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When Civilisation Clashes With Terror


By Ram Jethmalani

October 21, 2013

It is a tragedy that the terrorists invariably proclaim that they are serving the Islam of its great Prophet.

A protestor holds up a poster of Osama bin Laden that reads, “Man humiliated Americans. He lives benign and died a martyr” during a protest march at the main entrance of the state security headquarters in Cairo 2 May 2013. Reuters

Is the Dark Age of Bin Ladenism continues to descend over the civilised world, terrorism has become an avowed ideology of several groups across the world, known as "non state actors" in UN terminology; it has become an integral strategy within governance in several states like our neighbour Pakistan; and it has become a way of life for the brainwashed, misguided flocks, and their medieval power drunk leaders who have found in Osama Bin Ladenism a handle to control men, money and arms, and indulge in fantasies of world domination. Their ideology and its practice advocated through terrorism against innocent populations make Samuel Huntington's clash of civilisation thesis sound tame and benign. For, what we see today is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash between the world's collective civilisation and the savagery of terrorism. This clash has become the gravest challenge to the contemporary world, for which no antidote has yet been found by the international community or affected nations.

I do not propose to chart the evolution of terrorism during the last three decades, which is a complex narrative, beset by contradictions. That would require volumes. But a background of how bin Ladenist terrorism evolved during that period can give certain insights to mark events that were critical to its evolution.

It was the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 that led to the creation of Osama bin Laden and the Mujahideen that evolved into the Taliban and the indiscriminate and uncontrolled proliferation of arms among multi-national "non state actors", particularly Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban nurtured in these two countries served the US interests of throwing the Russians out of Afghanistan alright (1989). But thereafter, the US perhaps had no concern, and definitely no idea of how to disarm them. India has been the biggest collateral victim of this funding and arming of the Taliban over the last few decades. Then came Saddam's misadventure in Kuwait in 1991, in complete defiance of the US. This was the greatest threat faced by the House of Saud, and US oil interests. Osama fell out with the Saudis over American military presence in Saudi Arabia so near the holy shrine that he found utterly sacrilegious to his poisonous creed. He was externed by the Saudis, but not really. He settled for a while in Sudan, and then moved to Afghanistan, all the while orchestrating violent jihad against the US through targeted bombings. By now, the Mujahideen had become unapologetic fanatical terrorists. In 1988, he formed Al Qaeda, changing the direction of his Mujahideen guns and bombs towards the West. In August 1996, he declared war against the US, meticulously planned terrorist attacks against them, which culminated in grievously wounding the heart of America on 11 September 2001.

This was the watershed point. The US declared war on Afghanistan in October 2001, where Osama, the former US creation became their deadliest foe with a price on his head, unwittingly proving the validity of Gandhiji's conviction that evil means vitiate the noblest ends.

September 11 gave the West the lever they were desperately looking for to wage a war against Iraq. They did so in March 2003, on a fabricated casus belli of possession of "weapons of mass destruction", something admitted later as a complete concoction by the same British and US leaders who had used it.

But by this time the Muslim world was enraged beyond repair, and Osama's vile vocation received new strength and momentum. The West did not realise what they had unleashed.

Since then, terrorism has only multiplied and proliferated, changed names, tactics and logistics so as to keep the targets on tenterhooks, issued more murderous threats, and struck whenever it could. It is a tragedy of the greatest magnitude that the terrorists invariably proclaim that they are serving the Islam of its great Prophet. The epithet "Islamic" has been misappropriated by them for their exclusive abuse. The tragedy is even more sinister because our enlightened and peace loving Muslim friends have been smothered into silence by the power of money and madrasas, and are forced to acquiesce in this libel of a great religion.

The picture as it emerges today is rather paradoxical and contradictory. According to information available in the public domain, most funding for radicalisation of Muslim society, funding of madrasas, indoctrination, terrorist training camps, and arms to Jihadi groups comes from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Gulf countries. The US has an amicable and strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia for obvious oil reasons. The radicalised and terrorism trained jihadis, armed by the Saudis, and funded by Saudi money then target the US and the West. And yet, the US continues its strategic partnership with the Saudis, its lust for oil overriding its security interests.

Pakistan has been receiving a sizeable US bounty ever since the Russians in Afghanistan made them strategically important for the US. It is well known that jihadi elements in Pakistan are well integrated into the ISI, and have been targeting India through extensive terrorism, not only in Kashmir, but the rest of India too. There has been a mushrooming in India of home grown modules, going under several names under the global umbrella of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, largely funded by the Saudis, and reportedly by the same US funding that is given to Pakistan to fight terrorism. Terrorist training camps continue to flourish, and almost every suspect who has been captured for terrorist activities in the US and UK has served a stint in the terrorist training camps in Pakistan. And yet, US money continues to flow into Pakistan.

These contradictions and serious conflicts of interest cannot be lost on the US, but it seems to be quite comfortable living with them.

As a world leader of secular democracy, the US should have perceived these developments as a serious threat to the existence of secular democracies all over the world. I regret that this did not happen. Even as their drones try to exterminate this monster called terrorism, Obama's government, afflicted with acute financial embarrassment, is thoughtlessly pouring American taxpayer wealth into the pocket of the Pakistan army and through them reaching their terrorist allies, whose declared enemy is the US, the donor country, India, Israel and the western nations.

No doubt, each drone attack and bomb dropped by either side must bring enormous cheer to some arms supplier, much like Tetzel's souls going to heaven at the clink of a coin, or the jihadis getting passports to paradise. The use of force, offensive and defensive, is necessary to counter terrorism, but is not sufficient as the only tool. Terrorism is a hydra headed dragon. For every terrorist killed, several replacements will surface from the terror pool. I will in my concluding piece, write about what I believe the world and India can do to give greater voice to the silent majority of peace loving Muslims.

Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.