'We seem to be losing the war'

'We seem to be losing the war'

Zahi is the newest recruit of the Islamic State (IS). In a hostile environment with no support and where a single misplaced word could mean death, she is able to make contact with her brother back home. Thus is set in motion a web of deception, courage and tragedy as she attempts to escape.

Based on the little known and insidious operations of the Islamic State, A Ticket to Syria by Shirish Thorat is a startling account of how the Islamic State has perfected a cross-country operation that converts thousands to a depraved cause. The book describes not only the elaborate functioning of the Islamic State but the motivations that operate behind it too. Thorat, a former DGP of Goa, tells us more...

How did the A Ticket to Syria come about?
A Ticket to Syria is based on a true incident. I was contacted by a friend from Maldives and asked to advise/assist in tracing and rescuing his sister who had been taken to IS-held territory under false pretexts. I have always had friends in Maldives and it is one of my favourite destinations. However, I was shocked to find the way radicalisation had taken roots and the percentage of people leaving that paradise to fight alongside terrorists.

The case brought me in touch with a horde of agencies across many continents and many interesting characters. It was an operation that covered several months and at the end of it all, I felt compelled to tell the story, albeit with changes so as to protect the persons involved. The result was A Ticket To Syria.

Why Maldives?
I have always been fascinated by the Maldives. I am tied to the country in more ways than one. My flatmates at the Police training academy were two Maldive nationals. One of them was the chief of police there and since been placed under arrest by the dictatorship there. My uncle Dipak Naik, Commander (retd) of Indian Navy, had been part of Operation Cactus in 1988 when the Indian Navy force was sent to liberate Maldives from a Sri Lankan businessman’s hostile takeover. I have had business interests in Maldives and also a number of good friends.

Besides that, the Maldives is our neighbour and strategically very important in terms of maritime security. China has made inroads there and practically encircles us now. And the radicalisation issue is our biggest threat now.

How challenging has writing the book been, considering the choice of a sensitive issue like the IS?
The challenge was really more in mounting and executing the rescue operation, writing the book was actually a byproduct of sorts. At the end of it all, there was an aching need inside me to educate people about the things I had learnt and observed. As regards writing about the IS, I have had my brushes with terrorist organisations before in my earlier stint in the Police department, so that wasn’t really a problem although, I admit that IS has reached and propagated a new level of brutality. The real challenge in writing the book was how to give the maximum amount of information without boring the reader. A balance had to be maintained.

How did you undertake the research for the book?
My research was perusal of sensitive information through my professional contacts. I also interviewed people who had experienced or suffered similar situations. I read extensively literature of mainstream Islam and that touted by IS and AlQaida, I spoke to social workers, scholars, clerics and psychologists and poured over government reports and figures. Research was 70 per cent of the labour, once that was done — writing wasn’t too hard.

Your views of terrorism — it being the buzz word for the last decade or so — how do we tackle the evil on such a global scale?
There is no easy answer unfortunately and right now, we seem to be losing the war. One of the main reasons is accelerated migrations without adaptation to the culture of the place that is the target of the migrants. If two or more civilisations have to co exist, then there has to be a period of learning and understanding, assimilation into any region cannot be done instantly. This is how there are cultural clashes.

Secondly not much is being done about the hardline version of Islam that is propagated by Salafi Wahhabis. This narrative has to be countered forcefully. Taking an overly liberal attitude is clearly not going to work — take a look at England, France, Germany and Sweden today, they have been the targets of the worst terrorist attacks in 2016 and 2017.

Some interesting experiences that you had in the course of making of this book:
There were many interesting experiences and I cannot elaborate on most of them in order to protect people and places. However, I can say that the most moving experience was finding out how kind and generous total strangers can be. People risked their lives to try and rescue an innocent young girl whom they had never seen before and didn’t see ever. This selfless act of giving restores faith in humanity.

There is one instance I can narrate. One of my friends had to be unexpectedly deployed at a border checkpost for several days during a phase of the operation. Naturally he wasn’t carrying enough provisions. For three days, a young boy would bring him food saying that his mother had sent it. He never met the lady and the young boy never accepted any payment.

What next?
I am doing some research into the violent crime phenomenon that seems to have taken root over the last few years globally. The psychological and societal factors have always interested me, so that’s where I am going next. Watch out for my next book — it should be out by the end of this year.

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