Why the Right is wrong
Does the typical knee-jerk response of the right wing to any act of terror end up helping the enemy? Is copying the approach of a Regressive Bigoted Mullah the “right answer” at all?
Imagine, a gruesome act of violence takes place.
The right wing will immediately, and almost gleefully, (as if they desperately wanted it to happen!) swing into action. They often start pushing their bigoted views even before the details have been ascertained. IF and as soon as the perpetrator was proven to be a Muslim, they immediately behave as psychological “wound collectors” and use any such tragedy to push and justify their own Islamophobic beliefs. If it turns out that some radicalized Muslim, brainwashed by ISIS or Al Qaeda propaganda, is behind it, they have a field day.
Some, often labelled as the apologists for Islamist terrorism will immediately highlight that “Islam is a religion of peace”, “Terror has no religion”, “Killing one person in Islam is equivalent to killing all of humanity” and so on.
We all have seen both of these. It has become ritualistically predictable. Question is, what is the optimum response against acts of terror by anyone, especially the Islamists, for all of us in the long run? To arrive at the best response, we need to define the “enemy”, understand its history, motivation, and aims, as well as its weaknesses. Note that we declare at the outset that a large number of Muslims themselves have been the biggest casualties of such acts, so these Islamist terrorists are as much their enemies as they are for anyone else. Also, while the article has been written taking Islamists’ terrorism as a primary example, extremists of all religions follow the same mindset, and thus are mirror images of each other. We shall show how this can easily be applied to any act of terror.
History of Political Islamism
First, let us not beat around the bush here. Misuse of religion for political goals is always dangerous and nowhere is this evident as it is with the state of several Islamic countries today. Much of the Arab world used to be under the control of the Ottoman Empire of Turks for six hundred years. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and fought against Britain and France. Britain and France used subversive tactics to arouse and exploit any local ethnic resentment that Arabs held against the Turks, and engineered a rebellion in the area. Lawrence Of Arabia, the main agent of this change, befriended and enticed several Arab tribes to rebel and rise against their Ottoman Turk rulers. These tribes were promised rich rewards in return. When world war I ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France divided the erstwhile territory as they deemed fit, and based on their own convenience, and allegiance of the locals, rather than any logical reason.
Kurdish territory was divided amongst current day Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Syria and Iraq themselves were composed of areas with a 50-50 explosive mix of Shias and Sunnis, Lebanon and Syria were awarded to France, and Palestine to Britain. The remainder of vast tracts of Arabian desert were given the tribe called the house of Sauds, who had helped the British defeat the Turks. All in all, these were borders drawn hastily by the victorious colonial powers with a complete disregard to the ethnic mix of the people. Artificial nations and boundaries were forced on the people, and this was a recipe for disaster. The fire we see everywhere was lit from the embers of the first world war. Another spark was lit when the western powers created the state of Israel in the territory of Palestine after the 2nd world war.
And then, Oil was discovered, huge amounts of it, in this backward desert region. Soon, it became very convenient for the western powers to merely placate and appease the rulers of these artificial “nations”, so as to strike lucrative deals. With the first oil crisis of the early 70s, when the oil cartel of OPEC, led by the Arabs, raised the petroleum price from $3 per barrel to $12, these countries started asserting themselves economically on the global stage.
The house of the Sauds, Royal family of Saudi Arabia, had been imposed on the people by the British. To gain legitimacy, they entered a marriage of convenience with the powerful clergy of this deeply religious land. The Mullahs1 were given a free hand to impose their agenda domestically, and even export it internationally. The Royal Family in Iran, the Shia stronghold, did the mistake of not doing the same, and the clergy overthrew them in the revolution of 1979. This has forced the Saudis to double up on their “appease the Mullahs” act. During the cold war, the western powers often sided with the dictators and kingdoms of the area as convenient “allies” against communists, disregarding the excesses of their own partners.
