Shortly after the launch of war by Iraq and its Western allies, including the US, against the so-called Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, I had expressed my scepticism in their ability to eliminate the jihadists by simply dismantling the newly found soft state.
In an op-ed “Will destruction of IS bring an end to jihadist fight?” published in these pages, I had stated that the so-called Islamic caliphate might come to an abrupt end.
But the jihadists will run and hide elsewhere.
The ideology and promise they made to their followers will continue to attract and inspire other would-be militants and disgruntled elements worldwide. They may be deprived of a home base, but they will strive for another in a likely soft state elsewhere.
An amorphous entity
My words began to haunt me a year later when, in a most brutal and lethal attack, radicals killed 305 of their own religion in Egypt, and that too, in a mosque during Jumma prayer.
This happened within days of the re-taking of the cities in Syria and Iraq from IS by allied forces, and fall of the so-called caliphate. There is no word to denounce this barbarity, no explanation for this madness, except the deep realisation that what we are facing is not a visible monolith, but an amorphous entity.
IS has not claimed ownership for this deadly massacre as yet, but the hand prints of their followers are all over in the execution of this horrible massacre.
Suicide bombings, coordinated machine gun attacks, and execution-style killings are the signature terror attacks of IS and its members. What makes the attack even more an IS-style operation is the target mosque where followers of the Sufi strain of Islam go to pray.
Because the IS followers believe in a puritanical Islam that has no place for Shias, or adherents of other more moderate strains of Islam.
No place for kafirs
There will be reprisals by the Egyptian government against those suspected for the attack as in other such cases in other places of the world. Some militants will be found out and dealt with in a manner not dissimilar to the ways of the militants.
But will this bring an end to Islamic militancy or the radical fanaticism that is gnawing at the heart of the Muslim nations?
The short answer is no, because the brand of Islam that these radicals dream of is deep-seated in their minds and in the minds of the people they have attracted.
It is believed that in the wake of the movement that led to the creation of IS, tens of thousands of young people, many of them women, were lured to the newly found territory with the promise of a paradise based on a misconceived model of Islam and its glorious past.
Unfortunately, this paradise had no place for non-Sunnis and adherents of other strains of Islam. To the conceptual parents of this new paradise or the caliphate, anyone who belonged to a sect other than their own was equal to an apostate, and had to be treated as a kafir (non-believer).
Muslim societies will have to do more than fight terrorism with fire power and coercion alone. They have to educate their citizenry
That is why the soldiers of the new state disposed of people from other non-Sunni sects with as much apathy as non-Muslims. They did not make much difference between non-Muslim sects, such as Yazidis in Syria and Shias of Iraq, recently exemplified by the brutal murders in Egypt.
In a conventional war between countries, the vanquished nation surrenders and it either becomes a part of the victor’s territory, or becomes a vassal state. The war that IS launched is not conventional.
It was not just to establish and enlarge a territory for harbouring a band of militants who wanted a shelter; it was to propagate a brand of Islam based on a very puritanical interpretation of the scripture and a falsified history of the past.
The founders of this new brand helped to attract disgruntled and disillusioned Muslim youths in the West as well as Asia, capitalising on the self-serving and misguided foreign policies of the US and European countries in the Middle East.
But to attribute the rise of IS and like-minded radical Islamists only to the war and chaos in the Middle East would be an over-simplification. A large contributing factor to the IS phenomenon is the resurgence of religion in not only Muslim countries, but also elsewhere in the world among other religions.
All these resurgences many not be militant, but radical in many respects. Much before the rise of al-Qaeda, Taliban, or other shades of radical groups in the Middle East, movement such as Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Jamaat-e-Islam in Pakistan, Jamiatul Ulema in India have been there, which espoused establishment of governments based on Islamic ideologies.
But unlike the later radical groups, most of these political entities sought to achieve their goals through constitutional means, not through terrorism. Unfortunately, political and economic changes over the last three decades changed all that. The resurgence of religion in many parts of the world have also ushered intolerance, bigotry, and hate -- the very elements that religion asks people to shy away from.
State of confusion
Muslim youths today in many countries are in a confused state of mind. They are in denial of their national identities and heritage, and are seriously sceptical of their own leaders.
The fanatics who have their own agenda can manipulate these young minds and mold them in the way they want. They are cashing in on the disillusion of the malleable youths, and turning this disillusion and confusion into anger and hatred toward others.
The fanatics and their cohorts have also benefited from absence of democracy, rule of law, and lack of participation in governance by common citizens in many Muslim countries.
This has helped them to incite the youth for seeking an alternative means to fight governments and their acolytes.
With massive pockets of illiteracy and unemployment in many Muslim countries and societies, anger and frustration often lead youths into the arms of the radicals and help grow their ranks.
Terrorism is a means to an end, but not an end by itself. People who have taken to terrorism in the name of Islam know this very well. IS and its adherents use terrorism to show their strength in destroying those who stand in their way.
Unfortunately what they do not realise is that by doing so, they will turn into adversaries the very people who they once lured to their lair.
Their failure to establish and expand the paradise they promised to their followers, and attacks on their co-religionists will ultimately turn the followers against them.
Muslim societies will have to do more than fight terrorism with fire power and coercion alone. They have to educate their citizenry, youth in particular, by opening ways to participate in the government, through the spread of liberal education and respect for human rights and human values.
This is a long shot, but even a marginal improvement will go a long way to eradicate the evil mindset that is affecting their youths now.
Ziauddin Choudhury has worked in the higher civil service of Bangladesh early in his career, and later for the World Bank in the US.