of the UN’s most representative body, he said that there was “a moral and also a practical imperative for the international community to support an inclusive and sustainable peace in Afghanistan.”

The resolution expressed deep concern over Afghanistan’s current trajectory and the volatility there since the Taliban takeover.

It urges Afghanistan to honour and fully respect and implement all treaties, covenants or conventions, bilateral or multilateral, which is has signed up to.

Drugs and terror

Beyond the disastrous humanitarian and human rights situation, he said the country was now “awash with heroin and opium.”

“Organized crime and terrorist organizations are thriving once again. Afghanistan is facing complex and interlinked challenges that the Taliban have shown they cannot – or would not – solve.”

Now is the time to come up with some concrete solutions that put the Afghan people first, he said, suggesting one concrete way the General Assembly could help right away:

“I encourage the country’s reengagement with the international science community. And to allow women who used to be respected members of the country’s science community, to resume their research and their studies.

Alone in denial

Afghanistan is now the only State in the world, denying girls the right to a full education, he added, noting that their prospects are totally uncertain, “amid seemingly random edicts from the Taliban.”

For even the most powerful women in the country, “dreams of becoming President have been replaced by the reality of child marriage. Arrests if women and girls leave their home without a male chaperone.

Protect all Afghans

“I reiterate my call for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of all Afghans, especially women and girls.”

Mr. Kőrösi urged the Taliban to ensure the safety of all Afghans – regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or politics – protection for journalists and civil society members, and the unhindered delivery of aid.

Amid the economic meltdown, he pointed out the shocking fact that narcotics constitute the biggest sector in the country, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, revealing a 32 per cent growth in illegal opium cultivation. 

“We know where these drugs are sent. And we know who profits from these drugs. The threat from drug trafficking is linked with the threat of terrorism, regional and global security.”

Get serious

He said Taliban leaders needed to engage in serious dialogue about counter-terrorism to reverse the flow of foreign extremists into the country – and prevent their own from becoming foreign terrorist fighters elsewhere.

Afghanistan must never again become a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorists. I call on the Taliban, other Afghans and members of the international community to cooperate with the Special Representative (for UN Assistance Mission, UNAMA) as she implements the Mission’s mandate.

After debating the resolution, it was adopted by the General Assembly with 116 votes for, and 10 abstentions – Belarus, Burundi, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia and Zimbabwe.

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