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Attacks on peaceful Muslims fuelling the ISIS objectives

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Mia Bloom


Mia Bloom is a Professor of Communication and Middle East Studies in Georgia State University. She is an expert on terrorism, extremism, and child soldiers.

According to the profile published in the university’s website, “Dr. Bloom conducts ethnographic field research in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia and speaks eight languages. Author of Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (2005), Living Together After Ethnic Killing [with Roy Licklider] (2007), Bombshell: Women and Terror (2011), and Small Arms: Children and Terror [with John Horgan] (2019), Bloom is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has held research or teaching appointments at Princeton, Cornell, Harvard and McGill Universities.”

Bloom is a member of the UN terrorism research network (UNCTED) and a member of the radicalisation expert advisory board for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Bloom holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. 

Recently, I have communicated with her on Easter Sunday’s bombings in Sri Lanka and her readings on terrorism and radicalisation. The following are excerpts from the interview:


By NilanthaI langamuwa

Q: How do you read the latest suicide attacks in Sri Lanka by a group affiliated to the self-proclaimed Islamic State? 

A: Based on the way in which the attack happened and the delay in which it took ISIS time to claim responsibility for the attack it demonstrated that ISIS did not direct the attack as much as it was inspired. There was obviously one of the attackers who had been to Syria and was trained but this is different from attacks in Dhaka and Teheran and Paris and Brussels. In general this shows that ISIS is able to take previously nonlethal groups and by the addition of just one person they trained, turned a group very deadly.

The attack also shows the importance of the different parts of the GOSL to work together. Petty differences between the President and the PM should not result in the deaths and injury of hundreds of Sri Lankans. Regardless of the individual animosity the greater good should be to protect all the citizens of the island.

Finally, ISIS that has claimed responsibility for the attack (regardless of how much they helped plan it or direct it) predicted that there would be a backlash against the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka. If this continues to happen, support for Jihadist groups will only grow and mob violence against peaceful Muslim communities will only become a self-fulfilling prophecy that ISIS is the only group who will protect and represent Muslims all over the world.

Q: Spotting or hunting a terrorist maybe easier than prosecuting a preacher who is the driving force behind the radicalisation of the minds of people. I believe this is where the real challenge is lying. What are your suggestions?

A: In order to prevent terrorism the most important partners are members of that community from which the terrorists recruit and draw. In the USA, the vast majority of plots were prevented because Muslims in America call the police or alert the authorities on someone who has entered into their community to recruit or plan something evil. What countries need to consider is that holding radical views in general is not a crime. One can be outraged by events in Syria, the bombing of hospitals in Idlib, the use of chemical weapons by Assad in Ghouta, but there needs to be ways to provide an avenue for people who are outraged but want to engage positively. 

If the only way to express radical views is radical action then that makes the problem inevitable. Preachers can exacerbate radical feelings from the pulpit but if there are other avenues for people to become involved positively and legally, these options provide an ‘off ramp’ to pro-social instead of anti-social involvement.

If the preachers are advocating violence then they need to be replaced and the most heinous and dangerous preachers are those who have been brainwashed and trained in Saudi Arabia. So this is one way to detect a dangerous preacher who might be trying to influence his constituency. Real preachers of any faith do not preach violence. Someone who genuinely knows and understands Islam knows that the religion opposes killing children, civilians, other Muslims and people of the book (Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians).

Q: Mia, you have authored newly released book, ‘Small Arms’. Congratulations. Tell us about the book?

A: I am the primary author of the book with some contributions from Dr. John Horgan, a psychologist at Georgia State University. 

The book does a few things to help understand how children become involved in terrorism and what the process looks like. I was inspired many years ago when I did my research in Sri Lanka working with the NeelamTiruchelvam foundation and RhadikaCommaraswamy when I researched Tamil attitudes about the LTTE. Seeing so many young people want to join the Bakuts struck me that the organisation had found ways to make involvement attractive. At the same time, I was living in Sri Lanka when mothers stopped sending their children to school in places like Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Trincomalee to avoid the children being recruited by the organisation.

The book explains how education, the role of parents and community plays an important part in creating an environment conducive to children’s involvement in terrorism. I discuss the cultures of martyrdom that the groups create (e.g. Thatkodai) and manipulate the concept of suicide in Arabic they use Ishtihad instead of intihar which is forbidden in the same way that the LTTE used Thatkodai instead of Thatkolai.

Finally, the book discusses how countries should deal with returning children who were in Syria or Iraq and what are the optimal deradicalisation reintegration strategies.

Q: Every parent, I believe, wanted to have their kids in a better place than they were. No one expects them to be a suicide bomber. How to protect them? What are the roles that people around them should play? 

A: The communities are very important. If the social ecology of a community is anti-violence, anti-terrorism and does not value death over life, these are the best inoculation to the spread of violence and recruitment of children and adults. The problem is that parents who have been tricked that the Jihad is a better path for their children voluntarilygave their children to the terrorists often knowing full well that the outcome would be the early death of the child. So if the parents refuse to give the terrorists access, and the communities refuse to harbour them, they are emasculated and cannot do harm.

Q: You are working on a forthcoming book, ‘Veiled Threats Women & Jihad’. Tell us about this book in brief and the women.

A: In my previous book, ‘Bombshell: the Many faces of Terrorism’ (2011), I contrasted women in the LTTE with women in Al Qaeda and Hamas, Islamic Jihad with women from western terrorist groups like People’s will in Russia or the Red Brigades in Italy. The book was completed in 2010 and published in 2011. Back then there was no ISIS, Boko haram was a brand new organisation that did not kidnap and recruit girls, and al Shabaab was just beginning their reign of terror. 

The new book, which is expected next year, takes a focused look at the ways in which Jihadi groups exploit women and how the women’s expectations of what their involvement will be like do not match their reality. I also explore the extent to which the Jihadi groups have commoditised women. Groups like ISIS used women to recruit and retain foreign fighters but their primary purpose was to reproduce and generate many children.


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