Jihadi’s World

Indian Express , July 11, 2007

The siege that was at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid and the recent thwarted terrorist attacks in London involving an Iraqi-born doctor are the latest symptoms of what ails the Muslim world.

Unwilling to take stock of the causes of its decline, the global Muslim community is trapped between the rhetoric of thoughtless radical clerics, the hate and anger of their violence-prone followers and the opportunistic behaviour of governments lacking legitimacy.

The clerics of Lal Masjid encouraged their students to impose their brand of Islam through vigilante actions. They used their pulpit to imbue their disciples with violent rage against rival sects, other religions, the US, the trappings of a westernised life, the regime of Musharraf and those individuals they considered indulging in un-Islamic behaviour.

Over the last several months, young students of institutions attached to Lal Masjid, Jamia Fareedia and Jamia Hafsa (including women) forcibly took over a public library and kidnapped women they accused of prostitution. They forced video shops to close down their businesses and dispensed instant justice at an unofficial court. Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi constantly exhorted their flock to Taliban-like vigilantism and terrorism, which they described as jihad.

The oratory of the two Lal Masjid clerics is similar to the hate-filled preaching of other self-styled jihadist Islamists around the globe. Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad and Abu Hamza al-Masri of London and Abubakar Basheer of Indonesia are other examples of radical clergy that urges Muslims to wage war against the west and use terrorism to somehow restore the past glory of Muslims.

At the heart of these clerics’ world view is an incorrect diagnosis of contemporary Muslim humiliation and weakness. The current state of the ummah — the Muslim community of believers — is the result of a failure to keep up with knowledge, science and technology, modern means of wealth generation and evolved systems of political and social organisation. But the rhetoric of the radicals attributes the Muslims’ decline to the power of the West and recommends random violence as a means of leveling the global playing field.

Their argument seems to be that since Muslims cannot beat the west on the terms of modernity, they should seek to eliminate modernity and revert to their glorious past by emulating the lifestyle of Islam’s pioneers. Instead of recognising the need to modernise the Muslim world, jihadists claim they can Islamise the modern world through furious speeches and violence.

Many ordinary Muslims, such as the Lal Masjid students and the Iraqi-born British doctor and his partners who plotted the recent foiled attacks in London, accept the flawed logic of the radical clerics and adopt terrorism as their line of attack in what they believe is a millennial struggle between Islam and un-Islam. But some of the radical clerics do not practice what they preach, like Maulana Abdul Aziz who opted to escape his besieged mosque in a burqa notwithstanding his exhortations to martyrdom. Others lead their followers to death and injury, with little to show as the positive outcome of their grandstanding.

The opportunism of rulers lacking in legitimacy further aggravates the tragedy caused for the Muslim world by radical clerics and their ill-motivated followers.

Musharraf’s government is not alone in allowing this radical menace to lurk as part of a grand design to convince the international community that the authoritarian ruler alone can keep the lid on a perilous pressure cooker. Other governments in the Muslim world have engaged in similar patterns of behaviour, alternately nourishing and fighting extremism with little regard for the long-term consequences. The crisis of the Muslim world continues to deepen.

Radical Islamists claim that “Islam is in danger”. But this danger comes primarily from terrorism, economic and knowledge poverty of Muslims and lack of progress that prevents Muslims from being equal partners in the contemporary world.