Terror in the East and West: Beyond Ankara, Lahore, Paris, and Brussels
Although Islamist or separatist terror groups bomb and kill hundreds of people in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, or Afghanistan on a regular basis, they hardly make headlines in Western media; and the news about these attacks disappear from Western media in hours. This is, however, not the case with any terror attack in the West – in London or Boston, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, or Brussels. Unless people and media in the West equally empathise and sympathise with all terror victims, and do something positive to counter terrorism everywhere, there is little hope for durable peace and understanding in the world.
There was yet again another homegrown ISIS terror attack in Europe. In less than four months after the Paris attack that killed 130 innocent people in November 2015, terrorists killed more than 30 and gravely injured scores of people in Brussels last Tuesday (March 22). Apparently, only three ISIS operatives, including two suicide bombers, who are brothers, took part in the world-shattering carnage. They used homemade bombs, or IEDs (improvised explosive devices) made of very powerful TATP explosives, which experts believe are least expensive, and can be made in one's apartment or garage.
For the first three days after the latest terror attacks in Brussels, there was seemingly a total information blackout in Western media outlets on any other news item other than the attack. So much so that, there was hardly any coverage of the US presidential primary in any American TV channel on that "Super Tuesday". On March 29, six days after the Brussels attack, the American media is still giving wide coverage to the minute details of the attack. So far so good! I have only two comments: a) Wide media coverage to terrorist attacks gives free publicity to terrorists – Margaret Thatcher once rightly said: "We must starve terrorists of the oxygen of publicity"; b) Selective publicity of terrorist attacks by Western governments and media smacks of their prejudice, and hence is counterproductive to counterterrorism everywhere.
Recently, the USA Today exposed Western double standards towards terrorist attacks in the West and in the Muslim world. It asserts that over the years, hundreds of terrorist attacks took place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Mali, Tunisia, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Ivory Coast and elsewhere; and that "Paris or Brussels were not the first or second terrorist attack in the last four months, though certainly this will be the first- or second-most covered by Western media". While terrorist attacks in Brussels, San Bernardino, and Paris made headlines in Western media, terrorist attacks in Turkey since October 2015, that killed around 200 people, and another 400 in Ivory Coast, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia, and Yemen, never made headlines in the West.
On March 27 –Easter Sunday – a Jamaat ul-Ahrar (Pakistani Taliban affiliate) suicide bomber killed more than 70 people, and injured around 300 – mostly women and children – at a public park in Lahore, which got some fleeting coverage in the Western media, may be because it was an Islamist terror attack on minority Christians in "godforsaken" Pakistan. However, initially, the CNN spent less than 10 seconds to break the news, followed by no comments and elaborations.
Any objective appraisal of terrorism – religious or secular, ISIS or Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – requires an understanding of the syndrome. Terrorism is a means toward an end, not an end in itself. And far from being the primeval cause or another "original sin", terrorism may in some cases be a retaliatory, reactive violence by victims. In sum, it's a "weapon of the weak", which doesn't drop from the heavens. Since terrorists victimise innocent people, we often ignore the fact that terrorists are also victims of persecution, hate, and humiliation. In the backdrop of the recent terror attacks by ISIS, PKK, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, we mustn't overlook the fine line between terrorism and insurgency. Although it might sound pedestrian, I believe there are three different types of politically inspired violence: a) terrorism; b) insurgency; and c) insurgent-terrorism.
While al Qaeda, Hizbut Tahrir, HUJI and JMB are terrorist outfits, plain and simple, the ISIS, PKK (in Turkey and adjoining countries) and the Afghan Taliban are terrorist groups, respectively, of a different kind with a claim to re-occupy or free the Levant (Eastern Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon), Kurdistan, and Pashtunistan. The ISIS, PKK, and Afghan Taliban mainly resort to terrorism, which is neither pure terrorism nor unadulterated insurgency; they attack both innocent civilians and armed law-enforcers and military. Although apparently Islamic by nature, both the Taliban and ISIS can be termed as nationalist outfits upholding Sunni Pashtun and Sunni Arab identities.
As Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and Western, Saudi, and Pakistani support for the Afghan "jihad" eventually created the Afghan Taliban, as did Western invasions/destructions of Iraq, Syria and Libya lead to the creation of the ISIS. As the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001 turned many Taliban fighters into terrorists, so have the recent ISIS losses in Iraq and Syria turned many ISIS fighters into transnational terrorists. It's becoming what al Qaeda turned itself into after five to six years of 9/11.
Interestingly, from the postmortem of the Brussels attack by Western media and analysts, we only hear how the Belgian intelligence and police departments failed to preempt the attack. We don't hear why most second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants in Belgium don't consider themselves Belgians. Western media and analysts, in general, don't tell us about the ongoing Saudi-Turkish support for ISIS, which will further destabilise the Arab world, and eventually West Europe and North America. As if the Saudi-Turkish support for the ISIS against their common enemies – Iran, Shiite Arabs, and Kurdish nationalists – would stabilise the Middle East and North Africa!
We know major wars don't end small wars. The World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, Arab-Israeli and Indio-Pakistani wars, and military interventions anywhere, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, far from bringing durable peace, further destabilised the world. As one analyst has put it, prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was no suicide bomber in that country; but since the invasion, around 2,000 suicide bombings have taken place in Iraq up to January, 2016. We have also examples of client states and protégées turning into Frankenstein's monsters of their former patrons. As Hamas, a former protégée of Israel, turned into its bitter enemy, so did the Taliban and al Qaeda go against their former patrons, America and Pakistan. The ISIS has already become anti-Western, and is no longer under the tutelage of its Arab and Turkish promoters.
Promoting "our terrorists" against "theirs", demonising "others" as terrorists by promoting Islamophobia or racism, and last but not least, portraying "ourselves" as innocent victims of terrorism by overstating the terrorist threat as the West has been doing for quite some time through blatant lies, deceptive wars and invasions, and the ubiquitous double standards, will neither end terrorism nor restore mutual trust and respect between the West and the Muslim World. In sum, a New York Times (March 28) cartoon has aptly explained the state of affairs in Europe. Perpetual fear mongering and demonising marginalised Muslims as terrorists could give ISIS its state in Europe, called the "State of Emergency"!
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org