Islam and terrorism
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
When the terrorists attacked the United States on the morning of September 11, 2001, they set in motion a sequence of events that demonstrated unequivocally the power and influence ofterrorism. Less than two hours of unimaginable violence by nineteen terrorists led to repercussions felt around the world. “Beyond the death and destruction that the terrorists caused more than 3,000 people were killed in the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They also inflicted a deep psychological wound upon United States and the rest of the world”.
Although the United States had experienced major terrorist attacks on its soil in the past, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the September 11 attacks were beyond most people’s worst nightmare. Hijacked planes crashing into U.S. landmarks and live television coverage of the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsing images that will likely be etched in one’s mind forever.
The tragedy of September 11, 2001, has revealed the roots of deep planetary contradictions that threaten the world community and indeed life itself on planet Earth. This act of unprecedented terror against thousands of innocent people ought, at last, to start humanity thinking about the stark incompatibility of modern achievements in the areas of scientific knowledge, human rights, and the establishment of human moral standards with ideological, nationalistic, or religiousfanaticism in any form.
Lately, most of the terrorismseems to be about Islam, and it all seems to be the same. By all accounts the specter of jihadism looms large. Even if we suspend the belief for a moment and simply cast aside all those terrorist groups that clearly have nothing at all to do with the Islamic religion–the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the FARC in Colombia and the IRA in Ireland (to name but a few)–we are still left with a slew of seemingly similar groups all motivated by and distorting Islam to suit their own ends.
The anatomy of propaganda
The document found in a suitcase belonging to leading September 11, 2001, terrorist Muhammed Atta further strengthens this belief. The suitcase document is reproduced below and analysed in the ensuing paragraph: –
“Pray during the previous night. Remember God
frequently and with complete serenity. Visualize
how you will respond if you get into trouble.
Read verses of the Quran into your hands and
rub them over your luggage, knife, and all your
papers. Check your weapons, perform ablution
before you leave your apartment, and remember
God constantly while riding to the airport. Take
courage and remember the rewards which God
has promised for the martyrs”. 
The “suitcase document” is remarkable for four reasons. First, it embodies a classic ascetical strategy for applying formulaic principles to intended actions. Second, it shares much in common with repetitive techniques for self-hypnosis. Third, it bears a striking resemblance to mainstream traditions such as Catholicism in ascetical manuals like The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola or The Rule of St. Benedict that says, “keep death daily before one’s eyes.” Whether or not such manuals threaten human freedom depends, of course, on the various contexts in which they have been presented. If in the wrong hands they can function as formulas and meditations both for indoctrination and for fighting “holy” wars. Fourth, the document from the suitcase directly connectsreligiousformulas and meditations with intentions to perpetrate mass murder. Practical checklists of objectives, terrifying in magnitude, are interwoven withreligiousstatements and then repeated and applied as mantras of self-indoctrination.
Religion – The Terrorists’ Best Weapon
Whileterrorism even in the form of suicide attacks is not an Islamic phenomenon by definition, it cannot be ignored that the lion’s share of terrorist acts and the most devastating of them in recent years have been perpetrated in the name of Islam. This fact has sparked a fundamental debate both in the West and within the Muslim world regarding the link between these acts and the teachings of Islam. Most Western analysts are hesitant to identify such acts with the bona fide teachings of one of the world’s great religions and prefer to view them as a perversion of a religion that is essentially peace-loving and tolerant. Western leaders such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair have reiterated time and again that the war againstterrorismhas nothing to do with Islam. It is a war against evil.
Modern International Islamistterrorismis a natural offshoot of twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism. The “Islamic Movement” emerged in the Arab world and British-ruled India as a response to the dismal state of Muslim society in those countries: social injustice, rejection of traditional mores, acceptance of foreign domination and culture. It perceives the malaise of modern Muslim societies as having strayed from the “straight path” (as-sirat al-mustaqim) and the solution to all ills in a return to the original mores of Islam. The problems addressed may be social or political: inequality, corruption, and oppression. But in traditional Islam–and certainly in the worldview of the Islamic fundamentalist–there is no separation between the political and thereligious. Islam is, in essence, both religion and regime (din wa-dawla) and no area of human activity is outside its remit. Be the nature of the problem as it may, “Islam is the solution.”
