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To Combat ISIS, Terror Attacks Should Be Judged By The Same Standard

07/07/2016 10:01 AM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 8:58 PM IST
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Yemenis exchange greetings after Eid al-Fitr prayers that mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

This Eid comes with a heavy heart. It has been a long night's journey into Ramadan. Orlando. Syria. Dhaka. Baghdad. Medina. It's a long and bloody list of carnage wrought by Islamic State or claimed by Islamic State.

But in a procession of horrors, Medina has stood out even though its body count was lower. It's being regarded as vindication that Islamic State attacks its own and has no red lines whatsoever. It was proof that we can say that there is nothing Islamic about Islamic State.

Zeid Ra'ad Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says "This is one of the holiest sites in Islam, and for such an attack to take place there during Ramadan can be considered a direct attack on Muslims all across the world."

"It's like a stab in the heart of every Muslim," tweeted Jenan Mousa, a reporter for Al Anan TV. In India the Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq denounced the attack saying "Such elements who carry out these attacks in the name of Islam have in fact nothing to do with the religion and its teachings."

medina terror attack

(In this Monday, July 4, 2016, file photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Sheikh al-Faleh, deputy director of the Prophet's Mosque, kisses the forehead of a man who was injured when a suicide bomber attacked a mosque Monday, at a hospital in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Press Agency via AP)

But in a procession of horrors, Medina has stood out even though its body count was lower. It's being regarded as vindication that Islamic State attacks its own and has no red lines whatsoever. It was proof that we can say that there is nothing Islamic about Islamic State.

Even Abu Sulayman, a cleric with Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, tweeted "The #MedinaBlast is a criminal act that Muslims must condemn."

The Medina attacks thus help buttress the arguments of those who want Islamic State to be seen as simply terrorist rather than as "Islamic terrorist". "Either they are literally attacking their own religion which is psychotic," says Jonathan AC Brown, the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University.

Or "they're so intent on delegitimizing the Saudi government they don't care about doing violence in this sacred place." Perhaps they do care somewhat.

Unlike the other attacks, Islamic State did not rush to claim credit either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. But the Medina attacks help make the case that the Islamic State is a common enemy of both the West and Muslim countries and countries like India. Calling the Medina attacks a "potentially disastrous mistake", Washington Post's David Ignatius says it could open up the possibility of a "command structure that truly fuses the resources of the U.S., Europe, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan and many other nations that have been targeted by Islamic State terrorists." Or are in the terror organization's crosshairs like India as the video after the Dhaka attack makes clear.

Unlike the other attacks, Islamic State did not rush to claim credit either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. But the Medina attacks help make the case that the Islamic State is a common enemy of both the West and Muslim countries and countries like India.

This is a group that faced with loss of territory in Iraq is changing its strategy from a caliphate at home to spreading terror abroad according to a report in The Los Angeles Times. Even if a video released by them after the Dhaka café attack warns this is a glimpse of what's to come unless Sharia is established around the world, that sounds more like posturing from a group whose dreams of a Caliphate in Iraq feel under heavy attack.

dhaka attack

(A woman mourns for the victims who were killed in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant, at a makeshift memorial near the attack site, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

The logic is understandable and appealing especially to those who have knocked their heads against the brick wall of the likes of Donald Trump who want to make saying "Islamic terrorist" the litmus test of truth-telling. After the Orlando nightclub attack, Trump taunted both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton for not using the phrase "Islamic terrorist". He demanded Obama resign and provoked a sharp response from the President about whether saying the phrase would actually make America safer or just demonize an entire religion.

Until we value all human life as simply human life, we will not truly see Islamic State as simply terrorist. Everyone they kill and maim matters. If they are to be delegitimized in the eyes of those who flock to them, that process cannot be only about Medina. It must include every other attack perpetrated in their name.

Yet brandishing the Medina attack as proof of Islamic State's unholy terror cannot be the only litmus test possible. Of course Medina is special in its place in the heart of every devout Muslim or even those not so devout. It is one of the holiest sites and an attack on it comes with special significance just as an attack on the Vatican City or the temples of Varanasi would be seen as an attack on those faiths. On the other hand, in the Dhaka attacks we hear reports that the hostages were made to recite the verses of the Quran and those who could were spared. Those who could not were killed. The killers were acting in the name of Islam even if Islamic leaders condemn their actions as unIslamic.

But the flip side of this story is that those who want to use Medina to condemn Islamic State as reprehensible terrorists not as (misguided) holy warriors will need to follow through with their arguments to their logical conclusion. They cannot begin and end with Medina. If these fighter and ideologues are to be delegitimized in the eyes of those who are mesmerized by them (as apparently the young attackers in Bangladesh were) those who condemn Medina will have to equally vociferously condemn the attacks on an Orland gay bar or a Dhaka café. There cannot be different standards of condemnation – one for pilgrims at Medina, one for club goers in Orlando, one for airplane travellers in Istanbul, one for diners in Dhaka.

Until we value all human life as simply human life, we will not truly see Islamic State as simply terrorist. Everyone they kill and maim matters. If they are to be delegitimized in the eyes of those who flock to them, that process cannot be only about Medina. It must include every other attack perpetrated in their name.

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