A reality check on terrorism
By Haroon Siddiqui
While there is by now a full comprehension of the
disaster that is Iraq, there is still not enough understanding of the parallel
bankruptcy of the greater war on terrorism and the political and media discourse
that has accompanied it.
We have been in denial for the last five years about the reasons for Muslim
What we have had, instead, is a war of words against Muslims and Islam, which
has created a dangerous polarization between the West and the Muslim world.
This tension is the topic of a just-released
report by a cross-cultural United Nations panel of 20 eminent citizens,
including Bishop Desmond Tutu. Sponsored by Catholic Spain and Muslim Turkey,
the group has arrived at the same realistic conclusion reached by increasing
number of governments, think-tanks and experts: The causes of the conflict are
not religious, but political.
Yet for the last five years, the West has been, in the phrase of French
Orientalist Maxime Rodinson, theologocentric: seeing Muslims only through the
prism of their religion.
This tendency, coupled with the tactics of deflecting attention away from
American foreign policy, goes a long way in explaining why most of the
rationales offered for Muslim terrorism have been found wanting.
When 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11 turned out to have been Saudi citizens,
several experts blamed Wahhabism or Salafism, the austere interpretation of
Islam practised in Saudi Arabia.
The problem with the formulation was that the Saudi ruling family, the patrons
of Wahhabism, remains a staunch ally of the U.S. and the chief guarantor of the
energy needs of the West.
Blame was also laid at the doorstep of madrassas, religious schools, especially
in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But the bombers of Bali, Jakarta, Karachi, Islamabad, Jeddah, Riyadh, Ankara and
other spots were not products of such schools.
Those who carried out the 2004 Madrid bombing and the 2005 London bombings were
Europeans, born or raised and educated there. Three of the four British
attackers were second-generation British. The 18 Canadians charged with
terrorist-related crimes are graduates of Canadian public schools and
Another post-9/11 theory was that suicide bombers were hoping for virgins in
Paradise. That promise may have motivated some but not others, certainly not
women bombers such as the "black widows" of Chechnya, who had no such sexual
favours to look forward to in heaven.
So we must return to earthly reasons for Muslim terrorism.
An official British report on the subway bombing concluded that the culprits
were "ordinary British citizens with little known history of extremist views,"
but who were radicalized by injustices committed by the West against Muslims.
A report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs also linked the
bombings to British involvement in Iraq.
A spokesman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, speaking of
potential second- and third-generation Muslim terrorists, has said: "Clearly,
they are motivated by some of the things we see around the world."
French academic Olivier Roy, an expert on Islam, has said that "born-again
Muslims," including converts, are following the path of European rebels of an
earlier era - the Red Brigades or the Basque separatists, who also turned
terrorist for their causes.
This, in essence, is what the UN panel also says:
"The Israeli-Palestinian issue has
become a key symbol of the rift between Western and Muslim societies, and
remains one of the gravest threats to international stability."
(UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan elaborated further: "We may wish to think of
the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict amongst many. It is not.
No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among
people far removed from the battlefield.'')
(Separately, Tony Blair made about the same point Tuesday.)
"Western military operations in Muslim
countries contribute to a growing climate of fear and animosity that is
spreading around the world. The spiralling death toll in Iraq and the conflict
in Afghanistan help swell the ranks of terrorist groups."
"The perception of double standards in
the application of international law and the protection of human rights is
increasing resentment and the sense of vulnerability felt by many Muslims ...
Reports of collective punishment, targeted killings, torture, arbitrary
detention, renditions, and the support of autocratic regimes contribute to an
increased sense of vulnerability around the globe, particularly in Muslim
The group condemned those who link Islam to
Such assertions "are at best manifestly incorrect or at worst maliciously
The panel did note that some of the extremism among Muslims emanates from their
own deep divisions on social and political issues, as well as interpretations of
Islamic law and traditions. Radicals are advocating "narrow, distorted
interpretations of Islamic teachings."
The way to end the lure of radicals, radicalism and terrorism is not to launch
more wars, unilateral ones at that, which "inflame the very sentiments they seek
to eradicate," but rather to deal with the causes, not the symptoms, of
The panel proposes a Canadian way forward: "The rule of law and an effective
multilateral system, with the UN system at its core."
Even as we extend our full support to security and law enforcement agencies to
ferret out potential terrorists, we cannot dilute the fundamentals of our
democracy, namely, that suspects are entitled to know the charges against them
and to speedy, fair and open trials.
On the international scene, Canada should revert to its traditional role of
consensus builder and become the leading voice in winding down the wars and
conflicts that are destabilizing and dividing the world.
Haroon Siddiqui is editorial page editor emeritus at
Toronto Star. He can be reached at