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April 30, 2007

Islamic terrorism: myth or reality

Mohd. Mohibul Haque 

            Terrorism has become a global scourge these days. It is a menace, which does not distinguish between Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or anyone. Hence, it would be unrealistic to compartmentalize this global menace on the basis of religion and geography. It is simply inhuman, cruel and barbaric which must be condemned in all its forms and manifestations.


            Terrorism as a subject of discussion and study requires a deeper understanding and unbiased approach. Any presumptuous or reductionist approach to study this problem may lead to dangerously wrong propositions. Unfortunately, many scholars and mediamen have taken an over simplistic view of this complex problem. Consequently they usually associate terrorism with Islam. Hence, the term like ‘Green menace’, ‘Green Peril’, ‘Islamic militancy’, ‘Islamic terrorism’, ‘Islamic fascism’ are often used in the media and books. However, those who are using these terms so frequently perhaps do not realize that they are not denouncing a menace but condemning a particular religion.  If a heinous act like terrorism is called ‘Islamic’ it hurts the sentiments of millions of peace loving Muslim across the globe. Moreover, by certifying crime against humanity, as Islamic they also sanctify this act. Those who call terrorism of any group, nation or individual as Islamic should know that terrorism goes against the very teaching and spirit of Islam. Thus, an act of terror which involves the killing of innocent people is contrary to the spirit of Quran and Islam because the holy book itself declares that to kill one human life is to kill entire humanity, and to save one human life is to save entire humanity. (Holy Quran, 5:32).


            Islamic militancy is a misnomer in another sense also. The so-called Islamic militancy has killed more Muslims than any other community. In fact the Muslims are the worst affected victim of terrorism. Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia all are the Muslim countries along with other countries like India, U.S.A., U.K. etc. facing the menace of terrorism. When we delve deep into the phenomenon of violence in these countries, we find that in most cases western powers are responsible for the menace. The roots of the problem are to be searched in global capitalism and its worst from i.e. imperialism.


            The sudden upsurge of radical islamists or the Islamization of violence should not be seen in isolation from the gross injustice and betrayal against the Muslims by the international organisations and the major powers. The major powers of the world fought Second World War ‘to make world safe for democracy’ but they have been fighting against Islamists in Arab countries to preserve worst kind of dictatorships. The popular voices against authoritarian rules in Middle East have never found any support from the international community.  On the other hand, the hereditary dictatorial monarchs enjoy the blessings of the western powers. Thus in the absence of any democratic and political rights, the people in most of the Muslim countries feel disgruntled and alienated. Also, the authoritarian regimes do not leave any space for moderates or democratic groups. Hence, the lack rather denial of political participation provides a fertile breeding ground for violent activities.  Thus the much needed and ever awaited democratisation is a solution to rapidly growing terrorism.


            There is no denying the fact that Islam is being used by many Muslim groups for political indoctrination but Islam should not be blamed for this phenomenon. In fact, there are many reasons for this and the reasons are more political economic and cultural than religious.  One should know that it is not Islam which is guiding the people to fight or to resist but it is the people who use Islam for sanctifying their movements or acts.  In the absence of any secular ideology of resistance to imperialism, foreign occupation or political marginalisation in Muslim countries, the groups and individuals are going back to Islam to provide justification to their movements of resistance.  And a neutral observer can argue that the means they have adopted may be wrong as it involves the killing of innocent people, but the goal the groups are pursing is not immoral.


            Imperialist propagandists say that the Islamists are trying to force the people of free nations to embrace their religion and culture.  This allegation is nothing but a propaganda, which needs to be scrutinized carefully.  In reality when one tries to analyse this allegation, finds that the reverse is true. The imperialist forces have tried to impose their culture and values on others. The 9/11 New York episode or the 7/7 London bombings are cited as glaring example of aggressive terrorism and unprovoked attacks.  But the fact is that the Anglo-American imperialist alliance is reaping up the fruits of its own deeds in the Muslim world.  These attacks deserve condemnation and the culprits must be brought to book.  These attacks of course qualify to be branded as terrorism because the innocent people or non-combatants have been made the target of attack. But if only the loss of life is made a parameter to judge an act of terror, the USA, Israel, Britain and many other countries will qualify to be called as terrorist states. Noted media critic Noam Chomsky has very clearly exposed the genocide committed by America and its allies. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, USA is guilty of killing millions of innocent people and destroying valuable properties. In fact, the need of the hour is that when we devise a definition of terrorism we should include not only the acts of individuals and groups but the nation states also. Unfortunately in the present scenario, the nation states are considered to be above humanity and all moral values. Hence, in our definition of terrorism the nation states engaged in the acts of terror and imperialism do not fit in.


