By Tufail Ahmad
July 2, 2015
Mourners at a Sousse beach in Tunisia after Friday’s attack (Photo: ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES)
An international Jihadist war is raging across continents. Before and during this holy month of Ramzan that began on 19 June, Muslims have been butchered every day not by right- wing Christian and Hindu Islamophobes, but by devout Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations. But Friday, 26 June, was one of Islam’s darkest hours. In Kuwait City, a suicide bomber exploded himself in Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq mosque, killing more than two dozen Shia worshippers who had gathered for weekly Friday prayers. The Islamic State, or ISIS, claimed the attack in a statement that described the Kuwaiti mosque as a ‘temple for the polytheistic Rafidites (Shias)’. Journalists in Saudi Arabia, where two Shia mosques at Qatif and Dammam were attacked by ISIS in May, avoided identifying the Kuwaiti mosque as a ‘Shia’ place of worship.
In Tunisia’s resort town of Sousse, an ISIS terrorist butchered 39 people on a beach, mostly Western tourists. Later in a statement, the ISIS declared that it had targeted ‘malignant dens infested with fornication, vice and unbelief’ in Sousse. This was not this year’s first attack in Tunisia. On 18 March, a jihadist attack on Bardo Museum in Tunis killed nearly two dozen people. Also on 26 June, in France, a terrorist decapitated his boss at a chemical factory near the town of Lyon and took a selfie with the severed head before sending it to his jihadist brethren abroad via WhatsApp. In Somalia, Al-Shabab militants killed 30 UN peacekeeping soldiers at Leego.
On the same day, in Afghanistan the Taliban carried out an attack in Want Waygal district of Nuristan province, claiming to have killed more than a dozen Afghan security men. It preceded a series of attacks across Afghanistan, including a 22 June attack on the Afghan parliament. A few weeks earlier, on 13 May, an attack on Kabul’s Park Palace guesthouse that killed several Indians seems to have had India’s ambassador in Kabul as its prime target. It could have taken India-Pakistan relations to a new depth. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency, said the attack was planned in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the birthplace of Al-Qaeda and international jihad in modern times.
If jihad were a weather pattern, it is monsoon season in Britain and America. The unending stories of teenagers and women from Britain migrating to Syria to wage jihad and rising cases of Muslim youths in America being arrested and indicted in courts for trying to facilitate the travel of others to Syria and for planning to materially support ISIS betokens the arrival of something more sinister in the years ahead. While Britain appears to be failing to control the tide of Jihadism in its towns, European nations appear vulnerable over the next decade. America appears to be meeting the challenge with the efforts of its police forces, not because of the White House’s foreign policies against global jihad.
Threat to Modern Democracies
American journalist Patrick Poole wrote recently that 53 terror suspects were arrested or involved in Islamist terror in America as of 22 June this year, as against 48 in 2013 and 2014 combined. The rapidity of such incidents in America occurring in June alone is alarming. On 2 June, Usaamah Abdullah Rahim of Massachusetts was killed as he fought an FBI agent. His co-conspirator Dawud Sharif Abdul Khaliq was arrested the same day. On 10 June, Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem of Arizona was charged for his role in the attempted Garland terror attack. He had discussed a plan to attack the Super Bowl, a major sporting event. On the same day, teenager Reza Niknejad of Virginia, who moved to Syria this year, was charged in absentia with attempting to provide support to ISIS. Ali Shukri Amin, a co-conspirator, pleaded guilty before a court.
On 11 June, Akmal Zakirov of a Brooklyn-based terror cell was charged with assisting others to travel to Syria. The same day, Nuh Amriki of Rhode Island was arrested for conspiracy to support ISIS. Two days later, Munther Omar Saleh was arrested for plotting to set off a pressure cooker bomb in New York. On 17 June, Fareed Mumuni of New York was arrested for trying to stab a cop. On the same day, Samuel Rahamin Topaz of New Jersey was arrested for recruiting others for ISIS. On 19 June, Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi of Ohio was arrested for providing ISIS material support. On 22 June, Justin Nojan of North Carolina was charged with attempting to support ISIS.
