Ideas

London Terror: To Win The War, The West Needs To Empower Reformist Muslims

A member of the public is treated by emergency services near Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament after the terror attack. (Carl Court/GettyImages)  
Snapshot
  • By giving ordinary Muslims the option of convincing themselves that they are victims rather than perpetrators, we are essentially disempowering the rational voices in the community.

    It is this group that needs empowerment, so that Islam rethinks its history and reworks its own imperialist tendencies.

    If the world is to become a saner place, it is Islam that needs to be secularised, and this task can be done only by Muslims.

The London terror attack yesterday (22 March), which is likely to have been prompted by Islamist rage and jihadi activity, is one more proof that the world has not got its anti-terrorism act right. The world is losing the “war on terror” because one cannot win against shadowy combatants who believe in asymmetric warfare.

Terrorism is a tactic in Islam’s cosmic war against Christendom, and no strategy can win permanently against opponents who deploy flexible tactics, as Daniel DePetris, wrote in The American Conservative some time ago. You can crash aircraft into the Twin Towers one day, you can blow yourself up against a military target, you can run over and kill ordinary citizens on a promenade by driving a truck into them (or a car, as in London), or, as in India, you can kill people by trying to derail trains. There is little that anti-terror warriors can do if a terrorist is willing to die in the process of killing others. Islam has an inherent advantage in this tactic, for Muslims seem more willing to kill themselves for uncertain gains in the afterlife than most other people.

Against tactics, you can prevent some horrors, but you can never win.

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Over the last few years, the focus of Islamist terror has shifted towards Europe, and there are two reasons for this: practical and sentimental. America (the “Great Satan”) is geographically difficult to strike, given its geographical isolation from the world’s jihadi centres. But Europe is closer, and it is where Islamists believe they lost their rising global clout, when Charles Martel defeated the armies of the Caliphate in the Battle of Tours in 732 AD.

Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilisations, explained this animus between Islam and Christianity best when he noted: “The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

Till this rage ends, or till the perceived power imbalance ends, Islamist terror will probably remain a global scourge.

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Even though leadership of the Christian world is now essentially that of the US, especially with Europe turning secular with a vengeance after two world wars, it is Europe that Islamists look at as having been unfairly snatched from them. It is Europe that is currently their suicidal quest.

The rage of Islamists is thus the rage of those whose current inferior status is out of sync with their own memories of superpower status in the immediate centuries after the passing of the Prophet. We are witness to some of this discord in India, too, where many Muslims think of their community as former rulers of India now reduced to subject status.

If the Hinduism-Islam conflict is less damaging than the one between Christendom and Islam, it is largely because Indic religions are more syncretic in their approach, and rejection of Islam as a valid religion is not essential to being a Hindu or Buddhist or Jain. But among the Abrahamic religions, the relationship is binary, win-lose: if you accept Jesus, everyone else is false; is you accept Allah and His Prophet, everything else is false, even though minor concessions can be made for lesser prophets like Jesus.

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Both Christianity and Islam are imperialist in vision: they believe they should rule the world, and it is every Christian’s or Muslim’s duty to extend the faith to the whole of earth. This puts them in eternal mortal combat. The only difference between modern-day born-again Christians and Islamists is the former believe in conquest through modern marketing and economic inducements; the latter are still obsessing with the need for muscle power.

Till the binary nature of the conflict is resolved by the two faiths through a dialogue, or till Islam achieves superpower status equivalent to that achieved by Christian powers, terrorism will continue to find enough water for its roots. The vast majority of Muslims may not support terror, but they do not deny a subtle belief in achieving Islam’s global destiny.

One way Muslim power is being sought to be consolidated is through the old institution of the Caliphate. When the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished by Kemalist forces in the early decades of the last century, it left a figurative power void. The Ottomans in their declining years were more titular heads of Islam than real ones, but Ataturk broke even this emotional link to power by choosing nationalism over Islam. It is only now, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Islamism is returning as the key component of power in Turkey.

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The main strategy for re-establishing a Caliphate involves emulating the Prophet, who, when he was driven out of Mecca, established a base in Medina till he garnered enough power to take back Mecca. The Medina idea is about biding your time, accumulating power, and then overwhelming your opponents to achieve total power. This is why Osama bin Laden attempted to create a Medina in Afghanistan, complete with Mullah Omar as a prospective Caliph; this is why Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi established a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The idea is (or was, since Islamic State is losing the war) to create a Medina first and then move on towards a full-fledged Islamic powerhouse.

