Unmasking Terrorism and Extremism: Camouflaged Behind the Global Pandemic
Writer: Itumeleng Sibiya
Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat
Graphic Designer: Hannah Bugeja
On a relentless mission to conceal crafty conspiracies, terrorist and extremist groups continue to act out of nature. Immediately, one gets baffled by these two questionable terms which are: 'Terrorism' and 'Extremism'. To unravel the meaning of this formidable pair, one is safe to say that extremism is the act of advocating or engaging in radical, ideologically motivated activities that are contrary to the rule of law in order to advance political, social, or economic change. These activities could either be carried out through violent or non-violent means. Thus, the terms 'extremism' and 'terrorism' will sometimes be used interchangeably. To drag this further, it is advisable to take note of the types of terrorism and extremism: New Terrorism, State Terrorism, Dissident Terrorism, religious terrorism, Ideological Terrorism, International Terrorism, Domestic Extremism, Violent Extremism, and radicalization. However, we are not to drift into the jargon of these terms. On the contrary, we are to be submerged under the veiled schemes of Extremist groups that masquerade their inauthentic appeal amid the global pandemic that, ultimately, leads us to conclude that all Terrorism and Extremism vanished into thin air and that is not the whole truth.
One may want to know out of curiosity: what kind of Terrorists usually attack? These terrorists are usually those who carry robust ideologies that clash with the rule of law. So, out of their rebel instincts, they cause an uproar and unrest to ultimately have their astray doctrines permitted by the government in an attempt to stop further damage. They firmly believe in a tremor revolution, in the sense of causing a quake that will force the government to surrender to their agenda. They can smell the vulnerability of the government and its people from a distance. This ability enables them to recruit with ease as they carefully study the level of vulnerability of a society, which then informs them to strike. They eventually recruit poverty-stricken individuals, unemployed citizens, and those without the slightest knowledge of religious texts.
Moreover, their most infamous method of recruitment is utilizing specially designed ways to specifically bring naive children on board to easily exploit and dictate. This is one of the most notable and manipulative ways of recruiting and exploiting the vulnerable group. Statistics indicate that since 2009, about 8,000 children have been recruited and used by the notorious terrorist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria. A relayed report of the United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights states that countless boys attacked their families in the name of loyalty to Boko Haram, and girls were obliged to be open to sexual exploitation and to do domestic chores. The United Nations reported that 274 children have been recruited by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ( ISIL) in the Syrian Arab Republic. This sparked the attention of the international community, leading to a ferocious social media campaign known as #BringBackOurGirls as Boko Haram made headlines in 2014 with the unpleasant abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. As of today, 112 girls are still missing, some of whom are believed to be dead. This is a depiction of how seriously these Extremist groups take their recruitment.
Undoubtedly, many assume that as the world has restructured its way of operating and has transitioned from its typical 'normal' after COVID-19, all terrorism and extremism has also been called to order, which led to its termination. However, there are actually two sides to this story. As the world is preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, all necessary resources are shifted to mitigate the problems that arise from it. Nonetheless, it is crucial to note that extremist or terrorist groups have used this crisis to spread their propaganda and increase their attacks. Chad suffered its deadliest toll in the fight against extremism on the 23rd of March 2020, where 92 Chadian soldiers were killed in an attack orchestrated by Boko Haram in the Boma Peninsula. Expectedly, this was during the time the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country rose to their peak of 500 cases.
With the world under the COVID-19 pandemic, the normality of experimenting with the internet, online forums, chat rooms, social media platforms, new apps, and other forms of contactless interaction has become more prevalent. Because of this, extremist groups have also gained cognizance of this vast practice, using it to lure, recruit, and train vulnerable individuals. They seem to have gone silent, camouflaged behind the global pandemic, only to be silently screaming their plots through fake profiles, advocating for violent news and building inauthentic relationships on dating apps with naive people to lure them in. And in the digital space, they play smart by having untraceable devices and isolating their prey – something that has been made more convenient in the COVID-19 pandemic, since everyone is in isolation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us the privilege of appreciating effective communication and acting on that by seeking viable options to keep dialogues going. This, too, applies to the issues of terrorism and extremism under the global pandemic. So, how can we help mitigate this issue? Firstly, because we are aware of the lack of dialogue between governments and extremist groups, pushing for them to find middle ground and carry out mediated dialogue will definitely reduce extremism and terrorism. Secondly, socioeconomic inequality including gender imbalances, poverty, and youth unemployment are often abused by the groups who promise to provide them. If the government helped provide these basic necessities, which will contribute to disarming the terrorist and extremist groups as they will have less leverage. Accounting for how this issue has contributed to the loss of lives and the displacement of millions of people, we must work together to wipe it away forever through tangible solutions.