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Ghosts Of 9/11: Muslim Nationality Movements or Pan-Islamic Jihad?

By Wajahat Ahmad

29 July, 2008

"O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other" (The Holy Quran (49:13)

Post 9/11, significant sections of Western media have tended to misrepresent Muslims as a monolithic nation, a supposedly unified Global community of believers- sharing a national consciousness that subsumes their diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic, national, racial, or territorial identities under an all encompassing identity of the "Ummah".

The disparate Muslim nationality movements of Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya are being clubbed with fringe pan-Islamic militant movements like Al-Qaeda and seen as part of a putatively wider 'Global Islamic Jihad' against the West. These nationality movements are either the legacy of British colonialism—when arbitrary boundary creation of post colonial States failed to take into account national aspirations of peoples like Kashmiris in South Asia and Palestinians in the Middle East— or as a result of imperial expansion of States like Russia which forcibly included many nationalities in her expanding frontiers.

The international discourse on 'war against terror' has tended to conflate the political violence in regions like Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya with Islamic militancy as exemplified by Al-Qaeda. The idea of 'war against terror' trumpeted by George Bush Inc., given currency by some conservative and influential sections of the western media, has tried to link the distinct nationalist struggles of different Muslim ethnic groups to an emerging wave of 'Islamic fundamentalism' or 'Islamic terrorism'.

Writing in Times Online, British Conservative MP, Michael Gove, in an article, dated May 2, 2007 and titled, The real darkness at the Heart of Islamist terror, averred, "And when it comes to foreign policy, when we choose not to intervene, when we decide that we shan't get involved, whether in Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir, we are not respected for our modesty and restraint on the world stage. We are damned again, for not acting in accordance with Islamist ambitions."

The discourse has been reinforced and used by States like Russia, India and Israel to delegetimize the nationalist movements of Chechens, Kashmiris and Palestinians respectively and also to ward off any possible international opprobrium in response to their repressive policies in these occupied regions.

The goals of pan-Islamist movements like Al-Qaeda and those of Muslim nationalists in Palestine, Chechnya or Kashmir are widely divergent. The nationalist leadership—both insurgent and non-violent— of these regions has repeatedly distanced themselves from the ideas of Al-Qaeda and affirmed that their struggles are essentially aimed at achieving Statehood for their Stateless nations and not for the realization of any pan-Islamic idea.
The Palestinian struggle is avowedly nationalist in character, seeking a homeland for Palestinians, denied to them by an expansionist Israeli State. It is largely a struggle between two national identities-Israelis and Palestinians-which claim the same territory. Though Al-Qaeda leaders like, bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahri etc. have made many rhetorical pronouncements that harp on the theme of 'liberating Muslim homelands' like Palestine, the Palestinian leadership including that of Hamas -an organization with strong Islamic moorings- have firmly dissociated themselves from these rhetorical declarations of the so called Pan-Islamic 'Jihad'.

Even the Arab States- locked in fratricidal conflicts with one another- have refused to sacrifice their national interests at the altar of the Palestinian struggle. Not surprisingly most Arab States pay only lip service to the Palestinian struggle. One of the largest Arab States, Egypt, prioritizing her national interest over Arab Muslim concerns regarding the Palestinian Question, has since her defeat in the 1973 War, bought a long peace with Israel and refused to be the frontline State for the Arabs in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Another Arab Muslim nation, Jordan enjoys friendly ties with Israel. Not surprisingly, Jordan played a key role in crushing the Palestinian militants during the Black September episode of 1970, when she enjoying active support from Pakistani and Iraqi military, launched a military offensive –led by the late Pakistani military General Zia-ul-Haq, who at that time was a Brigadier and head of the Pakistani training mission in Jordan-against Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan, forcing them to flee to other Arab countries.

After 9/11 Israel has used the 'war against terror' discourse as a shield to increase and legitimize its military repression in Palestine and label the Palestinian resistance as 'mindless terrorism' to delegitimize it. The recent Palestinian Intifada is a completely indigenous uprising which has not seen any participation of the warriors of the supposedly ubiquitous 'Islamist International' of Al-Qaeda & Co. One of the new avatars of the Palestinian political struggle, the Hamas, may employ Islamic imagery in Palestinian political mobilization or swear by an Islamic code of conduct, yet its aims are firmly restricted to achieving Palestinian statehood. Islam remains an important marker of Palestinian ethno-national identity but the contours of the 'Palestinian Jihad' are circumscribed by a territorial nationalism, which is far removed from any global Jihadi agenda.