It is interesting to note that even Pakistan, the world’s original Islamic state, was also conceived of as a Muslim Medina in the sub-continent after Partition. The ideologues of Pakistan saw it as a future power base for the Islamic world, which, at that point, was largely under colonial rule. Both Bin Laden and Baghdadi are failing because they have taken on too many strong enemies at the same time. They should consider Pakistan as the real long-term power player. It is biding its time, making deals with both existing superpowers, the US and China, and building itself up as Islam’s sole nuclear power. With the heft of a huge population base, one should not be surprised if Pakistan ultimately becomes the leader of the Islamic world. We should forget that Pakistan was once a part of Akhand Bharat. It has sailed too far in the direction of Islamism to change course.

Coming back to the idea of defeating terrorism, one has to accept the reality that it cannot be defeated. It can be contained, it can be limited, but it can never be defeated till Islamists think it is no longer necessary to kill by blowing themselves up. That is far, far away.

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The essential components for the war on terror will have to include the following:

One, more investment in intelligence and preventive surveillance, and not excess investment in interventionist wars in West Asia. We also need to accept that civilian and military casualties are unavoidable. It may sound inhuman to say so, but the war on terror cannot be won by pretending that every life must be protected from terror. It can’t. Some $4 trillion in West Asian wars and nation building efforts later, and with annual budgets rising to over $100 billion in homeland security and intelligence, America is still no safer today than in was before the Twin Towers came down.

Two, empowerment of people on how to act and deal with terrorist acts when they face them. Trying to protect every public place with excessive police deployment and anti-terror weaponry may do less to prevent terrorism than citizen empowerment. Citizens need to be taught how to spot, avoid and deal with terrorist acts when they happen.

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Three, giving leadership of de-radicalisation efforts to Muslims themselves. All Muslims know that it is their own fringe elements that are indulging in terror. But Left and “secular” elements want to pretend that majoritarian tendencies and institutionalised discrimination are the reasons for Muslim alienation and hence terrorism. This may be true, but is there any society that can claim to be truly fair to all groups at all times? By giving ordinary Muslims the option of convincing themselves that they are victims rather than perpetrators, we are essentially disempowering the rational voices in the community. It is this group that needs empowerment, so that Islam rethinks its history and reworks its own imperialist tendencies. If the world is to become a saner place, it is Islam that needs to be secularised, and this task can be done only by Muslims.

Christianity was no different from modern-day Islam, and it took scientific progress, a reformation and renaissance to tame Christianity’s violent underpinnings. Christianity essentially tamed itself when its modernisers rose to the fore half a millennium ago. But in Islam, even as moderate voices are growing, this reformist group is being branded Islamophobic and left isolated by liberals and the Left. A reformist like Majid Nawaz is now being labelled Islamophobic. Ali Rizvi, a Pakistani-Canadian writer, wrote in The Huffington Post, it is one thing to fight prejudice, quite another to think Islam itself cannot be critiqued. The US Left-Liberal is complicit in giving Islam immunity from criticism that no other religion receives. Says Rizvi: “In addition to calling out prejudice against Muslims (a people), the term “Islamophobia” seeks to shield Islam itself (an ideology) from criticism. It’s as if every time you said smoking was a filthy habit, you were perceived to be calling all smokers filthy people.”

Four, the leaders of the Christian and Islamic worlds need to start a dialogue to establish respect between the two faiths. If this happens, the hot war between jihadis and Christendom will cool off into a Cold War which will be less violent.

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Five, Indian Muslims can play a big role in moderating global Islamism, being the beneficiaries of a pluralist country. Whatever their economic deprivations, their political and legal rights are the same as that of other Indians. They are not dhimmies.

And, yes, the world could learn a thing or two from India, in not turning too paranoid when terror strikes. Indians have no option but to pick themselves up after every terror attack and continue as usual, thanks to an inept police system. Citizens know that they are essentially on their own, and the state can do little to protect them from wanton terror. The west needs to take on the same karmic attitude to terror losses, but without allowing its police forces to turn inept.

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