TERROR TURNS FOR HOME
The caliphate is dead. Perhaps that’s as much as can be said, now that IS has been defeated, more or less, and the mosque in Mosul retaken. What next fills the void is the big issue. There are many forces in the field and they have many and diverse objectives. The two big winners look to be Russia and Iran. There are losers too, IS obviously, and as ever, the Kurds who fatally overreached. But in between them you have the Syrian and Iraqi armies, as well as a good half-dozen irregular forces linked hither or tither. It’s not back as it was. There has been too much destruction and besides, there are all those militias and warlords to sort out.
But defeat on the field doesn’t mean IS has gone away and the past year has seen a series of attacks launched in Europe and Africa by jihadists who had either returned from the war or who were homegrown, radicalised by IS, through social media as often as not. And there’s no telling what the monster might morph into in due course. IS grew from al-Qaida, after all.
The UK took the brunt of terror attacks this year with a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Twenty two people died, including children. It was an appalling atrocity, quite consistent with previous attacks, for example on the Bataclan in Paris.
In June there was another, this time on London Bridge. A van left the road and mowed down pedestrians. Eight died. The three terrorists, two of whom were dedicated jihadists, were shot dead by police who, it must be said, reacted with remarkable speed and effectiveness. There was a bit of a tizzy in Ireland when it emerged that one of the killers had lived in Dublin for a while and was married here.
Police reports of this crime list the weapons as a ceramic knife and a van. And that’s how it is now. The modes of murder keep evolving. In November, a Chechen jihadist drove a pickup truck down a cycle lane in New York, killing eight people including five Argentinian friends on a school reunion.
Of course, these are just the ones we know of, the ones that make the western headlines. Terror has many manifestations around the world and not all are insurgent. The mistreatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar is a form of terrorism, as is the extra-judicial killing spree launched by Duterte in the Philippines. Drug cartels wield their own reigns of terror too, often closely interwoven with political campaigns, for example in Mexico.
And then there’s the far right and the crazy white guys. They’re not all in the US. Indeed 2017 has seen a rising tide of racism and fascism across Europe, all of it laced with the threat of violence, and sometimes more. But the US has nurtured its own. James Alex Fields drove a car into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia killing one and injuring 19. CNN called it straight: domestic terrorism.
That wasn’t the underlying urge behind Stephen Paddock’s oneman killing spree in Las Vegas in October. He strafed a country music concert from an overlooking hotel room window, killing 59 people and wounding hundreds more. It was the biggest mass killing in US history. Survivors later came under a social media siege comprising conspiracy theories, accusations and death threats. Dreadful shit. A month or so later another crazy white guy shot up a church in Texas, killing 26.
Isn’t this terrorism too? And in understanding and fighting terror shouldn’t everyone try to identify what it is that links all these atrocities?
Given that he may plunge the Middle East into a catastrophic war in the next year or so, we should view Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman with some trepidation. That war is likely to pit Sunni Muslims against Shia (in the guise of Iran, whom he thinks has carved out too much influence).
But his promise to return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam is welcome and his crackdown on some hitherto untouchable royals and billionaires may have a silver lining for the west. These seem to include those who have sponsored the madrassa schools and imams who have preached jihad as well as some jihadi movements themselves. If so, it’s progress. As for the crazy white guys in the US, how about reining in the National Rifle Association?