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Terrorism and our Response

By: Kalyan Viswanathan
Aug-12-2008
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(Author is The President, Sanatana Dharma Foundation, USA)
 


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Blasts have rocked Bangalore and Ahmedabad within days of each other, following earlier attacks in Jaipur. More threats have been issued, and it seems we are just getting ready for this battle. The road ahead is long and difficult, primarily because there are numerous difficulties in fighting this menace called terrorism. The Government of India, no matter whether it is UPA ruled, or NDA ruled is terribly inadequate to tackling this singular task of protecting its citizens from further attacks.

In this article, I am presenting a preliminary analysis on the nature of this problem, and our confusion regarding our approach to addressing it. Since I am a Non-Muslim, I have naturally written this article from the stand-point of a Non-Muslim. I am also writing for a primary Non-Muslim audience - even though some comments from Muslims will also be welcome.

Islamic Terrorism and our response

Without doubt, the one of the greatest threats stalking humankind today is the threat of Islamic terrorism. It kills indiscriminately; it kills innocent civilians who do not bear arms and pose no threat; it kills brutally without regard to who is going to die; In most cases, the people who die have no relationship to the killers. In other words, there is no personal feud between the killers and the killed. The killing is almost like a sport or a ritual - a planned act of sacrifice involving random victims, who obviously had no idea, that there life was going to be taken away that day.

According to the Rand Corporation which has been tracking terrorism incidents globally, as of June 1st, 2008, there have been over 20,000 terrorist incidents world-wide after September 11, 2001 - which represents an average of 9 terrorist attacks per day. The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) sponsored by the University of Maryland, has tracked over 80,000 terrorist incidents in its database since 1970. Approximately 22,000 people died in 2007 alone due to terrorist attacks, which was a 9% increase over the year 2006. Over 72,000 people were hurt, kidnapped or killed in 2007 world-wide. India has borne an extra-ordinary burden of terrorism - losing approximately 25,000 lives to Islamic terrorist violence in the last 10 years alone. This is unlikely to slow down - We are only at the beginning of this phenomenon.

Indeed if we were to define an "Asura", based on the ability and willingness to kill completely innocent and unknown people, then Islamic terrorism is the darkest Asuric force that has been unleashed upon this planet, in recent times.

A confused response

While most countries in the world today have been drawn into this so called global war against terrorism, while each country has a unique set of challenges that they are facing with regards to terrorism, on the whole modern civilization"s response to terrorism is beset with a number of fundamental confusions. We will examine some of these.

Who is the enemy?

The first characteristic of our response to terrorism is that there is no clarity regarding who the enemy is. These terrorists are from many countries; they belong to many different organizations; they constantly change their names and outfits; they seem to live among civilized societies; they emerge from the shadows to commit their act of random violence and then subside back into the shadows. And country upon country around the world is left with a mounting security apparatus and massive bills in trying to track and manage this threat.

As an example, the US President George W. Bush"s War on Terror, represents the first time in US history, that the country has gone to war, without being able to identify the enemy clearly. Not knowing who they are fighting, the US troops have been embroiled now for more than 5 years in Iraq, where they can rarely distinguish between a regular Muslim citizen and a militant Jihadi terrorist. While casualties have mounted on both sides, the moral clarity, the Dharmic upper hand in the war has been completely lost. It is hard to imagine a victory in this war, simply because of this singular lack of clarity regarding the enemy.

What is their goal ?

The second characteristic of the world"s response to terrorism is that there is no clear understanding of the terrorists" intention and goal. Why do they kill so randomly? What possible purpose is the terrorist trying to accomplish by committing a random act of terrorism, where innocent lives are taken? Is the act of killing innocent people, simply an expression of their being disgruntled, upset or poor? Has society been unfair to these Jihadis? Perhaps if they got good jobs and a chance to live a decent life, they may not commit such violent acts. What did we do to incur their wrath ? - According to George W. Bush, "They hate our way of life" - That"s the real reason. Such is our thinking. But why do they so hate our way of life? We don"t know that. And the violence keeps on continuing.

Should our response be non-violent or violent?

Should we negotiate with the terrorists? What do they really want? Is there a civilized solution to this problem? But who should we negotiate with? But what is their problem? Should we protest their behavior? But protest to whom? Should we use violence against them? But against whom? Such is our essential confusion. In this backdrop, we do not really have a strategy or plan to confront this evil. Rather, we are reduced to containing and managing the response of the victims - lest they get too angry and start some riots. Every time a riot starts, it is the Hindus fault - the provocation is not somehow considered a significant enough event. So the Politicians, walk about, trying to ask people to be peaceful and essentially bear their losses until the next terrorist attack takes place. There is a complete bankruptcy of approaches to addressing this growing problem.

How should we fight this war?

