Brussels attacks show just how desperate Islamic State has become


Ben Rich, University of New England

Islamic State (IS) was quick to claim responsibility for bombings at two major transportation hubs in Brussels on Tuesday that left at least 30 people dead.

With attacks like these, the group is seeking to sow fear among its enemies, maintain itself as the forerunner in the global jihadi brand war with al-Qaeda, and maintain the veneer of organisational vigour and vitalism it established with its stunning victories in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

But while the Brussels bombings may have wreaked carnage, they have failed to replicate IS’s triumphalism of 2014. Although not an intuitive conclusion, the attacks are in reality indicative of the group’s growing decline and desperation.

The imperative of now

Motivations behind the bombings are likely to be found in the tactical and strategic strains currently being exerted on IS and its wider global network.

The recent arrest of Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam in Brussels was likely seen as an existential threat to IS-linked cells inside Belgium. The perception of a breach may have driven planners to accelerate operations, for fear that the European authorities could employ critical intelligence gained from Abdeslam to disrupt future attacks.

Such a ticking clock may explain why the terrorists opted for a crude dual-bombing in place of a more sophisticated and co-ordinated hybrid assault similar to that undertaken in Paris in late 2015.

At a broader level, the attacks may also be linked to the immense pressures placed on IS by an array of local, regional and international actors. Collectively, the actions of Russia, the US, Iran, Turkey and many other players have translated into a loss of around one-quarter of the group’s territory over the last year.

Kurdish and Iranian-backed Shi’a militias have, in many cases, actively routed the group from its territorial holdings over the last year. Thanks to Iranian and Russian backing, the Syrian army is also exerting increasing pressure on IS. The Syrian army has made recent advances in areas such as Tabqa and Palmyra, signalling a significant shift in the regime’s willingness and capacity to combat IS.

All this has served to dispel much of IS’s mystique and the viability of its mission. In 2014, the group’s emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, could point to IS’s many and exceptional successes to make the case that it was clearly on track to establishing its Islamist utopian ideal. Such apparent evidence in turn allowed the group to garner legitimacy, support, and recruit new members.

Today, such successes are few and far between. Some are now questioning whether IS will even be a significant insurgent player in the Syrian conflict by 2017.

Terror, weakness and desperation

As IS stunned the world with its blitzkrieg across eastern Iraq in 2014, there was little need for it to conduct attacks outside the Middle East. Its apparent success and superiority over its local rivals was more than enough to draw large amounts of external support and recruits for its cause.

But as IS has weakened over the past two years, its popularity and freedom of action have become increasingly constrained within its immediacy. In such circumstances, insurgent groups often seek to strike outside their own borders as both a punitive measure and a demonstration of strength to potential supporters.

This was precisely Somalian terrorist group al-Shabaab’s logic when it assaulted Kenya’s Westgate mall in 2013. This story echoes much of what IS is experiencing now.

Under increasing pressure from an African Union occupation force that included large contingents from the Kenyan army, al-Shabaab found itself pushed from its seat of power in Mogadishu into Somalia’s south. Unable to mount a serious offensive on the occupiers, the group opted to strike in Kenya itself. This sent a message that Kenya could not expect to safeguard its own territory as long as it engaged in such perilous dalliances abroad.

As pressure has grown on IS, it has become increasingly inclined toward this strategy – from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon to Turkey to France, and now Belgium.

We can only expect more such attacks as IS continues to decline and lash out. Some will invariably foil the various security establishments arrayed against them.

But, it is crucial to remember that this type of terrorism is aimed at sowing discord, chaos, suspicion and divisiveness among the multicultural societies it targets. In doing so, IS is seeking to create the conditions in which its message finds more willing supporters among those disenfranchised by such division.

The Conversation

Ben Rich, Unit Co-ordinator in Politics, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Brussels attacks: why Europe?


Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

What goes on in the mind of a suicide bomber? What motivates someone to spend their last day on the planet blowing up complete strangers? Bad enough, perhaps, if the strangers in question are soldiers, police, or other representatives of the state. But holidaymakers and commuters?

It takes a special sort of alienation, radicalisation and dehumanisation to think that the people standing next to you in the check-in queue merit being randomly dismembered.

One assumes that the growing number of people who volunteer for these sorts of missions are confident that they are off to paradise. Given that they won’t live to see the results of their zealotry, the logic must be in some way transcendental, and not one available to rational scrutiny or dissuasion by the rest of us.

Either way, if paradise is going to be full of ex-jihadists I’m rather glad I’m not going.

In the meantime, back on earth, the effectiveness of this suicidal strategy is all too clear and painful, especially for those directly affected. Even for the rest of us, the net result is to add yet another level of depressing tedium to our day-to-day existence, as security is increased to ever-higher levels.

