The battle against ISIS extremism and why T&T should care

Of all the photos following ISIS’s horrendous assault on Paris, among the most moving are those of the long lines of people waiting to donate blood outside hospitals where the wounded had been taken.

There’s a good chance that among them were persons of Islamic faith standing in line to share the blood of life with their fellow French men and women.

Photo: Paris is in mourning after terrorist attacks on Friday November 13. (Copyright AFP 2015/Kenzo Tribouilard)
Photo: Paris is in mourning after terrorist attacks on Friday November 13.
(Copyright AFP 2015/Kenzo Tribouilard)

More likely, though, were the many more French Muslims who were longing to but didn’t dare join the line for fear of public reprisal.

The ostracism of entire groups that results from the fear sparked by the actions of a few is not an alien experience for us. There are Muslims among us who still remember the pain of social rejection in the immediate aftermath of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen’s violent assault on the state in 1990.

It is an open question how much of that old pain and anger has fuelled the unfathomable willingness of some 150-plus Trinidadians, including entire families and professionals, to join the terrorist organisation known as ISIS.

Responding to the inevitable wave of heightened bigotry against Muslims following Friday night’s ISIS massacre in Paris, several commentators were at pains to point out that more Muslims than any other group have died at the hands of Islamic extremists such as Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS.

In Iraq and Syria, Muslims are being plowed down by the thousands as ISIS expands its hold on conquered territory, even as they are caught in the crosshairs of western artillery aimed against ISIS.

Photo: The ISIS army waves its flags. (Copyright IBTimes)
Photo: The ISIS army waves its flags.
(Copyright IBTimes)

At times like these, when our hearts bleed for the many innocents who were cut down as they enjoyed dinner, watched a football match or danced to heavy metal rock, it is easy to seek refuge in the fundamentalism of absolutes that blinds us to the often variegated colours of truth.

It makes our lives easier to control when we can navigate by the rules of absolutism, especially an absolutism empowered by divine sanction that spares us the responsibility of thought.

In today’s world, ISIS is merely one of the most potent modern expressions of the politics that cloaks itself in the power of divine right to justify its actions and commandeer people committed to their faith. The war with ISIS is thus the 21st century sequel to the Holy Wars which have for centuries shaped and reshaped Europe and the Middle East.

As it has been throughout history, wherever religion provides a tactical advantage to political ambition it is co-opted with single-minded ruthlessness, sweeping up all in its path.

This ancient war continues unabated because almost every solution applied has merely succeeded in sowing several new problems. The situation has been amplified and speeded up by the technological solutions developed in military laboratories that have found their way into the mainstream and into the hands that are now recruiting young lives to ISIS’ cause.

Photo: ISIS soldiers prepare to execute a hostage. (Copyright UK Mirror)
Photo: ISIS soldiers prepare to execute a hostage.
(Copyright UK Mirror)

In this battle, there are no safe spaces, even for little islands like our own. As networked into the global system of money and mayhem as anybody else, we are there for the pickings if anyone so chooses to make an example of us.

With the globalisation of this ancient war, we cannot afford to linger on in the old role as bystanders. We need to get busy on our own business in understanding the forces that are driving our young people to risk death in Syria and the elements here at home that are part of the global network of war.

Twenty five years ago, we were all sitting ducks when guns were opened inside the Parliament, Police headquarters was bombed and the lone TV station was hijacked. Like France, we too had been warned but when the day came, many of us, too, were comfortably watching a football match at the stadium.

On a per capita basis, the body count that we suffered on July 27, 1990 was significantly higher than that of France on Friday night. And yet, given daily experience, it would require more than a leap of faith to believe that between then and now, the Defence Force and the Police Service are in any better shape to detect and pre-empt a terror attack on T&T soil.

Photo: A soldier searches for a car bomb in the immediate aftermath of the July 27 attempted coup in Port of Spain. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: A soldier searches for a car bomb in the immediate aftermath of the July 27 attempted coup in Port of Spain.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

If anything, the situation has been exacerbated by the expedient and expensive alliances that have been struck between politicians and criminal elements pledged to one religious group or another.

This is the consequence of politics that have failed to ground itself in real representation of people and in which gang leaders have assumed the role of substitute MPs in exchange for a piece of the pie.

In this war between militant Islam and the West, we are involved whether we like it or not.

