Commentary

Terrorist Attacks on the Rise Throughout the Region

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

With serious terrorist attacks taking place recently in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Kenya and Nigeria many are wondering whether terrorism is making a big comeback, if it ever left at all. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that such attacks are likely to continue as long as domestic political arenas remains fractured and as long as the principal political actors opt for confrontation rather than cooperation.

In Turkey, Hurriyet Daily News’ Murat Yetkin writes that the current upswing in terror attacks in the region has convinced Turkish president Abdullah Gül that the greatest threat for the Islamic world lies within rather than without: “there is little room for optimism under the current circumstances in the Middle East (in the greater sense) where, especially after the rise and fall of the Arab Spring wave, the Islamic movements with rising popularity are not the moderate ones who stay away from terrorism, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The popularity of al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist groups are gaining strength.... Gül’s warning against the threat of Islamic Middle Age darkness, worse than a clash of civilizations, should be taken seriously by the West, as well as the East."

Reflecting on the terrorist attacks in Kenya last week, Huda Al Husseini decries, in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, what she calls a ‘state of division and fragmentation’: “Today, a hardline movement is rising in Kenya. A state of inequality is prevailing across the world; distrust in government and unemployment are rife. This state of division and fragmentation, if it remains unaddressed, will only serve to strengthen Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Indeed, Al-Qaeda draws strength from such circumstances in order to create more division and strife in a vicious circle. If this state of affairs continues, then Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shaba’ab in Somalia, Al-Hijra in Kenya, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will see a new era of interaction and collaboration.”

There are those, like Arab Times’ Ali Ahmed Al-Baghli, who have condemned what they consider ‘so-called jihadist’ for both misunderstanding the basic message of Islam as well as picking and choosing the conflicts with which they engage: “If we are to say that the world does not care about Muslims who have filled the world with killings and terror, we have the right to wonder where are the so called ‘defenders’ of Islam and Muslims amidst those events. Why don’t we hear about the radical fanatics going out to save and defend their weak brothers in Burma to end their suffering? The answer lies in the fact that the conflict is not characterized by sectarian hatred, which is the main incentive for radical fundamentalist forces to participate in absurd and random wars.”

The impact of this rise in terrorist attacks is being felt everywhere in the region, with many leaders, as suggested by Semih Idiz, caught in the horns of a dilemma: “Let’s face it, the war in Syria is no longer about fighting against a brutal dictator for the sake of democracy. It hasn’t been for some time. The war is now over whether Syria will be run according to the Sunni Shariah or remain a secular country even if it not a democratic one....All of this has also put Turkey in a spot, too. Tellingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as well as senior civil servants dealing with religious affairs, have started condemning jihadist groups in Syria and elsewhere, especially after the recent attacks in Peshawar and Nairobi. Put another way, we are at the point where jihadists are proving to be a serious handicap for Islamists. How this effects policy has yet to be seen.”

But Syria isn’t the only place where internal divisions are creating opening for such attacks to occur. In a recent op-ed for Al Hayat, Abdullah Iskandar lays similar accusations at the feet of Iraq’s political class: “According to statistics, more than 1,000 Iraqis fell last week in explosions which occurred at an average rate of fifteen per day, and randomly struck any location where a car could be parked or a bomb planted throughout Iraq. Many of these bloodbaths did not have specific targets and were mere random killings carried out in any place that is accessible to the killer....This massacre in Iraq has become an available mechanism — not to forget the easiest — to conduct political action, in light of the severance of internal dialogue, the absence of a wish to seek a real national solution taking the interests of all the components into account, and the creation by this climate of the right environment for the continuation of the regional conflicts.”

As a result, there are some, including the editorial staff of Gulf News, who are of the opinion that the only way forward for the Iraqi society is the creation of a new and dynamic government: “Political vendettas and ministerial infighting have paralysed Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s government in Iraq and he should start to consider stepping down to trigger new elections so that a more forceful coalition can try to stem Iraq’s sad slide into the abyss of continual violence....Al Maliki is talking of a number of new security measures, including wide-ranging searches of suburbs suspected of holding insurgent hide-outs. He has also sponsored some lacklustre talks on political reconciliation, but nothing has stopped the bombing. It is time for him to step down and for others to seek a more dynamic approach and gather a wider coalition of Iraqi politicians who can exclude the violent radicals from dominating the political process.”

Judging from the reports, Yemen’s government is also struggling to meet the needs and expectations of its population, all of which are made even more difficult in an environment rife with insecurity and paralysis: “Yemen is suffering governmental paralysis as its administration is failing to cope with the multiple challenges that the country is facing. Economic collapse, security failings and secessionist aspirations in the south are some of the larger problems that the administration of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi is trying to handle with limited success....The Gulf Cooperation Council has offered to help Yemen several times and there have been repeated plans to get the national dialogue off the ground. Such a process may rekindle the lingering desire from all sides to make the country work, but the abject failures of civil governance will only encourage the secessionists in the south, the Al Houthi rebels in the north and Al Qaida in its bases throughout the country.”

However, not all news is bad. Khaleej Times staff note that recent talks with representatives of the Taliban in Pakistan have given cause for some hope in terms of the security situation in the country: “There has been a breakthrough of sorts with the Taliban in Pakistan. The surprising nod that came from the militants to a dialogue with Islamabad, hinting at a ceasefire, is promising. The idea was mooted by the conglomerate of clerics and madrassa teachers under the Wafaqul Madaris expressing their concern over the civil war-like situation in the country....Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, whose party rules the troublesome Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, believes that the South African model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission can help address the decades-long imbroglio in Pakistan. In order to convert that hypothesis into reality, he has to seriously persuade both the army and Taliban. A quick ceasefire can strengthen that silver lining.”


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