Terrorism wont end by Curbing Madrassas

Gulf News, August 4, 2005

The Pakistani government’s decision to bar 1,400 foreigners from studying at the country’s madrassas is not the solution to the country’s problem with terrorism.

None of the terrorists involved in international attacks linked to Pakistan, even tenuously, over the past several years have been regular foreign madrassa students.

Pakistan’s real problem is the training camps established by jihadist groups in the country, which were tolerated by the Pakistani State for strategic reasons.

Some of these camps operated alongside or under the cover of madrassas.

By focusing on madrassas, and then only on foreigners within the madrassas, Pakistani officials are once again missing the opportunity to come clean on the country’s recent past and move forward with a complete roll back of jihadism.

Blaming foreigners has become a convenient excuse in Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, to avoid unequivocally condemning the extremist jihadists’ ideology of hatred.

It is not necessary for everyone in Europe or the Muslim world to agree with all aspects of US or British policy to acknowledge that many Muslims have been so consumed by hatred of the West that they have lost their moral compass.

Terrorism is reprehensible and most people know the definition of terrorism. Extremist ideologies that feed terrorism or justify and condone it deserve unequivocal condemnation.

Instead, non-steps such as expulsion of foreign students from madrassas continue to distract Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf’s regime from going beyond lip service in dealing with homegrown terrorism.

Pakistan’s madrassas breed hostility towards modernity, produce students without much contemporary knowledge and feed an overall atmosphere of obscurantism.

But madrassas have existed for centuries without producing terrorists. Producing medieval thought is not the same as producing radicalism.

Real reason

The real reason why so many Islamist radicals from all over the world congregated or passed through Pakistan was the strategic decisions by Pakistan’s rulers to use jihad as an instrument of influence in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

If Pakistan is to move beyond the phase of officially tolerated jihadism, it is not the madrassas but the training camps and the militias spawned by them that need to be shut down.

For Pakistan’s intelligentsia, too, this is a moment of truth. The perceived or real flaws of Europeans and Americans must not be used as the basis for shifting responsibility for Islamist terrorism from its ideology of hate to specific US policy decisions, past or present.

The bulk of the recent victims of global terror have been Muslims, slaughtered by those claiming to speak in the name of a purer Islam.

This slaughter is hardly a rational response to “occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine”, as some commentators describe terrorist attacks.

A booklet by the Pakistani jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) declares the United States, Israel and India as existential enemies of Islam and lists eight reasons for global jihad.

These include the restoration of Islamic sovereignty to all lands where Muslims were once ascendant, including “Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary, Cyprus, Sicily, Ethiopia, Russian Turkistan and Chinese Turkistan … Even parts of France reaching 90 kilometres outside Paris”.

Blaming the United States for the delusions of these admittedly small groups confers a degree of legitimacy on Islamist extremists and undermines moderate Muslims struggling for the soul of their faith.

The United States’ support for the guerilla campaign against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan cannot be described as American endorsement of jihadist ideology.

From the US point of view, it made strategic sense to bleed the Soviets and force them out of Afghanistan.

The US channelled its support for the Afghan resistance through its ally, Pakistan, and other Western allies in the Muslim world, also supported the Afghans.

The Afghan resistance included secular nationalists as well as Islamist jihadists. It was Pakistan’s military ruler General Zia ul Haq who decided to allow Islamists from all over the world to congregate in Pakistan to train for war across the border.
America’s intelligence apparatus and intellectual community, focused on fighting communism, did not identify the potential of radical Islamists to emerge as a major global security threat.

That error must now be rectified by sharing the responsibility and blame.

To minimise the significance of the radical Islamists’ ideology, and blame America for attacks against the West, is as likely to swell the ranks of terrorists as real or perceived grievances within the Muslim world.

