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Terrorism Subverts Islam

Rakshat Puri Content

Coinciding with the result of the presidential election in the United States, a book has become available on the stalls which, in the circumstances, is more than commonly interesting. Titled USA and the Muslim World- Cooperation and Confrontation, it has been published recently by Brunel Academic Publishers of England. The volume is a collection of essays by some distinguished Indian academicians. It has been put together and edited by Riyaz Punjabi, who is associated with the Centre for Study of Social Systems at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and is President of the International Centre for Peace Studies.

Others who have contributed to the volume include M. H. Ansari, a visiting Professor in the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia of New Delhi and former diplomat; Prof Rakesh Gupta, Prof. B. K. Srivastava, Prof. Manmohan Agarwal, Prof. Abdul Nafey and Prof. Kalim Bahadur, all specialists, also at the JNU; and Dr. Saleem Kidwai who is Reader in the Department of Political Science at Kashmir University, now at the Visiting Faculty of JNU in the School of International Studies.

The essays in the book move through the past few decades of US relations with the Muslim world. They attempt to detail, in the various ways and perspectives of the authors, the developments which led to '9/11' and its aftermath. They also lead the mind to ruminate on reasons for US President Bush's call for a 'global war against terrorism' and his going astray then with the invasion of Iraq. The implications and explications in the book gain relevance from the post-election speculation heard in many circles about the timing of Osama bin Laden's threat. The threat came at the height of the US presidential election campaign.

Some four days before the polling, Osama accused Bush of "deceiving" Americans; he also threatened vaguely of a repeat of '9/11' if the US did not stop threatening Muslims. His message to Americans said, inter alia: 'Despite entering the fourth year after September 11, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth… the reasons are still there to repeat what happened". Newspaper commentators have pointed out that the timing of the threat undoubtedly helped Bush in gaining votes. They tend to believe it was more than mere chance that led Osama bin Laden to issue the threat when he did.

In this general context, the comments of Islam in USA and the Muslim World tend to become more than ordinarily relevant. Two references seem of particular interest: first, references to Jihad, its place in Islamic ways and culture, and the tragic misuse of the concept by terrorists; and secondly -for India most of all of course - the references to the Islamic approach and attitude to Kashmir.

Saleem Kidwai of the Kashmir University asserts - as Riyaz Punjabi stresses in his introduction - that the word Jihad has nowhere in the Quran been used to imply war. It has been used, rather, to mean struggle within the individual. The early Arab conquests "gave a psychological twist to Islamic thought.. [which] resulted in the emergence of a doctrine in which Jihad came to be equated with the jihad of the sword". Eventually, he adds, men like Osama "broadened the scope of jihad". The Quran has been quoted by writers on mysticism as teaching its followers "mu tu qabal an't mu tu" - which they translates as "before thy death do thou die". In its authorized Saudi translation the Quran explains that the essence of jihad "consists in .. a true and sincere faith which so fixes its gaze on Allah that all selfish or worldly motives seem paltry and fade away…brutal fighting is opposed to the whole spirit of jihad…"

The Quranic quote - "Before thy death do thou die" - is, in fact, said to be the teaching of all mystics, whatever the religion. In the Adi Granth (Sri Raag, Mohalla Paehla, Page 21) Guru Nanak's teaching has been translated as: "The Home you wish to reach after death,/Attain it through dying while still living". And Maulana Jalauddin Rumi's urging is often quoted - "b' mer ae dost pesh a m'rg gar mae zindagi khhwa'hi" - "Friend, if life dost thou desire/ Then before thy death do thou die". To judge from accounts by mystics and their disciples, the reference to "dying while still living" relates to withdrawal of attention totally from the life around, and, in meditation, to total concentration inside the individual's own mind. The body is for all practical purposes then 'dead', until the individual 'returns' from his or her inward-carrying meditation. The Vedas too (Pandit Satyakam Vidyalanakar's translation) tells us: "Only he knows truly the mighty omnipotent and omnipresent God, who is within and beyond all formulated entities of the vast universe. Penetrate deeper to know the ultimate truth" (Atharva. 10.8.38).

A central point that emerges from all this and from the references to Jihad in USA and The Muslim World is that - as in other faiths and religions - in Islam, too, genuine religious faith is based on every individual's own individuality. He or she has to seek ultimate Knowledge and realize ultimate Truth within himself or herself.

The reference to misuse of the concept of Jihad by external "Islamic" terrorists in Kashmir is noted primarily by Riyaz Punjabi in his own essay in the collection, in which he details the history of global Islamic movements. He quotes Pakistani scholar Pervez Hoodbhoy's observation that "around 1990, Pakistan's military embarked upon a covert war in Kashmir (in India) using radical Islamic proxies trained and based in Pakistan. It was an effort to reply the strategy used by the US in Afghanistan against the Soviets, in which Pakistan's military had played a central role".

Prof. Punjabi also recalls that, in an interview with The Hindu in December 2003 "Benazir Bhutto admitted that 'Pakistan had backed a low-intensity conflict in Jammu and Kashmir during her first tenure (as Pakistan's Prime Minister) in the early 1980s'… The foreign militants who participated in Afghanistan Jihad started converging in Kashmir in early 1990s. In September 1992, Voice of America broadcast the interviews of an Afghan, an Indonesian, a Malaysian and a Sudanese, who had joined militant ranks in Kashmir… The Islamist agenda in Kashmir", adds Prof Punjabi, "was articulated by the prominent militant group, Hizbul Mujahidddin, by asserting that 'Our aim is the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate world over".

Some of the other contributors too refer to J-K in their essays. But there is one quotation taken by Riyaz Punjabi, from a book, Gateway to Terrorism, by Pakistani commentator Mohammad Amir Rana, which may be revealing of what really turns on some youthful jihadis. He quotes Rana as saying, while profiling the jihadi mindset, that "young people suffer from the complex of jihadi heroism. For instance, one mujahid of Jaish-e-Mohammad from Sargodha (Pakistani Punjab), Akbar Khan, told me that there is money, respect and clout in jihad". Can this be the result of the teaching, or mis-teaching, by mullahs and maulvis and other leaders who belong to fundamental "Islamic" groups, and who themselves rarely seem involved actively in self-killing jihadi attacks - which also kill uninvolved and innocent men, women and children?

The references to Kashmir in USA and the Muslim World may in essence be of prime interest and concern to India (and Pakistan). But in the larger perspective of the world's single superpower attempting to bend the Islamic sector to an American-cast image, "Islamic" terrorism in Kashmir tends to become part of a global political landscape. Bush's refusing practically to note "Islamic" terrorism in Kashmir during his bawling and bellowing about "global war against terrorism" is as curious as has been his staying away from the "war against terrorism" into invading Iraq - for reasons utterly unconvincing.

Where, then, do we, and the Americans, and the world, go from here? After a US presidential election said to be history's most significant globally? As things are, it is difficult to foresee how events and issues will turn in the coming weeks and months - let alone years. Only time can and will tell what might follow happenings such as Osama bin Laden's threat to America and the Americans; the rising fundamentalist anger in the Islamic world at events such as the US invasion of Iraq; and the protests that have been heard in the Islamic world over what is widely seen as covert US encouragement to Israel in the continuing Israel-Palestine imbroglio. To all these and other questions and issues, Riyaz Punjabi's USA and the Muslim World understandably does not venture to provide answers. But it does offer a historical context in which answers might effectively be sought, and in which speculation might move perceptively.

Courtesy: Asia Features