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Defeating the Ideology behind Islamic Terrorism

By: Kalyan Viswanathan
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(Author is The President, Sanatana Dharma Foundation, USA)

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The terrorist attack executed in Mumbai in a commando style operation, reminiscent of 9/11 was executed after careful planning, preparation, training and ideological conditioning. It was not the work of some disgruntled elements, who took law into their own hands, and went on a shooting spree. A new batch of terrorists had been graduated from "Terrorism School", and sent to Mumbai on their deadly mission.

The US must bear great responsibility for creating this Terrorism School, which grew out of the infrastructure left behind in Pakistan and Afghanistan at the end of the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989). This Infrastructure consists of weapons and training facilities supported by financing from many Islamic countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and others. However the infrastructure is only one ingredient which goes into the creation of this deadly product called Terrorism. There is a second ingredient, for which the US is not responsible at all - the ideology behind terrorism, which the US has failed completely to come to terms with.

The ideology behind Terrorism

By now it is also very clear that the terrorist attack in Mumbai was planned and executed by the Laskar-e-Taiba (The Army of the Pure) which was founded in 1989 by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed based in Pakistan - the same year when the US proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan ended. Incidentally, the launch of terrorism through insurgencies in Kashmir, also began in the same year in 1989, resulting in thousands of lives being lost. What is the Laskar-e-Taiba and what does it stand for? We turn to the words of Hussein Haqqani, the current Ambassador (2008) of Pakistan to the USA. He says in an article he wrote for the Hudson Institute in 2005 :

"Lashkar-e-Taiba has adopted a maximalist agenda for global jihad though its operations so far have been limited to Kashmir. The group justifies its ideology on the basis of the Quranic verse that says, "You are obligated to fight even though it is something you do not like" (2:216). Extrapolating from this verse, the group asserts that military jihad is a religious obligation for all Muslims. The group then defines the many circumstances in which that obligation must be carried out.

For example, a Markaz al-Dawa wal-Irshad publication titled Hum Jihad kyun Kar rahe hain? (Why Are We Waging Jihad?), declares the United States, Israel and India as existential enemies of Islam. It lists eight reasons for Jihad:

1) To eliminate evil and facilitate conversion to and practice of Islam;
2) To ensure the ascendancy of Islam;
3) To force non-Muslims to pay jizya (poll tax, paid by non-Muslims for protection from a Muslim ruler);
4) To assist the weak and powerless;
5) To avenge the blood of Muslims killed by unbelievers;
6) To punish enemies for breaking promises and treaties;
7) To defend a Muslim state; and
8) To liberate Muslim territories under non-Muslim occupation"
Hussein Haqqani

The ideology explained above is not unique to the Laskar-e-Taiba. This ideology is shared by many Islamic radical groups, including the Al Qaeda, the Students Islamic Movement of India, Hamas, Hezbollah, The Muslim Brotherhood and many others with diverse names, around the world. Thus the infrastructure created to arm the Mujahideen in its war against the Soviet Union, has been co-opted by this Islamic supremacist ideology, launching the numerous terrorist brands that have since come into being.

Defeating this Ideology

Defeating Terrorism is the most urgent mission on the planet, today and requires a two pronged strategy. One, the infrastructure must be completely dismantled. This will provide some immediate relief. Second, the ideology must be completely repudiated. The USA, Israel and India, the so called three existential threats to Islam, have to join together in this mission to create a global strategy to completely repudiate the ideology that breeds and sanctions violence against innocent civilians, merely because they are guilty of being non-Muslim i.e. Christian, Jewish, Hindu or some other Non-Muslim faith.

But this is easier said than done. Taking on the ideology of Islamic terrorism poses problems of a completely different scale and magnitude. There are many verses in the Koran that not only sanction violence against Kafirs (Infidels or Non-believers) but actually demand it as a religious duty. The Hadith and the Sira, actually make Muhammad"s life an example to be emulated and this leads straight to the 7th century Jihad of Islam against the Non-Mulsim world. Muhammad"s numerous Ghazi raids against the caravans of Mecca, which he launched from Medina represent the medieval prototype on which the modern terrorist attack is modeled. Osama Bin Ladin is simply emulating Muhammad"s life, and waging Jihad in the best recommended way, by his holy books. It is irrelevant, that there are other Muslim Scholars in various countries and universities who can provide a benign interpretation of the same verses in the Koran. What matters is that the terrorists are interpreting the same verses in a manner that provides the ideological framework for their actions. So, it is very difficult to fight and destroy the ideology behind Islamic terrorism, without to some extent, appearing to challenge Islam itself as a religion - And here is where the greatest difficulty lies.

