TERRORISM CANNOT WIN: THIS IS WHY
In 1947, Ruhalhah Khomeini, then a mid-ranking mullah in Qom, issued a "fatwa" (opinion) that made it incumbent on "the faithful" to murder Ahmad Kasravi. It took a group of eight "faithful" to plan and carry out the murder several months later. A jubilant Khomeini told his entourage that he had "eliminated that paragon of impiety" for ever.
At the time of his murder Kasravi was one of Iran's leading intellectuals. A veritable Renaissance man, he was a senior jurist at the high court, a distinguished historian, a magnetic orator, a master of the Persian prose, and a best-selling author.
But why did Khomeini desire Kasravi's death? Was it Kasravi's success in offering the Iranians an alternative reading of their history and culture? Or was it because Kasravi had subjected the doctrine of Shi'ism to close critical scrutiny? Or, may be, a dose of personal jealousy was involved? After all Khomeini had just published his childish pamphlet entitled "Kashf al-Asrar" (Key to Secrets), and attracted nothing but yawns, frowns and laughs from the few people who bothered to leaf through it. This contrasted with the fact that the publication of any of Kasravi's book was a national event with reverberations throughout society.
But history is never written in advance. Just over three decades later Khomeini was the master of Iran, executing his real or imagined foes by the thousands. Kasravi's book were dug out of libraries and private collections and burned and his tomb ransacked by Khomeinist thugs. But that, too, was not the end of the story.
Today, Kasravi is re-emerging as one of Iran's best-loved and most read authors while Khomeini's embarrassingly illiterate books, published in expensive editions by the government and often distributed free of charge, are never read because they are unreadable.
All this shows that, in the long-run, terrorism does not work.
Terrorism is, in fact, the tool of the intellectually lazy
Khomeini knew that neither he nor any of his acolytes would be able to challenge Kasravi in the realm of law, history and literature. Khomeini could not write a book as good as any of Kasravi's. Nor could he compete with Kasravi's knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and Iranian history. To be able to do that Khomeini would have needed years of serious study, then unavailable in Qom, and an intellectual discipline that he never acquired.
The terrorist method was to continue during Khomeini's rule.
Khomeini could not challenge Grand Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari on theological grounds. So he ordered that Shariatmadari be put under house arrest and silenced. Later, it was the turn of Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri to receive a similar treatment. Several other prominent clerics died in mysterious circumstances, victims, perhaps, of the same terrorist genie at work.
The terrorist kills because he cannot compete with his adversaries. Instead of responding to Salman Rushdie's ill-structured and unreadable novel with a novel that is well-plotted and properly written, the terrorist calls for his murder. The terrorist cannot challenge Theo van Gogh's controversial documentary with a better one and thus decides to stab him to death.
The history of contemporary Islamist terrorism is full of instances of cold-blooded murder ordered by those who could not compete in literary, political, social or even theological fields against those better than them.
With the advent of globalisation, Islamist terrorism is now able to strike beyond the frontiers of the Muslim world. But the same lazy mentality is at work. The terrorist knows that he is incapable of building an alternative civilisation capable of competing with the one he despises. So he tries to destroy what becomes the cause of his humiliation.
Politics is a serious business which requires hard work. It needs to find ways of keeping society in harmony while meeting its basic needs and creating conditions for economic, social and cultural development. Writing a poem, erecting a building, composing a symphony, painting a miniature, compiling a theological study, and making a film are not easy. But making a car-bomb is. The Taliban Mullah Muhammad Omar's total work of "scholarship" consists of 30 pages of his ranting against " the infidel". But the terrorist operations he has organised and taken part in since 1992, when the Pakistani military intelligence recruited him, run into hundreds.
The terrorist has no need of developing policies, building alliances, and mobilising popular sentiment for his programme. All that is hard work, just like winning free elections. The terrorist does not like hard work; he is in a hurry and wants a short-cut, even if that means turning himself into a human bomb.
