9.15.2005

The Collapse of Common Beliefs about Terrorism and its Justifications

By Majdi Khalil

Translation by Tony Badran (The Middle East Democracy Digest of The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies)

Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat
July 30, 2005
Web site: http://asharqalawsat.com/leader.asp?section=3&article=314933&issue=9741

Since 9/11, and after the recent attacks on Sharm el-Sheikh, as well as dozens of other minor and major terrorist attacks, most of the presuppositions regarding traditional terrorism have fallen. Also fallen are the justifications and excuses about the reasons and motives behind terrorism. Finally, the organizational framework to which these terrorists belonged also fell. That's why most Arab analysts of terrorism have become unconvincing, because they were brought up on the older concepts of Islamic terrorism.

1- The Collapse of Common Beliefs:

Fallen is the assumption that terrorists belong to the poor lower class. We now see that most terrorists belong to the middle and upper classes, or are even filthy rich. They are also not ignorant. No one can claim that Ayman al-Zawahiri and thousands of terrorists like him are ignorant. True, their culture is perverse, but at the end of the day, they belong to the educated class. Consequently, the presupposition of illiteracy also fell apart as we are now confronting terrorists with advanced degrees from known Arab and Western universities.

After 9/11, the World Bank added employment and political participation to the four basic needs of food, shelter, education and health. But even presuppositions built on that have faltered, for many of the terrorists are employed and participate in various degrees in public affairs.

The premise that terrorists come from despotic countries also failed, as three of the four London terrorists were born and raised in one of the greatest democracies in the world. This also means that the premise that they all come from Islamic countries is wrong. Furthermore, the presupposition that they are all originally tied to an Islamic country has been proven inaccurate, as many are European or American converts to Islam who were recruited, such as John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid, and Jose Padilla. Moreover, the old appearance of the bearded terrorists in Pakistani dress and sandals has fallen, for Muhammad Atta and Ziad al-Jarrah and other dress and act western.

The only assumption that hasn't fallen is that they are people who harm their Islamic religion, and millions of moderate Muslim coreligionists.

2- The Collapse of Justifications:

The excuses and reasons marketed in the Arab and Islamic world in order to justify terrorism have also collapsed. A writer for Time magazine even described them as “ridiculous.” For the world's collective conscience has agreed on a clear definition for terrorism, and the matter needs none of the sophistry of Arab fanatics. What happened to the Israeli delegation in Munich in 1972 is terrorism. Hijacking planes by Palestinians is terrorism. What happened in the theaters and schools of Russia is terrorism. A suicide bombing, whether in a restaurant in Tel Aviv or Beirut, is terrorism. What happened in New York, Washington, Madrid, Cairo, Luxor, Sharm el-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iraq, Yemen, Nairobi, and Bali, is terrorism. The killing of Shiites and Christians in Pakistan, and the killing of Copts in Egypt and of Christians in Basra, all that is terrorism. There is no cause, no matter how just, that justifies terrorism. Moreover, not a single cause has been resolved thanks to a terrorist act. That is a great illusion.

Most Palestinians today, especially President Mahmoud Abbas, realize that well, and are trying hard to distance their cause from this international terrorist mania led by Usama Bin Laden and his evil friends. That is why Bin Laden and his aides among “some” of the Arab clerics and analysts moved toward focusing in the Arab media on Iraq, the American occupation, imperialist colonialism, and the humiliation of the umma, and other such excuses to justify their evil acts. As Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri put it: “some in the Arab world use these claims and justifications to recruit terrorists to fight against the US and others.” For what is the relation between Iraq and the killing of innocents in Sharm el-Sheikh? Was the Luxor massacre of 1997 also for Iraq?

The 1990s represented the decade of the West's wars in defense of Muslims in Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In fact, the Clinton era can be dubbed the era of pampering Muslims and defending them abroad and domestically. Never had Islam spread in the US as it did under Clinton. Despite that, Americans were attacked in Khobar, Riyad, Aden, Nairobi, Dal As-Salam, and the World Trade Center (the first attack). What amazed me personally was the confirmation that 9/11 was planned in the Clinton era. Nothing he did for Muslims made a difference, and all the attacks against Americans occurred during his administration. What does that have to do with the war in Afghanistan and Iraq?! What more could Clinton have done for Muslims that he didn't do? Truth is that if all excuses ran out, the terrorists would claim they're fighting to restore Andalusia, for these perverse people who keep repeating: “we are people who love death,” will not be hampered by lack of silly excuses to spread destruction and mayhem.

3- The Collapse of Organizations

Fixed organizations with members, such as Jamaa Islamiya and Islamic Jihad etc., have fallen, and all these organizations have melted into an “evil ideology,” as described by Tony Blair. Al-Qaeda is not an organization as much as it is an intellectual umbrella for this evil ideology.

Now we hear new terms like “sleeper cells,” and “roaming terrorist,” or “random terrorism,” and other such terms. And instead of the Muslim diasporas assimilating into western societies, there emerged a trans-national melting pot for extremists and terrorists. Some media, satellite stations and internet sites have come to serve as an international network that ties these dispersed cells together through the praising of extremism, and offering justifications on its behalf in order to strengthen it, providing it with new recruits, facilitating coordination and communication, gathering money for it, aiding it in the brainwashing and the delivering of coded messages.

Finally, the truth that reasonable people know within the Muslim world, is that the solution comes from within Islam. This is a self-evident truth before Tony Blair's declaration that the war against Al-Qaeda “is a global struggle and it is a battle of ideas, hearts and minds, both within Islam and outside it. [It is] a battle not just about the terrorist methods, but their views. Not just their barbaric acts, but their barbaric ideas. Not only what they do, but what they think.”

There are some Arab regimes that fight and try to minimize terrorist violence within their societies in order to protect themselves. But most Arab and Islamic states do not seriously fight terrorist thought. What's more regrettable is the absence of moral clarity against terrorism among Arab and Muslim peoples. On the contrary, there are those who rejoice – or at least are relieved – when terrorism hits non-Muslim societies. Alas, this is a truth that must be acknowledged.

In order to indicated the size of the crisis inside the Muslim world, let us ask a clear and specific question: do you view Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, Muhammad Atta, Ramzi Bin Shibh, and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as terrorists or as mujahideen? Also, do you think the ideas of Abul A'la al-Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb are terrorist or jihadist ideas? Let us pose this question to many of the teachers and clerics. The answer will clarify the size of the crisis inside some Muslim societies.

The ball is now in the court of Muslim moderates to claim back their hijacked Islam, not just from Bin Laden and his friends, but from the clerics and media of incitement.

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