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The new basis for war: Jihadism

Foto: AP

Conflicts associated with jihadism now account for more than half of all battle fatalities, and wars are ever more concentrated to the area around the Middle East, new data reveal. But the image of ISIS as a uniquely efficient killer organisation is false.

Armed conflicts associated with militant Islamism, so-called jihadism, now account for over 50 percent of all people killed in battle. This is shown by new unique data from peace and conflict researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University. 

Syria dominates the jihadist war category. This is because the researchers have divided the complex Syrian opposition into merely three parties, the Kurds, ISIS and ”insurgents”. The latter constellation contains several Islamist groupings. 

– We have made historic comparisons, always with the same definitions, and the change is striking, says Isak Svensson, professor at Uppsala University.

One reason for the surge in the number of deaths in conflicts where jihadism is a component, as well as a surge in the number of conflicts overall, is that ISIS has opened ”franchises” in a swathe of countries. At the same time, some rebel groups have changed their rhetoric from nationalist or socialist to jihadist.

As much a focal point of media reporting as it is, ISIS is not the uniquely efficient killer organisation it sometimes appears.

– During their bloodiest year, 2015, they killed fewer people in 18 countries than the Bosnian Serbs did in Bosnia in 1995, says Erik Melander, head of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

Surprisingly, South East Asia is almost void of jihadist insurgencies, despite large numbers of Muslims, including the most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia.

One important factor behind this remarkable exception, according to the researchers, is that Islamist parties are allowed to work politically. Also, peace negotiations have partly been successful.

 East Asia is generally significantly more peaceful today than the region was three or four decades ago, as is Latin America, the scene of bloody guerilla wars during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Southern and Western Africa are also mainly at peace today, a stark contrast to the 1990’s.

A look at the war map discloses that armed conflicts seem to be disappearing from the ”fringes” and increasingly concentrated to a belt across the Muslim world, from Afghanistan and Pakistan, through the Middle East and down to parts of Africa’s northern half.

In the years since the Arab spring, there has been a trend towards ever bloodier wars. But this trend is now broken, the new data shows. 

The total number of battle fatalities in all types of armed conflict decreased by some ten percent from 2014 to 2015. The figure, 118.000 deaths, is still a lot higher than before 2011, but the long term trend points downwards. The worst years of the first four decades after World War II were several times more lethal than 2014.

According to the researchers one chief explanation for the long term decline is that governments are less and less involved in armed conflicts against each other. A state’s capacity for unleashing violence is far greater than that of any separate grouping, no matter how bloodthirsty they may be. 

– Ten years from now we will most likely have experienced one or two, possibly three, new conflicts that have grown bigger than we had expected, just like Syria did, says Erik Melander.

– But I believe the general trend towards a more peaceful world will continue. There will be new peaks, but every new peak will be lower than the preceding one. You quickly forget how things used to be.

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