The city of Peshawar, Pakistan mourns deeply in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s deadliest attack to date. An estimated 132 children and nine staff members were killed in a devastating massacre targeting a school in the northwest region, where gunmen and suicide bombers inflicted damage so horrific that even the Afghani Taliban have condemned their actions. Most of the victims were children of military families enrolled at Peshawar’s Army Public School.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Army pointedly allowed numerous television crews to enter the school grounds, where they were able to observe the crime scene for themselves and broadcast those observations back to their respective audiences. Images captured by international news teams revealed the devastating extent of the brutality, showing classroom floors coated with blood, walls covered in hundreds of bullet holes, and rooms blown apart by suicide bombers.

The international community has collectively vocalized utter contempt over the massacre, and Pakistan was immediately consumed by a state of national outrage. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded by declaring three full days of mourning and announcing an abrupt end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorist actions.

This decision by Sharif is quite significant given the country’s past responses to terrorist groups. Despite the fact that terrorism in Pakistan has taken more than 50,000 lives since 2001, there has long existed a puzzling lack of a national consensus to fight terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s massacre, politicians refrained from publicly declaring whether they thought the Taliban had been behind the attack, even though the Tehreek-e-Taiban Pakistan, or TTP, had quickly claimed responsibility. The militants describe the Peshawar disaster as an act of revenge for an army attack that they claim killed approximately 1,000 of their own people.

The Taliban has a lengthy history of attacking schools. As an extremist group that first emerged in northern Pakistan in the early 1990s, the Taliban wields its own version of Islamic law as a major justification for and motivation behind its actions. The Pakistani Taliban adamantly opposes Western education for children, especially for girls. Education activists in Pakistan claim that this opposition is the Taliban’s way of trying to exert control over the population by keeping young people in the intellectual dark. An educated girl or boy represents a threat in the eyes of the Taliban, and the terrorist group actively works to eliminate these perceived threats through violence and oppression.

The Peshawar school massacre represents a departure from the Taliban’s usual school attacks. Militants in the past typically attacked schools while they were empty at night, specifically hoping to have the institutions shut down rather than directly harm students. The Taliban has also tried to threaten Pakistan’s education system by intimidating teachers and pressuring parents to quit sending their kids to class.

Some are beginning to question whether the Peshawar attack will force Pakistan to decidedly confront the terrorist group in a way it has generally refrained from doing in the past. Pakistan has long held an ambiguous view of Taliban militants, a phenomenon known as “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” that for the past decade has baffled the Pakistani public and sent terribly mixed messages to the West. In the wake of the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced “there will be no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban,” while acting foreign minister Sartaj Aziz has described the tragedy as “our 9/11” and a “game changer.”

Shenel Ozisik

Sources: BBC 1, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, BBC 2
Photo: Flickr

isis
Social media can be used for so much good in the world: it connects loved ones who lives in different countries, it can spread messages of good works and can easily inform users of the current events and issues happening not only in their community, state and nation, but in the world as well.

With all of the good content that can exist on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, bad content can be posted just as easily with specific target audiences in mind. One of the most recent groups to use social media sites with the intention of spreading their beliefs is ISIS, who is targeting teenage girls, as young as 14 years old, and young women. The videos produced by ISIS are “slick [and] well-produced … targeting impressionable teenagers often feeling they don’t quite fit in with the society around them,” CBS News reports.

Reports first began coming in of girls from European countries such as Austria, France and then England of girls leaving their homes and families, fleeing to Syria to join ISIS, with hopes to either become a militant themselves or dreaming of marrying a jihadist, an Islamic militant. It is believed many are being roped in by videos and messages, which say becoming a jihad is “a way of giving meaning to their lives,” while “looking for excitement [and] looking for adventure,” CBS News reports. In both cases, it’s believed the girls are going willingly to Syria to live out a “jihad fantasy.” Most recently, three girls from Colorado have left home, getting all the way to Frankfurt before being caught and brought back to the United States.

“Some of these girls are very young and naive, they don’t understand the conflict or their faith, and they are easily manipulated. Some of them are taking young children with them; some may believe they are taking part in a humanitarian mission,” spokeswoman of the UK Muslim Women’s Network Shaista Gohir said.

While the exact number of girls who have joined ISIS is unclear, reports indicate up to 50 British, at least 40 German, 14 Austrian and 63 French girls and women have joined. Hundreds of females are leaving the safety of their homes to fight for the Islamic Extremists.