What we see as Islamic terrorist outfits such as ISIS or Al Qaeda today, have their roots in the spread of a very puritanical version of Wahabi/Salafi Islam that was spread by the allies of the west – the Saudis, themselves. Since 1970s, they have provided training in their own version of Islam to clerics, and also financial aid to mosques all over the world. The result is that erstwhile liberal and progressive Islamic societies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and even Turkey have become far more religious than they were in the past.
Note: The author isn’t supporting or justifying the spread of political Islamism as a “reaction” to events of the past. That is what the apologists for the Radical Islamists often do. We are merely providing the context in which this movement has spread.
Also, note that similar historical grievances are exploited by the extremists of all communities. It could be Hindutva bigot still upset over deeds of some Mughal ruler 350 years ago or the British colonial rule of India, or a Right Wing supremacist in Britain lamenting the loss of colonial power to the arrival of immigrants from India and Africa. Every community, even those who colonized others, may have some sore points or grievances that a bigoted demagogue, or an identity politics based movement can exploit.
The Enemy and their Goal
When you raise snakes in your backyard with the hope they will only bite the neighbour, it is very common that they turn back to bite you. This happens with Bajrang Dal type Gau Rakshak goons, and this also happens with Islamic radicals. Soon, these policies of appeasing the clergy, helping spread radical Islam, by the Arab states and Pakistan came back not only to haunt them but also the whole world.
The terrorist outfits – ISIS, Taliban or Al Qaeda, is the Enemy. An average Jihadi of these organizations has been brainwashed by the propaganda that Islam’s golden age was that when a pan-Islamic Khilafat ruled over all Muslim lands. They seek to re-establish this old order and are very bitter about all the historical “wrongs” they perceive as having been done to them. They believe in their ancient glory and supremacy and dismiss any secular opposition.
In other words, they are your typical right-wing guys, playing divisive identity politics, with an explicit political agenda – that of overthrowing the current governments or current constitution, taking control and rule over the Muslim world, establishing some version of an Islamic Utopia, seeing people via the prism of “Us Vs Them”.
The Muslim world is today caught between liberal Muslims just going about their lives, hoping they and their young kids have a good career, worrying about their mortgage, football team, electronic gadgets and cars like you and me, and then these Islamist revivalist radicals who are seeking restore a medieval pan-Islamic superstate. You can think of this as an Islamic version of an “Akhand Bharat” as conceived by their Hindu radical counterparts in India, or a “pure white” “immigrant free” land as conceived by White supremacists in the west.
The primary goal of Islamist radicals is to first gain political power within these Muslim countries and then set out to create a Khilafat. Their first obstacle is the vast majority of their own Muslim countrymen, who do not share this worldview of Muslim victim-hood to the same extent, who do not want to fight the West, or other Non-Muslim countries, but simply watch Bollywood and Hollywood movies, drive the Japanese or German cars, and drink the American Colas. In other words, they have a normal business and cultural interaction with the rest of the world. It is these “normal guys” who have been fighting the radical extremists the most, and been bearing the brunt. These are the Kurds or other Iraqis and Syrians fighting ISIS, The Arabs & Iranians who raised their voice against Al-Qaeda and fought them. The first objective of the Islamist radical is to eliminate this obstacle, gain support (or at least kill any opposition) amongst a majority within their own countries.
What is stopping the Enemy
As long as this population of “normal guys” has some sufficient economic, cultural or personal ties & dependence with the rest of the world, and aren’t radicalized, they will oppose the radical Islamist. The average person in any country wants a good life for himself and a decent future for their kids. The only way ISIS or any such group can gain full and unchallenged control over any territory is when a vast majority of the local population supports them in this endeavour. Else, even if they assume temporary military control over some piece of land, without ideological control over the “hearts and minds” of the majority living there, they would not have any political legitimacy as a “nation”, and shall struggle to hold that territory, be permanently embroiled in a state of civil war. This is exactly what we see in the vast swathes of Syria and Iraq today. While ISIS may have temporary military control over some territory, they do not enjoy any overwhelming local support. Instead, the local population (e.g. Kurds of Mosul) have been resisting and fighting them heroically. If you look at any data about victims of terrorism in the past decade, you will find that it is the local Muslim population of the worst affected countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, who have paid the heaviest price in fighting the terrorists.
