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Mainstream, VOL LI No 52, December 14, 2013 | Focus on Challenge of Religious Fanaticism to Democracy in Bangladesh

Islamist Terrorism — A Tragic Oxymoron

Thursday 19 December 2013, by Monaem Sarker

The literal meaning of the Arabic word ‘Islam’ is peace. Islam is a religion of peace. Unfortunately the word Islam has become synonymous with terrorism. A deeper analysis and examination is required to understand these tragic phenomena. Global politics has led to the birth of certain issues which have always been witnessing the volcanic eruption of terrorism pretentiously described as Islamist Terrorism.

The trouble did not originate from preaching religion. Let us cite the example of Palestine. For more than six decades the Middle East has witnessed violent clashes between Israel and Palestine that have been characterised by the Western press as Islamist Terrorism. Palestine is an ancient land in southern Asia on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is known as the holy land of the Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Traces of a Palestinian culture existing before 6500 BC have been found. Between 3000 and 2000 BC various groups of Semitic people came from the northeast and settled in the region. The history of Palestine was not different from other stories as found in the annals of other regions. Palestine changed hands in the long period of its existence. Finally it fell to the Muslims in 636-40 AD. The region was absorbed into the Arab world and Jerusalem became an important Muslim city.

During World War I British troops under General Allenby occupied Palestine ending 400 years of Turkish rule. Immediately after occupation the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 pledging its support for a Jewish national home in Palestine. The League of Nations made Palestine a British mandate in 1922.

Probably the Jewish claims have arisen from the fact that the kingdom of Israel was founded by Saul about 1020 BC. If past history was to be taken into consideration, there would be the question of the return of the natives and original inhabitants in many present-day modern states and their reallocation. This is simply an impossible and impractical proposition. But this has been made possible in the case of Israel. After the Balfour Declaration about 300,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine between 1922 to 1939 and they bought Arab-owned land. The Arab majority feared a Zionist plan to dispossess them and make Palestine a Jewish state.

During the Second World War as the Nazi destruction of the European Jews proceeded, Zionist leaders pressed for a Jewish state and unrestricted immigration to Palestine. Smuggling of Jewish immigrants became widespread and there were bloody clashes between the Jews and Arabs and between the Jews and British. Great Britain decided the Palestine problem was beyond its power to solve and referred it to the United Nations.

In November 1947 the UN voted to partition Palestine between the Arabs and Jews with Jerusalem located in an international zone. Arab leaders rejected the plan and fighting broke out. In May 1948 as the British mandate ended, Jewish leaders proclaimed the state of Israel. David Ben-Gurion became the first Prime Minister. This is how the seeds of conflict were sown in the Middle East and from then on it has been an area of armed struggle and a permanent threat to world peace.

Moreover frustrations among the Arab youth, particularly those who have become homeless due to Jewish occupation, have compelled them to take shelter under various armed organisations. These have cropped up because of political conflicts and not religious preachings.

The perpetrators of the apocalypse of 9/11 (destruction of the Twin Towers of New York) were once the blue-eyed boys of the USA. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan focused several discreet strategic agenda. The US saw it as a way of bleeding the Russians by using its Afghan proxies. It cost the USSR both blood and treasure. Afghanistan is estimated to have cost the Soviet Union some US $ 45 billion by the time the Russians retreated, leaving a million Afghans dead at the expense of fifteen thousand Red Army casualties. The US gave all-out support to the Afghan Mujahideen activists in the resistance movement against Soviet occupation. The Saudi Government was also a major partner of the US assistance programme. Saudi money was sent to the Washington embassy and then transferred to a Swiss Bank account of the CIA, which used the funds to purchase weapons for the Afghan Mujahideen.

However, the operational activities in the field like recruitment of Mujahids and armed attack on the occupation forces were conducted by the ISI, the Army intelligence agency of Pakistan. More than three million Afghans took refuge in Pakistan, most of them staying near the Pak-Afghan border. This facilitated smooth operation for the ISI as these Afghan refugee camps were the hotbeds for recruitment of Afghan rebels. Volunteers were drawn from Arab countries as well as the subcontinent including Bangladesh. Even the son of Hafezzi Huzur was killed along with a number of Bangladeshi Madrasa students fighting in Afghanistan. The activists in Afghanistan included the infamous Mufti Hannan who is in jail for a number of cases including the case of the August 21, 2004 grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina’s meeting in Bangabandhu Avenue. Only the dead body of Hafezzi Huzur’s son was brought to Bangladesh.

