Monday, September 18, 2000

The binding terror of 'jehad'

If there was a single theme, which dominated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to the United States, it was terrorism. In all three of his formal addresses, at the Asia Society, at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, and at the joint session of the US Congress, it was the focus on terrorism that caught everyone's attention.
During his speech to Congress, Vajpayee pointed out that no country had faced as ferocious an attack of terrorist violence as India had over the past two decades, and - in an obvious reference to Pakistan and Afghanistan - he emphasized, "No region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighborhood."
He cautioned the US, " Distance offers no insulation. It should not cause complacence." While some may be uncomfortable with the continued focus on Pakistan in the PM's speeches, there is no doubt that the specter of terrorism struck a chord with the American policy community.
In the recent past, the US has witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks on its missions abroad, some of which have been reportedly sponsored by Afghanistan-based Saudi businessman Osama Bin Laden. In addition, terrorist outfits in Pakistan, including the dreaded Lashkar-i-Tayba, have threatened to wage 'jehad' against both India and the US.
While Washington may still not be willing to directly implicate the government of Pakistan, there is obviously room for greater bilateral co-operation against terrorism at multiple levels. Not surprisingly, India and the US have formed a joint working group to combat terrorism, and co-operation should get a fillip after the PM's visit.
Terrorism may not be a new phenomenon, but its current expression in the form of the Islamic militant threat is probably the most dangerous. Indeed, the word terrorism first appeared during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Some of the revolutionaries who grabbed power in France adopted a policy of violence against their enemies. The period of their rule became known as the Reign of Terror.
An American group, the Ku Klux Klan, used violence to terrorize African Americans and their sympathizers after the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and during the 1900s. In the 1930s, dictators like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin used terrorism to discourage opposition to their governments.
There was a revival of terrorism in the 1960s. Terrorist groups that surfaced included the Red Brigades in Italy and the Red Army Faction in West Germany. Both groups sought the destruction of the current political and economic systems in their home countries and the development of new systems.
Before the independence of Israel in 1948, a Jewish group used terror to speed the end of British rule in Palestine and create a Jewish homeland. Since the 1960s, various Palestinian groups have carried out a campaign of terrorism aimed at the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
In Northern Ireland, Roman Catholic and Protestant extremists have used violence to push for, respectively, the end of, or the continuation of, British rule. Terrorists from many other countries around the world continued their campaigns into the 1990s. And we have known terror in Punjab and the North East.
However perverse those causes may seem to observers, terrorists are deeply motivated individuals committed to their goals. A new dimension has, however, been added to the genre of terrorism: the Islamic 'jehadi.' Unlike, other terrorists whose goals are definable in distinct political terms, the goals of the 'jehadi' are no less than to establish "Islam" all over the globe, and especially to liberate regions, which were once ruled by Muslims.
It is this religio-civilizational dimension that the 'jehadi' brings to the vocabulary of contemporary terrorism. It is this new force that is today at the forefront of the militancy in Kashmir. But, it is not just in Kashmir. From Sudan through Egypt through Kosovo and Chechnya and much of Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan till Indonesia there are numerous local battles being fought as part of a global civilizational war, as Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington puts it.
Kashmir, as everyone knows, was for centuries a symbol of cultural and religious harmony. Not only did Kashmiri Hindus, Kashmiri Muslims and Buddhists live in harmony but also created a composite cultural identity - Kashmiriyat, from Shaivism, Sufisim and Mahayana Buddhism.
While the concept of 'jehad' is controversial and a subject of much debate many Muslim theologians believe that it is incumbent on every Muslim to fight a war against the infidels and the unbelievers. The infidels have the option to either embrace Islam, pay 'jaziya' (special tax) and remain a minority, or face the sword.
According to some, if someone dies without participating in 'jehad' then he is a hypocrite. Some Muslim theologians, however, believe that the real 'jehad' is against one's own lust. Most of the 'jehadis,' however, do not subscribe to this philosophy.


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