America is not immune from the war raging across continents, but sting operations carried out by its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have prevented major terror attacks. For India, sting operations could be a better alternative than fake encounters which can morally corrode the country’s security agencies. The fact that Britain and America, despite being well-secured democracies with strong rule of law, are gripped by jihadist ideas should be a matter of grave concern for all free societies. After the end of World War II, Western democracies needed defending from the armed ideology of communism. Seven decades on, democracies still need defending. India, a vibrant democracy on the cusp of achieving ‘great power’ status, should not dismiss the jihadist threat to its citizens. As jihadist ideas travel across geographies, Indian Muslims are particularly vulnerable.
The Islamic Internationale After 1979
The recent spate of jihadist attacks—occurring across disparate geographies in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe—have a single binding factor: the ideology of jihad. A day before the attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, on 25 June, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) released a special issue of its magazine Resurgence, based exclusively on an interview with Adam Yahiye Gadahn, Al-Qaeda’s American born spokesman who was killed in a US drone strike in Waziristan this January. The interview reveals the Pakistani state’s close connections with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and sheds light on why youths join global jihad.
In the posthumously published interview, which was conducted sometime towards the end of 2014, Gadahn was asked what motivated him to join the Afghan jihad. Gadahn, who reached Pakistan in 1997 from California, said: “Besides the desire to discharge the individual obligation of jihad, I think I was motivated by two things in particular which are common to almost all those who mobilise: the urge to help and defend persecuted and oppressed Muslims wherever they might be, and the urge to help in the establishment of the Islamic state. And in my case, there was also an urge to see an Islamic government—the Taliban— at work.” These are also exactly the reasons why Muslim youths are moving to Syria to join ISIS.
From California to Kandahar or the Caucasus to Kabul, the idea of an international jihad in modern times has caught the imagination of Muslim youths from the 1980s onward. While the jihadist groups were focused previously on a specific territory, the idea of an ‘Islamic Internationale’ seems to have originated in the following: the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini, the rise of Al-Qaeda and now of the Islamic State, which is practically a new version of Al-Qaeda itself. In his interview, Gadahn observed that Al-Qaeda from its very inception has “always been an Islamic Internationale and has never limited itself to a particular country or region”. Al-Qaeda, though led by Arab commanders, is essentially a Pakistani organisation, established in Peshawar in 1988 on the watch of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and from there, it spread to the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
Ayatollah Khomeini, the ISI, Al-Qaeda and ISIS all share the same ideological objective—the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, the only difference being that the ISI views Pakistan as the head of such an international regime. By the time Al-Qaeda was established in 1988, the ISI had emerged victorious in Afghanistan, was in the process of seeding India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir with Afghan-like jihad, and Pakistani passports were being issued to foreign jihadists towards the late-1980s.
In her book, The Wrong Enemy, celebrated journalist Carlotta Gall reports: ‘Anyone who went [to Pakistani terror camps] for training to fight in Afghanistan was promised Pakistani citizenship. It reminded me of ethnic Uighurs from China whom I had once met on a bus to Kashgar in 1990… They had been issued brand-new Pakistani passports, which they proudly showed me. They were part of a covert Pakistani government- sanctioned program that was creating an army of Mujahideen and spreading Islamist ideology to Central Asia and beyond.’ The ISI, which considers itself the ideological guardian of the Islamic state of Pakistan, has always pursued a policy of global jihad. Sometime from 2011 onwards, members of the ISI’s protégé Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were first to begin arriving in Iraq and Syria to work with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, now the leader of ISIS.
The Pakistan Army’s Jihadism
It escapes our attention that at least three major terror operations in recent times—the 9/11 attacks, the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and the 6 September 2014 failed bid to hijack a Pakistani navy ship to mount attacks on Indian and US warships in the Indian Ocean—appear to have been planned by a single mind in the ISI. On 9/11, the jihadists launched air- borne invasions using GPS-controlled planes; on 26/11, they used GPS-controlled boats for a seaborne incursion in South Mumbai; and the 6 September attack to take over the Pakistani frigate PNS Zulfiqar was perhaps the boldest attempt to replicate the former two attacks. Without the ISI’s support, similar attacks in the pre-9/11 years could not have been planned by Al-Qaeda alone; it was relatively new.