The terrorist has no patience with the lesser mortals who argue, answer back, and refuse to commit to anything unless convinced by rational analysis. All that means politics; something the terrorist is afraid of. He has no time to brew a proper coffee; an instant coffee is all he seeks.
Terrorists always remind me of a short story by Voltaire in which a bug is angered by the ticktack of a clock on the wall and decides to destroy " the monster". It has no time to find out how the clock is made, why it is there, and whether there might not be other ways of attenuating the sound of its ticktack. The bug is a terrorist; it wants instant result from a single effort. So it decides to rush headlong into the clock like one of our suicide-bombers these days.
The hands of the clock stop of a tiny fraction of a second but then continue their relentless counting of time, ticking and tacking as loud as ever. Our martyrdom-seeking bug, however, falls to the floor, crushed and lifeless. A few moments later the cleaning lady sweeps the corpse of the suicide-martyr bug into the dustbin.
Terrorism can never win. It may generate much heat but never produces any light.
Without going deep into history, a glance at the past few decades offers not a single instance of terrorism managing to alter the course of a society let alone transform it completely.
Terrorists in Algeria have caused the death of perhaps a quarter of a million people since 1992. But they are farther away from achieving power than ever. If anything their brand of Islamism has lost all chances of ever finding a place in Algeria. Terrorist wars in Turkey and Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s claimed more than 60,000 lives. But the terrorists won nothing, apart from the curse of the people and, perhaps, eternal damnation.
Less than four years after 9/11 New York is more buoyant than ever, its property prices skyrocketing while it hosts a record number of businesses and visitors. Earlier this month London, like Voltaire's clock, was back to its normal life moments after the 7/7 suicide attacks. The same will happen in Sharm el Sheikh once the debris of the attacks is cleared away. The sun will continue to shine and the Red Sea will remain as tempting as ever.
A thousand years from now Kasravi will still be remembered as a great Iranian writer and thinker while Khomeini would have become a footnote in history like so many other sanguinary tyrants who came, killed, and went away. Have you ever heard of Ghazan Khan? No? Well, there you go.
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TERROR'S GLOBAL AMBITION
July 30, 2005 -- THE terrorist attacks in London this month have triggered an avalanche of speculation about the possible causes of the atrocities and the motives of the perpetrators.
By a week ago the prevalent view according to the British media was that the attacks were carried out by young men "angry about British involvement in Iraq."
This created the illusion of a rational cause-and-effect. The London daily The Independent put it starkly: Osama bin Laden had warned that if "we bomb his cities in Iraq" he would bomb "our cities" in the West.
The London daily did not bother with such uncomfortable questions as why, if Iraq were the motive, no Iraqis were involved in the attacks. Nor did it stop to wonder why Iraq should belong to bin Laden, who has never even seen the place except on a secret visit in 1999, and not to the Iraqi people. Needless to say it also did not mention that the terrorists who are killing Iraqis in their cities belong to the same ideological family as those who attacked London.
At any rate, most Britons, having paid attention to their media and read reports of an analysis by the Royal Institute for Foreign Affairs, a think-tank which also claimed that London was attacked because Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, were about to go away convinced that they knew why Britain had been targeted.
Then came news of several terrorist operations thousands of miles away. These included explosions in three Algerian cities, in the Pakistani city of Quetta, in the Lebanese capital Beirut and, the deadliest of them all, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The same media that had wrapped things up by identifying the liberation of Iraq as the reason for attacks on London began to wonder if other reasons may have been involved.
That, in turn, led to the revival of the classical explanations for the latest attacks.
One explanation was poverty. Those who massacred innocents in Sharm el-Sheikh were angry about poverty, one pundit observed with a straight face.
The truth, however, is that most of the 90 or so people who died in Sharm el-Sheikh were poor people who had just found jobs in the tourist industry and were beginning to build a modest life for their families.
