This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 September 2016.
On June 28, three suicide bombers entered the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where they killed 45 people and injured 229. Although only one of the terrorist was from Russia (the other two were Uzbek and Kyrgyz), it is almost certain that that their last words to one another were in Russian. It is estimated that between 5,000 to 7,000 Russian-speaking jihadists have made Russian the second most popular language of ISIL, after Arabic.
The Changing Demographics
That Russian should be the lingua franca of jihadists from the former Soviet territory is surprising. Many, perhaps most, younger Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks (judging by the gastarbeiters from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan) do not know Russian well or even at all. That Russia is becoming widely-spoken is indicative of the explosive internationalization and the vastly expanded recruitment patterns of what might be called the Russian Jihad based in Russia and former Soviet Central Asia.
With an estimated 2,400 of its citizens fighting with ISIL, Russia is surpassed only by Tunisia and Saudi Arabia in the number of its nationals in the extremist group’s ranks. It is far ahead of the top four European suppliers of ISIL soldiers: France with 1,800 fighters, Britain and Germany with 760 each, and Belgium with 470. Russian language graffiti has been spotted in Darayya, Syria (“We will pray in your palace, Putin! Tatars and Chechens, rise up!”), and there is an Univermag grocery store in the “Russian” district of ISIL’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, alongside Russian-language schools and kindergartens.
Courtesy Kashmir Global / Flickr
This article was originally published on War on the Rocks on 14 September 2016.
India’s Kashmir Valley has been the scene of a Pakistan-backed insurgency since the 1990s. The Indian army and its associated security forces have been engaged in fighting this insurgency and assisting the civil administration in maintaining law and order. On July 8, the Pakistani terrorist group Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s commander in Kashmir, Burhan Wani, was killed in an encounter with security forces in Kashmir’s Anantnag district. Wani’s death plunged the state into deep turmoil, pitting Indian security forces against a large number of disenfranchised Kashmiri youth sympathetic to Wani’s anti-India resistance movement and calls for jihad. A full-blown confrontation between incensed youth and Indian security forces followed that resulted in 68 civilian deaths and over 2000 injured protestors, leaving an embarrassed Indian state facing a crisis of governance with no clear plan to prevent escalating violence. Exposing the fragility of the Indian state further, the Indian military publicly declared its frustration with political directives. In an unprecedented step, a strict curfew imposed in the Kashmir valley during Eid celebrations has renewed a fresh cycle of violence between protestors and security force, killing two protestors and injuring several more. New Delhi appears to be running out of options to de-escalate levels of violence.
Courtesy Syria Freedom / Flickr
This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review (HIR) on 25 August 2016.
In June of 1981, after serving for 16 months as the first president of Iran, I was in hiding. There had been a coup against me; a fatwa had been issued for my execution seven times over. I published an open letter to the Iranian people, quoting Madame Roland’s last words under the guillotine during the French Revolution:
“One day, a condemned woman under the guillotine said – ‘Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!’ Today, and more so tomorrow, it will be said – ‘Oh Islam, such crimes are committed in your name!’ Islam will be so discredited that for a century no one will speak of rights in the name of religion.”
This prediction is truer today than it was then. The dynamics of power remain constant. Power needs an enemy, and violence is the sole means of its interaction. But power cannot exercise itself without legitimacy; it requires ideology, in which ideas are manipulated to serve the needs of power. Gradually, the ideas are divorced from their origins and the process of their alienation in power becomes complete. What is left of the ideas is nothing but an ideological shell filled with violence and power.
Courtesy Rach / Flickr
This article was originally published by War is Boring on 19 August 2016.
Daesh loots ancient sites for profit — and the stolen artifacts wind up on the collector’s market
The Islamic State makes millions of dollars selling looted artifacts on the black market. A few years ago, the world watched in horror as Daesh uploaded videos of its followers destroying antiquities in the name of its ultra-puritanical ideology.
The militants have since wised up. Daesh realized it could both rid itself of the influence of pre-Islamic culture and fund its caliphate at the same time. Black market trade in archaeological artifacts has become quite the industry for the terror group.
Documents seized by U.S. Army Delta Force commandos during the May raid which killed militant Abu Sayyaf Al Iraqi revealed that the group has “established an Antiquities Division with units dedicated to researching known archaeological sites, exploring new ones, and marketing antiquities,” a recent Government Accountability Office report stated.
This article was originally published by Saferworld on 26 July 2016.
The US Department of State and USAID have laid out how American development and diplomacy agencies will work together to reduce violent extremism abroad. David Alpher urges caution in the melding of development and security agendas – a prospect that risks undermining the objectives of both.
The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda has grown so rapidly in American policy that, “at this point,” one government official jokes, “even the lunch ladies in the cafeteria are doing CVE.” The White House held a head-of-state level summit on the subject in 2015, and the State Department recently merged its CVE and counter-terrorism work into one combined bureau—but until May 2016, the term had never been officially uttered by USAID. Alternative phrasing like The Development Response to Violent Extremism, for example—the title of the last USAID report on the subject — helped insulate American development and peacebuilding efforts from the securitized aspects of the rapidly growing CVE agenda.
The Department of State & USAID Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism – released at the end of May, officially changed all that. The strategy sets out how American development and diplomacy will work together to help to reduce violent extremism. Navigating this cooperation is a complicated and at times dangerous path, and following the upcoming election, the next US administration will have a good deal of work ahead to decide whether it is really progress or not. My thoughts on that are here.