Adam Gadahn’s interview reveals also the following: one, his early radicalisation was facilitated by South Asian Islamist groups such as the Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami in Los Angeles and a Pakistani Halal meat shop owner his family came in touch with; two, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the Pakistani state’s ISI are virtually inseparable. Gadahn reveals that General Pervez Musharraf, who had seized power in Islamabad in October 1999, sent Afghan Taliban ruler Mullah Mohammad Omar “a gift of an armour-plated, bulletproof Mercedes-Benz sedan or limousine worth about one million dollars”.
In 2015, the Pakistani state’s relationship with these jihadist organisations remains a matter of serious concern. As Pakistan carries out military operations against some jihadists, it has continued to protect the JeM, Hizb ul Mujahideen, Lashkar- e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network, which is part of the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar. It protected Osama bin Laden and continues to protect JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar. For his second and final trip to Pakistan, Gadahn returned straight to a Tablighi Jamaat ijtema (congregation) in Raiwind, Lahore, in 1998, and also stayed for a short period at Kuwait Hostel of the International Islamic University in Islamabad. What happened at this hostel is interesting.
His interview re-establishes the symbiotic relationship between the JeM, ISI and Al-Qaeda. From Kuwait Hostel, Gadahn was picked up by JeM men sent by Abu Aa’id Al-Filisteeni aka Joseph Adams, a Palestinian Al-Qaeda militant. Adams, Gadahn recounts, “dispatched two Pakistani brothers to pick me up from the hostel. They told me they were from the group headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was still in an Indian prison.”
There are two more interviews of Taliban commander Adnan Rashid and Shamsh Kashmiri, a former JeM deputy chief, that indicate that Jaish-e-Muhammad is definitely a branch of the ISI and will remain a cause of concern in the Indian Subcontinent. Adnan Rashid revealed in a 2013 interview that as a Pakistan Air Force staffer, he was sent to a JeM training camp where he realised: “We are soldiers in uniform” and JeM members “Are soldiers without uniform”; “We follow them and they take instruction from our institutions—the ISI.” Rashid was part of a jihadist unit in the Pakistan Air Force called Idarat-ul-Pakistan (‘institution of Pakistan’), whose express objective was to create and nurture a jihadist network across the Pakistani armed forces.
Shamsh Kashmiri revealed in a video interview last year that when Pakistan shut down the offices of jihadist groups under global pressure in 2001, Ashfaq Kayani, the then ISI chief, increased salaries to operatives of JeM, Lashkar-e-Taba, Hizbul Mujahideen and others. Kayani was later elevated to the post of Pakistan army chief by President Musharraf, on whose watch the Kargil and Mumbai incursions were planned. Just to keep in mind: the ISI protected Osama bin Laden; it continues to protect Mullah Mohammad Omar, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Maulana Masood Azhar, Syed Salahuddin and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Pakistan’s so-called counter-terror programme is a façade aimed at misleading international opinion. Pakistan has the capacity to set off jihadist fire in the region.
Which Way Forward Collectively?
In one of his statements, slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden compared the US-led West with an octopus and urged fellow jihadists to ‘strike the head, and the legs, arms and everything else will come down. It’s an octopus, and its head is Crusader/ Zionist America and Israel.’ If jihadists see Western Civilisation as an octopus, Jihadism and its soft version of Islamism can be compared with an amoeba, which reproduces by replicating itself and cannot be understood in isolation of Islam.
With apologies both to amoebae and octopuses, the recent jihadist attacks in Sydney, Mumbai, Peshawar, Kabul, Qatif, Dammam, Kuwait City, Sousse, Tunis, Leego, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Boston and Toronto indicate that such a global ideological challenge of our times cannot be eliminated by countries acting individually, which is helpful but not sufficient. This Jihadism being wreaked upon Muslim and Western countries is not new. In 930 CE, a jihadist group called Qaramta led by Abu Tahir Suleiman invaded Mecca, targeted Hajj pilgrims and carried out ISIS-like mass murders in the holy city as well as in several parts of Iraq, as ISIS does today.