Atomic weapons, Nuclear weapons, mighty airpower, modern navies, new kinds of bombs and weapons of mass destruction are simply ineffective against this threat of Islamic terrorism. This is a case where the enemy is not a specific country, a state actor that can be clearly named. So what then is the mode of our fighting this enemy? Do we use the army, navy or air force? Or is this a police matter that requires institutions like the CID, FBI, the CIA and others? Do we need to go searching door to door amongst the homes of the citizens and the local mosques to identify the terrorists? And in any case, how would we identify them, given they are so shadowy and move seamlessly between being a terrorist and a regular civilian. This innocent civilian camouflage makes it difficult to identify the enemy let alone fight them - since, the moment you catch one of them, the whole muslim world starts crying "Foul" accusing the government of catching the wrong person and harassing innocent civilians.

Who are our allies in this war?

Do we have any friends in the Islamic world in this war? Is Pakistan an ally in the war against terror? According to the United States, yes - they are. But yet, Pakistan is the source of a lot of the terrorist action in India. Is Saudi Arabia an ally in the war against terror? Yet most of the terrorists who carried out the attack against America on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. Osama Bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia. Besides much of the financing of the institutions of terror, can also be traced back to Saudi Arabia. Are the Muslims who live in America against the terrorists or do they sympathize with them? Are the Muslims in India on the side of the victims of terrorism or on the side of the terrorists? Does the Imam at the local Mosque think that he is on the side of those who are fighting the terrorists or not? What about the Muslims in Bangladesh - On whose side are they on? Are educated Muslims against terrorism or for? Are poor and uneducated Muslims the real problem? It is fundamentally unclear whether we have any Muslims on our side on this war on terror.

Are Muslims violent or peaceful ?

While we recognize that most of the terrorists are Muslims, we are quite certain that not all Muslims are violent. In fact we all know many Muslims who are perfectly decent human beings. In fact I myself grew up with Muslim friends, and work with perfectly decent Muslims. Yet what makes some of them such extreme terrorists? And what is the relationship between the so called moderate Muslims and the terrorists? Do the moderate Muslims support the terrorists in some way, secretly? Or do they condemn the actions of the terrorists? Why isn"t the Muslim world itself not more vocal in its condemnation of the terrorists" behavior? The Secular, Pluralistic and liberal people of the world, go out of the way to protect the Muslims as a community from being maligned and stereotyped - on account of the terrorists. Yet the overall lack of condemnation of the terrorists from the Muslim people of the world is indeed quite striking. The effort within the Muslim world, to reign in the phenomenon of terrorism is clearly not significant enough. One striking phenomenon is that after every terrorist attack, most of the vocal Muslim condemnation of the violent action, seems to focus less on the fact that so many innocent people were killed, but more on the fact that this action is bringing a bad name to Islam itself. Muslims are busy warning the world not to stereotype all Muslims, because of a few terrorists.

Is Islam a peaceful religion or not?

After every terrorist attack, the world condemns the terrorists; there is great grief and outpouring of sympathy for the victims - but equally there is a determined effort to establish that Islam is a peaceful religion. Many Islamic writers are quick to warn our modern society at large not to target all Muslims - because of a few mis-guided terrorists. Our concern for not stereotyping all Muslims and political correctness takes over. Islam itself appears to be more concerned about its own image which is being tarnished by these terrorist actions, than the violence being perpetrated on the victims. The world goes into public relations overdrive, keen to prove that the moderate Islam is the real Islam, and the terrorists" version of Islam is a distorted one. In other words, there is a pervasive confusion regarding the relationship between Islam and Islamic terrorism.

An interesting example is the instance the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) which has made great efforts to work with the FBI in the USA - not so much in identifying and catching terrorists but in training the FBI in being more appropriate and sensitive to Muslim sentiments. Yet some journalists have pointed out that many officials of CAIR, have direct links with organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. If this were true, the implications are very serious - the agencies that are supposed to be fighting terrorism are being trained by Muslim organizations on how to be sensitive to Islam, who are themselves sympathizers of terrorist organizations. How much more can our confusion get?

The confusion is pervasive

Thus we see that there is a persistent and pervasive intellectual vacuum in the world as regards to the threat of terrorism. Most countries are spending more and more in their efforts to contain and manage this threat, yet there is no understanding of the root causes of terrorism. And the violence continues. India has paid a heavy price in terms of human life, yet it has no fundamental strategy against terrorism. Every so often, there is yet another horrifying incident; more innocent lives are lost; the government goes into overdrive to keep the peace following the attack, lest there be some outbreak of rioting. And fundamentally nothing changes. We bear the scars of this violence, and brace ourselves for the next attack.

The source of the confusion

There are two fundamental root causes for this pervasive confusion. The first is ignorance about Islam. The second is an overwhelming fear of Islam.

