by Javed Jabbar
Terror is timeless and worldwide. Terror is the fear in the eyes of a single victim. And terror is the panic that seizes large crowds and communities. In 2015 we are inevitably and rightly concerned with the immediacy rather than the historicity. Yet it is necessary to contextualize the phenomenon in the framework of time and space before we focus on the specific region of West Asia.
Marauders, plunderers, kings , princes , tyrants, rebels, from the inception of collective habitation by humanity thousands of years ago have used weapons and violence to intimidate and kill as they pursued resources and power. Individuals and communities were eliminated with impunity. Even with the evolution into nation-States in the past 300 years, the primitive, the medieval and the prior forms of terrorism were subsumed into the militarism of States which assert their claim to be the sole legitimate users of violence to enforce order.
As we note, States too, in history, and in the present, have unleashed terror within and without, directly or indirectly, aiding and abetting some, perpetrating wanton terror themselves or using others as their proxies. Be they democracies or dictatorships, States and terrorism have often been symbiotic. States attack terrorism only when terrorism becomes a threat to States, or to the Governments and elites that wield State power.
Both within their own territorial domains, with sections of their own people often being the victims, and in their conflicts with other States, militarist States have used terror to advance national interests or State policies or the purely personal motives of rulers masquerading as the public good.
While big States have often been the principal practitioners of terror, medium-sized and smaller States have also shown similar traits. It could be perversely said that it is not the size that counts, but it is the performance that matters!
Colonialism and imperialism, in political, military, economic or psychological dimensions, during their explicitly open phase or in their enduring after-effects are the root causes of the distress, disorder and destruction which threaten humanity.
Previously colonized nations and presently developing States share some of the responsibility for the silent violence of the entrenched systems of mass manipulation and control. They are therefore also partly complicit in the global order that destabilizes West Asia and other regions as well.
But let us go back to the track of this journal’s Editor-in-Chief as stated in the original title of this essay. While terror associated with individuals and groups claiming Islamic identity is evident in parts of Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, terror is also present, with different affiliations, in Central and South America as in Mexican crime syndicates, Colombian drug networks and in other places with other names.
Thus, in isolated instances or as a recurrent trend, terrorism is found across the world. Terror is a secular, universal condition, not exclusive to Islam or to West Asia. Targeting a few persons or aiming at many, any illegitimate use of violence for any cause becomes an act of terror for the target.
The brutal attacks in Paris, Beirut, Mali and elsewhere in November 2015 reflect the indiscriminate savagery of the killers, and of Daesh, the organization that claimed the responsibility for the Paris outrage. At the same time, this kind of horrific bloodshed and the injuries to hundreds more are only the most current manifestation of bestial barbarism which has occurred throughout human history.
The reasons for the germination of new terror in West Asia are obvious, yet they require to be noted for the record.
Inheritance by the people of the region of the twisted, arbitrary, divisive, self-serving demarcations by departing colonial powers of new nation-states e.g. Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia.
The blatant injustice by the British, supported passively or actively by the other Western countries, of imposing a new state of Israel while simultaneously dispossessing Palestinians of their historic lands.
The continued obstruction of Israel to a two-state solution accompanied by an expansion of settlements of Israeli families on the disputed West Bank.
The prevalence of corrupt monarchies, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in most Arab countries with the full-blooded, opportunistic support of Western countries.
The greed-driven sale of expensive weapons and new arms technologies by Western countries to the Arab countries at the expense of depriving the people of the Arab countries of social justice, human rights and basic needs.
The promotion of a distorted version of Islam principally produced/funded/exported by Saudi Arabia and by some other countries that results in creating indoctrinated youth willing to kill without mercy , and ready to be killed.
The lack of comprehension at the highest levels of leadership in Western countries and in some Arab countries about the adverse consequences of arming and aiding groups committed to removing the Bashar Al Assad Government in Syria ; i.e. obtaining a fall-out worse than the original problem.
The frustration, the desperation, the anger seething among millions of the poor and the middle class in Arab countries against their respective repressive regimes that are also unable to facilitate a decent standard of living for them.
The migration of thousands from the hazards of West Asia to the perils of West Europe.
The prolonged chaos in Syria, the contradictory policies of NATO, the abiding tensions in Lebanon.
The alienation subsumed into the psyches of hundreds of thousands of Muslim youth in Europe who become convinced that their unemployment or their unemployability is due to a covert racism and discrimination practiced by white Europeans against non-white immigrants.
The list above does not absolve the networks of terror of their own volitional responsibility for fomenting extremism and using violence. And we should not transfer all the blame to Western countries.
