Thursday, August 11, 2005

MANY FACES OF GLOBAL TERROR

By Syed Farooq Hasnat, Ph.D.


As the war against international terror continues, it has generated a variety of dimensions, many beyond the scope of initial estimates. The latest bomb blasts (July 7) in Britain, send a message that this dilemma is not confined to the Jihadi outfits in the Muslim countries alone, but has its placement, even within the Western societies. In other words, the phenomenon has acquired many faces and features, each having its own dynamics and explanations. All the four London bombers were British citizens by birth, educated in the British school system and integrated members of the British society. If ever they visited a Pakistani Madrasa, it was for a short duration and it is inconceivable that they could be brain washed in such a period of time. No doubt they took out their frustrations in a wrong way, but was it a part of international Jihadi network? Or they acted for some home grown reason. These are the questions that remain hidden in the puzzle that exists at global level, and in this “fog of rhetoric”, little seems to be clear. On its part, the West has hyped up the tempo of attention against international terrorism, mainly to gain its military, economic and strategic interests – though a genuine concern for their national security must be recognized. Some of the extreme right in the United States have advocated for a global empire. Neoconservatives, as William Kristol, said on Fox television recently that, “if people want to say we're an imperial power, fine." But everyone in the U.S. does not conform to this idea. There is a valid fear expressed in the existing circumstances that as the trends show, there is a good possibility that “the world shall plunge headlong into a bottomless abyss of reaction and counter-reaction whose horror the human mind cannot comprehend.” Representing a more comprehensive view, a Pakistani physics Professor, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy warned that two nascent fundamentalisms - that of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden - are heading toward a dreadful collision.”
Fearing a widespread backlash immediately after 9/11, a variety of scholars in the Muslim societies struggled for a definition of the very word terrorist and more so Islamic terrorist. Now, there has been so much rapid transformation in settling down to this non-state monster that new fears and suspicions have overtaken the debate on the definition. In fact, the definition by itself has become irrelevant. War against terrorism revealed many paradoxes within the Middle Eastern countries, its weaknesses and pressures to open up their societies. Some leaders ducked to gain time, while struggling for their own survival. While others, veiled their self-interest as national interest, camouflaged by an impression that their each act is meant to strengthen an alliance against global terrorism. Such duplicity between the competing interests hinders an over all efforts to combat global terrorism. At the same instance, it holds back a national effort to build democratic and national institutions in the country. In military dictatorships like Pakistan and Egypt, the elements of extremism is all over the place, religious being one of the many faces of the tendency. The main source of intolerance and bigotry comes from the dictatorial structures themselves, who under the guise of confronting terror have cleverly strengthened the state authority for their benefit.
Although the acts of terror are spread over a wide canvas, but each event and situation has its own dynamism. The suicide bombers in Iraq are motivated by reasons that are different from London or bombing at the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh. However, there is no denial to the fact that the modus operandi of these terrorist acts has common premises. These are influenced by the symbolism of Osama bin Laden, although the carriers might not be even aware of him, being alive or dead. Nevertheless, the symbolism marches on, hard and real. In this case, religion has become a convenient vehicle to legitimize the acts of desperation. It might be Eric Rudolph, who bombed the abortion clinics in the United States or the acts of Shehzad Tanweer and his companions that killed scores in London, or Eden Nathan Zaada, from the Jewish settlement of Tapuah in the West Bank, who spared bullets on innocent Arab passengers - the basic underlying principle remains the same, yet disjointed from each other. When it comes exclusive to the Muslim acts, it is recognized by the London police that the July bombing though “bear the `hallmarks’ of al-Qaeda but that could still mean the bombers were inspired and influenced, rather than directed, by it.” The video message of Ayman al-Zawahri is being interpreted more as an “opportunistic attempt by al-Qaeda to exploit the London attacks as a vehicle for pushing its own agenda”.
Dominic Casciani of the BBC, interviewed British Muslim youth to find out their reactions, regarding the kinds of frustrations that they have, living in the British society. His account of August 4 is revealing and goes deep into the relationship between extremism and the society. A youth worker who has worked in some of the poorest communities in the UK report on Muslim youth, "I've been working with young Muslims and they're angry - really angry and nobody wants to talk about this," he says. "When you go up north and see the conditions, it's like two different countries - and they feel that. The alienation complex comes down to the lack of a cohesive and confident society. Some of them see Osama Bin Laden as a bit of a hero - they see the Palestinian suicide bombers as strong - it's not because terrorism is an Islamic thing, it's about defiance - giving the finger to the West and authority. But it doesn't have to all be bad news. All it takes is a bit of thought from government.”
In the present war against terror, the Muslim societies in general have been elusive, in providing an explanation. Regarding the rise of militancy, various apologetic arguments are presented by the analysts of these societies in general and Pakistan in particular. Some of the leaders of the Muslim countries, for the sake of convenience, do not make a fair distinction between different shades of Islamic groups. In Pakistan and elsewhere there are those that remain a part of the political process, with well defined political agendas, while others rely purely on sabotage, killings, hate and bigotry. The latter does not believe in a peaceful participation in country’s political process, are obscure and can be categorized as extremists or even terrorists. There is also a third category of extremist religious group, which are sectarian in nature, confining their murders, within the community. This deliberate mixing up of groups by the elite has created more problems than presenting a solid solution against terrorist groups and their acts. By alienating various groups within their society and narrowing the support base, these regimes have provided more ground to the extremists. But this is how dictatorship works.
The dynamics of global terror campaign is having a significant impact on global politics as well as strategies. More fearful is the thought that what if these groups get hold of a “dirty bomb”. Its consequences are frightening and beyond imagination. U.S. Republican Congressman from Colorado, Tom Tancredo had said that in case of a terrorist nuclear attack on the U.S., Mecca should be bombed. Responding, a Syrian political analyst Ahmed al-Haj Ali held that, "American mentality imagines that a religion is attacking another religion, and here lies the danger." Associate Press writer Diana Elias, warns that such sentiments, “comes from our Americans' general misunderstanding of Islam, American jingoism, the constant suggestions of religious crusade by American leaders, or deep fear-filled wounds of a young country which has little recent memory of enemies coming to our home turf, this line of extremist response should be addressed. Why is it, after all, that Americans are more afraid of Muslims with bombs than other types of terrorists? It must come from somewhere.” But there are saner voices in the Western world as well. Way back in September 2001, French President Jacques Chirac called not to confuse between the Muslim communities and fanatic terrorist groups. He said that it is not only “wrong in logic but also dangerous in consequences.”
The responsibility of defusing Global terror lies with both, the Muslim communities and the West, to show tolerance for each other and strive together to locate the reasons for extremism.