No doubt we ought to be grateful to have the opportunity to travel around Europe or spend a long lunch enjoying a bit of intellectual chit-chat in a Parisian café, as I did today. I am – very.

This is, as they say, just about as good as it gets. And that is rather the point of the attacks on the symbolic heartland of Europe as a civilisation and – in today’s case – as an institution.

The freedom of association, expression and thought that is such a distinctive feature of European intellectual and social life is clearly resented by an alarmingly large group of people. Such hitherto taken for granted freedoms are directly threatened by the randomness of terrorism. Last week, for example, I had to queue to have my passport checked on re-entering France – despite arriving from another Schengen area country.

Yes, I realise this is an especially privileged sort of problem and one that evokes little sympathy. But it is another very real manifestation of Europe’s steadily shrinking public space. One doesn’t need to be a starry-eyed cosmopolitan to recognise that passport-free travel is one of Europe’s greatest practical and symbolic achievements.

It takes a particular sort of confidence in one’s neighbours to make such an idea feasible. The Schengen agreement was unlikely to survive the migration crisis; terrorist outrages may seal its fate.

What this suggests is that noble ideas, admirable principles and feelings of human solidarity may only be possible under particular, possibly unique and historically unrepeatable circumstances.

The European project emerged from the greatest trauma that continent has ever known. It ought to be remembered that today’s problems pale into insignificance beside them. Europeans have made remarkable progress over the last 50 years or so – in every sense of the term. It is no wonder so many people want to live there.

And yet it is also painfully apparent that such achievements are being steadily eroded and undermined. EU President Donald Tusk’s suggestion that European solidarity will be a vital part of the response to these events looks like well-intentioned wishful thinking.

The reality seems to be that there are sufficiently large numbers of people in Europe who are prepared to die and slaughter others in an effort to undermine Europe’s greatest achievements. There is, it seems, very little that can be done to stop them.

Depressingly, there is also no basis for negation with zealots who think they are on a mission from God. It’s not even clear – to me, at least – quite what the suicide bombers hope their deaths will actually achieve or what the big plan is.

It’s hard not to think that some of the animus directed toward European civilisation is fuelled by a resentment of just how agreeable and successful it has been for those fortunate enough to be part of it.

No doubt some will consider such views as naïve and Eurocentric. Yes, the French did dreadful things in Algeria, and the Belgians did worse in the Congo.

But even if this is construed as some sort of post-imperial blowback, it looks a bit late, ludicrously out of proportion, and unlikely to do anything other than to make life in Europe miserable, too. But perhaps that’s ultimately the point.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pakistan: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Pakistan (the latest are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2016/03/15/thousands-of-christians-in-pakistan-gather-to-remember-the-youhanabad-church-bombings/
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/For-Pakistani-Catholics,-Shahbaz-Taseer%E2%80%99s-release-after-five-years-gives-hope-for-the-future-36899.html
http://www.persecution.org/2016/03/09/pakistani-christians-in-joseph-colony-remain-scared-on-3rd-anniversary-of-neighborhoods-razing/
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/07/asia/pakistan-suicide-attack/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/07/obscene-praise-for-the-pakistani-muslim-who-murdered-a-blasphemer.html
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/pakistan.christians.living.in.fear.of.retribution.after.mumtaz.qadris.execution/81113.htm

Pakistan: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Pakistan (the latest are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.ucanews.com/news/pakistan-agrees-to-increase-minority-parliamentarians/75367
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/-OMI-missionary:-Thai-Church-helping-Pakistani-refugees,-persecuted-at-home-36827.html
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/pakistan.mumtaz.qadri.hanged.for.murder.of.politician.who.defended.christians/80876.htm
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Violence-feared-as-Pakistan-hangs-Salman-Taseer%E2%80%99s-murderer-36809.html
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35654804
http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-025-2016

Pakistan: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Pakistan (the latest are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/02/25/reports-calls-for-government-to-recognise-pakistani-christians-as-refugees/
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/High-tensions-over-clemency-plea-for-Salman-Taseer%E2%80%99s-murderer-36765.html
http://www.eurasiareview.com/23022016-pakistan-another-christian-woman-kidnapped/
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/pakistani.christian.couple.claim.they.were.tortured.into.confessing.blasphemy/80079.htm
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3452587/Christian-couple-sentenced-death-sending-blasphemous-texts-Islamic-cleric-Pakistan-say-tortured-confessing-crime.html
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Punjab:-govt-should-stop-discriminating-against-religious-minorities,-uphold-constitution-36726.html