After he sends his condolences to the people of France, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley should summon his top security people for a full intelligence report on the human traffic between T&T and ISIS. He also needs to find out exactly what is happening in the Muslim community and the impulses that are luring our people to battle on ISIS’ side, both on the battlefield and in the energy industry.

In this, the entire Muslim community will be an important ally.

He might discover that the same forces that are driving our people into ISIS’ arms are also those that are making them easy prey for drug lords and gun runners.

In closing, a word of congratulation to fellow columnist Martin Daly who recently launched his book, “The Daly Commentaries.” With his stunning variety of topics, readers are sure to find a daily commentary well-suited to their Daly passion. 

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About Sunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj
Sunity Maharaj is a journalist with 38 years of experience and the managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. She is a former Trinidad Express editor in chief and TV6 head of news.

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  1. Hannibal Najjar

    What a masterpiece of an article Sunity Maharaj. Well-delineated thoughts and progressions bringing us right to the conclusion that we cannot afford to sit by and watch the proceedings. Today’s instant ability to stay in touch and inform, impact, and influence, and convince and covert, makes this “21st century sequel” a night-and-day contrast “to the Holy Wars which have for centuries shaped and reshaped Europe and the Middle East”. What it took months and even years to accomplish in those “Holy War” days, will today, make even Flash Gordon look like those, heavy-leaded can’t-move and, wide-opened locked-jaw can’t-scream dreams that we all have shared and hate. Today’s same-time, instantaneous messaging abilities bring us to a point of total, lameness, helplessness, and uselessness – somebodies that are, nobodies! Our voices no more have sound, our bodies no shape and, our thoughts no value. What are our purposes?

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  3. In the lead story in the Sunday Express in which this column appears, the MoNS is quoted as saying that ISIS poses no threat to T&T. Ministers being the busy people that they are, I don’t recommend that he be sent this whole article but he certainly must be encouraged to read the four paragraphs beginning ” In this war between militant Islam and the West, we are involved whether we like it or not.” Given the performance of our last few MoNS in terms of finding solutions to the problems plaguing us, I think we can safely conclude that they had few ideas about what the real problems were – and still are.
    Maybe Mr Dillon’s military training will prove more useful if someone is able to connect the dots for him as Sunity has done here.

  4. Trinis does amuse me yes, oui! Their pseudo intellectualism astounds!!!

  5. As much as we try to break up their supply of cheap labour, I think we should focus just as much on starving them of other resources and business and making targeted strikes against their leadership.
    They will always be looking to innovate otherwise and find new recruitment methods and so on.
    And it is impossible to make the world a happy enough place so that there is nobody available for them to entice.

    • I think starving them of other resources and business and making targeted strikes against their leadership is for the US and company to do. I think our role in this global war is to do as much as we can domestically not to contribute to ISIS’ labour force.

    • ISIS and other terror groups are more than just terror organizations Lasana Liburd, they are ideologies and a cults, you can’t bomb or shoot them out of existence any more that the pre-Christian Romans could wipe out Christianity militarily.
      This is the world in which we live now, once an apocalyptic cult is born it lives forever, the most that can be done is restrict it’s activity as well as it’s growth.

    • I’ve never been fully convinced that these are simply religious fanatics trying to wipe out non-believers.
      ISIS uses non-Muslim specialists on their oil fields for instance.
      I think they are corporations that use religion to get cheap labour but how a different end game than a peaceful Muslim planet.
      It goes without saying that I’m no expert on such matters! Lol. But so many of the actions of such groups, which includes rape and drug trafficking, just doesn’t lead me to believe that they are misguided religious nuts.
      I think they are worse than that. They are cutthroats using religion as a shield. Bet the late Pablo Escobar might wish he had thought of that!