Denouncing Islamic terrorism without denouncing Islam itself

Which brings us to the crux of the problem - how do we repudiate the ideology behind Islamic terrorism, without appearing to denounce Islam itself? Most of the world, has classified Islam in the "Category" of a religion (like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism etc.) and therefore the world goes out of the way to accept and accommodate Islam as a religion. What modern scholarship has singularly ignored is that Islam is also a Political ideology (like Nazism, Fascism and Communism etc.) that seeks political space and dominance, as much as it is a religion. The intellectuals and academicians of the world have failed to study Islam as a political ideology, because of its religious camouflage.

"Terrorism has no religion" is the frequently repeated "Mantra" amongst most Indian Politicians, who seem to think, that the only way to not appear to be rejecting Islam as a religion, is to reject outright the very real connections between the Political ideology of Islam and the terrorists, as declared all too frequently by the terrorists themselves. This repeated negation of these obvious connections is the root cause, of India"s inability to come to grips either with Islam or with terrorism. This is the rhinoceros in the living room - It is first and foremost an intellectual failure; only secondarily a failure of governance. But the failure is not India"s alone. There is no evidence that the US has come to grips with this problem either.

Moderate Muslims and Islamic Terrorism

Another naive way of categorizing Muslims is the two black and white categories called "Radicals" and "Moderates". Once we do this, we can easily assert that the actual number of Jihadis is probably .0001 % and all the rest are "moderate" and therefore "innocent". This is the typical liberal minded position that most of us take in a well-intentioned manner. The reality however is more subtle. Islamic political agenda has always been set by the radicals. The so called moderates amongst Islam can be generally grouped into the following categories.

1. Those who will not themselves wage Jihad directly by taking arms or weapons - but nevertheless support Jihad, by donations, logistical support, manpower and other kinds of ways.
2. Those who will neither take arms nor support the Jihadis, but nevertheless agree with the Jihadis, and generally sympathize with their efforts.
3. Those who will not take arms, nor support nor sympathize - but they don"t really care one way or another - because it does not affect them personally. This group tends to worry more about the fallout of the terrorist attacks on their own reputation and lifestyles.
4. Those who actually disagree with the Jihadis, and are uncomfortable with the Jihadi ideology, but are too scared to raise a voice, for fear of retribution within their community.
5. Those who actually disagree with the Jihadis, and are so passionate in their disagreement, that they actually raise their voice and say something or do something - such as standing for reform within Islam.

Now while it is difficult to say what percentage of the so called Moderate Muslims - fit in which bucket above, when it comes to the last bucket - i.e. the moderates who really speak up against the radicals - and try to contain them - i.e. the only moderates who really count, can be counted on our fingers. This then is the core issue : Is Islam going to come to terms with a pluralistic world, in which the co-existence of people of many different religions can be affirmed and sustained or is Islam going to secretly nurture its hopes and ambitions of one day, dominating the world, and becoming the only religion of all mankind. Muslims are going to situate themselves on both sides of this issue, naturally - and we have a long and arduous road ahead. If however, the moderate Muslims can be weaned away from its core supremacist ideology, and can be encouraged to speak up and exert themselves, they can form a natural coalition partner to the countries of the USA, Israel and India - in this existential struggle to stamp out the menace of Islamic terrorism. However, this will require them to be courageous and make a clean intellectual break from some aspects of Islam, which feed the Islamist supremacist ideology.

The signs of an internal renaissance within Islam are almost bleak and non-existent, which makes this a difficult war. In the mean time, we have to be satisfied with taking out the infrastructure, again and again. We can be sure though that the underlying ideology, will recreate the infrastructure again and again as well. This is the new "Cold War". In this war there are two targets. One is the infrastructure. It has to be taken down again and again. Second is the ideology. This has to be taken on frontally, with sufficient clarity, and with adequate international support. Otherwise we will be reduced to waiting and watching out for the next terrorist attack, and occasionally being able to pre-empt an attack if we are lucky and catch a few terrorists. This won"t even scratch the surface.

Kalyan Viswanathan

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