The role of religion of Islam needs closer examination since the majority of terrorists of contemporary times are practising the religion of Islam. One of the enduring questions is what religion of Islam has to do with this. Put simply, does religion of Islam cause terrorism? Could these violent acts be the fault of religion-the result of a dark strain of religious thinking that leads to absolutism and violence?
Is religion the problem or the victim?
When one looks outside one’s faith it is easier to blame religion. In the current climate of Muslim political violence, a significant sector of the American and European public assumes that Islam is part of the problem. The implication of this point of view is the unfortunate notion that the whole of Islam has supported acts of terrorism.
Most Muslims refused to believe that fellow members of their faith could have been responsible for anything as atrocious as they September 11 attacks-and hence the popular conspiracy theory in the Muslim world that somehow Israeli secret police had plotted the terrible deed.
Recently, however, “Islam” and “fundamentalism” are tied together so frequently in public conversation that the term has become a way of condemning all of Islam as a deviant branch of religion. But even in this case the use of the term “fundamentalism” allows for the defenders of other religions to take comfort in the notion that their kind of non-fundamentalist religion is exempt from violence or other extreme forms of public behaviour.
Statement of Problem
Terrorism has been a persistent feature of warfare and the international security environment for centuries. The magnitude and impact of terrorism has not remained consistent but rather has ebbed and flowed over the course of time. Today terrorism has emerged as one of the most significant international and regional security issues.
The terror attacks of Sep 11 have brought about a lasting change in the way contemporary society perceives the religion of Islam. The perception of the people all across the globe has been that Islam is source of violence.
Islam is a vast religion and consists of various facets. The dissertation would aim to study the historical perspective of terrorism, conceptualise terrorism and then determine how religion is used as a motivator for terrorism before studying the Quranic interpretations associated with the violence and finally aim to answer the question “Is there a link between Terrorism and Islam”.
The scope does not cover the causes and motivators of terrorism like cultural conflict, globalisation, and economic disparity e.t.c. but is limited to investigate the general belief that Islam is associated with the terrorism.
Methods of Data Collection
Data for this research has been collected from the following sources: –
- Books, journals, periodicals and studies on the subject.
- Authenticated information from selected web sites.
A bibliography of the books, periodicals and web sites referred to is appended at the end of text.
Organisation Of The Dissertation
Topic is intended to be dealt in the sequence enumerated below: –
- The Genesis of Terrorism – A historical perspective.
- Conceptualising terrorism – Definitions.
- How religion is used as a motivator for terrorism.
- Interpretations of Quran and Terrorism.
- Conclusion – Is there a link between Islam and terrorism?
THE GENESIS OF TERRORISM – A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The terrorism is as old as the human civilization. Although the use of violence has been integral to the human beings in the entire process of evolution.
Zealots of Judea. The earliest known organization that exhibited aspects of a modern terrorist organization was the Zealots of Judea. Known to the Romans as sicarii, or dagger-men, they carried on an underground campaign of assassination of Roman occupation forces, as well as any Jews they felt had collaborated with the Romans. Eventually, the Zealot revolt became open, and they were finally besieged and committed mass suicide at Masada fortress.
The Assassins. The Assassins were the next group to show recognisable characteristics of terrorism, as we know it today. A breakaway faction of Shia Islam called the Nizari Ismalis adopted the tactic of assassination of enemy leaders because the cult’s limited manpower prevented open combat. Their leader, Hassam-I Sabbah, based the cult in the mountains of Northern Iran. Their tactic of sending a lone assassin to successfully kill a key enemy leader at the certain sacrifice of his own life (the killers waited next to their victims to be killed or captured) inspired fearful awe in their enemies.
