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October - November 2005

Political News

Understanding and Identifying Possible Solutions to the Rising Tide of Islamist Terrorism

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

The carnage in the London Transport system which took 53 lives and maimed many more perpetrated by Islamo-fascist radicals of Pakistani origin holding British passports has stirred deep emotions in Britain. It caused serious security concerns when it was revealed that British-born home grown suicide bombers had struck at the heart of London for the first time. The civilised world is outraged.

Why Islamic extremism has turned to terrorism causing widespread death, injury and destruction is a question that is engaging not only Western minds but also thinkers in other nations like Israel, India, Russia and so on, battling against religious intolerance and terrorism. While detailed examination can not be undertaken in a short space, it is possible to highlight the reasons in short takes.

A combination of doctrinal issues and historical events underpin Islamic fundamentalism and its intolerance of other religions, civilisations and cultures.

To understand the perspective one must refer to the Quran - the word of God. It lays down 5 pillars of the foreign policy of Islam setting guidelines about how the followers of Prophet Muhammad should deal with the non-Muslims. These are a) the Kaafirs - meaning the Infidels or the non-believers. It is the holy duty of every Muslim to convert the non-believers to Islam b) Tabligh Jamaat provides the institutional mechanism to be used for the mass conversion of the infidels into Islam through persuasion and where necessary by the use of force. If these methods fail then comes c) the Mujahideen - the Warriors of Islam. Their job is to kill the non-believers if they don’t convert to Islam through Tabligh d) Jihad - the Holy Wars to be waged against the infidels by the Mujahideen. And finally e) the Fidayeen - the crack troopers of Islam or in other words the suicide bombers. The Fidayeen will be used in extreme cases when overwhelming force becomes unavoidable. The use of force lies at the heart of these methods and their ultimate goal is to transform Islam into the fastest growing religion in the world. Since these tenets are enshrined in the Quran there is no scope to alter or amend them. A true believer has no alternative but to follow them. There is therefore no distinction between a moderate and a fanatical Muslim. One is either a Muslim or an Infidel.

The end of the cold war created opportunities for the re-affirmation of the civilisational exclusivism of Islam. The defeat of the Red Army in the battlefields of Afghanistan in the late 80’s created an euphoria and a conviction in the Muslim world that, if one superpower, the Soviet Union, could be defeated by the Mujahideen, it was a logical next step for them to mount a war against the last remaining superpower the US and defeat it too.

Terrorism became the instrument for waging war against the US and its friends and allies. Continually bleeding the US forces and damaging or destroying its world-wide assets and interests may bring about its collapse, so goes the argument. It is not unreasonable to argue that the Islamic world may be waiting with some eagerness to see the US withdrawing from Iraq in the ongoing war beaten by the Islamic insurgents and should that happen it will generate a wave of triumphalism unheard of in its history. The rise of Islam will then become unstoppable.

The Muslim world is invigorated by a dream that resurgent Islam is riding the crest of a new revolution and will win against all odds. Such a view has created among the so-called moderates in the religion, a hinterland of support and sanctuary for the warriors of Islam. The internal coalition that has developed within Islam has allowed Osama bin Laden to actively pursue his trade and remain at large even though there is a large bounty on his head. No Muslim has so far betrayed him. He is held in high esteem by almost all Muslims and is seen as the blinding head-light of Islamic resurgence.

At a more mundane level, the new universal dress code like the burqa, the abaya, the hijab, the jilbab, the head scarf for women and the beard and the skull cap for men has come to symbolise at street-level Muslim defiance and its separatism from rest of mankind. The need to integrate with other civilisations in the modern condition has taken a back seat. There is no mention about any dress code in The Quran.

Terrorism is an instrument for waging war by the weak against the powerful. Islam’s one weakness however is its economic and technological backwardness. Despite this handicap, its ideological fire burns furiously. The psychology of the people of Islam has been gradually primed through sustained sermons by the Imams from the Mosques across the world to take on the might of the advanced West. It hopes to defeat the infidels in the new-style sub-conventional low-intensity warfare and dominate the world.

Winning in the game of numbers through population explosion and transfers of populations from Muslim majority to Muslim minority countries are the other means of defeating the enemy. In a period of 1400 years since the birth of Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s numerical strength has grown from a handful of new converts in Medina in Saudi Arabia to over a billion people across the globe.
What has gone unnoticed in the West is that half of this giant sized population huddle in the Indian sub-continent alone, making the region Islam’s largest concentration and the primary spring board of radicalism. They are almost equally distributed between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The Muslim population in India is now 150 million constituting 15 percent of its total population of over one billion people. When Pakistan was created by the British Colonial Office in 1947 as a homeland of the Muslims of the sub-continent, the Hindus constituted nearly 35 percent of the population. Their numbers have now declined to only 2 percent. Bangladesh had 40 percent Hindus when it came into being in 1971. Their numbers have dwindled to only 5 percent now. The religious cleansing of the Hindus in both Pakistan and Bangladesh is now almost complete. The sad thing is that the international community has taken no notice of the sufferings of these hapless people.
A noteworthy feature in all the three countries is the proliferation of Islamic Madrasas - religious seminaries where the course of studies is strictly limited to the teaching of The Quran only. Nothing else is taught there. These are schools for religious indoctrination and are the recruiting grounds of Islamic extremists. There are literally hundreds and thousands of them spread all over the region. The Indian government – a secular democracy and sensitive to maintaining harmonious community relations - is completely powerless to stop these seminaries of fundamentalism from functioning on its soil. Western democracies are facing similar problems and challenges with the proliferating Madrasas in their own countries.