The world by and large has failed to understand either Islamic terrorism or Islam itself. Rigorous scholarship of Islamic writings by non-Islamic scholars has somehow been very weak around the world. Hindus in particular have singularly failed to read the critical Islamic works written in the native languages of Arabic, Persian and Urdu. All of our thinking around Islam is based on secondary materials i.e. translations and commentaries written by Islamic scholars themselves, or scholars who were sympathetic towards Islam, or more pervasively on the testimony of friendly muslims who live in the neighborhood.

This confusion is not a new phenomenon. Humanity has been confused about Islam for 1400 years now. Hindu India, has been losing to Islam for over a 1000 years now - We lost politically first, and entered into an era of submission and servitude. Later, when Islam was weakened by the efforts of Chatrapathi Shivaji, the Sikhs and the Vijayanagaram empire (for a brief period), the British took over India. During the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi made Hindu-Muslim unity as a core plank for fighting the British effectively. He supported the Khilafat movement for the re-establishment of the Khalifa in Turkey, and he hoped that Muslims would join the Hindus in a common battle against the British. He completely failed to see that in the end, the Muslims will demand and get their own lands and territory. India lost huge tracts of land both in the Indus (Sindhu) delta, as well as the Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta, which were some of the most fertile lands of our historic civilization, to newly formed Islamic states, which have become completely hostile to India. The Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been completely neglected and abandoned by India with the result that their populations are being slowly and surely decimated, through threats, intimidation, conversion, killings and expulsions.

To understand this pervasive confusion - for example let us examine the following quotes from Mahatma Gandhi.


Barisaheb assured me that there was warrant enough for Satyagraha in the Holy Koran. He agreed with the interpretation of the Koran to the effect that, whilst violence under certain well-defined circumstances is permissible, self-restraint is dearer to God than violence, and that is the law of love. That is Satyagraha.

Some Muslim friends tell me that Muslims will never subscribe to unadulterated nonviolence. With them, they say, violence is as lawful and necessary as nonviolence. But I have heard it from many Muslim friends that the Koran teaches the use of nonviolence. It regards forbearance as superior to vengeance.

The very word Islam means peace, which is nonviolence. Badshahkhan, a staunch Muslim who never misses his namaz and Ramzan, has accepted out and out nonviolence as his creed. It would be no answer to say that he does not live up to his creed, even as I know to my shame that I do not.


Mahatma Gandhi


What is remarkable about this quotation, is that it contains within it a complete admission that Mahatma Gandhi had never himself read the Quran - Rather he relied on other people"s - especially Muslims" interpretation of the Quran. Secondly, it is also clear that Gandhi is trying to find support for his vision of Non-Violence, in the Quran, rather than attempting to understand the Quran for its own sake. Thirdly, he uses the instance of a moderate Muslim, to establish the general case about Islam itself. And fourthly, Islam does not mean Peace - It means "Submission" as we will see in more detail in our next essay on this topic.


Many Non-Muslim Scholars, Leaders and Politicians, Spiritual Leaders claim that Islam is a peaceful religion, based on their first-hand experience of a few muslims. This is not new. Recently the Dalai Lama also has said that Islam is a peaceful religion. One can be virtually sure that he has not read any of Islam"s source books. While there is no doubt that the vast majority of the Muslims in the world, are not violent people, it is not entirely clear if they are for or against the general ideology of the terrorists.

Understanding Islam

There are fundamentally three sources for the study of Islam. They are :

1. The Quran

2. The Hadith

3. The Sira

The Quran contains the revelations of Allah to Muhammad, as reported by him. Translations of the Quran into English have been done by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Mohammad Marmaduke Pikthall and Mohammad Habib Shakir amongst others. The Hadith represents the traditions of Islam, which essentially are a collection of everything Muhammad said and did during the time he was alive. These were collected by many people who lived along with Muhammad, but the most popular one is by Al Bukhari. The Sira is the biography of Muhammad written by Ibn Ishaq.

To understand Islam, we must study these three books. They represent the complete source and doctrine of Islam, and without studying all of them, Islam will remain confusing. Secondly, the Quran cannot be read sequentially, but rather it must be re-arranged and studied chronologically, i.e. in the sequence in which Muhammad revealed the verses or Allah revealed the verses to Muhammad. Further the life of Muhammad is a central key that unlocks the confusion surrounding Islam. Our study of these books will result in a successive set of "intellectual breakthroughs" that will make the central tenets of Islam clear and unambiguous. As this happens all of the mists of confusion around Islamic terrorism will completely disappear. Islamic terrorism can be finally placed rightfully in the context of Islam"s central doctrines itself, and not as an aberration of an otherwise peaceful tradition. This understanding is the most important step, in our battle against terrorism, and will be the subject of a subsequent essay on this topic.


Kalyan Viswanathan

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