            Thus, while levelling baseless charges against a great religion and its followers, the scholars and journalists should know that terrorism is not a monopoly of Islam and its followers. Of course Islam has a clear-cut ideology of Jihad, which has been misunderstood by many including the followers of Islam. In fact jihad is a constant struggle against evil within or without. The Jihad may be peaceful, persuasive as well as violent or by the sword/weapon.  But the jihad is to be applied or adopted with utmost care.  In no case it should be against innocent people. The Holy Book Quran has already mentioned that there shall not be any compulsion in religion.   Every one is free to choose and practise his/her own religion. So, suicide bombing aimed at killing innocent people is not an act of jihad but an act of terrorism, which is prohibited in Islam.


            Thus jihad should not be taken as ‘a holy war fought by Muslims, against those who reject Islam’ (as defined by the Oxford Advanced Dictionary). It seems that this distorted version of jihad has been taken by many of the followers of Islam and the opponents as well. Hence it can be concluded that there is nothing like Islamic about terrorism. The act of terrorism is un-Islamic.


            Also, identifying Islam with violence and terrorism is highly unfair. In fact when we try to analyse violence as a means adopted by the groups and individuals, we find that it has got justification by all ideologies and by all organised religions. No religion or ideology can claim that violence has not been adopted and justified by his or her followers.  For example the followers of the Christianity sanctified violence and bloodshed in the name of crusade. Even today many Christian groups across the globe are engaged in terrorist activities. The Irish Republic Army, a predominantly catholic Christian terrorist organisation has been active for almost a century.  The Lord’s Salvation Army in Uganda, a Christian outfit is a notorious terrorist organisation, which recruits children as fighters. The predominantly Christian America and Britain (though they are nothing to do with Christianity) are leading and supervising imperialists’ crime in many parts of the world.


            Hinduism is full of stories of glorified violence – For example, Ramayana and Mahabharta, two sacred books of Hindus have beautiful stories of wars/battle between good and evil. Lord Rama representing good has been glorified fighting Ravana who represented evil.  Not only this but mythological Hanuman is appreciated for burning Lanka. Hindu fanatics are known to have committed many crimes, which qualify to be called as terrorism. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic, killing of Rajiv Gandhi by the members of Tamil outfit, gruesome murder of the Australian Christina priest Graham Staines and his two minor sons, genocide of Muslims in Gujarat by Hindu chauvinists are a few examples which show that the followers of Hinduisms have also engaged themselves in terrorist activities.  


        The involvement of the Sikh in terrorist activities in India is well known. The Sikh terrorism even took away the life of Mrs. Indra Gandhi. There is a history of Jewish terrorism in Palestine in the post World War-II. The groups like Haganah, Irgun and stern gang were involved in dreaded terrorist activities in Arab world. Many of the dreaded terrorists became celebrated heroes of their community after the creation of Israel. Ironically one of the terrorists of those days got a noble peace prize.


            The Buddhist Japanese army committed worst kind of atrocities against Chinese in Manchuria on the eve of Second World War. The intentions of Aum Shinrikyo, a dangerous Buddhist cult are not hidden.


            But for all then acts of people from different religious persuasions the religions are not to be blamed because no religion teaches violence and bloodshed. In fact all religions have given emphasis on love, sympathy, compassion and brotherhood.


            As far as secular ideologies are concerned, they too have brought untold misery to mankind. The western liberal democrats are responsible for economic exploitation of the Third World. The ideology of capitalism and imperialism led by USA is accused of imposing war and sanctions on free people of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Similarly the Soviet imperialism has culminated into the worst kind of atrocities in the world.


            Despite all these, it is ironical that Islam and its followers has become a target of the imperialists’ propagandists and media persons. It appears that Islam has been singled out for demonising and condemning. The record of cruelties of other dispensations are deliberately ignored or painted in a different colour.  But whenever any misguided group or individual belonging to Islam is found in any crime, the group or the individual is not blamed for it but his religion is made the target of attack.  It is intellectual and academic dishonesty to put Islam in the dock for what a handful of its misguided followers do. It seems that the imperialist powers are trying to find or invent a new enemy after the demise of Soviet Union.  Thus the ‘Red danger’ is being replaced by the perceived ‘Green Peril’. But what is unfortunate that the intelligentsia in Third World countries falls prey to the propaganda of the imperialists and join the chorus with them.

            Keeping in view the growing menace of terrorism and its transnational character, it can be suggested that the scourge should be analysed and understood properly.  An unbiased and comprehensive approach may help us in understanding the true nature of terrorism and its root causes. Thus the intellectuals and scholars should try to demolish the myth of Islamic terrorism and endeavour to expose the contradictions inherent in the propaganda against Islam.  It is a fact that the terrorist group targeting the Western countries are mainly Muslim, but their activities are un-Islamic. So, calling their activities as Islamic is tantamount to sanctifying them and thus leaving no space for moderates among the Muslims who are in a big majority.   



Department of Political Science, A.M.U., Aligarh