By Ram Puniyani
The current times are very disturbing. Many innocent lives are lost and social resources destroyed, due to the dastardly phenomenon of terror. To cap it all, according to popular perception, terrorism has been linked to religion. Not very long ago, we witnessed, with horror, the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse club in Orlando. This ghastly incident had two popular interpretations. One, that it was an act of Jihadi terror and two, that it was prompted by a man gripped by homophobia. One of the commentators pointed out, “It turns out that he may have been motivated by both homophobia and Islamic radicalism… Terrorism or homophobia? The answer is yes. Both.”
In another incident, 119 people were killed in the Baghdad blast by the Islamic State. On the 1st of July this year, 28 people were killed in Bangladesh. Those who lost their lives were identified as foreigners. There are some reports that claim that the terrorists belonged to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and were not affiliated with the Islamic State. One commentator pointed out that ISIS and the Al-Qaeda are currently engaged in a fierce competition across our sub-continent, aiming to outdo each other in spreading their terror tentacles. But the malignant growth of Islamist extremism in Bangladesh can be easily traced back to the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEB) and its militant student wing—Islami Chhatra Shibir.
The Catalyst of Terrorism
What connects these diverse destructive phenomena? At the surface, it seems that these are the manifestations of Islamic terrorism. This has become a popular phrase since the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. If we go slightly deeper, we can discern some clear strands of very different underlying pathologies, operating in each of these attacks. The one in Orlando had a lot to do with the gun culture prevalent in the US. This attack woke lawmakers up to the current norms for possession of a gun. While it may be the most horrific of such cases, similar attacks have been occurring in the US incessantly, which are unrelated to the Islamic terrorism so to say. In the case of Baghdad, they are mostly related to the Islamic State.
As far as terror in Bangladesh is concerned, it seems to be a continuation of the terrorism rooted in fundamentalist streaks of Bangladesh politics. Such terror acts have been stalking Bangladesh for a while now, manifested in the murders of progressive-secular liberal bloggers and Hindus. It has an indigenous origin, to which the present regime had turned a blind eye.The violence came to the fore, in this dastardly way, due to the failure of the state and society to curb the rising fundamentalist trends in politics.
Currently, in many countries of South Asia, the militancy has origins in fundamentalism which is seen prominently in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
When Fundamentalism Goes Official
In Pakistan, fundamentalist doctrine was given the status of official state doctrine during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. To get a cover for his dictatorial ambitions, he resorted to the alliance with feudal forces and Mullahs and brought in the doctrines of Maulana Maududi (Deoband Islam). This is what is referred to as ‘Islamization of Pakistan’. The focus of this was to push back the civic social norms around the Sharia, as interpreted by Maududi. Further, the idea was to bring in conservative values. Extreme suppression of women and civil liberties were a part of this shift.
In India, politics, in the name of religion, manifested more in the form of communalism and communal violence. In such cases, religious minorities have been the victim. The extreme form of this communal-fundamentalist ideology—manifested in organisations upholding Hindutva ideology—has allegedly been responsible for the acts of terror in Malegaon, Makka Masjid (Hyderabad), Ajmer and Samjhauta Express.
The communal-fundamentalist ideology is an attempt to restore pre-modern, feudal values of birth based hierarchy of caste/class and gender in the garb of Sharia law or glorious traditions of the past, presented as religion.
Radical Turn of Islam
Terrorism related to Al-Qaeda–Islamic State has its roots in the politics of oil control. The policies of the United States have played a major role in controlling the global political game of oil reserves. US policies funded the Madrassas based in Pakistan, which eventually propagated Maulana Wahab’s version of Islam. The major focus in extremist Islam ideologies is killing the infidel (kafir) as a part of jihad. In this variety, violence gained prominence against those differing with these dominant groups. It had a reason. As they wanted to fight communism, Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, killing the infidel was justified. In the case of Pakistan, one can see Islamization getting a continuum during Zia’s regime. Al-Qaeda related terrorism took over later, eventually laying the ideological foundations of Islamic State.
Religion, Politics—Props for Terrorism?
So, there exist two strands of terrorism that are creating havoc in contemporary times. One has the motive of restoring the pre-modern values as seen in the case of Pakistan (inspired by Maulana Maududi), Bangladesh (similar variety), India (Hindutva) and in a different form in Myanmar and Sri Lanka as well. The other has its support system derived from the global politics of oil control. The tragedy is that both these varieties draw their foundation and legitimacy in the name of Islam.
Religion has many streams. For instance, Islam has Sufi, as well as Wahabi tendencies. Similarly, Hinduism has Bhakti and Brahmanism. The US picked up the Wahabi version for political goals in West Asia, Zia picked up Maududi for strengthening dictatorship, Hindu Nationalism-Hindutva has picked up Neo-Brahmanism, for its own political agenda. They prevail invidiously but become dominant only when propped up by political forces. Recognising this may be the major step in combating terrorism. And it is clear that political agenda has been masquerading as religion.
Ram Puniyani is a former professor of biomedical engineering and former senior medical officer affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.