By Adithya Sivakumar
The world watched in horror this past week as these places, usually abuzz with tourist activity, went into a state of shock and horror due to terror attacks. On October 31st, a Russian passenger plane exploded mid-air, killing all 224 on board, with intelligence strongly suggesting the responsible party is the Islamic State of the Levant (Daesh or ISIL), or one of its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula. This Thursday, at least forty-three people were killed and more than 200 were injured in suicide bombing attacks, also claimed by Daesh, in Southern Beirut. A day after the events in Beirut, initial reports suggest that more than 100 people were killed and 350 were injured in a coordinated attack on various targets in Paris, and yet again, Daesh declared it was responsible. Many now question why these attacks were perpetrated, and how affected nations and their allies should respond.
Although the crash in the Sinai Peninsula has not been confirmed as a definite terrorist attack, Daesh’s affiliate in the Sinai has claimed responsibility, and various intelligence sources seem to confirm that claim. There certainly could be a linkage between the air disaster and Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Russian airstrikes against Daesh only started a month ago, and they have certainly made Russia a prime target for attacks, demonstrated by a recent Daesh propaganda film directly references Russia in plans for a future attack. Essentially, the reasons for the attack on the Russian jet would be to hurt Russian morale and prove that Daesh’s reach extends far beyond Iraq and Syria.
The bombing in Beirut came in an area where violence, unfortunately, has happened before, as al-Qaeda conducted several attacks there in 2014. This area of Southern Beirut has a predominantly Shia Muslim population; it is also a stronghold of Hezbollah, an organization with significant power in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a primary player in the Syrian Civil War, being a solid supporter of the Assad regime, and Daesh is one of the groups fighting against Hezbollah (and Assad). Additionally, Daesh is a group with a clear sectarian goal in mind, as it wants to establish a Sunni Islamic State. In the past, Daesh has exploited the Sunni-Shia divide in many ways, especially in Iraq. Therefore, the attack in Beirut on Thursday could be an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions in a country where the Muslim population is nearly evenly split on Sunni-Shia lines. It could also be a warning to Hezbollah on not to fight Daesh in the Syrian Civil War, as further involvement would bring further attacks by Daesh and thus weaken Hezbollah’s morale. Most likely, it’s both.
For Paris, the attacks on Friday come just nine months after another period of terror in the city. In January, twenty people were killed in a series of attacks carried out by members of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, as revenge for cartoons published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Details on Friday’s attacks are scarce, especially as the situation is still unfolding and rather chaotic. Two facts, however, are quite clear: the death toll is above 120, and the attacks are the deadliest in France’s history since World War II. This time, Daesh has claimed responsibility, but the main question for the world is why France? Why again? The message from Daesh that claimed responsibility points to France’s involvement in the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition in Iraq and Syria. This indicates that the group attacked for very similar reasons as in Beirut and the Sinai: to weaken French morale and demonstrate their far reach into the global sphere.
As these nations reel from these attacks, many wonder as to what is the next step in fighting Daesh. Even as airstrikes and offensives against the group are heightened, the organization always seems to strike terror into each nation it attacks, provoking more fear and chaos. French President Francois Hollande said in response to the attacks that his nation will go after the perpetrators with full vigor, while other world leaders, including those from the United States, Germany, Iran, and the United Kingdom, expressed solidarity with the French people and condemned the attacks. Similar responses from these countries were given in terms of the attacks on Beirut and the Sinai. With this high degree of solidarity, it is highly likely that all anti-Daesh coalitions will be ramping up airstrikes and other attacks on the organization.
One of the most important responses may be to not fall for Daesh’s efforts to create fear and divide populations. Just after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January, far-right parties, such as The National Front in France, assailed Islam and its supposed incompatibility with democracy, demagoguery that came in conjunction with attacks on mosques and other institutions in France. If xenophobia, Islamophobia, and/or sectarianism take hold in these nations, there is a prime possibility that populations may be divided even more, causing Daesh to once again exploit the resulting splits for its own benefit, as it did in Iraq by tapping into oppressed Sunni populations. An effective response would be stop associating Daesh’s actions, as well as any extremist group’s actions, with the tenets of Islam, any kind of Islam, and its followers. These groups do not represent the ideals of the religion, but rather serve to heighten tensions between people and exploit power. To begin the process of disassociation, it is imperative to not refer to the supposed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as ISIS or ISIL, but rather Daesh, an acronym that roughly means “bigots who impose their views on others.” Denying the group legitimacy in terms of adherence to Islam not only weakens their authority, but also serves as a step in minimizing xenophobic sentiments and allowing nations to harness their populations to exterminating these extremist threats. As the affected nations mourn their fallen, the world must band together and remember the atrocities in the Sinai, Beirut, and Paris, not only to mourn, but also to take action, making a cohesive effort to defeat the menace that is Daesh.