TCS Daily

Global Jihad Has a Long and Tortured History

By Christopher Lingle - July 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Many Muslims and some non-Muslims seem to believe the British presence in Iraq drove UK-educated Muslims to blow themselves up in the London transport system. And wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are seen as sufficient cause for jihadists to strike anywhere else.

Believe that, and you can believe anything. Such arguments provide succor to a minority of Muslims that are uninterested in dialogue with the infidels of America or Europe. Depicting terrorist groups as legitimate voices of Islam makes it tough for moderates to influence Muslim interactions with non-believers.

Regardless of whether one accepts that there have been clear provocations for terrorist attacks, for people of good will the ferocity and brutality of Islamist militancy is difficult to comprehend. But a plausible interpretation of 7-7 and 7-21 is that Britain has long been haven to dissidents and members of national liberation movements. Steeped in liberalism, the British have neither the inclination nor legal authority to curb conspiratorial movements like global jihadists. And so, radical Muslim preachers can implore their followers to resist British policies based upon narrow interpretations of their religion and not be harassed.

What the terrorist attacks in London do reveal is that there are many extremist jihadists that wish to eliminate Western civilization by using any and all means. But their defiance does not depend upon the current policy of this US government or which ruling party is in power in the UK. Nor will their destructive acts be limited to close allies of the "Coalition of the Willing" that joined the US and the UK in deposing Saddam.

Neither the current nor any past ideological flavor can be blamed for Islamist terrorism and its ideology of hate. Nor does it explain the nightclub bombing on Bali and bomb attacks of tourist sites in Egypt beginning in the early 1990s targeting Europeans and Egyptians. Non-Muslims that question whether Islam is a religion of peace might be forgiven when self-identified enemies strike against them in the name of their religion. They declare their inspirations, motivations, and justification are basic to their beliefs.

It may be true that moderate Muslims reject an interpretation of Islamic teachings whereby nonbelievers are to be hated. But those with less exposure to the teachings of Islam cannot know whether the interpretations of extremists are perverted or pure. Instead, non-believers must turn to their own religions or moral sense of right and wrong.

Others suggest that these are "natural" and unsurprising acts of revenge for humiliations of Muslim countries under the guidance of imperialism and capitalism. It seems a bit simplistic to assert that the actions by Islamic militants in seeking "revenge" can be explained as "natural". But depicting vengeful and arbitrary acts of brutality as an aspect of human nature requires a twisted logic.

In the case of the excesses of the authoritarian regime in Iran, there is evidence that the US and other western allies cooperated with the Shah's secret police. More twisted logic is needed to explain away the abuses of human rights by the ayatollahs of the Iranian Revolution. Surely these indignities and humiliations of the aspirations of their Muslim brethren invite Islamic outrage.

Earlier attempts to use non-military intervention to rid the Iraqi people of a brutal ruler had minimal, if not trivial results. Neither was there then, nor is there now, a consensus of political will within or between countries. Attempts to defang former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein failed not because of a lack of sanctions. Efforts to limit his revenues and hidden bank accounts were made ineffective by UN officials or Western governments that lined their pockets or secured their own domestic power bases.

There is an apparent duplicity and hypocrisy of Western pundits that grind their own political axes in passing judgments about the motivating causes of terrorism. An insistence that the London bloodletting can be blamed on British foreign policy is not merely disingenuous. It is as wrong as the assertion that the 9-11 attacks were driven by desperation and poverty, a view contradicted by the fact that its perpetrators were not impoverished and were mostly from oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Placing blame on the current British or American leadership is based upon a willful ignorance of history. The founder of the Wahhabi movement called for a revived Islamic purity and reassertion of Muslim political power over 100 years ago. The teaching remains influential today, especially in Saudi Arabia. And there are many modern jihadist groups that support a global jihad. For example, Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba movement (Army of the Pure), identify the US, Israel and India as sworn enemies of Islam.

It may be true that there was rapid growth during the 1980s with funds from religious radicals in Saudi Arabia (and the US) to train and arm the mujahedeen against Soviets in Afghanistan. The US can be faulted for its naïveté in overlooking the ideological or strategic agendas of its allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during the anti-Soviet Afghan war. For example, most of the $2 billion in covert assistance to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan went to Pakistan's intelligence service. Clearly, some of the money was used to incite and support conflict in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

But to suppose that US support for guerillas fighting Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan is a matter of just desserts is more dangerously foolish than it is cynical. The global jihadist movement did not arise as a reaction to the US (or American neo-cons) on the ongoing military activities in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, radical madrassas (religious seminaries) in the Muslim world and elsewhere have long promoted these ideas.

The debate must go beyond sterile assertions of blame. The question for countries that value democracy and freedom is how to react to the development of extremist, authoritarian Islam. The best path is to seek out conciliatory voices in the Muslim communities to find common ground.

Christopher Lingle is Global Strategist for eConoLytics.


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