What impinges on the international security scenario is that these seminaries are clandestinely being promoted by a coalition of the Mullahs of the Mosques and the Intelligence Agencies of certain countries foremost among them being Pakistan. Between them they have a sinister geo-political agenda. The destruction of a secular democracy such as India has the potential of clearing the way for Islamic domination in the whole region extending from Central through South to South East Asia. The West will not remain unaffected by these developments. The military precision with which the bombers planted their devices in New York, Bali, Madrid, Istanbul, Casablanca and now in London point to the clandestine involvement of interested and unfriendly intelligence services.

I remember a meeting I had in 1972 in London with Tunku Abdul Rahman, a former Prime Minister of Malaysia. He had just stepped down from the post of Secretary General of Rabita Alam e Islami (World Muslim Council) based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

To my question, what according to him, was the future of Islam, the Tunku told me that Islam was in a ferment going through a revolutionary phase in its history. Its long-term country-specific aim was to spread Islam into India and turn it into a Muslim majority country. The unusual candour of his talk was somewhat puzzling to me. It will not happen tomorrow he said but it will sometime in the future just as it had happened in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, all formerly Hindu countries now Muslim. It would take less than 100 years to achieve this goal. Once India converts into a Muslim majority nation, there is no looking back. He added that large-scale construction of Mosques going apace in India should achieve results in this direction over time. The long-term thinking behind the Tunku’s articulation was quite staggering. Meanwhile 25 million Bangladeshi Muslims have clandestinely infiltrated through the porous borders into India and are refusing to go back. Add India’s one billion population of today, to the billion people of Islam. Two billion Muslims will constitute an enormous power in the strategic equations in the world.. The Tunku also told me that two weaknesses of the Islamic Revolution were its lack of technology and economic power. Indians have brains he said and they would provide both the numbers as well as the technology. Therefore India, as he saw it, was the precious prize that Islam would be craving for.

Will the international community be interested in saving India from falling to the clasp of Islam ?

Only the West knows the answer. One thing is certain that if such a thing comes to pass, Western civilisation will be the next domino to fall at the feet of resurgent Islam. Defending India, in my view, has to be an important long-term component in the West’s War on Terror.

Can these long-term developments be stemmed? Yes they can or at least slowed down, perhaps even stopped on its track; but to progress it, is needed clarity of thought and political will in the democratic societies fighting Islamo-fascist terror. I list some of my ideas as follows:

Restoring unity in the formidable Western Alliance must be on the top of the agenda. The split in its ranks occasioned by the Iraq War had weakened its power and reach. The Alliance, which had won decisively against Fascism and Communism in the last century, was now in need of being extended to include India and Russia and perhaps China to form an over-arching global alliance against terrorism. The coalition of the willing is too small a creature to be effective. A weakened West became the target of fundamentalist Islam’s intensified war of attrition. To achieve this much needed unity the US will have to give up its plans to extend NATO to Russia’s borders. It is not being seen in Moscow as a friendly gesture. A strategic alliance with India can not be delayed any further.

The institution of the Mullahs is not sanctioned by the Quran. They had usurped power when the Caliphate collapsed. The Mullahs used the Mosque to spread fundamentalism to strengthen their power base. To remove suspicions and achieve inter-faith harmony democratic countries must insist that the authority to appoint the Mullahs in Mosques in their countries be transferred to the concerned Governments.

The Quranic Madrasssas should be banned from functioning everywhere. Religious teachings must be freely allowed in the privacy of people’s homes.

The post-cold war Islamic dress code has become a symbol of defiance and separatism. There is no mention of it either in the Quran or the Hadees- the sayings of the Prophet. If Kemal Ataturk in 1923 could ban the use of the burqa, the beard and the skull cap in Turkey – a secular Muslim country - what then prevents modern governments in the 21st century from doing the same. In fact Muslim societies should come forward and volunteer to discard them for the sake of global multiethnic harmony and co-existence.

The international community should consider placing certain Intelligence Agencies known to be sponsoring cross border terrorism under Washington’s Terror Watch or even banning them and seizing their assets. This may be an extraordinary step but the world is in the midst of a war where tough action must be justifiable. One should not forget that nearly all terror outfits are the creations of one or the other intelligence agency.

Western Governments should avoid the temptation of getting involved in the internal power struggles within Islam. The insurgency in Iraq contains an element of Muslim-Muslim struggle. A fine distinction is needed to keep this struggle separate from inter-civilisational attacks or raids described in Arabic as Mansukh which needs resisting.

The US should consider re-casting its inventory of allies in the wide world. At a time when President George W Bush is committed to promoting democracy and freedoms in the Middle East, it remains a curiosity that some of America’s most trusted allies continue to be unsavoury military dictators – doing two things at the same time namely allegedly fighting terrorism side by side with America and at the same time secretly sponsoring terrorism against their neighbours. It is the proverbial running with rabbit and hunting with the hound. It has diminished America’s moral standing in the world. More than 4 years have passed. Osama bin Laden still remains at large. This is symptomatic of the failure of this policy. America can not afford to continue this self-delusion for long. It is a big financial drain in America’s war on terror. The US has no alternative but to drain the swamp. Washington should consider punitive sanctions not flow of funds to dictators and sponsors of terrorism.

Returning to where I began, the hall-mark of traditional British domestic politics has been its secular liberalism. It is one of the foremost advocates of a model of social cohesion where all communities are supposed to live side by side in harmony while maintaining their separate identities, as in a salad bowl. My gut feeling is that this policy has failed. The American melting-pot model seems to have gained greater relevance following the bomb blasts in London. The time might have come for Britain to consider evolving a soft version of cultural nationalism.

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