The enemy can only gain political legitimacy in the territory it controls militarily, via a rule of force, is when it starts enjoying genuine popular support amongst the local population. In other words, when a vast number of our “normal guys” start feeling victimized by the rest of the world, start believing in the “Us Vs Them” narrative of the Jihadis, start supporting ISIS instead of being the first and biggest line of defence against it.
In this scenario, not only will a terrorist group ISIS gain legitimacy politically, but also be able to focus better on fighting its challengers in the form of Iraqi or Syrian armies, as a large number of Jihadis would no longer be involved in “controlling” the local population anymore. As events or the Arab Spring showed us, such popular support can prove “infectious”. The region suffers from a lack of proper democratic regimes, and there is a vast undercurrent of resentment against the current rulers. In this nightmare scenario, a force such as ISIS can exploit the frustrations and generate a wave of popular support for itself. The only thing stopping this from happening is that an average Muslim is not brainwashed or bigoted enough to allow this. Yet.
Helping the Enemy
The only way this average Muslim of the Arab countries can switch over to supporting ISIS is if he feels extremely disgruntled about something, and his anger is exploited by ISIS. In fact, the groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS got a huge boost from the US invasion of Iraq. A large number of people around the world felt the invasion was illegal. A regime change imposed by external powers can always be unstable. The images of women and children killed by bombing, or abuse of prisoners at Al Gharib prison of Baghdad provided a huge propaganda coup to the Jihadis, and gave a tremendous impetus to their “recruitment drive”.
What do the terrorists want?
Ask yourself, what would ISIS or Lashkar-e-Taiyaba(LeT) like to see? What do they seek from orchestrating acts of terrorism in Europe or in India? What reaction by the majority would help them?
- A vast number of the non-Muslim majority population in these places start becoming Islamophobic bigots, start viewing all Muslims with suspicion, thus discriminating against them.
- A vast number of the non-Muslim majority population in these places doesn’t allow such acts of terrorism to affect their behaviour towards anyone, remain tolerant, humanist and inclusive.
Bigotry Begets more Bigots
Bigots of each community are ideological cousins – the mirror images of each other, who are united by hate. An ISIS/LeT supporting Mullah holds views of their own supremacy over people of other religions, just as a Hindutva fringe leader or a white supremacist in the West believes in the supremacy of their own ethnic/religious groups. Further, all of these feed on the bigotry of each other.
Next time there is an inflammatory statement, or an act of terror, by anyone, just observe the reactions yourselves. You will find that the person making the most noise about it, and whose own propaganda benefits the most, is the bigot of the other side. Each time Donald Trump makes a stupid Islamophobic remark or takes a stupid action such as Visa ban, trust me, the folks at ISIS would be cheering it – their target audience has just been given one more reason to hate America, and support a group like ISIS.
Each time a Hafiz Saeed or Mullah Baghdadi type character voice some regressive bigoted views, the person who “en-cashes” and uses these the most to his benefit is some regressive Hindutva fringe element. Each time the Hindutva fringe guy says something denigrating the Muslims, it is actually like music to the ears of Hafiz Saeed, who would readily use it for his own propaganda, convince his audience that “look all Hindus are out there to kill us Muslims, better take up arms and fight the Jihad against them!”
So, spreading more religious hatred and bigotry, as the right wing does to push its own agenda, is clearly not the right response. Not only is it helping the bigot that you hate, but you also end up becoming like the religious bigot whom you hate.