The Zealots of Judea and the Assassins were forerunners of modern terrorists in aspects of motivation, organisation, targeting, and goals. Although both were ultimate failures, the fact that they are remembered hundreds of years later, demonstrates the deep psychological impact they caused.
The period between 14th and 18th century was of relative calm. From the time of the Assassins (late 13th century) to the1700s, terror and barbarism were widely used in warfare and conflict, but key ingredients for terrorism were lacking. Until the rise of the modern nation state after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the sort of central authority and cohesive society that terrorism attempts to influence barely existed.
Communications were inadequate and controlled, and the causes that might inspire terrorism (religious schism, insurrection, ethnic strife) typically led to open warfare. By the time kingdoms and principalities became nations, they had sufficient means to enforce their authority and suppress activities such as terrorism.
The French Revolution. The French Revolution provided the first uses of the words “Terrorist” and “Terrorism”. Use of the word “terrorism” began in 1795 in reference to the Reign of Terror initiated by the Revolutionary government. The agents of the Committee of Public Safety and the National Convention that enforced the policies of “The Terror” were referred to as ‘Terrorists”. The French Revolution provided an example to future states in oppressing their populations. It also inspired a reaction by royalists and other opponents of the Revolution who employed terrorist tactics such as assassination and intimidation in resistance to the Revolutionary agents. The Parisian mobs played a critical role at key points before, during, and after the Revolution. Such extra-legal activities as killing prominent officials and aristocrats in gruesome spectacles started long before the guillotine was first used.
The 19th Century
Narodnya Volya. The terrorist group from this period that serves as a model in many ways for what was to come was the Russian Narodnya Volya (Peoples Will). They differed in some ways from modern terrorists, especially in that they would sometimes call off attacks that might endanger individuals other than their intended target. Other than this, they showed many of the traits of terrorism for the first time. These traits included clandestine tactics, cellular organisation, impatience and inability for the task of organising the constituents they claim to represent and a tendency to increase the level of violence as pressures on the group mount.
Internationalisation of Terrorism
Modern Terrorism. The age of modern terrorism might be said to have begun in 1968 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an El Al airliner en route from Tel Aviv to Rome. While hijackings of airliners had occurred before, this was the first time that the nationality of the carrier (Israeli) and its symbolic value was a specific operational aim. Also a first was the deliberate use of the passengers as hostages for demands made publicly against the Israeli government. The combination of these unique events, added to the international scope of the operation, gained significant media attention. The founder of PFLP, Dr. George Habash observed that the level of coverage was tremendously greater than battles with Israeli soldiers in their previous area of operations. “At least the world is talking about us now.”
Cooperation. Another aspect of this internationalisation is the cooperation between extremist organizations in conducting terrorist operations. Cooperative training between Palestinian groups and European radicals started as early as 1970, and joint operations between the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army (JRA) began in 1974. Since then international terrorist cooperation in training, operations, and support has continued to grow, and continues to this day. Motives range from the ideological, such as the 1980s alliance of the Western European Marxist-oriented groups, to financial, as when the IRA exported its expertise in bomb making as far afield as Colombia.
Current State of Terrorism
The roots of today’s terrorism began to grow in 1990s. The largest act of international terrorism occurred on September 11, 2001 in set of coordinated attacks on the United States of America where Islamic terrorists hijacked civilian airliners and used them to attack the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. After September 11, it is very easy to be nostalgic about the 1990s. In fact, the post Cold War decade was a very chaotic period. Americans were absorbed by domestic issues and lulled by the fact that the Cold War was over.
There were two great forces at work through the 1990s. First, there were the forces of integration, including global economic growth, cross-border development, the communications revolution and the spreading of democracy. The power of these forces was captured in the popular phrase, “The End of History.” That’s what seemed to be happening after the fall of the Berlin Wall and all of the other great events that were affecting world history. But there was also a second set of equally powerful forces-the forces of disintegration-including religious and ethnic conflict, an ever-widening North-South gap, religious fundamentalism (Islamic and otherwise) and terrorism. The power of these forces was captured in the phrase, the “Clash of Civilizations.” While I disagree with the ultimate conclusion of Samuel Huntington, the author of that phrase, that the clash is inevitable, Huntington’s words nonetheless capture the import of the forces that were producing post-Cold War conflicts.