In fact the Afghan issue led to the growth of hydra-headed terrorist organisations. The US patronised all Muslim organisations that came forward to fight against the Soviet invasion. Rather, the US indiscriminately inspired and instigated the Muslims to join the war and provided them with arms and money. During this period an organisation, known as the Al-Qaeda, flourished under the charismatic leadership of Osama bin Laden, Yemini by birth, settled in Saudi Arabia, by profession an engineer. He was a billionaire too. The Al-Qaeda opened an office in the affluent Peshawar suburb of Hyatabad.

This office recruited volunteers for the Afghan war. They would receive salary between US $ 1000 and US $ 1500 per month. Osama bin Laden, the chief of the Al-Qaeda, did not stop his activities even at the end of the Soviet invasion. Meanwhile he dreamt of implementing his agenda—the global Jehad. And 9/11 was the result of this programme. Today innumerable terrorist organisations, hitherto described as bodies run by Islamist Terrorists have been operating in Pakistan. They are involved in sectoral killings of, say, Shia Muslims. Women and children too are not spared by them.

Pakistan has been a failed state. The Pakistani cricket team, one of the best in the world,        cannot play in their home grounds as no team from abroad would dare visit Pakistan. The irony is that all these organisations were nourished, guided and financed by the ISI and wholeheartedly supported by the CIA during the Afghan war.

The rise of the so-called Islamist Terrorism in many Muslim states was due to the misrule, corruption and authoritarian behaviours of the rulers. In Somalia a group of Leftist Army officers, led by Major General. Mohammad Siad Barru, seized power in 1969. Masquerading as socialist ideologues they imposed a hard dictatorship. In 1991 Barru was overthrown by a coalition of rebel groups. These groups lacked a unified command. As a result Somalia has been a victim of factional war. Every group has been spreading in its own way. Somalia has attained notoriety for conducting piracy of ships passing through the Horn of Africa.

In Algeria the democratic leader, Ahmed Ben Bella, was deposed by his own friend in 1965 and control of the country was taken over by Hourie Boumediene who pursued a policy of socialism. He died in 1978 and was succeeded by Col. Benjedid Chadhi. The Army and FLN (the organisation which fought for the country’s liberation) leadership constantly harped on their heroic revolutionary role in the liberation struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile the leadership has moved away from socialism and encouraged private ownership. These corrupt leaders used privatisation of land to build luxury villas and private factories. Money earned from oil and gas was transferred to the Swiss bank leaving the common people in abject poverty. Deep frustration was generated among the young people who helped accelerate the rise of Islamists who spoke of justices and elimination of corruption subsequently. This resulted in a direct clash between the rulers and the Islamists causing innumerable loss of lives. Turkey became a full secular country. Kamal Ataturk shut down all kinds of Madrasas. But in the 1950s the US Government threatened to stop all aid to Turkey if they were unwilling to open a limited number of Madrasas.

Meanwhile the world was torn by the Cold War between two superpowers, that is, the USA and USSR. The United States would create a green belt around the world to stop the advent of the red power. So they were ready to rouse the religious sentiment of the people. It is easy to rouse such sentiments among the poor and less educated people. The USA religiously followed this dictum.

From the above discourse what we find is that conflicts arose due to the Cold War, or misrule and corruption. These had nothing to do with religion. If we read the history of Islam, we would find that it spread better through the Sufis and Ulemas. In this subcontinent the Muslims ruled for more than seven hundred years. But most of the rulers did not play any dominant role in converting people of other religions into Islam. Islamic saints, Sufis and Ulemas were able to impress upon the people and there was peaceful conversion. The people who became terrorists due to the miscon-ceptions or deliberate attempts by a section of the media to misguide them are constantly dubbled as Islamist Terrorists.

The author is the Director-General, Bangladesh Foundation for Development Research, Dhaka.

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