However, the ability of modern civilisation to contain and manage such conflicts of history is dependent essentially on big powers such as the US, UK, Germany, France and Russia. They alone have the military, diplomatic and economic muscle to shape the international system of states that emerged from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, with sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s affairs agreed upon as the defining characteristics of nation states. The 1648 agreement ended the Thirty Years War, during which conflicts between Protestant and Catholic states had transformed into a war between the great powers of the time.
The United Nations (UN), created in 1945 to anchor this Westphalian international state system, has become inconsequential in managing the interests of nation states, thereby giving birth to conflicts. At some level, Jihadism also serves the interests of some states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, much as Shia militias in Iraq serve Iran’s interests. The need is to scrap the UN and create a new international state system; and countries like China and India that are motivated to derive the benefits of a new order must shoulder the sacrifices involved in creating such a global regime. The crisis of Islam is also an opportunity for the consequential world powers to join hands to collectively meet the challenge of jihadism, and in doing so, create a new system of states.
The Possibility of Reforming Islam
Arguably, Islam represented a new civilisation in the seventh century CE, but civilisations too decay and become redundant over the course of centuries as their members acquire new beliefs, attitudes and outlooks. Civilisations that don’t accord with change harm the interests of their people. The failure of Islam as commonly practised to accommodate change means it is damaging the interests of Muslims everywhere. If Muslim teenage girls are migrating to Syria to wed jihadists, it is reasonable to infer that their attitudes were shaped at least partly by their parents at the dining table. A larger conversation on Islamic reform must begin in families, mosques and neighbourhood cafes.
After the 26 June attack, Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid announced that 80 mosques will be closed within a week for spreading extremism. If such a statement had come from a Western leader, he would have been declared an ‘Islamophobe’. But Essid’s announcement is an acknowledgement that Jihadism cannot be seen in isolation of Islam. Following the attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, Lebanese journalist Eyad Abu Shakra questioned the silence of Muslims against ISIS, quoting his colleague Nadim Koteich, who wrote in an earlier article titled ‘We Are All ISIS’: ‘It doesn’t matter which Islamic text, whether it is Quranic or jurisprudential, or a text recounting the sayings of Prophet Muhammad; the killers do not kill for nothing, they kill in the name of books, Fatwas, verses and age-old tradition. All of these things are inseparable parts of true Islam.’
Totalitarian and theocratic states such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and China can crush jihadist groups, but this luxury is not available to democratic states. Therefore at the individual level, democratic nations like India must engage Muslim communities while empowering law enforcement agencies to contain jihadist organisations within law. In the post-9/11 years, it has been argued that change in Muslim societies must come from within. This position is contrary to the experience of history. In every society across time, change has come through interactions with foreign ideas, technologies and wars—the rapid forces of globalisation. While it is essential to check extremist Islamic clerics, it is equally necessary to empower those clerics that understand the importance of democracy in empowering people in modern times.
In April, the US-based Pew Research Centre projected that India will have the world’s largest population of Muslims by 2050, about 311 million or 11 per cent of the global total. Elsewhere, this writer has argued that India must not shy away from evolving a long-term, 100-year strategy that must do the following: all madrasas and mosques should be registered and their finances audited by local officials; madrasa syllabi should be reformed to include—in addition to the teachings of Hadiths, the Qur’an and Islamic Studies— English and material sciences, a primer on need-blind liberal arts subjects and a textbook on historical personalities that teaches us that we are Harappans from primary school. Indian Muslims must welcome change from sources external to Islam, and admit like Habib Essid that there does exist a real problem within Islam.
Judaism and Christianity went through their own internal tumults, and Islam must also go through a century of its own civil war before its members begin to question their beliefs, practices and attitudes. The hope that Islam can change is real, as it is the youngest of the most widely followed monotheistic religions. A question can be asked if it is possible for an entire generation of Muslim youths to abandon their beliefs and attitudes inherited from their ancestors over the course of centuries. Fortunately, modern history offers real answers. In India, an entire generation of Hindus, learning from English equality and helped by democracy, has abandoned a set of beliefs associated with the caste system and empowered millions of Dalits. After the end of World War II, a generation of German and Italian youths abandoned Nazism, Fascism and other such ideas inherited from their parents, but they did so after a military defeat. Jihadism too must be defeated militarily first so that new generations of Muslims can think freely.