A few terms that are important to the study of violence in Islam are: terrorism, religious terrorism and Islamic terrorism. A discussion of these terms will permit a comprehensive analysis on the way in which the use of violence sanctioned by the Quran and its interpretations amounts to Islamic terrorism.
Terrorism is a non-political act of aggression in which the extent of violence used is “outside the realm of normative behavior”. Terrorists use or threaten to use this violence against combatants and non-combatants to achieve political, social, economical or religious change within a given community. These reforms appeal to the terrorists and do not represent popular opinion of the society from which terrorism arises and “terrorists are no respecters of borders”.
Thus Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir says that “there are no well defined or internationally accepted criteria to designate …an organization as ‘terrorist’. However the UN Security Council has, on occasion, adopted resolutions putting in place specific sanctions and measures against individual countries or…certain terrorist organizations”.
According to Kofi Annan the Ex – Secretary General of the United Nations, the manifestations of terrorism are limitless. The “only common denominator among different variants of terrorism is the calculated use of deadly violence against civilians”.
Terrorists are those who violate the “right to life, liberty and security” vested in each civilian by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Resolution: 217 A (III). Thus the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom defines terrorism as a movement in which terrorists “directly challenge the authority of democratically elected governments to manage their country’s affairs peacefully, according to the rule of law and internationally accepted fundamentals of human rights”, to satisfy their own liking.
Religious terrorism occurs when the use of terrorism is systematized by an ideological and fanatical interpretation of a religious text. Religious terrorist groups functioning in the absence of this pretext, create “junk terrorism”.
According to Charles Kimball, religious terrorism functions on the basis of five essential principles. These are: means justify the end, holy war, blind obedience, absolute truth claims and the ideal times. Kimball explains that ‘truth claims’ are essential points in a religion “at which divergent interpretations arise”. Extreme interpretations of ‘truth claims’ provoke the ideology upon which religious terrorism is based. However the “authentic religious truth claims are never as inflexible and exclusive as zealous adherents insist”. The staunch ‘truth claims’ professed by religious terrorists, allow them to use “religious structures and doctrines…almost like weapons” for their movement.
In the process, “religious convictions that become locked into absolute truths can easily lead people to see themselves as God’s agents. People so emboldened are capable of violent and destructive behaviour in the name of religion”. This conviction creates fanatical interpretations and ideologies that give rise to religious terrorism. Nancy Connors Biggo’s, states that foreign observers are unfamiliar with the extreme interpretations of religious terrorists. Thus scholars often dismiss the rhetoric of religious terrorism as one that is devoid of any strategic motivation. This creates a dearth of quantifiable data that can be used to assess religious terrorism. However Biggo explains that the lack of understanding or data cannot dismiss the fact that religious terrorism is systematized by extreme interpretations of a religious text. Therefore Wener Ruf, states, “where God was pronounced dead all notions of morality have been turned into nihilism”.
Islamic terrorism is a movement in which the violence caused by terrorism is derived from and used to preserve extreme interpretations of the Quran, in an Islamic community. An in-depth discussion of the how Islamic terrorism is invoked from the Quran, will be discussed in a separate chapter. However, preliminarily speaking Islamic terrorism exists where there is “a controversy over sacred space”or a Kuranic tenet has been violated. Participants of this movement call for “unquestioned devotion … and blind obedience” to the word of God in order to ameliorate un-Islamic conditions.
