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

How can we understand the origins of Islamic State?


Reema Rattan, The Conversation

Since announcing its arrival as a global force in June 2014 with the declaration of a caliphate on territory captured in Iraq and Syria, the jihadist group Islamic State has shocked the world with its brutality.

Its seemingly sudden prominence has led to much speculation about the group’s origins. How do we account for forces and events that paved the way for Islamic State’s emergence?

Do the answers lie in the 20th century, which saw the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the creation of new nations in its wake and their struggle for independence as well as articulation of national identities? Is it hidden in the debris of the Gulf and the Iraq Wars? Or do we have to look deeper in history – to the fundamental tenets of Islam, the Crusades, or the so-called Assassins of the 11th to 13th centuries?

Which of these – if any – can be said to have created the conditions necessary for the rise of Islamic State? In the article kicking off our series on the genesis of the group, professor of modern Middle Eastern history James Gelvin cautions against easy answers. Just because one event followed another, he says, doesn’t mean it was also caused by it.

It is far better to look at the interplay of historical and social forces, as well as recognising that outfits such as Islamic State often cherry-pick ideas to justify their beliefs and behaviours.

Heeding his advice, our series on understanding Islamic State attempts, in a dispassionate way, to catalogue many of the forces and events that can arguably have played a part in creating the conditions necessary for these jihadists to emerge. We have tried to spread the net wide, but make no claim to being comprehensive or having the final word on Islamic State’s origins.

After Gelvin’s broad introduction to the group and warnings about the misuse of history, we turn to Islam and its theology.

Historian of Islamic thought Harith Bin Ramli explains how Islamic State fits – or doesn’t – in Muslim theological tradition, before religious studies scholar Aaron Hughes asks why, given the jihadist group is based on religion, is it so violent?

In a further contribution, Hughes discusses the plurality at the core of Islam, accounting for why the religion is so different in different countries.

Next, we turn to medieval history, as both the Crusades and the so-called cult of Assassins have been linked to Islamic State.

Farhad Daftary discusses the Nizari Ismailis – romanticised as Assassins by the Crusaders and in The Travels of Marco Polo – who killed, among others, two early caliphs. Could they really be thought of as an earlier incarnation of the most vicious terrorists in recent history?

Professor of religious studies Carole Cusack considers the Crusades themselves, and what contribution they could have had in Islamic State’s origins.

Leaping to the 20th century, we start looking at the more proximate causes of the group’s rise.

First, a look at the fateful Sykes-Picot agreement, which craved up the Middle East into English and French spheres of influence, and was denounced by Islamic State in the first video it released. James Renton argues the group’s self-declared political aim in establishing its caliphate speaks directly to the deal, and is an attempt at post-colonial emancipation.

Addressing an issue raised in the comments to the articles in the series, Harith Bin Ramli considers the long 20th century endured by the Middle East. He explains how the crisis of political authority in the Muslim world between the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the 1991 Gulf War contributed to Islamic State’s rise.

The series concludes with a look at more proximate events – the role of the recent wars in the region and their aftermath. Greg Barton points out that to understand Islamic State, we need to look not just at the Middle East itself but also at the complicated role the West has historically played in it.

Download our special report: Understanding Islamic State

The Conversation

Reema Rattan, Series + Specials Editor, The Conversation

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