Why you should care
Because nature abhors a vacuum.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? The first signs are emerging of the next wave of militant Islamic radicalization, war and displacement. In Libya, a little-known group of intolerant Salafist fighters called the Madkhalists is spreading its tentacles across the country’s warring factions. Arab strains of Islam are swamping parts of West Africa traditionally immune to extremism, and these nations are witnessing terror plots alien to them. And in Afghanistan, rising tensions with Pakistan and the expanding presence of ISIS are displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians, who are stretching the resources of host communities. These lands are distant. That’s what makes this coming threat particularly ominous.
Why does it matter? Though not fully defeated, ISIS is on the run in Iraq and in Syria. Iraq’s prime minister is seeking re-election, claiming victory. U.S. President Donald Trump said in May that he would withdraw American troops from Syria “very soon.” It turns out, though, the celebrations may have been premature. And because the coming hot spots are so disparate and the challenges they present are so diverse, tackling them simultaneously won’t be easy. Experts are also worried about the temptation — one that the West has fallen prey to before — to view some of these new militant groups as preferable to others. The Madkhalists in Libya, for instance, hate ISIS and defeated them in key battles. Is it OK then if the Madkhalists execute people on the streets? OZY has launched a groundbreaking series looking into life after ISIS in North Africa and Central Asia and what the future may hold.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Terror finds new territory. For decades, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Guinea, the Gambia and Mauritania in West Africa have been shielded from radical Salafist mosques by the dominance of the spiritual practice of Sufism and Malakite Islam — which is influenced by Sufism — in the region. This has kept them apart from neighbors such as Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Mali, which have long suffered from terrorism. But now, rising investment from Arab states is threatening that peace, with hundreds of mosques with shady funding springing up and an increasing number of anecdotes indicating a new sectarian tension. While Salafism isn’t inherently violent, the ideology underpins many of the bloodiest jihadi groups in the world, from the Islamic State to Boko Haram.
Bigger fish to fry. In Libya, fighters from the Salafist Madkhalist group have formed an extralegal security force. And after seven years of civil war, many in the country don’t care who’s patrolling the streets as long as somebody is. Now the group may gain internationally recognized legitimacy: A draft decree from the U.N.-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, leaked in May, proposes creating a special force that will officially include Madkhalist fighters. But the Madkhalists’ reach goes far beyond that. They are also propping up the Egypt-backed self-proclaimed Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls Benghazi, and an alternative Libyan government based out of the eastern city of Tobruk. Whichever side prevails in Libya, this ultraconservative group will likely be behind them.
Online recruitment. For some, like Ali in Guinea-Bissau, an attempt at recruitment into extremism can begin with an innocuous Facebook friend request. While the 20-something man with Bissau dumped his new friend when he started coaxing Ali to advocate for jihad, even those closest to extremists often just see them as passionate about Islamic education and scripture. Some who advocate violence attempt to lure their friends into unorthodox Quranic schools, where educators hope to shape the minds of the next generation.
Host and guest. While many Afghans fled to Pakistan during years of civil strife, more than 835,000 have returned since 2016. The past two years have seen international agencies face a greater strain on their resources, while questions have grown about the effectiveness with which foreign aid money is being spent. Now agencies are focusing on helping local communities organize to help the refugees, relying on the centuries-old local Pashtunwali code that prioritizes helping those in need, even as refugees and communities alike suffer from low employment and a lack of basic services.
WHAT TO READ
Tripoli: A Kaleidoscope, by Erin Neale and Yousuf Eltagouri for the Atlantic Council
“The militias have also gained prestige that has contributed to their recruiting capabilities. Some militias have grown in strength due to recruiting and the acclamation of profits from the illicit economy.”
Even if born and raised in Pakistan, Afghan refugees are deported to Afghanistan, a land they’ve never known, by Umar Farooq in the Los Angeles Times
“Seven out of 10 Afghan refugees who return home are forced to flee again due to violence, a new survey by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre found, echoing reports by human rights groups that are asking the European Union to stop returning the refugees to a country that is still in the throes of war.”
WHAT TO WATCH
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WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Ideology isn’t the only player here: In a 2016 Timbuktu Institute study in Senegal, nearly half of respondents said poverty and unemployment were the biggest factors in their peers joining terrorist groups. That means battles against extremism might be easier to fight if everyday life can be improved for potential recruits.