Becoming what we hate
We all are disgusted by acts of terror. It is human to be angered by seeing the dead bodies of normal innocent people, just going about their lives, killed in a mindless act of terror for no fault of theirs. These could be our near ones, or any random person amongst the seven billion humans on this planet, whose ancestors were common to ours 60,000 years ago.
Nobody is asking you to defend these acts, they are indefensible. Nobody is denying that abuse of religious beliefs by terror groups for their political goals is a huge problem in Islam today. Nobody is asking you to become an apologist for terror. But how can we all come together to defeat this? What helps the enemy? What can we all do to weaken them?
What does the right-wing Islamophobic narrative achieve? Remember, the right wing guy is trying to use your anger for his own needs. It may help the right-wing guy propounding it gain some popularity, win his/her own election, but does propagating more hatred help solve the underlying problem in any way? Considering what helps the enemy, as described above, is a bigoted response, by creating a “Us Vs Them” narrative, not only going to help the enemy? Is it not only going to push even more Muslims towards radicalization, is it not actually vindicating the “Us vs them” that ISIS has been telling them all along?
Leave aside the “what helps us win” for a moment. Remind yourself, who is the enemy? It is the Jihadi who has brainwashed by Mullahs to become the intolerant bigot who is intolerant of people with different opinions, and religious beliefs than his own, he considers the others inferior. He labels all non-muslims and even Muslims who do not agree with him as Kaffirs, he paints whole communities with a wide generalizing brush. He wants his hatred and bigotry to win.
The right-wing bigot trying to use and take advantage of the stupidities of this Jihadi is his mirror image. He too is a bigot, who holds supremacist views, labels a whole community of people with a wide brush considers others inferior and wants hatred and bigotry to win. In other words, by supporting him against the jihadi, you have merely exchanged one bigot for another.
This is akin to setting a fire in your own house while trying to fight the crazy arsonist. In reality, you haven’t defeated the enemy, you have yourself become like the enemy you set out to defeat. What could be a worse form of defeat? Recall that the Arab world is today in a mess precisely because they have allowed the bigoted Mullahs to dominate the discourse. Do we really want to emulate them, behave like the bigot on the other side?
The bigoted knee-jerk response is not only copying the enemy, but also helping it. Propagating the environment of hate is only going to create more abuse and discrimination against people, some who were already borderline sympathizers and will be pushed towards becoming more susceptible to ISIS propaganda. This just helps ISIS in its recruitment drive.
The best response to acts of terror
When the 9-11 attacks happened, America had the sympathy of the whole world. Merely 18 months later it was invading Iraq under the pretext of “War on terror”, and much of the world was already divided by it. America and its western allies had squandered the goodwill and gifted a huge propaganda coup to the likes of Al Qaeda. Ask yourself, did the “strong”, “iron-fisted” approach serve the “War on terror” or actually hurt the whole endeavour, providing the Jihadis with more ready cannon fodder for their attacks on the western countries?
You are a Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist or a Muslim, purely as a result of the accident of birth in most cases. You did not pass an exam to get your current religion.
So, try to imagine for a moment that you are a Muslim youngster living as a minority in a society that is largely tolerant, but has some Islamophobic bigotry as well. Pretend you are unemployed and feel a non-Muslim person was chosen over you, you feel you were discriminated against, you are angry and bitter about this.
Now imagine a crazy ISIS guy kills a few people, and a lot of people around you are abusing your whole religion. What if there are hateful graffiti, provocative sloganeering? What if you see leading right-wing politician or media houses use and encash the anger by creating more provocation, calling for blood, justifying a reaction? What if there were riots in reaction? What if the leaders spreading hatred against your community becomes immensely popular?
Where does this reaction leave you? Does painting of the ISIS terror as “Us vs Muslims” leave you with any increased chances of pursuing a normal life? If you were already disgruntled, does further hatred directed at your religion make you possibly receptive to ISIS propaganda? If you were on the borderline, is it not more likely to push you over the edge? This is exactly how the “Cycle of Hate” keeps running.
