Terrorism is often described as “freedom fighting.” Quite often, that is the case. But whenever violence occurs, there is always suffering on both sides.
At one time, the violence focused on symbols of government, religion, oppression or capitalism. Recently, especially after the New Delhi bombings, terrorism is quickly evolving from “freedom fighting” against a sociopolitical power to targeting people who arguably support that power.
Terrorists now engage in suicide bombings and violence to create mass panic among everyday citizens across the world. No longer only “Third World” countries suffer a daily; rather, the world as a whole.
September 11, 2001, showed the West and the terrorists that a powerhouse such as the United States could be vulnerable. The increasing violence in the Middle East continues to demonstrate the failure of the fight against terrorism.
The New Delhi bombing in the month of Ramadan, a few days before Eid and Diwali, show the “religious” fanatics behind the bombings no longer recognize even their own rules. Terrorism is changing with the times, and it is important we stop thinking of this as “Islamic extremism” versus the West, and start understanding it is a formula repeatedly seen in history: The oppressed act out, and the more we push them into a corner, the stronger even an illogical cause becomes.
Initially, the Islamic extremists who claimed to be behind many acts of terrorism declared they were fighting to free the Muslim world from ill-treatment by the West. This evolved into a desire to dispel negative Western effects from the Muslim world, and this eventually turned into a convoluted war with no real enemy and no real cause.
For these terrorists, violence became a common part of life. It is similar to the mentality of a soldier who has spent most of his life at war: What would he do when the war is over?
Terrorism, started as a fight for freedom, became a tool of oppression. It started as an effort to clean away corruption and external control, such as in Afghanistan and Palestine, but supports drug trade and oppression to fund the “movement.”
Terrorism tends to become endemic. And when violence becomes habitual, it ultimately stifles economic development, providing a continued justification for violence, as in Kashmir, through perpetuated patterns of dominance and submission.
The acts of terrorists are no longer those of freedom fighters. They have evolved into practicing violence for sake of mass disruption, with no limits, understanding or purpose. So-called Islamic terrorists can no longer claim they fight to better the Muslim world: They attack Muslims as much and as often as non-Muslims and continue causing turmoil in Muslim countries.
Globalization does make a contribution, together with extremist groups’ ability to work together across continents. There is also fault with countries such as the United States that continue perpetuating this violence socioeconomically. This type of terrorism cannot be fought by “pre-emptive attacks” because those attacks only open the doors further for retaliatory violence. It cannot be prevented by Muslim “apologists” who continuously discuss how Islam is misinterpreted — because much of religion is open to interpretation.
The continued movement of young people toward violence can be prevented only through the reconciliation of Western and Islamic ideals, with open minds on both sides, and reduced indoctrination of Muslim youth against non-Muslim ideals.
Islam and the West are not irreconcilable. As with most world religions, there are differences of opinions and differences of ideals, but the humanity is the same.
The key to reconciliation is the realization that religion evolves continually with the times. Progressive Muslim leaders and youths need to promote their ideas more aggressively to reach more conservative Muslims and help them reconcile Western-Muslim cultural differences. Progressive Muslims also need to work with Western institutions to preven a backlash against the wider Muslim community due to the acts of extremists.
Any backlash will only perpetuate violence and must be curbed before it happens. There can be no call for “unity” among Muslims; that is not needed now. Now Muslims need to spread among their worldwide communities and interact with and teach non-Muslims about the progression of Islam, amid the ever-changing environments in which Islam must exist.
Simply put, terrorism has changed and can no longer claim to be a fight for freedom. There are no longer any limits or purpose — therefore it is hard to fight back.
Yet, there can be no “pre-emptive attacks” that perpetuate violence, nor continued Muslim “apologetics.” Proactive education is needed of non-Muslims and Muslims to reconcile differences and strengthen their common interests. It is not a matter of Islam versus West, but open-minded progressive thought against minds closed to their surroundings. That is what we need work on changing.
Emory School of Law
(Former editor in chief of the the Voice, the student newspaper at the George Washington University’s Mount Vernon Campus and is a columnist for Sapna, a South Asian magazine.)