In my piece I argued that until the ideological roots that inspire terrorism are confronted, countered and uprooted, an effective counter-terrorism strategy that relies on kinetic (military) responses alone will never be successful. Then shortly after my piece was published, the weekend's events proved my premise absolutely correct. Not only was a historic Christian church attacked in Pakistan by suicide bombers, killing nearly 100, but the world also witnessed the horrific Mumbai-styled al Shabaab-sponsored terrorist attack on the Nairobi shopping mall, killing nearly 70 civilians, including an eight-month-pregnant woman and numerous children.
Al Shabaab issued official statements via social networking sites such as Twitter during the terrorist operations inside the mall, first taking responsibility for the bloodshed, and then posting stage by stage updates about the “progress” of their operatives inside the massive building. Al Shabaab justified the attack as “revenge” for Kenyan military forces inside Somalia since 2011, which pushed the militant terrorists farther north and disrupted their camps, supply routes and lucrative underground black market. According to Reuters (Sept. 25):
“In an audio posted on the al Shabaab-linked website www.somalimemo.net on Wednesday night, Ahmed Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, said the attack on the mall was in retaliation for Kenya's incursion in October 2011 into southern Somalia to crush the insurgents.
‘Take your troops out or prepare for a long-lasting war, blood, destruction and evacuation,' Godane said in the message, apparently directed at the Kenyan government.”
The Kenyan government has responded by saying that it will continue to pursue al Shabaab in Somalia, and as a result of this cowardly attack on civilians inside Kenya, the Kenyans are even more enraged, determined and resolute. What we will see now is a cyclical cat-and-mouse game between the Kenyan military and al Shabaab, and meanwhile the latter has promised to continue to attack “soft targets,” as based on the Mumbai attack (November 2008) model.
Clearly, al Shabaab has learned new tricks of the terrorist trade from their associates, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with whom they merged last year. This ruthless attack on innocent civilians parallels the other AQIM and affiliated groups' method of operation, and that includes Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Qaeda in Mali and Libya, and AQIM in Algeria. This cancer is metastasizing throughout Africa. Alarmingly, it used to be relatively confined to North Africa, but now its tentacles and operational reach are expanding into sub-Saharan Africa.
In Peshawar, Pakistan, an obscure new splinter group from the Taliban claimed responsibility for the church bombing on Sunday, Sept. 22. CNN describes the attack on Sunday worshippers: “A congregation of about 500 people was attending the church. Two attackers struck right as services concluded. ‘Suicide bombers entered the church compound from the main gate and blew themselves up in the midst of the people,' a statement posted on the diocese website read.”
A new group calling itself the TTP-Jundullah justified the attack as their response to US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions: “'Until and unless drone strikes are stopped, we will continue to strike wherever we will find an opportunity against non-Muslims,' said Ahmed Marwat, a spokesman for TTP-Jundullah.” The mainstream Pakistani Taliban distanced itself from this attack.
Both al Shabaab and TTP-Jundullah's justifications are obvious red herrings. Neither cares about civilian casualties resulting from Kenyan military operations or drone attacks. These are heartless individuals. The civilian casualties justification is really a mask for the reality that senior Taliban and al Shabaab leaders have been killed or on the run and in hiding, while their safe havens are constantly in flux. Counter-terrorism operations have made a relative dent in these cases, but also have inadvertently created a pretext for the terrorist groups -- and public opinion -- for backlash whenever civilians get caught in the crossfire. It's all a catch-22, but it illustrates the terrorists' savvy strategies and exploitation of civilian casualties sentiments. In reality, they do not wish to see their safe havens destroyed, their lucrative networks of smuggling, black market economies and extortion systems decimated. Nor do they want to lose their local, regional and global positions of power, which they wield with grotesque brutality, all in the name of Islam.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the church attack, saying, “The terrorists have ‘no religion' and that targeting innocents is against Islam.”
This is a defensive and deceptive reaction, because most, if not all, of the Taliban terrorists in the Af-Pak region are programmed in Islamic seminaries, or madrassas. Young boys and men are infused with hardline, intolerant, jihadist (war-fighting) ideologies embedded in “Islamic” curricula. These are “jihad factories,” and the ideologies that have inspired these curricula include Wahhabism and Deobandism, two of the most literalist, intolerant and violence-promoting ideologies in the Islamic ideological spectrum. The Reagan administration, in the context of the Reagan Doctrine during the Cold War, specifically and strategically selected the most ideologically ultra-conservative Islamic jihadist warlords and militias to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This is all well documented. Religion has everything to do with it.
The Muslim world cannot, on the one hand, glorify the concept of martyrdom and the bravery of “mujahidin” in Islamic history, while on the other hand completely divorce Islam from militant jihadist (terrorist) organizations and their ideologies. You simply can't have it both ways. Yes, most mainstream Muslims embrace peace and nonviolence, but it's imperative for them to challenge, confront and show zero tolerance towards these ideological perverts who are now mushrooming throughout the world.
Zero tolerance means no denial, no defensiveness and no stumbling about the terrorists' declarations of faith to their extremist version of Islam. Call it extremist versions of Islam. That's what they are, and there is no sweeping it under the rug. How many attacks by Islamic militants against civilians will it take to get that message through to everyone? The now-confirmed fact that al Shabaab operatives separated the Muslims from non-Muslims in order to target the latter in the Nairobi shopping mall attack should be enough evidence. It's Islam's Frankenstein monster in today's world. Words alone insisting that Islam is peaceful are not enough. It requires unwavering action against extremist ideologies.
Finally, trying to redirect the source of the problem to the West or US policies, or the presence and alleged abuses of Kenyan forces in Somalia, will not achieve anything. Finger-pointing is very easy. No one denies that injustices have occurred, globally and regionally. But, there is tremendous hypocrisy in this finger-pointing. Where was the Muslims' outcry against the genocide in Darfur? On the contrary, the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) have stood by the war criminal President Omar al Bashir of Sudan. Why did we hear so much silence when Saddam gassed the Kurds? When suicide attackers kill fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq almost on a daily basis, why isn't anyone saying anything or, more importantly, doing anything about it? When the Taliban terrorists throw acid on the faces of schoolgirls, why is everyone so silent? When Muslim clerics on all sorts of Internet sites and satellite TV channels spew hatred, misogyny and intolerance on a regular basis, why isn't anyone condemning them and calling for pulling their plugs?
The silence is deafening. The hypocrisy is loud.
Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the US Naval War College.
The views expressed are personal.