As terrorism - usually of the Muslim variety - continues to dominate the international agenda in one form or another, it might be a useful exercise to examine the different strands that constitute the phenomenon.
Ever since 911 turned the world on its head, it has become acceptable to lump all resistance movements involving Muslims into the convenient but inaccurate category called 'Islamic terrorism'. Thus, whether Chechens are resisting Russian occupation of their territory, or Palestinians are fighting for their land, the common western perception now is that they are all loosely connected to the global jihad.
At the apex of this imaginary network is Osama bin Laden who is seen to be coordinating and directing sundry acts of terror against the West and its allies. In this worldview, a vast Islamic conspiracy exists to impose its values and beliefs on the rest of the world, and to this end, it is sending waves of suicide bombers to destroy and damage western interests across the globe.
However, a little analytical rigor would reveal the absurdity of this interpretation of recent events. When Al Qaeda expressed its support of Hamas after its electoral victory, it was told by the Palestinian leadership to back off in no uncertain terms. Muslim separatists in the Philippines conduct their struggle without their co-religionists in the rest of the world being aware of what they are fighting for.
The reality is that several underground asymmetrical battles are being waged by Muslims for specific, local causes. The only factor linking these struggles is a common faith. But this does not mean they share some global pan-Islamic vision. A Kashmiri Muslim engaged in a fight for independence has more in common with a Hindu pundit in Srinagar than with a fellow Muslim in Chechnya.
When Basque terrorists belonging to ETA, the separatist movement that has been fighting a long and deadly battle for independence from Madrid, strike civilian targets, they are not accused of being part of a Christian movement together with the IRA. Although fighters in both organizations are Catholics, this does not automatically mean that they, or indeed, Peru's Shining Path guerrillas, are part of some evil papist conspiracy.
Similarly, the only thing the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka's LTTE separatists have in common with India's Naxalites is their Hindu belief. But this shared faith in no way puts the two groups on the same side. They both have their own agendas and their own methods. Both would resent the label of 'terrorists', and insist that they are fighting for just causes.
Having made this rather self-evident point, let me return to the pressing question of differentiating between 'Islamic' terrorism and 'Muslim' terrorism. In my book, the former refers to violence aimed at creating a vague, utopian world based on a fuzzy vision of a distant tribal past.
This involves resurrecting the caliphate, adopting the laws and way of life that might have existed 14 centuries ago, and imposing these archaic values on the rest of the world. This search for a 'perfect' world involves destroying the existing dominant power structure so it can be replaced with the 'pure' Islamic model.
In this sense the movement is more nihilistic than idealistic. Adherents of movements like Al Qaeda fall into this category. But clearly, organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah do not.
Other Muslim reformist movements, inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, seek to impose Islamic values, often by force, on their own societies. And while they are connected spiritually to the larger Muslim ummah, their primary aim is to obtain political power in their own countries. They use a combination of political maneuvering, violence and moral posturing to achieve their ends. But most of their energies are devoted to local goals. Many so-called terrorist organizations are doing nothing more than trying to overthrow dysfunctional governments and venal leaders. In the absence of any political space to effect change, they have been driven underground.
We would not have been discussing these issues had it not been for the sudden flood of petrodollars that poured into Saudi coffers after the oil price rise of 1974. Over the years, much of this unearned wealth has translated into support for the most repressive Muslim governments, and the most violent Muslim groups. By exporting their brand of Wahabi and Salafi Islam across the world, the Saudis have unwittingly set the stage for the current confrontation that threatens them most. This is an exclusionary vision of the faith in which anybody not following a narrow and literal interpretation of Islam is not only beyond the pale, but is, by extension, deserving of death.
In the context of Muslims, it is this strand of extremism that has caused so much havoc around the world. Not only has public and private Saudi largesse funded Muslim dictators, Islamic political parties and ruthless terrorists, it has paid for the establishment of thousands of madressahs across the Muslim world. These incubators of extremism have proved to be fertile recruiting grounds for Muslim militias. This is the version of the faith that has infected young men from Lahore to London.
With this background, it was not difficult to sell the idea of a vast, unified Islamic conspiracy against the West in the wake of 911. Fanning public fear, Washington soon had the majority of Americans believing that somehow Saddam and Iraq were connected to the suicide bombing of the Twin Towers.
According to a poll published in the July/August 2006 issue of Foreign Policy, 57 per cent of Americans believe an attack on their country on the scale of the Madrid or London train bombings is likely by the end of this year. Seventy-nine per cent think it likely or certain that there will be a terrorist attack of the magnitude of 911 by 2011.
The same poll reveals that 62 per cent of Americans believe that Saudi Arabia has produced the biggest number of terrorists; 13 per cent think it is the Egyptians; and 11 per cent feel it is the Pakistanis. Thus, a total of 86 per cent consider that the three top Muslim allies America has in its 'war on terror' also produce virtually all the terrorists they are fighting.
After 911, a number of countries, eager to jump on the American bandwagon, declared their local problems to have global roots. Thus, freedom fighters in Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine were immediately lumped together with Al Qaeda. This made it simultaneously easier to deny even their legitimate demands, as well as to get American diplomatic, moral and material aid in suppressing them.
But while this conflation of different movements might be politically expedient, it represents lazy thinking of a kind that is not conducive to dealing with the problem.
Irfan Husain writes for the English daily newspaper Dawn from Pakistan.
8/27/2006 By: Ahmed Zewail". Then Islam with its traditional belief in Jihad is a plain and open threat to Western Civilization. With the leader of Iran, and Al-Quada officials asking us to convert or accept the sword, yes we will be in war with Islam. With Islamo-facists!