By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
While we must accept political Islamism, radical Islamism must be defeated. There should be no naive optimism and hope that somehow the radicalisation in the Muslim world will end. While dialogue is necessary with political Islam, whose influence is important in certain parts of the world, there can be no negotiating with activist Islamism. The best way to overcome terrorism is to confront it. The next step is to prevent it from recurring. Thus, Muslims must be ensured a future that is free from poverty, illiteracy, and corruption—always fertile breeding grounds for terrorist groups… This is the last article of a two-part series.
“Islam is ideology and faith, homeland and nationality, creed and state, spirit and action, book and sword.”
– Hassan al Banna, 1934
The connection between religion and terrorism is not new. More than 2,000 years ago the first acts of what we now call “terrorism” were perpetrated by religious fanatics. The word “zealot”, which to us means an “immoderate partisan” or a “fanatic”, can be traced back to a millenarian Jewish sect of the same name that fought in A.D. 66-73 against the Roman Empire’s occupation of what is now Israel. The word “assassin” – “one who undertakes to put another to death by deceitful violence” – was the name of a radical offshoot of the Muslim Shia Ismaili Sect, which between A.D. 1090 and 1272 fought to repel the Christian crusaders attempting to conquer present-day Syria and Iran.
Religious and Secular Terrorism
Terrorism motivated either in whole or in part by a religious imperative, where violence is regarded by its practitioners as a divine duty or sacramental act, embraces markedly different means of legitimation and justification than that committed by secular terrorists, and these distinguishing features lead, in turn, to greater bloodshed and destruction.
Until the 19th century, religion provided the only justification for terrorism. Many of the political developments of this era account for the shift in motivation and emphasis that then took place and the growing popularity of various schools of radical political thought, embracing Marxist ideology, anarchism and nihilism, completed the transformation of terrorism from a mostly religious to a mostly secular phenomenon.
The re-emergence of modern religious terrorism was initially closely associated with the Islamic Revolution of Iran. It is not surprising that religion should become a far more popular motivation for terrorism in the post-Cold War era as old ideologies lie discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union and communist ideology, while the promise of magnanimous benefits from the liberal-democratic, capitalist state fails to materialise in many countries throughout the world.
The reasons that terrorist incidents perpetrated for Islamic motives result in so many more deaths can be found in the starkly different value systems, mechanisms of legitimation and justification, concepts of morality and worldviews embraced by the militant Islamist and his secular counterpart.
For the militant Islamist, violence is first and foremost a sacramental act or divine duty executed in direct response to some theological demand or imperative. This type or terrorism thus takes a transcendental dimension and its perpetrators therefore often disregard the political, moral, or practical constraints that may affect other terrorists.
Militant Islamists and secular terrorists have also starkly different perceptions of themselves and their violent acts. Whereas secular terrorists regard violence either as a way of instigating the correction of a flow in a system that is basically good or as a means to foment the creation of a new system, militant Islamists see themselves not as components of a system worth preserving but as “outsiders” seeking fundamental changes in the existing order.
Having this sense of alienation enables the militant Islamists to contemplate far more destructive and deadly types of terrorist operations than secular terrorists, indeed to include a far more open-ended category of “enemies” for attack– that is, anyone who is not a member of Islam or its particular sect. This explains the rhetoric common to “holy terror” manifestos describing those outside of the fold of Islam in denigrating and dehumanising terms as, for example, “infidel”, “dogs”, “pigs”, “monkeys” and “children of Satan”. The deliberate use of such terminology to condone and justify terrorism is very important, for it further erodes constraints on violence and bloodshed by portraying the militant Islamists’ victims as either subhuman or unworthy of living.
Role of Clerics and No Compromise
The role of clerical authority in sanctioning terrorist operations has always been critical to both Shia and Sunni organizations. The fatwa by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini imposing the death sentence on writer Salman Rushdie is a case in point. Similarly, the Sunni extremists who bombed New York City’s World Trade Centre in 1993 specifically obtained a fatwa from Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman before planning their attack.
Militant Islamic fundamentalist organisations portray their struggle in simply uncompromising terms. According to Antar Zouabri, a leader of a 1990s movement to establish an Islamic republic in Algeria, there can never be either dialogue or truce in his organisation’s struggle against the illegitimate, secular government. The word of God, he argued, is immutable: God does not negotiate or engage in discussion.
Driving home the point that Hamas’s war is not only against Israel, but against all Jews, Imam Sheikh Ahmad Ibrahim Yassin reportedly declared, “Six million descendants of monkeys [i.e., Jews] now rule in all the nations of the world, but their day, too, will come. Allah! Kill them all, do not leave even one.”
Conclusion: Don’t Talk, Act
I have written in one of my previous articles that “wrong or weak ideas can be destroyed only by a correct or a superior idea”. But how can we share the correct ideology with someone who is too blind to seeing new things? How can we talk to someone who does not want to negotiate?
While we must accept political Islamism, radical Islamism must be defeated. There should be no naive optimism and hope that somehow the radicalisation in the Muslim world will end. While dialogue is necessary with political Islam, whose influence is important in certain parts of the world, there can be no negotiating with activist Islamism. The best way to overcome terrorism is to confront it. The next step is to prevent it from recurring. Thus, Muslims must be ensured a future that is free from poverty, illiteracy, and corruption—always fertile breeding grounds for terrorist groups.