One of India’s finest university, JNU is mooting to bring a course on ‘Islamic Terrorism’. This has sparked a new controversy which many would argue is an onslaught of right wing propaganda. But the recommendation of any such course needs to first discuss: Is there any thing called Islamic Terrorism? Larger question is: If there are no such adjectives attached with any other faith then why 1.6 billion Muslims would be termed as a potential terrorist.
Is there any connection between Islam and terrorism as an idea, deeply rooted in its faith, its texts and use by large section of Muslims against the non-Muslims? By far there is no such study which proves it, even in the case of Islamic State. On the other side, the real victims are Muslims themselves, whether, it is in the Middle East or in South Asia. Islam is not as monolithic as it has been portrayed. The division within on ethnic lines, cultural differences, linguistic differences are vividly present in its history. Therefore, categorising all Muslims under one umbrella would be a dishonest task.
But the violence which has become an everyday affair in most part of Muslim majority country has less to do with its religious ethos and more due to political, economic and geostrategic reasons. One can argue that incessant gun violence in United States and Maoist activities in India has never ever linked with either Christian or Hindu Phenomenon.
The brief history of terrorism reminds us that the real challenge comes from state sponsorship and non-state actors which has always been used by states as proxies. At times for own good reason, religions have been one of the poor victim of politics where violence seeks refuge as a safe haven. The Bin laden and Al- Qaeda story is a living example of how, US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan used Bin Laden and his group against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Much before the Afghani Taliban became terrorist for the US and her allies, they were the courted by the United States. However, they became terrorist when they went rogue.
The challenge to define terrorism has been a failure and that precisely is an easy passage to paint the ‘others resistance’ as terrorism irrespective of geography, class and faith. But, if there is no Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism why then Islam terrorism?
It would be interesting also to say that Jews who were fighting British for Jewish national home in the Palestinian land for a separate statehood were called as terrorist including Menachem Begin who later became Prime Minister of Israel. But never ever Judaism was called as a faith of terror. Neither has gun violence in the US been associated with a religion, nor has cow vigilantism in India. But, involvement of any Muslim in an act of terror becomes Islamic terrorism.
Since the French Revolution, violence and terror has been a part of all resistance movements irrespective of religions and regions and at times mostly used by secular and atheist regimes.
In the case of Islam, the dominant view has been that violence and terror exist in its core. One forgets that trajectory of Islamic history is not all about wars and empires. The great civilisational achievements through its philosophy, science, architecture and aesthetic forms have been the source of European Enlightenment. The Sufi culture which crossed boundaries and mingled with local cultures defeats those toxic views of Islam.
History is an account of achievements and errors but it depends on how lessons have been learnt to correct the fictions with facts for a better present and a promising future. The challenge would be to correct this categorization and onus lies on both Muslims and non-Muslims alike and perhaps more on non-Muslims. After all, this is a question of identity of 1.6 billion people.
Islam as the Western ‘other’ became lesser, feminine and a religion which doesn’t qualify into modern world. Thus, the war of universalism between Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe vs Muslim world. The response from Islamic modernists and other intellectuals didn’t provide any epistemic challenge and followed the same template. Jihad became central philosophy for them and sadly that stills persist in many minds as a correct response.
But what does Jihad actually mean? Jihad as a philosophy means ‘to struggle against all odds’ but was reduced as a doctrine of violence against Non-Muslims.
But the violence which has become an everyday affair in most parts of Muslim-majority countries has less to do with its religious ethos and more to do with political, economic and geostrategic reasons. One can argue that incessant gun violence in United States and Maoist activities in India was never ever linked to either Christianity or Hinduism.
Another link in that category of violence is geopolitics in the aftermath of 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. That particular event further widens the gulf between Muslim countries. The Shia-Sunni division which is largely a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia used by these states and scholars alike to give it an Islamic phenomenon. The argument that they find legitimacy in the text is not sufficient because the larger sections of Muslims in general has no power to undo the damage.
The modern phase of so called ‘Islamic Terrorism’ find its roots in unsolved Palestinian question. The rise of Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1970’s and their use of plane hijacking was indeed a new form of terror but PLO was not an Islamic Organisation and Yasser Arafat was more of a secular leader. Since then the disproportionate use of force by Israel against the Palestinian people has given more power to groups like Hamas who follow the same ideology of Muslim Brotherhood and has indeed turned the conflict into a religious war. But it is the action of Israel defying every international law to stop its settler practices in the name of religious duty more to be blamed than simply termed the violent response as an Islamic terror.
The last connection here would be to discuss; how Islamic is the Islamic State? It would be erroneous to say they were not Muslims. A majority of Muslims disobeyed their claim of the caliphate. The problem is, media doesn’t cover these refutations of Muslims to such mercenary groups. The absence of authority in Islam has indeed allowed the different power groups to became the voice of 1.6 billion Muslims. Fundamentalists are there in every religion but calling it a mainstream phenomenon is inordinately absurd.
Any genuine discussion shouldn’t start with whether Islam is peaceful or violent faith, simply because, it is like any other faith. There are problems in the selective interpretation of qur’anic text, but is that exclusive to Islam. Answer is no. The notion of power is central to understand why this debate is more political and less religious.
Lastly, no religion can claim they just spread peace. That would be an incorrect judgment. There is terrorism which is perpetrated by people from all faiths and non-religious alike including Muslims but It would be irrational to call all violent acts done by Muslims or any Muslims groups as Islamic terrorism. The challenge would be to correct this categorisation and the onus lies on both Muslims and non-Muslims alike and perhaps more on non-Muslims. After all, this is a question of identity of 1.6 billion people.
One must oppose any course in a university which doesn’t have any scientific merit. JNU academic council must withdraw the proposal on a course on ‘Islamic Terrorism’ because there is nothing called ‘Islamic Terrorism’.