~ Arnab Chakraborty

‘Jihad’, a word which has succeeded in capturing the imagination of numerous experts ranging from foreign policy analysts to defence strategists, is the cornerstone of most of the arguments made in favour of the several xenophobic policies across the globe. But the aim of this piece is to firstly, make a case against singling out Jihad as the only trace of violent ideology that exists within all religions in the whole world; and secondly to make a case against the conception of terrorism as religious violence, and more specifically Islamic fundamentalist violence.

The reasons for such a conception are also very well founded in statistical terms. The majority of terror incidents have been committed by Muslim terrorists and had professed “religious motives” says Robert Pape, a Chicago University political scientist. However, Pape has gone on to do case studies of all the 315 suicide attacks which have taken place between 1980 and 2003 throughout the world. The findings of this research were particularly astonishing, as has been published in his book, Dying to Win. The key finding which is most relevant in our secular democratic international system is that all of these attacks had a similar strategic goal, and that was to free lands which the terrorist organizations consider to be their homelands and which are occupied by modern democracies. Invariably, Pape notes it’s the aim of national self determination, rather than religious assertion that drives terrorist attacks. The organizations however might have used religion as an instrument for recruiting the suicide attackers in many cases. Pape again presents a very unlikely figure. He claims that 76 attacks, which is the maximum number of suicide attacks committed by a single terrorist organization, were staged by the LTTE, which is a revolutionary Socialist and Tamil Nationalist organization in Sri Lanka that organizes their cadre based on linguistic identity. Most of the militia of the organization consist of young Hindu men.

It is not only important to understand that terrorism is primarily a reaction to foreign occupation rather than religious fundamentalism, as has been most widely considered by most strategists, but also to understand that it is not only Islamic organizations which are part of violent terrorist attacks.

This brings us to another very important question related to terrorism. It is the question of Islamophobia which is rooted in the dynamics of terrorist attacks and the politics of fear.

Nevertheless at least in terms of terrorism and religious violence it can be safely said that there is hardly any religion which is inherently violent or inherently peaceful. If we take the example of the Buddhist attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, we will see that even leaders of a religion like Buddhism, which is typically considered to be one of the most peaceful in the world, can turn out to be perpetrators of violence under certain circumstances. It is in this respect that we need to fundamentally ask if all the roots of religious violence are exogenous to the ideals of religions themselves.

In this respect Mark Jurgensmeyer who is one of the foremost theorists of religious violence had also claimed similar ideas as Pape about religious violence. Religious nationalism, he has claimed is often related to ethnic identity politics. But it is also sometimes related to ideological reasons and sometimes even both. Ideology here refers not to a Marxist form of ideology but to a form of ideology which was established during the times of French revolution. This ideology is that of a secular-democratic state which is often pinned against a Religious State in many parts of the world. And this aspect is present in some degree in most of the instances of ethnic religious violence.

Therefore it is the external forces like secularisation, ethnic conflicts and foreign occupations which lead to the different forms of terrorist attacks, and almost never religion itself when left to its own devices turning violent.

One additional aspect which Jurgnesmeyer highlights should be mentioned because of its strategic relevance. He asserts that the primary reason for the protests against the Western secular ideology has been its failure to live up to people’s expectations in many of the colonized countries which after their independence established democratic governments, but soon failed to provide the bare minimum development and welfare which they had promised. And in many cases such as in India the social cleavages which had existed from before colonisation gave rise to new sets of problems which the secular state could not adequately address. It is in response to this, that the different forms of ideological religious nationalism emerged, and calls for establishment of Islamic, Sikh or some other form of religious political identity could be witnessed.

This understanding of terrorism as a product of nationalism and as an ideological battle and not a theological one can have several strategic implications, as well as several cultural implications. The most obvious solution is for the Western powers to retreat from foreign territories as soon possible. It would also be wise to not impose democratic machineries on societies which are not culturally adapted to such a foreign ideology.

But most importantly it is the changing of the ethnocentric attitude of the Western experts, and the attitudes of the exocentric security experts in conflict prone areas, who act as the torch bearers of the American ‘War on Terror’, which is required for a successful victory against terrorism.

Arnab Chakraborty studies Sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia. The views expressed are personal.


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