The Muslim world in general and Arab countries in particular bear the foremost role in fostering conditions of inequity and injustice in their own societies, in failing to initiate a robust process of rational thinking about Islam ( otherwise known as ” ijtehaad ” , the real jihaad , ie. the exploration of how phenomenal new knowledge is made harmonious with fundamental tenets of the faith ) . At the same time, Western countries in general, with the advantages accruing to them of enormous material progress and scientific achievements, have, as identified in the above list, committed horrendous actions of their own which have stimulated the growth of violent extremism in Muslim countries.
Religion-linked terrorism is an evil shared, in varying ways, and at different times in recent history and in contemporary times, with Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. Fortunately for itself, Islam has never had a monopoly in this field.
Whether it was the terror practiced by Jewish rabbis in the pre-Jesus Christ/Christ era (so well-documented by Raza Asalan in his book “Zealot : the life and times of Jesus Christ” ) or whether it is Israeli troops who shoot-to-kill Palestinians in 2015, Judaism with only about 14 million adherents has also produced violent extremists.
In over 1 billion Hindus in India, notwithstanding the diversity of Hinduism, many innocents and the weak have often been exploited or eliminated. Today, some hate-mongering extremists thrive in numbers small and large enough to overwhelm and murder Dalits or Sikhs or Muslims or Christians.
Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka whip up emotions with fatal results against Tamils and Muslims while Buddhist monks in Burma incite venomous actions against helpless Rohingya Muslims.
In the name of Christianity, Europeans forcibly converted hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in North, Central and South America even as equal numbers of “Red Indian” tribes were slaughtered by guns, or deliberately infected with lethal germs and deprived of their historic lands. Even in the 21st century, in the very same State that leads the global war on terror, a mentally sick individual can easily purchase weapons to enter a church and wildly shoot down black worshippers.
Elsewhere in history, Muslim Arabs and Christian Europeans became willing partners to kidnap and export tens of thousands of black Africans as slaves for the farms and factories in the Americas.
Terrible terrors far worse than what we have seen in 2015 were inflicted upon millions of human beings across the world and across human history.
Between West Asia and West Africa, between East Africa and East Asia, spanning all continents, sometimes co-existing with each other, sometimes inter-twining with each other, it can be said that there are at least eleven forms of terrorism.
The first of these has already been named as terrorism by the State itself, internally or externally. The second form is by groups aiming to secede from an already established State and because of the disproportion between State power and secessionists’ power, terror becomes both a strategy and a tactic. A third form is motivated by the desire to control resources of various kinds, mineral, natural, human-made.
The fourth form, currently unfairly primarily associated with Islam, is religion-linked terrorism. This can be on an internal, inter-sectarian conflict as between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, or it can be against one, or all other faiths. In scale it can be local, national, regional, global. A fifth form arises from religion but is not necessarily exclusive to one religion alone e.g. Hinduism, in which terrorism has occurred against castes that are weaker than those which exercise power.
A sixth form can be driven by linguistic or racist or ethnic factors whereby majoritarian impulses hound other, smaller communities. The seventh form is narco-terrorism in which money earned from the production, smuggling and sale of addictives or their derivates (opium, heroin, etc) is used to finance violent militias fighting for non-drug related causes or simply to protect their drugs-related turf.
Close to this is the eighth form which is simply — and yet not-so-simple — criminal terrorism in which killers can be hired for a fee , in which mafias carve out their own vile kingdoms , as in the Honduras or in Hong Kong , in which there is not even a pretence at identifying with a cause larger than to merely make money . The ninth form could be called subversive terrorism, a process of undermining the stability of one State, secretly sponsored by another State.
The tenth and eleventh forms are related to the air waves and the spectrum. One is cyber-terrorism wherein the hackers penetrate firewalls and use the internet to spread viruses and data mayhem.
Finally , the terrorism of media themselves when media report so instantly, so widely, so loudly, so irresponsibly on the ten other forms of terrorism with so much bias , implicit and explicit , that they cease to be impartial and objective, becoming parts of the State perspectives and cultural perspectives of their respective owners/content producers . To the extent that the words and sounds and images they generate themselves stoke prejudice, paranoia and passions. To create a cerebral and emotional version of non-violent yet dangerous terrorism of the mind and the heart.
In lesser or in greater measure, almost all these eleven forms of terrorism exist in West Asia.
For the foreseeable future, West Asia is likely to remain volatile and unstable. Terrorism is the symptom of the malaise of West Asia, not the basic cause of its current conditions. West Asia will continue to interface with the volatility of North, West and East Africa, with brooding ferment in Central Asia, with the bulging, heterogeneous populations of South Asia. And with whatever happens in Europe. And with how US policy develops with different states of the Muslim world.
Just as no man is an island, no region is a cocoon. Now more than ever we live in a profoundly inter-connected world.