    • Very true, have actually come across ISIS in my oil trading and was surprised how easily they listed and sold Khermala crude from areas they control and pumped via pipeline to Turkey, the price on it was much better than Iraqi prices which have always been between -$4 and -$6 from Platts price and theirs was -$8 on the offer I saw, straight up simple procedures on the trade which was a straight CI Dip and Pay, meaning u agree to a Commercial Invoice, they authorize ur Dip Test agent to verify the quality and quantity of the crude they were selling and once confirmed they put up title of the product in ur name against ur payment in full. What got me was the banking details as to who to pay as it was not a company but an individual and when asked about his oil company he said he was a “freedom fighter” who happened to have some wells and a pumping station connected to the line to Turkey. That was all I needed to hear to walk far away from that esp since I do not need to have DHS knocking on my door the next morning or more likely using a battering ram to smash it open cause they had a No Knock Warrant. But was surprised at how openly they were selling their product

    • Exactly Shiva Ramberran. And religion is an excuse for aggressive takeovers and to recruit cheap labour.
      And their gruesome stunts might actually have been a ploy to beat Al Qaeda to the disenfranchised, gullible or impoverished young Muslims.
      So we have to crush their businesses to make any impact.

    • Businesses can’t function without a labour force. So that’s the easier way to crush ISIS’ business…take away its labour force. And Trinidad and Tobago can help by not being so nonchalant about its citizens joining ISIS and making propaganda videos and saying we don’t have the resources to deal with this. Re-prioritise!

    • Lasana Liburd it is no secret that the leaders of cult never fully abide by the tenets they so brutally espouse.

      A cult exists exclusively for the benefit of it’s leaders.

    • And likewise the US and so on have a financial stake here too when oil fields come into focus.
      So we are happy to help the world be a safer place… And can we get a slice of that oil action too, Barack?

    • Don’t some cult leaders just want to stay in the bush and make children though Vernal Damion Cadogan? ISIS is a different kettle of fish yes.

    • We are happy to help the world be a safer place that we don’t live in? It’s not safer for everybody except us…
      And waiting for America et al to help us before we do the right thing is just too colonial of a mentality for me.
      We are our own country. We shouldn’t need prodding and incentives to do what is right.

    • It depends on the personal desires of the individual leaders of each cult …… some leaders are avowed pedophiles, others selfish polygamists, still others have desires to be worshipped like demigod.
      What they all share in common however is megalomania!

    • We are not waiting for anyone to help us Chabeth Haynes. We are negotiating.
      War costs money. And there are financial spoils too. I’m just saying it won’t hurt for us to be mindful of that too.

    • Some want to be Opposition Leader Vernal Damion Cadogan! Lol. But the variety of cults is just too wide.

    • We are negotiating with another country the terms of agreement for preventing our citizens from joining ISIS? How is negotiating with another country what we should do for and with our citizens acceptable?
      And I am not asking us to go to “war”. I am asking that we develop strategies to prevent the radicalization of OUR citizens and therefore reduce to eliminate the chance of our citizens joining ISIS.

    • Don’t you know how much is spent to help the US War on Drugs for instance?
      I have no beef with your argument on a philosophical level Chabeth Haynes. But I think if you are going assign police officers who already struggling to cope with local issues, then there needs to be an inter-gov’t conversation and some mutual back scratching here.
      It is a case of not just finite resources but stretched resources.

    • Which is why I said re-prioritize. Legalize weed, tax it out the wazoo and use the money for personnel and strategies to combat this problem.
      We have police officers spending time and energy harassing people with small amounts of weed while other people going off to Syria? We need to sit and think about what is really important.

    • Any resources we find, there will be an argument as to how they should be used. But fair point Chabeth.

    • Don’t feel you will find money between my couch and tell me how to spend it though! Lol.

  6. What Shiva said is so true, the best method of retarding the spread of ISIS and it’s ideology of death is to pinpoint the factors contributing to the disenfranchisement of youth that leads them to embracing fundamentalist ideologies and formulating solutions to counter it.

    Other than that the national security apparatus of the republic of Trinidad and Tobago must proactively search for signs of fundamentalist sympathizers online and arrest them before they board a plan to head off to b eging their training in mass murder.

    • This goes back to Shah’s column last week. Do we really have the resources to prioritise stopping those tainted minds from heading overseas?
      Is it better for our interests to keep them here?
      Should any such exercise be a part of a global campaign and will we be supported financially and given the tools we need to do so?

    • From what I see no secular country (or any country not sympathetic to ISIS for that matter) has any choice. Any country failing to do this is simply counting down the clock for their terror attack.

  7. This is so true, in a world so connected by the internet, the disenfranchised in T&T, as with most countries around the world, can be radicalized over the net and decide to join ISIS, we are not insulated from this and hence not safe from an ISIS threat as are all nations and so we need to be vigilant

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