Terror is a situation the world has learnt to live with for centuries. From the time humans discovered agriculture, and began to abjure a nomadic, pastoral life, small communes evolved around agricultural fields, gradually developing into hamlets, villages, towns, cities, states and nations. Settlements became natural targets of predators, wild and human. From the beginning of history, even before men found God and religion, human settlements have been attacked, preyed upon and terrorized by other human forces. History is full of such narratives and names like Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Alexander The Great, Asoka, Timur, Babar, Pizzaro, and Cortez, just to name a few, evoke in our minds visions of marauding hordes descending upon helpless people and nations, indiscriminately slaughtering anybody and everybody in their paths, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. Except for the Aztecs and the Incas, who trusted their Spanish visitors, and actually welcomed them with open arms, and in the bargain, paid the highest price for that trust, the other settled populations of Europe and Asia were, more or less, resigned to the fact that one or the other warlords would descend upon them, without warning, whenever they wanted. By the end of the Second World War, almost the entire population of the globe had a direct or indirect encounter with terror.
In the violent history of the world, 9/11 was an event that, however, seems to have evoked a wholly different response from people. Undoubtedly, it was an extremely daring terrorist operation, carried out with precision, and had the added advantage of being telecast live into the rooms of almost one-third of the homes on the planet. In just a few minutes, the entire military and security apparatus of the most powerful nation on earth had been shown up to be vulnerable, and its leaders shown as men of straw. In contrast, the response of the Western leadership was too predictable, and it was this response that the mastermind behind the attacks was hoping for. During the course of just one day, an obscure individual with a turban and a beard, attained the identities of Genghis Khan, Attila and the others rolled into one. The fact that this man was not personally leading any horde but was hiding in some cave in the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan, did nothing to detract from his image of a world conqueror, someone who had brought the mightiest nation on earth to its knees.
How was this identification possible? The answer lies in the fact that Osama bin-Laden did not claim to be the beneficiary of this act of terror, but called it a victory for a religion, an identity that about 1.6 billion inhabitants of this world ascribe to. Osama claimed that he had acted on behalf of these 1.6 billion people and sought revenge for perceived and imagined wrongs that had been perpetrated by non-Muslims on Muslim nations from the time that the religion had been founded in the 7th century. It was a classic case of what psychologists call the “victim response” in which a group feels the loss of collective self-esteem as a result of overwhelming outside forces of which they have become innocent victims. Among the upper and middle classes of the Muslims this is also known as the “Andalus syndrome”, deriving its name from the sudden and abrupt ending, in the 16th century, of the great Muslim civilization in the Iberian Peninsula that lasted for nearly 800 years, leading to unremitting gloom among the Muslim societies in North Africa and around the Mediterranean. The victim syndrome was further aggravated by the decline of the Mughals in India who ceded power to the British after the 1857 War of Independence, and the ending of the Ottoman Caliphate and its replacement by a Republican government led by Kemal Ataturk, in October 1923. The past glory and reach of Islamic power had shrunk to dependencies across the Arab world and Asia. The loss of Andalusia and especially the loss of Cordoba in Spain where the Caliph Al Hakam II had built a great mosque in the 10th century have been perennial laments in the history of Islam and its followers. That there was a move afoot to build an Islamic centre near Ground Zero in New York City which would include a mosque named Cordoba, is an attempt to reclaim that lost glorious period of the supremacy of Islam.
This proposal split the American people as it put a lot of strain on the American ideal of freedom of expression and the right of its people to give full expression to their religious beliefs. The Mayor of New York City, as well as President Barack Obama both have stressed on this aspect of the American Constitution, and have felt that the project could not be stopped constitutionally. There were others like the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who opposed it by protesting that the “9/11 Victory Mosque” would insult the memory of the victims who died in that inferno. In the intense debate in the media on this controversial project, I have found the approach of the Muslim intellectuals and writers to be of a dissembling nature. Almost unanimously they cry that one Osama does not represent the entire population of Muslims and that he belongs to a “lunatic fringe” that finds no resonance in the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims. At the same time they warned that by rejecting this proposal, the world would be providing a “recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida”. These same writers told us that any action perceived to be insulting to the symbols of Islam would end up in strengthening Osama’s ideology and getting more and more soldiers for jihad. The Swiss ban on Minarets, the French and Belgian ban on the burqa were seen as great insults to Islam, but they had no comments when M. F. Hussain denigrated Hindu Gods and Goddesses in his paintings. Then it was the artist’s freedom of expression that was invoked! That the immigrant Muslim populations in Europe have never tried to integrate with the native inhabitants and have always expected to be treated differently due to their religion is conveniently ignored by them. All the concessions are expected from non-Muslims. They must not ask the immigrants to conform and to accept the local laws. On their part the Muslims are not expected to do anything because they are, after all, “victims”.
