What does Black Friday portend?

S. Madhusudhana Rao

In the Islamic world, Friday has a special place. It is like Sunday in the rest of the world. The morning breaks with Friday prayers and no devout Muslim will miss them in mosques. During the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, that is currently underway, the religious significance of Friday prayers acquires further importance with sermons from well-known Islamic scholars in places of worship. That is also the time when maximum number of devotees congregates at mosques.

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S. Madhusudhana Rao

In recent years, such massive gatherings have become soft targets for terrorists, militants and fundamentalists with ideological differences. If Friday is a holy day, it is also a dreaded day, particularly during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. That’s the day when radicals without conscience target innocent and God-fearing people for live shooting practice. Hundreds of worshippers and ordinary people had fallen victim to gun and grenade attacks, explosions and suicide bombers across the world, particularly in Muslim countries.

Friday, the 26th of June, was another such a day. Dubbed Black Friday, terrorists struck at three places in three different countries, leaving a trail of destruction and death and people shaken. At first, the attacks on a mosque in Kuwait, a beach resort in Tunisia and a factory in France looked coordinated. But, initial intelligence reports have suggested that they had been carried out independent of each other.

The suicide bomber attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait City is the first of its kind. The tiny sheikhdom with a population of over 3 million has so far appeared to have insulated itself from Jihadist onslaught that is rocking neighbouring countries Iraq and Saudi Arabia. For the first time since August 1990 when Iraq occupied Kuwait, the oil-rich Arab state with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, was shaken to its core. Though one-third of the sheikhdom’s population is Shia, sectarian tensions and clashes have never heard of in the state. The very fact that 27 worshippers were killed and over 200 injured shows the attack was pre-planned with a definitive motive of dividing the community on Shia-Sunni sectarian lines.

In Tunisia, gunmen opened fire on beach goers in the Mediterranean tourist town of Sousse, killing at least 38 and injuring many. Though the motive behind the massacre is not clear, it appears that the dastardly act was perpetrated to prove yet-to-be known point. In fact, Tunisia, after the 2011 Orange Revolution, has been in the throes of perpetual crises; it is also  turning into a new battle ground for disparate groups. The murder of a bunch of foreign tourists in a museum by gunmen in March this year is a pointer.

With a high Muslim population, mostly migrants from French-speaking and colonial countries, France has been facing racial tensions at least for a decade. The most serious attack so far was the one on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in January. A total of 17 people, including the top editors of Charlie Hebdo, lost their lives in the attacks. Friday’s incident – a US-owned plant near Lyon was attacked and an attempt made to blow it up after decapitating the factory’s boss — though gruesome and savage, was not apparently connected to the other two that shocked the world.

However, the common thread that passes through these attacks is the rise and spread of radical Islam. While regional outfits affiliated to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as Islamic State IS), have owned up the Kuwait and Tunisian strikes, the French attack, prima facie, appeared to have been carried out by a disgruntled person with links to Mideast radical elements.

The Friday attacks are a chilling reminder that as the Islamic State marks its anniversary on June 29, the world could expect more ‘bloody celebrations” as such attacks were hinted at and called for by IS leaders. The suicide bombing in Kuwait is, in fact, seen as a warning to the government and people over judicial trial of several IS-linked elements.

With Islamic State expanding its footprint across Middle East and North Africa (MENA region) and swelling its ranks with volunteers from across the world, the threat of Sunni radicals to vulnerable regions is greater than ever. From Iraq to Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, etc IS presence could be felt. In some other countries like Afghanistan, ISIS shadow is looming large.

American efforts, largely half-hearted measures, to stop ISIS campaign in its tracks have yielded few results. Emboldened by feuds within the Islamic world and taking advantage of geo-politics, ISIS has been extending its sway over vast stretches of land and running its writ over millions of people with savage application of extremist form of Islam. West, as well as some Muslim countries, have realized the ISIS threat long ago. But their shilly-shally approach to ISIS, despite it seizing half of Iraq and its oilfields and parts of Syria, is only helping it to advance further. Unless a concerted and united action is initiated, ISIS continues to spread its tentacles. When it was not nipped in the bud, any thought of rooting it out is a pipedream.

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