“Islamic terrorism” is itself a controversial phrase, although its usage is widespread throughout the English-speaking world. Ordinary Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism find it reprehensible because it forces upon them a label simply because they, too, are believers of Islam. In fact, the common Muslim believes that you are making him a racial hate target by using the word ‘Islam’ with ‘terrorism.’ Bernard Lewisbelieves that the phrase “Islamic terrorism” is apt, because although “Islam, as a religion” is not “particularly conducive to terrorism or even tolerant of terrorism”. In his own words:
“Islam has had an essentially political character … from its very foundation … to the present day. An intimate association between religion and politics, between power and cult, marks a principal distinction between Islam and other religions. … In traditional Islam and therefore also in resurgent fundamentalist Islam, God is the sole source of sovereignty. God is the head of the state. The state is God’s state. The army is God’s army. The treasury is God’s treasury, and the enemy, of course, is God’s enemy.”
RELIGION AS A MOTIVATOR FOR TERRORISM
The overwhelming problem in the world today, everyone knows, is terrorism, where people in the name of religion kill each other, kill others just to go to heaven, and thinking only they will go to heaven.” …….
Introduction. The dynamics whereby religion becomes a motivator for terrorism is complex but highly understandable. What terrorists groups using this dynamic have begun to understand is that most ordinary citizens are not highly interested in politics nor dedicated to working for social change. Many ordinary citizens are however interested in religion as it relates to their personal lives and morals and because of this they can be emotionally manipulated when they learn of social injustices particularly if they view them through the lens of religious rhetoric. This is specifically true in today’s world of instantaneous news coverage where it is possible to whip up political and religious outrage over events that are seen to be bordering on religious threshold. This is certainly true in the case of al Qaeda and its loosely affiliated groups within what is now commonly referred to as the global salafi jihadist movement.
Religious Brainwash. Following the Afghan war in which Islamic peoples from many nations came together to successfully throw out the Russian “infidel”, Osama bin Laden and similar groups have successfully managed to continue to widen their global appeal by showcasing social injustices against Muslims. This helps to create within a wide group of otherwise less connected Muslim ethnic groups identification with the victims and with each other as a caring and responsive community for their “Muslim brothers.” Typically, these groups make use of the human rights abuses occurring within the Israeli/Palestinian and Russian/Chechen conflicts and now also include the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The making of a Terrorist. While instantaneous and repetitive satellite coverage of worldwide events is enough to show injustices and to even create identification with victims sharing similar ethnic or religious backgrounds it is not sufficiently enough to fuel terrorism. However, with the addition of religious rhetoric it is transformed into a potent mix. This transformation is achieved via the following means:-
- Great Moral Wrong. First the event is presented as a great moral wrong, a threat to religious morality or purity and as one that must be corrected. The message, which is crafted for unhappy persons, social outcasts or those who are already suffering from religious guilt, is framed as one of good and evil and the listener is admonished to be on the side of good.
- Mind of God. The second tactic in which religion is used to motivate terrorism is convincing the person that it is possible to know the mind of God. For this purpose scriptures are used, and misused, to clearly identify the social wrongs as evil, immoral or impure. Once identified as threats to morality, this tactic is used to take it a step further with additional scriptures that are used to justify violence in order to destroy the evil. In this way religion is co-opted as the means to morally justify violence in the pursuit of social change. While the world debated about the first strike in the Iraq War (to be carried out by the U.S., Great Britain and their coalition forces), moralists all over the world debated about the doctrine of “just wars”, thereby holding forth about the “mind of God” on these matters.
- Overcoming Guilt. Thirdly, because nearly all religions hold human life as sacred and forbid murder the scriptures are used to break down these prohibitions against taking innocent human lives. Islamic rhetoric for example refers to the infidels, nonbelievers, defiled, impure, outsiders, and sinners. In this manner the intended terrorist act in ways that take innocent human lives without suffering guilt for having done so.
- Common Cause Fourthly, by using religion as a motivator the terrorist group creates a sense of cohesion and belonging to a higher cause. They prey upon individuals who are alienated and disenfranchised. When these individuals find a cause to belong to, especially when it espouses religious rhetoric of brotherhood, love and hope for the future life they can become powerfully motivated to act in behalf of the group simply for the sense of identity.
