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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 31 New Delhi July 23, 2016

A World Gripped by the Cancer of Terror

Tuesday 26 July 2016

by Ram Puniyani

The current times are very disturbing as so many innocent lives are being lost and social resources being destroyed due to the dastardly phenomenon of terror. To cap it all, this phenomenon has been linked to religion in the popular perception. Just during the last two weeks (July 2016) we witnessed with horror the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse club in Orlando, US. This deadly incident had two interpretations, one: that it is an act of Jihadi terror and two: it was prompted by a man gripped by homophobia. One of the commentators pointed out, “It turns out that he may have been motivated by both homophobia and Islamic radicalism...Terrorism or homophobia? The answer is yes. Both.”

 In another incident 119 people were killed in Baghdad blast by the Islamic State. In Bangladesh on a July 1, 28 people were killed. Those who lost their lives were identified as foreigners. There are some reports that the terrorists belonged to Jamaat-Ul-Mujahideen and were not affiliated with the Islamic State. One commentator points out that ISIS and the Al Qaeda are currently engaged in a fierce competition across our subcontinent aiming to outdo each other in spreading their terror tentacles. But the malignant growth of Islamist extremism in Bangladesh can be easily traced back to the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEB) and its militant student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir.

 What connects these diverse destructive phenomena? At the surface it seems these are the manifestations of Islamic terrorism, as the phrase has become popular since 2001 after the 9/11 tragedy. If we go slightly deeper we can discern some clear strands of very different underlying pathologies operating in each of these. The one in Orlando has a lot to do with the prevalent gun culture in the US. and this has woken up the law-makers to the prevalent norms of possession of the gun. While this may be most horrific of such cases, similar ones at lesser intensity have been occurring in the US off and unrelated to the Islamic terrorism so to say. In case of Baghdad, mostly it is one related to the Islamic State.

 As far as the case of Bangladesh terror is concerned, this seems to be a continuation of the terrorism which has roots in the fundamentalist streaks in Bangladesh politics. Such terror acts have been stalking Bangladesh since quite some time, manifested in the murders of progressive-secular liberal bloggers and Hindus. This has indigenous origin to which the present regime had turned a blind eye and violence came to the fore in this dastardly way due to the failure of the state and society to curb the rising funda-mentalist trends in politics. Currently in many countries of South Asia militancy has origins in fundamentalism-communalism as seen promi-nently in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India among others.

In Pakistan the fundamentalist doctrine was given the official status during Zia-Ul-Haq’s regime. To get the cover for his dictatorial ambitions he resorted to alliance with feudal forces and Mullahs and brought in the doctrines of Maulana Maududi (Deoband Islam). This is what is referred to as Islamisation of Pakistan. The focus of this was to push back the civic social norms around the Sharia as interpreted by Maududi; the focus was to bring in feudal conservative values, suppression of women and civil liberties. In India politics in the name of religion manifested more in the form of communalism, communal violence, where the religious minorities have been the victim. The extreme form of this ideology manifested in organisations upholding the Hindutva ideology which has been alleged to be responsible for the acts of terror in Malegaon, Makka Masjid (Hyderabad), Ajmer and Samjhauta Express. The communal-fundamentalist ideology is an attempt to restore pre-modern, feudal values of birth-based hierarchy of caste/class and gender in the garb of Sharia law or glorious traditions of the past, presented as religion.

 Terrorism related to the Al Qaeda-Islamic State variety has its roots in the politics of oil control in which the policies of the United States has played a major role. It is the policy of the US which funded the Madrassas based in Pakistan and brought in Maulana Wahab’s version of Islam. Here the major focus is killing the infidel (kafir) as a part of jihad. In this variety the central focus is on violence against those differing with these dominant groups. It had a reason; as they wanted to fight communism, Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and so the killing of the infidel. If we see the case of Pakistan one can see the Islamisation of Pakistan during Zia’s regime getting a continuum through the Al-Qaeda variety taking over later, and the Al-Qaeda in turn laid the ideological foundations of the Islamic State. Hillary Clinton clarified the US role very succinctly. There is adequate reference to show that the US has been supporting the terrorist groups in more ways than one.

 So two strands of terrorist actions are creating havoc in contemporary times. One has the motive of restoring the pre-modern values as seen in the case of Pakistan (inspired by Maulana Maududi), Bangladesh (similar variety), India (Hindutva) and in Myanmar and Sri Lanka as well. The latter have used a particular interpre-tation of Buddhism. The other has its support system derived from the global politics of oil control. The tragedy is that both these varieties draw their foundation and legitimacy in the name of religion, particularly Islam. Religion has many streams, like Islam has Sufi as well as Wahabi tendencies and Hinduism has Bhakti and Brahmanism. The US picked up the Wahabi version for political goals in West Asia, Zia had picked up Maududi for strengthening dictatorship, Hindu Nationalism-Hindutva has picked up Neo-Brahmanism for its own political agenda. Various streams of religion do prevail as such but become dominant only when propped up by political forces which can use that cover to enhance their political goals. Recognising this may be a major step in combating terrorism, and make it clear that it is the political agenda masquerading as religion.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.