By Monaem Sarker
November 28, 2013
ISLAM is a religion of peace. Unfortunately, the word Islam has become synonymous with terrorism. A deeper analysis and examination is required to understand why this has happened. Global politics have led to the birth of certain issues which have always been witnessing the volcanic eruption of terrorism, which was described as Islamist terrorism.
The trouble did not originate from preaching of religion. Let us cite the example of Palestine. For more than six decades the Middle East has witnessed violent clashes between Israel and Palestine, which have been described 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 Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Palestine changed hands many times 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 city for Muslims. 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.
After the Balfour Declaration about 300,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine between 1922 and 1939 and bought Arab-owned land. The Arab majority feared a Zionist plan to dispossess them and make Palestine a Jewish state. During Second World War, as Nazi destruction of European Jews proceeded, Zionist leaders pressed for a Jewish state and unrestricted immigration into Palestine.
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 seed of conflict was 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, frustration grew among the Arab youths, particularly those who had become homeless due to Jewish occupation and were compelled to take shelter under various armed organisations. These organisations cropped up because of political conflict and not religious preaching.
The perpetrators of 9/11 were once the blue eyed boys of the US. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan focused several discrete strategic agenda. The US saw it as a way of bleeding the Russians by using Afghan proxies. Afghanistan is estimated to have cost the Soviet Union some $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, the resistance movement against Soviet occupation.
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 the Soviet invasion. The US indiscriminately inspired and instigated Muslims to join the war and provided them with arms and money. During this period, an organisation called al-Qaeda flourished under the charismatic leadership of Osama Bin Laden. He was Yemeni by birth, settled in Saudi Arabia, and an engineer by profession. He was a billionaire too. Al-Qaeda opened an office in the affluent Peshawar suburb of Hyatabad.
The rise of so-called Islamist terrorism in many Muslim states was due to the misrule, corruption and authoritarian behaviour of the rulers. In Somalia, a group of leftist army officers led by Maj. Gen. Mohammad Siad Barre seized power in 1969. Masquerading as a socialist ideologue, he imposed dictatorship. In 1991, Barre 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 piracy in the ships passing through the Horn of Africa.
In Algeria, the democratic leader Ahmed Ben Bella was deposed by his 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 Chadhli. The army and FLN (the organisation which fought for liberation) leadership constantly harped on their heroic revolutionary role in the liberation struggle in 1950 through 60. Meanwhile, the leadership 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 Swiss banks, leaving the common people in abject poverty. Deep frustration was created among the young people who helped accelerate the rise of Islamists, and they assured justice and elimination of corruption. This resulted in direct clash between the rulers and the Islamists, causing loss of innumerable lives.
Turkey became a secular country when Kemal Ataturk shut down all kinds of madrasas. But in 1950s, the US government threatened to stop all aid to Turkey if it did not open a limited number of madrasas.
Meanwhile, the world was torn by the Cold War between two superpowers — United States and USSR. US 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, which was easy to do among the poor and less educated people. The US religiously followed this dictum.
What do we learn from the above discourse? Conflicts arose due to the Cold War, or misrule and corruption. They had nothing to do with religion. If we read the history of Islam, we will find that it was spread mainly by Sufis and the Ulema. 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 religion into Islam. Islamic saints, Sufis and Ulema were able to impress the people and there was peaceful conversion. Due to misconception or deliberate attempt by a section of the media, the misguided people who became terrorists being are dubbed as Islamist terrorists.
Monaem Sarker is DG, Bangladesh Foundation for Development Research