- Heroic Martyrdom. The One of the ultimate uses of religion to motivate terrorism is to hold forth a view of the afterlife, promising rewards in the hereafter for sacrificing oneself in the here and now. This is a particularly potent tactic used with those who feel guilty about their actions in this life and uncertain of their standing with God, and with those marginal members of society who suddenly find themselves centered in a group with a purpose. The Muslim interpretation of afterlife while dying for jihad states that the “Prophet will be waiting to welcome the martyr with thousands of virgins lined up for his pleasure”. Referring to afterlife one martyr also states, “I will have God welcome me with open arms. I will be a true hero in the sky.”
Between the two recent wars in Chechnya (1994-96 and 1999) similar means were used to convince vulnerable Chechen individuals to sign on the “new Chechen jihad” which began making use of suicide terrorism in 2000. During this time period terrorist sponsored schools used were opened in the capital Grozny which recruited young boys and girls who lost their fathers in the Russian/Chechen conflicts promising their widowed mothers a good education for their sons and daughters. Unknown to their families these vulnerable young students were indoctrinated into militant Islamic ideas foreign to Chechen experiences of Sufi Islam and some became convinced that the price of belonging to higher glory is to be willing to sacrifice oneself for the group. In the words of a hostage who conversed with one of the Chechen terrorists :-
“He explained to me that while his greatest dream was to continue his education and go to university and that while he wished to live, even more important for him was to die a martyr. He had become totally convinced that martyrdom was his highest calling in life”.
Conclusion. Religion has always been used as a means of constructing social justice, expiating wrongdoing or “sins”, and of modulating emotional states. These means however can also be used to manipulate vulnerable individuals into taking social actions that they might otherwise never have considered or consented to take part in. For instance a colleague in Chechnya reports that the children who attended terrorist based schools were taught to rock and chant repeating Koranic verses that invoke jihad, ideas that their masters consider important to instil. This practice can easily make use of inducing a suggestive hypnotic state; a light trance in which susceptible children who have already reason to want to avenge a murdered parent might be induced to do so. People interacting with such persons mentioned that “these young terrorists were “brainwashed”, rocking, singing and praying often, and readily embracing death”.
QURANIC INTERPRETATIONS AND TERRORISM
Approximately fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad, the last in the line of the prophets of Islam, received revelation from God known as the Qur’an, which is the Final Testament. He came with a message of peace and reconciliation, mercy and compassion. Yet, ever since the beginning of the call of Islam, its image and that of Muslims has been subject to distortion, misconceptions, and misinterpretations. This chapter aims at establishing the link between Quran and the distortions in its interpretation which has manifested itself in the form of jihad or the holy-war.
Quran and Sanction of Violence
The Quran permits violence as an act of defence waged to protect the Shariat in an Islamic community. The Shariat can be explained as a system of ordinances outlined in the Quran and Hadis through which “God lays down for mankind the rules of conduct”. The Shariat is the “guidance for all walks of life – individual and social, material and moral, economic and political, legal and cultural, national and international”.
Muslims are advised to closely follow the Shariat to acquire the well being that God has envisioned for the Islamic community. Preservation of the Shariat is an “obligation of every able-bodied individual”. “Oppression, despotism, injustice and criminal abuse of power” of the Shariat by Muslims or non-Muslims, must be punished.
Quran and Jihad
The Quran identifies three main kinds of Jihad that can be used for the punishment of oppression and injustice. These are: internal, external and inter-communal. The Quran permits the use of violence as an optional method for all three forms of Jihad but it limits the use of violence in ‘internal’ and ‘external’ Jihad. It expands on its doctrine of Jihad and violence, mainly in the context of ‘inter-communal’ conflicts. In these cases, Muslims can individually determine the nature and extent of Jihad based on the ‘freedom of interpretations’, and the geopolitical conditions in which the conflict arises. However the most essential prerequisite in the Quran’s discourse on violence is that, force should be used only when the Shariat has been violated and needs to be persevered as the “very
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