Kori Withers

Sources: Yahoo Screen,, The New York Times,, The Guardian,, CBS News
Photo: CNN

naming_the_islamic_state
ISIS has been the name many of us have come to use over the summer as this terrorist group has come to prominence. The group is also referred to as IS or ISIL, by many government leaders.

But why discuss it at all?  Should it matter what an extremist group calls itself? Shouldn’t people be focusing on what means they are using to achieve their ends?

According to Jonah Blank, a former staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the militant organization is waging a propaganda war—and what name it goes by is part of that war.”

This group seeks to reestablish a caliphate, a mecca for Sunni Muslims all over the world run by a supreme religious and political leader. The calphi are older societies, the last of which died out with the Ottoman Empire. They are seen as the Golden Age of Islam. Muslims were at the cutting edge of art and technology. They also controlled vast amounts of political and economic power at this time.

The current attempt of reestablishment has taken place in western Iraq, eastern Syria, parts of Jordan and Turkey. This location has caused the name ISIS to become the front runner. It stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the “Syria” they refer to is Greater Syria. Greater Syria is referred to by many as al-Sham in Arabic.

Al-Sham “is the classical Arabic term for Damascus and its hinterlands, and over time, it came to denote the area between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, south of the Taurus Mountains and north of Arabian desert.”

The Obama Administration has translated the al-Sham differently to mean “the Levant” hence the president’s use of ISIL. It doesn’t have the lengthy explanation of greater Syria, but, more importantly, it also weakens the credibility of the terrorist group in a time when they are trying to recruit supporters.

As The New York Times explains again, the term Levant is “a once-common term that now has something of an antique whiff about it, like ‘the Orient.’ Many Arab nationalists and Islamist radicals disdain it.”

It seems that the President’s administration has come to agree with Jonah Blank. He looks to discredit them openly, causing confusion in the Middle East. This confusion seems to be taking effect.  Many Muslims have already turned their back on the idea of a caliphate, as many have well an established mufti, who is the highest legal authority, giving rulings on practice for the state.

Its name is become confusing, and ISIL cannot seem to decide what to call itself. Islamic scholar Juan Cole says ISISL has no real support beyond their own followers and has no real prospect of gaining the respect of the greater Sunni Muslim community. It seems that its fall might come from internal factors that the U.S. can observe and comment on from afar.

– Frederick Wood II

Sources: NPR 1, NPR 2, NPR 3, New York Times, Juan Cole
Photo: The Christian Post

new strategy against isis
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

On September 10, President Barack Obama announced a new strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. (Here, the group will be referred to as ISIS. Other sources have labeled the organization as IS and ISIL.)

The aim of ISIS is to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, throughout Iraq and Syria. So far, ISIS has claimed control over northern Iraq and the northeastern region of Syria. The extremist group also targets people who follow religions other than Islam, particularly Christians and the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in Iraq.

Until February 2014, ISIS was a part of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Differing strategies in establishing a caliphate in Syria resulted in the division of the groups. Today, both compete for influence over Islamic fundamentalists.

In an effort to reduce the amount of destruction caused by ISIS, the United States staged successful air strikes to keep the group out of Iraqi Kurdistan and limit their attacks on the Yazidi.

The actions of the militant group in Iraq and Syria have displaced thousands and placed many into a state of poverty. In Qaraqosh, a predominately Christian town in Iraq, 50,000 people have little access to food and water because of ISIS’s actions.

In its attempt to create a caliphate, the group is also raping and abducting women in order to use them as slaves. By targeting women and minorities, ISIS is forcing thousands into poverty. Access to basic necessities and human rights are severely limited. Poverty also compels some to join the extremist group, with no alternative to survival, and furthers its control of the region.

Identifying the force as a threat to national security, President Obama has taken action to provide military support for the Iraqi government. This effort will be continued and expanded, according to his most recent statements.

An additional 475 military representatives will be sent to Iraq to help with training, intelligence and attaining resources. The United States will work with international allies to increase intelligence and create a comprehensive strategy to eliminate ISIS. To address the number of people in Iraq and Syria being targeted, the United States will also provide humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the conflict.

In outlining the new strategy, President Obama highlighted the United States’ leadership. He drew focus to America’s, “capacity and will to mobilize the world against terrorists … our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for—timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

President Obama argued that the capacity and willingness to end a problem created a moral obligation for the United States to act. This obligation is not limited to military action. The new strategy against ISIS includes humanitarian efforts to alleviate the burden of conflict, which is closely related to poverty. Should these types of efforts continue, the United States could act as a role model for poverty-reducing strategies across the globe.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: Vox, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian,