Road to defeating ISIS goes through the internet

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In post-Saddam Iraq, the Nouri al-Maliki regime’s sectarian policies only helped ISIS flourish in the country. The Sunnis were completely marginalised, and as a result, many joined ISIS as their last resort

The terrorists who carried out the grotesque and savage attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh were all young guys who went to some excellent universities. Some of them were studying in Malaysian Monash University, according to their social-media information. In our part of the world, there’s this overarching rhetoric that religious seminaries are the breeding ground for terrorists. Well, that’s not necessarily the case anymore. If anything, the internet has become the new breeding ground for terrorists and ISIS’ ideology gives power to disenfranchised youth, wherever they might be, through the internet. Anyone who has studied ISIS even a little bit knows how active this group is on social media. ISIS produces its own magazine in multiple languages, has its own news agency, a horde of twitter accounts relaying information in different languages, and not to mention a plethora of its infamous propaganda videos. ISIS also feeds on the resentment found in the youth and oppressive regimes further facilitate this for ISIS.

In post-Saddam Iraq, the Nouri al-Maliki regime’s sectarian policies only helped ISIS flourish in the country. The Sunnis were completely marginalised, and as a result, many joined ISIS as their last resort. Iraq is one of the few places where ISIS has a popular support base thanks to the heavy-handed policies of the government.

ISIS is here to stay and would have to be defeated ideologically. There’s no shortcut for that and bombing ISIS won’t bomb its ideology

In Syria, ISIS has no popular support base and only thrives because of the sheer turmoil in the country. ISIS has often taken advantage of rebels busy fighting the Assad regime and attacked them to gain territory. Assad is the cause of Syria’s crisis. ISIS, aside from the humanitarian catastrophe created by Assad, is the principal effect. Assad’s barrel bombs, starvation sieges, the bombing of hospitals and schools are gifts of incalculable value to ISIS. And ISIS’ subjugation of eastern Syria is essential to sustain the group’s military operations in Iraq.

In Egypt, the brutalities of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has made it easy for ISIS to operate. The Rabaa Al-Adawiya massacre of 2013 is still fresh in most people’s minds where a minimum of 817 protesters were mowed down by the Egyptian police and to which Human Rights Watch described it as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” The Egyptian army is now battling an armed insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

In Bangladesh, the maladroit policies of PM Sheikh Hasina have fuelled extremism in the country. The executions of her political opponents in trials of cases that date back to 1971 have only created more resentment within the public.

ISIS has consistently relied on social media and the internet for its growth. The youth often gets influenced by the ISIS propaganda material online

What people fail to understand is that ISIS fighters are not going to hop on a plane from Raqaa –the de facto ISIS capital– to carry out their attacks through conventional means. The internet actually makes it easy for them. All they have to do is find receptive and misguided angry young men somewhere. They’ll conveniently pledge their allegiance to ISIS over the internet, carry out a lone-wolf attack, and voila! ISIS will quickly claim the credit for the attack. This way ISIS will grow its brand not only for the ones within the country where the attack has happened but also for the potential recruits elsewhere. ISIS has consistently relied on social media and the internet for its growth. The youth often gets influenced by the ISIS propaganda material online, they then get in touch with ISIS handlers through the internet and afterwards pledge their allegiance to them. Some of them try to come to Syria or Iraq to join with the so-called “Caliphate” of ISIS, but some are asked to carry out an attack against the “infidels” and “apostates” within the country they are residing in. ISIS then churns out this information for its own benefit and future recruitment drives. This is where ISIS is head and shoulders above any other terrorist group and is also something that makes ISIS extremely dangerous. The internet is everywhere and so is state-sanctioned oppression. Security agencies the world over have realised the threat ISIS poses on the internet and have taken measures to counter that, but in our part of the world, there’s still more that needs to be done in this regard. As the old adage goes: violence begets violence, therefore, in order to counter ISIS you’d have to address the legitimate grievances of the youth. Extremism of the police or state kind would often be replied back in the extremism of the terrorist kind. You can’t play fire with fire.

ISIS is here to stay and would have to be defeated ideologically. There’s no shortcut for that and bombing ISIS won’t bomb its ideology that has already found a considerable traction in a large number of disenfranchised people in the world. Monitoring the internet thoroughly would be another step in the right direction.

 

 

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