The attacks against Sharm el-Sheikh will not only not help alleviate poverty in Egypt but are sure to increase it dramatically. If tourism, the flagship of the Egyptian economy, is hurt it will plunge the country into recession, threatening over 100,000 jobs, according to official estimates.
Another explanation, by an American pundit, was that young Muslims were angry with the loss of their identity and were trying to revive their traditions. This, however, assumes that car bombs and random killing of people in public transport constitute part of the Islamic identity and tradition.
With the exception of the attacks in Lebanon, which may safely be imputed to Syrian secret services, other recent terrorist operations, including those of London and Sharm el-Sheikh, are clearly the work of elements known under the al Qaeda brand name.
The attacks in Egypt come almost two years after the Gama'a Islamiyah (Islamic Society) and its offshoots such as Takfir wal-Higrah (Anathema and Withdrawal), which had waged a 20-year terrorist campaign against the state, decided to throw in the towel.
Those groups focused on destroying the Egyptian state, which they regarded as "pharaonic," and had no global jihadist ambitions.
Even the Ikhwan al-Moslemeen (The Muslim Brotherhood), whichmust be regarded as the ideological grandmother of all Arab and Pakistani terrorist movements, never developed a strategy of global conquest. The demise of the traditional Islamist terror groups and the Muslim Brotherhood's change of strategy, from one of armed violence to one of winning power through permeation, created a vacuum that has been partly filled by the neo-terrorists of the kind known under the al Qaeda brand.
But even then these groups, including those that hit London and Egypt this month, subscribe to the most radical version of the al Qaeda world-view.
Within that worldview some theoreticians of terror argue in favor of a regional strategy. They want the Islamic "ghazis" (holy raiders) to focus on winning power in as many Muslim countries as possible before moving to a strategy of global conquest for Islam.
They have identified Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt as the most immediately vulnerable nations. Among supporters of that analysis one finds individuals and groups that, though ideological siblings, do not necessarily maintain organizational links. Pakistan's principal Islamist figure, Fazlur Rahman; the Taliban's "emir" Mullah Muhammad Omar; the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2; the Sudanese Islamist Hassan al-Turabi, and Yussuf Qaradawi, the Qatar-based preacher share this view.
But that analysis is opposed by other theoreticians of terror including bin Laden, Abu-Hamza al-Masri and Mullah Haqqani, who favor direct and spectacular attacks against the major "infidel" powers, especially the U.S. and Britain.
Their argument is that the "infidel" can be terrorized into fleeing from the Muslim world, thus leaving the local regimes vulnerable to attacks by the "ghazis." In this reading the immediate task of the "ghazis" is to force the United States and its allies to withdraw from the targeted regional states. The latest attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh were authored by those who share the strategy advocated by this second group of terrorist theoreticians.
This is clear from the code-names used by the groups that have claimed responsibility for the attacks. In the case of the London attacks the code-name used was Abu-Hufs al-Masri, the al Qaeda military chief of staff who was killed by the Allies when liberating Afghanistan. The Sharm el-Sheikh attacks have been claimed by a group using the code-name of the late Abdullah Azzam, a Saudi-Palestinian who became the godfather of "Arab Afghans" fighting the Red Army in the 1980s.
The groups behind the latest attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh are motivated neither by anger over the liberation of Iraq nor any sufferings caused by poverty and/or identity crisis.
They have a clear, coldly calculated strategy aimed at changing the regional balance of power in their own favor, by driving the Western "infidels" out, so that they could seize control of several Muslim countries some with immense oil resources. And that would be the first step toward putting Islam back on the path of world conquest for the first time since the Ottomans abandoned their siege of Vienna in the 16th century.
Any show of weakness by the West in meeting that challenge would only help clinch the current debate within the Islamist circles in favor of those who advocate the most radical terrorist options.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian author of ten books on the Middle East and Islam. He's a member of Benador Associates.
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