Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Islamist Terrorism: Shouldn't We Ask Some Questions? Part 2

The issue of economic deprivation is equally suspect, given that most of the best known terrorist attacks have been carried out by middle-class and well-educated men, such as the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack. Looking at British-born Muslims, the argument takes a further beating: the murderer of Daniel Pearl was a British-born Pakistani with a privileged background of public schools and university education at the famed London School of Economics, hardly the prototype of the downtrodden poor. Even the 7/7 bombings in London were carried out by men who were hardly starving in the streets. Instead, one of them had been recently given a red Mercedes, that ultimate Asian status symbol of having arrived, as a gift by his father.

Moreover, if economic deprivation is the key to turning young men and women into suicide bombers, why don't we see more of those coming out of West Bengal and Bihar, where much of the population still lives in desperate conditions. Oddly enough, even in Europe, the Bangladeshi Muslims have shown less interest in joining their jihadi cousins, although that may well change in the future.

So we finally get to the "cultural identity" issue, where the standard argument trotted out by Western commentrators is that somehow "Western" decadence offends and alienates Western-born Muslims. Alcohol, sexual freedom and "football" yob-ism of the majority European "white" community has been cited with immense self-hating relish as the reason why European-born Muslims are turning to radical Islam. It must be Western decadence that pushes these young men to jihad is the logic behind this argument.

Apart from the simple response this raises of "if they don't like the culture, why don't they move to Saudi Arabia," the cultural argument is so ridiculous that - if it were applied to a less serious issue - one would be tempted to laugh it off. If it is "decadent" Western values that the bombers didn't like, what about India?
Most Indians are frightfully straitlaced about sex. In most places beyond elite urban enclaves, alcohol consumption is frowned upon. For much of the country, the most "daring" outfit for a woman is still a pair of jeans worn - in most cases - with a baggy t-shirt or a full-sleeved shirt. So can someone explain which part of the decadent "culture" is pushing Indian Muslims to radical Islam? Which part of the "decadent" culture in India justifies the Muslim "fatwah" against a lone brave Muslim woman who admitted to being raped by her father-in-law? A fatwah, by the way, that has been defended not only by opportunist politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav but also by the so-called "educated" and “moderate” Muslim elite including Salman Khursheed.

So what drives relatively well-educated, fairly privileged young men to kill themselves and others? Once again, unfortunately, the common link between mercenaries in Iraq, Kashmir, and now Europe is Islam. Whether it is some verse of the Koran or its fundamentalist interpretation by semi-literate mullahs is for those who are better educated in Islam to decide. For me, the proverbial infidel and kafir, the answer must come from those who follow Islam.

However, from my position as infidel, and an Indian one at that, I do have a suggestion for the Islamic leaders and community: Stop playing victim!

Somehow, all Islamist terrorism is explained away as someone else's fault: the West doesn't allow political freedom or economic growth in the Middle East. The Indian government doesn't allow Kashmir to be brought under military dictatorship of an Islamic republic with long-standing sympathies with the Taliban-brand of human rights. Western democracies allow "too much" political and social freedom to young men in Britain who prefer to live on social security dole-outs while planning and executing terrorist attacks instead of finding jobs that would let them participate in the greater society.

For the sake of all of us, I think it is time that Muslim leaders and communities stopped whining about persecution and gave up finding excuses for why their young men prefer to kill themselves and others instead of fighting for better lives. A good starting point would be to answer some very simple questions, not at global, international political levels, but at the level of parents and community leaders of Muslim communities around the world:

1. How about taking responsibility for what your young men and women do? Not only when they blow themselves and others up, but also when they refuse to work, or to go to any school except madrassas where they learn no skill but to recite the Koran, and thus willingly, even knowingly, isolate and alienate themselves.

2. How about expecting your children to become a Shahrukh Khan, APJ Abdul Kalam or Azim Premji? Or a poet like Mourid Barghouti? None of them were born to privilege and yet grew to become true heroes in vastly different fields. Doesn't the responsibility of teaching children to dream lie with the parents?

3. More importantly, what about teaching the young that to struggle to better oneself and one's own lot is truly the "greater jihad," far more difficult but definitely higher than blowing oneself up? That true change requires unstinting hard work and doesn't come easy, but that it is possible.

4. And finally, how about pointing out to these silly young men that blowing oneself up in the London metro or a Kashmiri marketplace or an Iraqi mosque is the act of a coward? And no God allows a space for a coward in heaven!

Perhaps this is the infidel's way, of taking responsibility for oneself instead of the “Islamic” way of continually complaining of being victims. If that is so, there is much to learn from it.

FINAL NOTE: The lack of sincere remorse in Beeston became increasingly apparent when alleged "colleagues" and neighbours of the 7/7 bombers chose the names of Bollywood heroes as aliases in their comments to the unsuspecting Western media. Shahrukh Khan, Sunil Shetty and Sanjay Dutt were the top choices. For those of us who have learnt just how often Brit-Asians will evoke Bollywood references as a secret linguistic and cultural code unknown to this country's majority community, the trend was saddening, worrying, frightening, but beyond all, disgusting.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Bhupinder your comment but the point of the essay was not insurgencies. US also has internal political problems as does the UK. Spain has insurgencies too. The point is Islamist terrorism and the excuses we have been making for it based on "secularism", culture, liberal values etc. Best