Each horror displaced the last, like tableaux at some macabre shrine. The slaughter at Istanbul following that at Orlando, to be followed in turn by the carnage in Kabul, then Dhaka, Baghdad, Medina and Qatif. It is tempting, as some commentary has done, to bind this Ramzan’s carnage together into a narrative implicating only the Islamic State. It cannot be meaningfully said that the tide of blood that rose through Ramzan had one author, nor one cause. In Orlando, the killer was a disturbed individual inspired by the Islamic State; in Kabul, a jihadist insurgency that opposes it; in Dhaka, yet another Islamist insurgency, but this one flew its flag as a matter of opportunity. The causes of the bombing in Iraq have to do with the destruction of the state by the US, and the opening up of savage sectarian warfare. In Saudi Arabia, though, the political context is very different. There, Islamists have been gifted legitimacy by the authoritarian monarchy that has proved unwilling to allow democratic dissent even a modicum of space.
For governments seeking to address this crisis, though, the killing should focus attention on the need to act. The most important lesson should be this: There is no short term solution; no victory that lies within grasp. The giant arc of nations running from north Asia to Indonesia suffer from a toxic mix of anaemic or dysfunctional state structures, polities under pressure from demographic strains, and economic inequity. In addition, religious chauvinism has acquired deep roots, often because of patronage from illegitimate regimes which used it as an instrument of power. Few of these states have genuine democratic oppositions, or political cultures which countenance plurality. These are, put together, conditions for millenarian blood cults to flourish.
Less than five years ago, strategists were confidently proclaiming the annihilation of al Qaeda; today, the organisation’s affiliates hold more territory than ever before. Violent Islamist ideology, moreover, has acquired a fresh vitality through its praxis by the Islamic State — a praxis that will, more likely than not, survive the defeats the so-called Caliphate is suffering in Iraq and Syria. The intelligent application of force, no doubt, is critical — but without developing governance capacities across regions affected by violence, any military victory will prove pyrrhic. The world’s ability to engage in such state building has been cast into question by its awful record in Afghanistan — making it imperative to go back to the drawing board, and begin again. That is something few world leaders appear to have the appetite for today — but the price of giving up is too terrible to contemplate.