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December 12, 2015

A story of cold-blooded realpolitik


December 12, 2015

Terrorism continues to haunt the world. The problem is that in the aftermath of 9/11, the detractors of Islam found it easy to contrive stereotypes to malign Islam and mobilise a climate of antipathy against its adherents by focusing obsessively on the religion of the individuals and organisations involved in terrorist activities. It was conveniently ignored that most of the perpetrators of violence were dissident runaways from their own countries and had a political agenda of their own in their misguided pursuits.

President Obama’s assertion that the battle against terrorism is not a war against Islam should be reassuring not only for the Muslim world at large but also for the American Muslim community which has particularly been worried over the likely Islamophobic backlash iafter the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. President Obama couldn’t have been more timely and more forthright in acknowledging that the vast majority of terrorist victims were Muslims themselves. “We cannot turn against one another. That’s what groups like Isis want”.

Indeed, terrorism as an evil has afflicted humanity for centuries. In recent times, it assumed global dimension as a scourge of the new millennium only after the 9/11 tragedy. Today, it transcends all boundaries deeply impacting the political, economic and security environment of all societies. It is a faceless enemy with no faith or creed which lurks in the shadows of fear and frustration, breeds on despair and disillusionment, and is fed by poverty and ignorance. It is a violent manifestation of growing anger, despair, hatred and frustration over continuing wars, injustice, oppression and denial of fundamental freedoms and rights.

Globally, terrorism occurs most often when a powerful state uses brute force to occupy a weaker people or country, or where it is applied to suppress the legitimate right of a people to self-determination, liberty and freedom – including freedom of religion. When there are no legitimate means of addressing political, economic and social injustices, an environment is created in which peaceful solutions often lose out against extreme and violent alternatives. In such situations, terrorism becomes a tactical tool of asymmetric warfare by the weak and the desperate.

Unfortunately, for all of us on this planet, the new century did not start well. Ours is a difficult and turbulent world today. Wars of aggression and attrition, invasions in the name of self-defence, military occupations, massacres, human tragedies and humanitarian catastrophes, and an abominable culture of extremism and violence now define the new world order. Recent decades saw tragedies enacted on Muslim lands where conflict and violence remains pervasive. There could not be a more fertile environment for the evil of terrorism to grow into a global scourge which shook the world in some of the recent brutal tragedies across the globe.

The 9/11 tragedy led to a global war on terror – which potentially remains a war without an end. Even with a major troops drawdown thirteen years later, the Afghan peace is nowhere in sight. In effect, it is a major global issue now. The situation in Iraq is no different. The Iraq war is long over but anarchy and chaos reign supreme in that hapless country.

In this environment, two years ago, a militant Sunni insurgency was unleashed with Gulf states’ funding to topple the ‘tyrannical’ Assad regime in Syria. It was meant to bring the ‘Arab Spring’ to its logical conclusion. But that did not work. The heavily-armed insurgents soon changed their mind. They declared a controversial state of their own.

With another monster let loose, President Obama was left with no choice but to wage a new war last year against the so-called Islamic State or Daesh which he said was a threat to “the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East – as well as American citizens, personnel and facilities”. According to him, the ultimate objective of this war was to “degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” This was a familiar script. One was reminded of the creation of Taliban in the early 1980s to dismantle the ‘evil’ Soviet empire also motivated by larger global geo-political objectives.

In both cases, the situation turned into Frankenstein’s fictional monster challenging its own creator: “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel...” But this is not an ‘angel vs devil’ story. It is power-driven cold-blooded realpolitik that keeps the world ablaze with almost daily killings in air raids as well as in reprehensible acts of terrorism. Neither the perpetrators of the 9/11 tragedy nor those of the Paris monstrosity or even the brutal rampage at San Bernardino could be related to any religion. No religion condones, much less permits, the killing of innocent people.

After the Paris tragedy, French President Francois Hollande was quick to declare: “Nous sommes dans la guerre” (We are at war). A well-known American journalist and prolific author Ethan Casey in his latest piece uses its title to ask a blunt question: ‘Who is at war with whom and why?’ In other words, he is asking: who is the enemy? One needs to have an enemy to fight a war. One doesn’t wage wars against a mindset – no matter how perverse and abominable method of combat, which terrorism is. A perverse mindset with violent expressions is a disease and needs to be treated as such.

There was no Daesh before the 2003 Iraq invasion or even until the Syrian crisis erupted into massive bombings with all its ramifications in terms of human suffering and displacement. Also, there were no Taliban before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It is time now to review militant strategies, and to wind down costly wars. Force solves no problems. Grievances, be they in Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq or even in Pakistan, must be addressed through political and economic means. What these countries need is good governance, genuine democracy and fundamental freedoms.

In his famous Cairo speech in 2009, President Obama had identified several issues of concern to the Muslim world, including democracy, economic development and equal opportunity, that he conceded were necessary to prevent violent extremism. What needed to be understood is that it is not hatred of democracy and freedom but the desire for them that makes many Muslims look at the West as being responsible for perpetuation of undemocratic polities in their world. In their view, the ‘unholy’ alliance between authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world and the West is the biggest barrier to their access to freedom, democracy, prosperity and self-determination.

But let’s be honest. The Muslim world cannot entirely blame the West for all its ills and weaknesses. Muslim countries’ main vulnerability lies in their worldview, which is circumscribed by their self-limiting retrogressive notions and their inability to reshape their destiny as independent, tolerant and progressive societies. They alone are responsible for their institutional bankruptcy, political and intellectual aridity, chronic deficiency in knowledge, education and science and technology as well as their aversion to modernity and modernisation. To make things worse, there is no urge anywhere in the Muslim world to come out of its ostrich-like medieval mode.

It is time the Muslim world changed how it is perceived around the world to being viewed as a peace-loving, tolerant people capable of living in harmony as an integral part of humanity.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

Email: [email protected]



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