Saturday, December 13, 2008

UNDERSTANDING AND DEFEATING THE IDEOLOGY OF TERROR

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has said something about Islamic terrorism that most Muslims have always known. But, secular India has been shying away from facing that basic truth. The often parroted statement that terrorism has no religion has ensured that no response has been developed to counter an ideology that has already claimed the lives of thousands of innocent citizens, and is set to claim many more.

What does the Maulana who is a Delhi based Islamic scholar have to say about the terrorism that his fellow religionists are using as a tool to achieve their objectives? Writing in The Times of India of December 12, 2008, he says that the ideology of terrorism is "that Islam is a political system and that it is the duty of of all Muslims to establish the political rule of Islam in the world". A large number of Muslim youth, he adds, have taken to violence to achieve this objective thinking it to be their ticket to paradise. Even if they cannot eliminate non-Islamic rule, they can at least destabilise it and pave the way for Islamic rule.

In other words, the lure of real political power in this world for practical and smart leaders, and great sex with 72 virgins in heaven for gullible foot soldiers who die young, is the explosive and powerful combination that ensures that it is easy to keep attracting adherents to this violent ideology.

Had these self-evident facts been mentioned in India by a non-Muslim, there would have been a huge furore against that individual for communalising terror, followed by the usual talk that Islam is a religion of peace. Indeed the latter is what Maulana Wahiduddin Khan believes, as do many other Muslims, saying that "this kind of thinking" was not prevalent during the time of the Prophet or his early companions and is a later invention. This, he says, was developed over the last few centuries and has become widespread in the Muslim world today.

So, the first and most important thing to understand is that Islamic terrorism is not the handiwork of a few lunatics who "have no religion". It is the violent and widespread expression of the almost universal, even if erroneous, belief among Muslims that establishment of Islamic political rule over the whole world is the 'divine right', indeed the purpose, of the religion.

In this light, Pakistan's avowed objective of bleeding India to death by inflicting on it a thousand cuts makes nothing but sense and, more importantly, tells us why it can never be abandoned by that country, no matter what it says publicly. That is why, as long as it exists as one Islamic state, it cannot live in harmony with and in the shadow of a non-Islamic India. In the same light, the rejection in 1977 of the secular Indian state by the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) appears perfectly logical, as does its slogan, "Allah is our Lord, Quran is our constitution, Muhammad is our leader, Jehad is our way and shahadat (martyrdom) is our desire".

Why has terror become the preferred tool to achieve a grand political objective in the name of religion, and why is it getting increasingly out of hand?

Politically, Islam today is a pale shadow of what it was a few centuries back. From the heights that it had reached when the Ottoman and Mughal Empires were at their peak, the political power of Islam has reduced drastically and is now relatively insignificant across the world. In fact, had it not been for oil, even the economic prosperity that the Muslim world is enjoying would not have been able to camouflage this grievous loss of political power and dominance.

The one without-oil nation that has not been able to reconcile to the decline of the political power of Islam and is reacting the most to is Pakistan. It believes that it is the inheritor of the mighty Mughal empire that once ruled over almost the whole sub continent and has taken it upon itself to reclaim that lost political rule in the name of Islam. Since it does not have the size or military might to achieve that objective by overt use of force, it has created and deployed the tool of Islamic terror in the garb of jehad to chip away at India till it falls. Its success in defeating the mighty Soviets in Afghanistan and establishing its rule there through the Taliban gave just the fillip that the ideology needed to step up its terror attacks on and in India.

Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaida had an identical global objective. Saudi Arabia, the country to which Laden belongs, and the rest of the Arab world are basking in the glow of petro dollars. They do not want to disturb their lands and lives to establish the political rule of Islam over the whole world. That is why Laden was forced to turn to Pakistan, the only Islamic nation that was willing to use terror as a destabilising tool to achieve this objective. He and the Al Qaida had a free run there and in Pakistan-controlled Afghanistan. As a result, his outfit grew stronger and stronger in that huge, protected sanctuary till 9/11, after which the US finally reacted with massive force.

9/11 also had a major impact on Pakistan. Faced with the possibility of being wiped off the map by the US, it officially abandoned the terror outfits it had created and nurtured for years, and joined the opposite camp! Today it is running unsuccessfully with the hares while pretending to be hunting with the hounds, a dangerous game that has turned its Frankenstien on itself and one that can be played only up to a point.

The 11/26 terror attack on Mumbai has woken up the world to the really serious threat that Islamic terrorism poses to world peace. After vehement denials about the involvement of his country men in the attack initially, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari cleverly deflected any responsibility for what those 10 Pakistanis did by saying that they were "non-state actors". The UN reacted swiftly and banned the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which was found to be responsible for the Mumbai attack.

Pakistan has yet to show on ground that it will reign in these elements. Till now, as India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherji said in Parliament, such "non-state actors", promoted and guided by the establishment, have simply been changing their signboard and carrying on with their business as usual. This time, however, no one is willing to let that country get away by its fake "we are victims of terrorism too" line, because it can no longer hide the fact that posturing apart, it is still not willing to roll back the ideology of terror that it has put in place as a cornerstone of its national policy.

This is something that has been known all along to India, but this country has perfected the art of the Ostrich response, despite the really heavy price it has had to pay for it again and yet again.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan believes that the best way to counter this ideology of violence is through the ideology of peace that the Prophet practiced. Can there really be a willing return, under the present circumstances, to the ideology of peace that the Prophet preached? Is is possible for the Mullahs suddenly to abandon the political agenda that has given rise to terrorism and guide the followers of Islam in a spiritual direction, a glimpse of which given by Sufi saints? Is it possible for moderate Muslim scholars to risk their lives and take on those who have radicalised Islam and given it an almost wholly political twist?

There is little doubt that eventually this ideology will have to be countered and defeated by Muslims themselves. But that willing change is unlikely to take place unless a conducive environment is created for it to take firm root. And that can only happen if this ideology is weakened sufficiently through a string of decisive and crippling defeats that decapitate its ideologues and demoralise its foot soldiers. Till that happens, dramatic incidents like 9/11 and 11/26 are only going to attract even more cannon fodder, itching for heavenly sex, to kill innocent people and die.

The world has to act. Sooner the better.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Readers may also like to read:
1.'Tackling religious terrorism in a democracy.'
2. Islamic terrorism: Muslims in India like Jews in Nazi Germany?
3. Pakistan: dangers of the multi-ethnic Islamic state