Jihad and Jihadism

The Indian Express, August 3, 2005

The Bush administration is finally taking the task of communicating with the Muslim world seriously. The US President has appointed his trusted counsel and fellow Texan, Karen Hughes, as the under-secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Although Hughes has little exposure to the Muslim world, or for that matter to the world beyond the United States, she has good political instincts and the ear of President Bush. These qualities make her more qualified to explore a fresh approach in building bridges than seasoned diplomats with fixed ideas.
Karen Hughes will look at the problem America faces in explaining its policies and actions to the international community, especially its 1.4 billion Muslims and the remedies she suggests will immediately get attention from America’s all powerful President. That is more than the US has been able to achieve in the field of public diplomacy over the last several decades.

Hughes began her stint as public diplomacy czar with a ‘‘listening tour” of several Muslim countries. She met with ‘‘opinion leaders”, held a town hall meeting with women in Saudi Arabia, and impressed almost everyone she met with her desire to listen and learn.

The conservative US publication, The Weekly Standard, described her as ‘‘Karen of Arabia” for her ability to present herself as an ordinary American mother engaged in people to people relations and not as a high-ranking official on a serious mission.

According to The Weekly Standard, ‘‘Her unshakable discipline in sticking to the script has a mind-numbing effect when you watch her through several events a day”.

‘‘I go as an official of the US government, but I’m also a mom, a working mom,” she reportedly told reporters on the flight from Washington to Cairo. She repeated that theme throughout her tour. At one point she said, ‘‘I still have to pinch myself a little when I am sitting in a meeting with the king [of Saudi Arabia] and realize that I’m there representing our country”.

Such humility is unusual in high-ranking officials of any country, let alone the world’s sole superpower. Even if it was scripted, it probably endeared Hughes to her audiences.

But winning hearts and minds for America requires a process, not just the event of Hughes’ listening tour. As she initiates that process, Hughes should be careful not to let the ruling elites of the Muslim world control her understanding of their people and their views of the United States.

Over the years, just as the average Muslim man or woman has been persuaded to turn against America, a class of rulers, diplomats, global bankers and media specialists has been produced that lives off its role as the intermediaries between the United States and the ‘‘backward and complicated” Muslim people.

These intermediaries between America and the Muslim world live good lives, often at Uncle Sam’s expense. They also come up with reasons why US foreign policy, and not the failures of Muslim rulers, is somehow to blame for global Muslim decline.

Thus, lack of American support of the Palestinians or the Kashmiris, Moros, and Chechens has been the centerpiece of Muslim public discourse over the past several decades rather than the low human development indicators resulting from lack of investment in education and healthcare.

No one doubts widespread anti-Americanism in Muslim countries but it may not be as deep-rooted a sentiment as is sometimes believed. It is often nurtured by the very elites that the US cultivates.

These elites rent out their support to US policies in return for economic and military aid and anti-Americanism among the people is sometimes an instrument of policy for seeking higher rent for the rulers services on behalf of America.

The Musharrafs and Mubaraks of this world appear more appealing as allies to American policy makers when these rulers are seen as controlling difficult populations that passionately hate the US.

Ordinary Muslims are not totally unresponsive to America’s positive actions or policies as is sometimes suggested. Significant US military sales to the Suharto regime in Indonesia, for example, did not win America much support but, according to polling data released by Ken Ballen of Terror Free Tomorrow, humanitarian assistance after the tsunami dented anti-Americanism among grateful Indonesian Muslims.

Successive US administrations have ignored the Muslim Street, being content instead to depend upon friendly potentates and dictators. But such dependence also makes the US vulnerable to manipulation by its allies. The deployment of anti-Americanism among the people, to seek higher rent for cooperation with the US, is part of that manipulative process.

The new US public diplomacy should not allow itself to be derailed by the over-simplification that America would be liked much more if only the world knew its good intentions. Nor should it remain a prisoner of the deviousness of America’s authoritarian allies.

The most important thing is to identify cultural intermediaries and interlocutors who are as serious about fighting anti-Americanism in the Muslim world as Hughes herself.

Surely, the beneficiaries of the gulf between the US and the world’s Muslims — those who profit from US aid to stabilise ‘unstable’ countries — would not want the status quo to change.