It is the opinion of these intellectuals that the “war on terror” is not winnable as they see the Taliban in Afghanistan and the other Islamic terrorist outfits in Pakistan as providing enough resistance to the Western powers who appear to be fast running out of patience and would like to get out of these theatres of war. Al Qaeda, according to them, does not have to launch another attack on American soil for it to claim victory, for it has the capacity to force an ideological clash which will be more disastrous. The solution, for them, is to accept all such proposals that will raise the esteem of the Muslims and give them every concession they demand. Nowhere have I read that the Muslim world is prepared to take on the Al Qaeda and the other terrorist outfits, and to eliminate them from among their midst. Pakistan cries hoarse that it is also a victim of terror, but does nothing to seriously confront the perpetrators who are well known. Osama was hiding near the Military Academy in Pakistan, as also are Mullah Omar and the other leaders of the various Jihadi outfits. Apart from some cosmetic surgery, the Pakistani government and people are not serious about confronting this monster of their own creation. Ordinary Muslims expect the Western powers to confront these Jihadi militias and to watch the battle from the sidelines. They are always ready to jump into the streets, burning, stoning and looting, when there is an imagined or perceived dishonour of any symbol of Islam, but they are not ready to fight and eliminate someone whom they themselves call as belonging to a “lunatic fringe”. You can almost sense a smirk on the face of the writer when he/she is writing that Islam should not be confused with Al Qaeda and so on. That the Wahabi type of “fundamentalist” Islam, which is the cornerstone of Al Qaeda and similar outfits, has been on the ascendant ever since Arabia discovered oil is conveniently ignored by these intellectuals. The syncretic form of Sufi Islam that prevailed in the Indian subcontinent has all but disappeared and has been replaced by the harsher version. Kashmir is an apt example of this state of affairs. It is a province whose population for the last 700 years is almost entirely Muslim. From the time that its leaders decided to accept its union with the Republic of India, it has remained a troubled state. First through the direct military intervention by Pakistan in 1947, and then through its agencies like the ISI and the Jihadi outfits, Kashmir has remained on the boil and is continuing to be an area of bloody conflict. Having replaced the softer, Sufi version of Islam by its Wahabi version, Kashmiri Muslims began to look at India as Dar-ul-harb, and the Hindus as their enemies. All their energies were invested in projects aimed at opposition of the Indian state and the expulsion of the Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. To achieve these aims the Kashmiris resorted to terror tactics against the Hindus, intimidating them through loud-speaker threats from their mosques, and through murder and arson. That these tactics did grave damage to the economy of the valley, shut down whatever industry it had, closed educational institutions, and kept the holiday-season tourists away, did not seem to occur to these agitators.
Since 1989 Kashmir has been in the grip of these destructive elements, and whenever opportunities for reconciliation have appeared, they have found some excuse or the other to keep the fires burning. A prime example of this is the large scale agitation launched by them when the J & K Government transferred about 100 acres of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board on lease for Rs. 2.31 crores in Baltal. The land was to be used for building temporary shelter for pilgrims during the two months that the Yatra lasts every year. The intolerance exhibited by the people of the valley was on full view when they attacked security forces, openly burnt the Indian Flag, and raised pro-Pakistan slogans. Facebook pages are full of abuse that the Kashmiri Muslims openly heap on India and the Hindus. When you look at the profiles of these people, you see young, well educated urban men and women, some with engineering degrees obtained from various institutions from across the country. The young men are not sporting the gear that we associate with the Taliban. They are usually clad in T-Shirts and jeans sporting western logos and themes. Yet, today these very people are asking for a solution from India for a problem that they are largely responsible for creating. The demand for Azadi without any concrete idea of what to do with that Azadi is nothing but a convenient slogan in the service of keeping the agitation going. Kashmiris demand jobs, but they have destroyed all employment-generating agencies. (Actually, what they would really like are jobs with the government where they need not produce any work and where they can earn money through corruption.) This then is the grand agenda of the Kashmiri militants. But the Muslim and the secularist writers in the media will continue to feed us with the propaganda that the people of Kashmir have been wronged by India and somehow they should be brought into the mainstream. How that can be done without the participation of the Kashmiris has never been suggested.