Similar are the cases of Chechnya and Kashmir. The Chechens like many other nationalities in North Caucasus were subjugated by a bloody Czarist imperial expansion carried out by Russian Rumanovs, which succeeded only after overcoming a long and fierce Chechen resistance from 1816 to 1856. In 1944 the Chechens were deported enmass to Central Asia by Stalin's regime in the name of Russian 'national interest'.

The recent Chechen national liberation movement (1994 to 1996, which still drags on), started and lead by Chechen progressive nationalist leaders like Dzokhar Dudayev and Aslan Maskhadov, needs to be seen in the context of a long history of Russian imperial expansion in the Caucasus and the resistance of various mountain peoples to it. Even though the latter breed of Chechen guerrilla commanders like Shamil Basayev, Salman Rudayev etc. ,have made an increasing use of Islamic symbols and imagery-Islam being an important marker of identity of Muslim nationalities- in their fight against Russia, but their primary goal has been the realization of an Independent State for Chechens. The Russian contention that Chechnya is an extension of the larger militant - Islamist network has not attracted many buyers but Russia has definitely taken advantage of the post 9/11 international scenario -which has seen a drastic decline of international community's tolerance for violent ethno-nationalist movements across the Globe- to subjugate the Chechens through the use of harsh military means.
Kashmir existed as an independent kingdom until 1947 when the nation-states of India and Pakistan were created in August 1947 by a division of 'British India'. India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir in late 1947, which left Kashmir divided and under the control of the two countries. In both parts of Kashmir a historic movement for self-determination has been going on since the 1950s. The U.N resolutions on Kashmir -determined by the State centric positions of India and Pakistan -rendered only two possible political choices for Kashmiris viz. accession with India or accession with Pakistan. Contrary to Kashmiri popular aspirations - espoused by Plebiscite Front of "Pakistan-administered-Kashmir" and the one led by Afzal Beigh in Indian-administered-Kashmir -, which sought an independent nation-state, the option of an Independent Kashmir was not included in the U.N resolutions. Internationally Kashmir continued and still continues to be largely viewed as a territorial-ideological dispute between India and Pakistan. Kashmiri nationalism got a partial international recognition only after the Kashmiri mass uprising of 90s.

Pakistani militants' presence in Kashmir has been more a result of Pakistani State's historic involvement in Kashmir Conflict, than merely a result of any ambitious Islamist agenda pursued by the Pakistani militants. The marginalization of Kashmiri Muslim nationalists in the Kashmiri liberation movement was largely due to Pakistan's bear hug than due to any mass appeal in Kashmir to the Pakistani theory of 'shah-rag' misrepresented by groups like "Jamaat-i-Islami Kashmir" as a religious imperative for Kashmiri Muslims.
Riding the wave of the 'war on terror', India like the United States passed draconian anti terror ordinances in the quick aftermath of 9/11. India tried to portray the Dec 13, 2001 attack on her parliament as her version of 9/11 and observed a day 'against world terrorism'. India tried to lump the insurgency in Kashmir with the Al-Qaeda International. Kashmiri separatist leadership denied it as a gross distortion of the historic Kashmiri struggle of self-determination. Syed Salahuddin, commander of largest Kashmiri insurgent group, Hizbul Mujahidin and chairman of the United Jehad Council, repeatedly distanced the armed struggle in Kashmir from the so called pan-Islamic 'Jihad' of Al-Qaeda. Kashmiri separatist leaders like Yaseen Malik of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) have also publicly stated that 'Al-Qaeda is unwelcome in Kashmir'.

In the backdrop of increasing Islamphobia post 9/11, significant sections of Western media have tended to misrepresent Muslim nationality movements as extensions of global Islamist projects. On the contrary these movements have been waged by Stateless nations struggling for creation of nation-states of their own. For the peoples of Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine the grand ideologies of many Internationalist isms are either irrelevant or at most secondary to their sentiments of nationalism.

Wajahat Ahmad is a Lecturer at Center for International Peace & Conflict Studies, Islamic University for Science & Technology, Awantipora, Indian-administered-Kashmir. Feedback at



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