Contrast this to the reaction of Antoine Leiris. On 15 November 2015, two days after terrorist gunmen attacked the Bataclan theatre in Paris during a concert in which 89 people died – Antoine Leiris wrote an open letter to his wife’s killers on Facebook. At the time, he had no idea of the effect his words would have:
“On Friday night, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know. You are dead souls.” He would not, he added, give the terrorists the “satisfaction” of hating nor of fearing them:
“You want me to be scared, to see my fellow citizens through suspicious eyes, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have failed. I will not change.”
And he added that his baby son’s happiness (Melvil was 17 months) would continue to defy them: “Because you will not have his hate either.”
Think of the reaction of Maulana Imdadul Rashidi, Imam of a mosque in Asansol, whose 16-year-old son, who had just done his Class Xth exams and was killed by a mob. Maulana Rashidi told the crowd that he would leave the mosque and the town if there was any retaliation for his son’s death.
When Ankit Saxena, a young 23-year-old Hindu, was murdered by a Muslim couple for dating their daughter, politicians flocked in like vultures for their own propaganda, but his father Yashpal Saxena chose love over anger.
Instead of being revengeful and raging over the loss of his only child, the grieving father was dignified and restrained. Sensing that the case might be used by politicians to whip up anti-Muslim passions, he steered clear of the hate-mongering that has passed for debate in recent years. “Please do not politicise his murder. Please do not communalize it. It is something one human being did to another. Religion is irrelevant,” Saxena said repeatedly.
At first glance, all these acts of supreme Gandhian courage may appear as acts of stupid cowardice. Think again and again if you too felt so. Any fool can get angry, and hate under such situations. It takes a lot more courage to overcome your own personal anger and grief and take such a stance. Now, had Maulana Rashidi further inflamed the passions of the assembled crowd, it is most likely that another cycle of revenge and killings would have ensued. Would more bloodshed have brought his son back? No. But, did his act at least ensure that no other father in his village suffers the same misfortune that had befallen him? Yes. This is an act of supreme courage and great intelligence. Similarly, Mr Saxena, by his acts, has possibly saved more lives too.
“Blood doesn’t wash away blood.” — Persian Proverb
Mr Leiris, Maulana Rashidi, and Mr Saxena were direct victims of senseless violence. In most situations, that is (thankfully) a tiny minority. It is the others in the general population, people like you and me, who are targeted and exploited by demagogues for their own selfish goals.
Now, Mr Modi, President Bush/Trump or Hafiz Saeed are demagogues. They prey on the feelings of common people for their own selfish political goals. They don’t care if thousands of people die in the process as long as increased hatred wins them their next elections. These guys are able to exploit you and me because they think they can. We allow them to use us. If we refuse to yield to hatred and bigotry ourselves, such leaders, who thrive on divisiveness would not be able to exploit and draw any support from us. Stop watching the channels and propaganda websites that are only increasing your blood pressure and their own TRP by spreading communal hatred by doing a needless and divisive “Hindu-Muslim” debate daily, with outspoken and loud characters deliberately invited to increase insanity. You will find that within a few days, not only your own blood pressure come down, the market for hate will also disappear, the Cycle of Hate will eventually stop.
You and I cannot even enlist in the army to fight a cross-border terror outfit such as ISIS or LeT. I am not suggesting you forgive the terrorist outfit itself, or show them the other cheek. All I am asking for is, do not vent your anger by spreading Islamophobic bigotry. Not because I want or expect each of us to become like Jesus or Gandhi, but because it is the most sensible option to defeat the enemy.
If you are venting your anger for some act of terror in Kashmir on some innocent Kashmiri Muslim, you are playing into the hands of the ISI. You aren’t a patriot, but an Idiot.
Don’t get mad, for that is exactly what the terrorist wanted you to be, don’t fall into his trap.