Of the various terror groups that have sprung up in different parts of the world at different times, like the IRA, the Red Brigades in Europe, ETA in Spain, Shining Path in Peru, the LTTE of Sri Lanka, etc., the ones that are currently active are those allied to Al Qaeda and other Islamic groups. Most terror groups could not survive for too long because they did not have any lasting state patronage. The damages caused by their strikes did not result in the breakdown of constitutional authority, although there were moments of hysteria and sometime an excessive use of counter firepower by the security forces. The active membership of these terror groups was never very large, and consequently their capacity to inflict massive casualties remained limited. A few hundred victims of bombs in the trains in Madrid and London hardly disrupted the operational capacity of big cities for more than a few hours. The horrible carnage of 9/11 did not bring the city of New York to a standstill for more than a day, and the siege of Mumbai on 26th November could not bring lasting disturbance to the metro. If anything, 9/11 has made lasting changes in the response of the super-power whose wars on Iraq and Afghanistan have destroyed two of the most ancient civilizations on this planet. The Mumbai-like attack on the Nairobi Mall by Muslim fanatics will also have little more than propaganda value.
Pakistan’s patronage to terror groups operating from its soil, aided and abetted by the ISI and the Pakistani military establishment, is today the only example of a state that encourages and shelters the perpetrators of violence on innocent people not only outside its borders but also within it. The recent attack on the Christian minority in Peshawar and the ongoing religious killing of non-Sunni-Muslims in Pakistan raises questions that the civilized world will have to answer and deal with. India is the first target of Pakistani-sponsored terror and we have to learn to deal with it on our own. Pious homilies and Sharm-el-Sheikh type of agreements will not resolve the problem. Political will and self-confidence are needed. (Sadly both are absent in the current UPA dispensation.) It cannot be won through vote-bank politics that has become the way of political life in India, and some parts of the West, particularly England. It cannot be won by allowing a college professor’s palm to be chopped off for setting a question paper that is perceived to be insulting to Islam. The unfortunate professor did not get the support of his Christian community and was summarily sacked from the college. Adding insult to the injury was the conduct of the clergy in Kerala who condemned him from pulpits across the state and justified the chopping of his palm, defending the most unchristian act of the college that sacked him from his job.
If the Muslim leaders who first came up with the idea of building the Cordoba centre of Islam in Manhattan did not have any moral compunction about it, then the rest of the world should have allowed them to do so. True to their dissembling nature, the promoters of the centre have changed its name to Park51, as if it will acquire a different significance with this new name. Maybe, they should have been encouraged to build such centres in other capital cities like London, Madrid, New Delhi, as also in places like Mumbai and Ahmadabad – places that have been victims of Islamic terror. But at the same time severe political and economic pressure must be brought upon states that harbour and export terror. Pakistan would naturally head this list. The Taliban resistance will crumble once Pakistan is brought to heel. The Somalis who attacked the Nairobi Mall will soon disintegrate in the absence of state patronage.
Iraq and Afghanistan have to be rehabilitated and huge investments must be made to revive their oil and other economies. The Islamic nations of the CIS need to be looked upon as industrial partners and not as gas fields to be exploited for one’s benefit. A major shift is called for in the mindset of the West which will require it to invest huge amounts in education, health care, and industry in the Islamic world. The oil-rich Arabs must be forced to part with some of their wealth to finance these projects, as it is the export of their ideology that has brought these countries to their current state of stagnation and backwardness. Education, full employment, and good health will make the appeal of instant paradise less attractive and will go a long way in defeating Osama bin-Laden and his religious followers in the battle for the minds of the 1.6 billion Muslims of the world.