Islam : Moment of truth, 2001
October 1, 2001
Islam : Moment of truth, 2001
Among other things, September 11 has triggered a serious soul-search among Muslims.
Islam : Moment of truth

Samuel Huntington’sevil desire for a clash between civilizations may well come true after the September 11 terror attacks. The crack that divided Muslims everywhere from the rest of the world is no longer a crack. It is a gulf that, if not bridged, will surely destroy both.

For much of the world, it was the indescribable savagery of seeing jet-loads of innocent human beings piloted into buildings filled with other innocent human beings. It was the sheer horror of watching people jump from the 80th floor of the collapsing World Trade Centre rather than be consumed by the inferno inside. Yes, it is true that many Muslims also saw it exactly this way, and felt the searing agony no less sharply. The heads of state of Muslim countries, Saddam Hussein excepted, condemned the attacks. Leaders of Muslim communities in the US, Canada, Britain, Europe, and Australia have made impassioned denunciations and pleaded for the need to distinguish between ordinary Muslims and extremists.

But the pretence that reality goes no further must be abandoned because this merely obfuscates facts and slows down the search for solutions. One would like to dismiss televised images showing Palestinian expressions of joy as unrepresentative, reflective only of the crass political immaturity of a handful. But this may be wishful thinking.

Similarly, Pakistan Television, operating under strict control of the government, is attempting to portray a nation united in condemnation of the attack. Here too, the truth lies elsewhere, as I learn from students at my university here in Islamabad, from conversations with people in the streets, and from the Urdu press. A friend tells me that crowds gathered around public TV sets at Islamabad airport had cheered as the WTC came crashing down. It makes one feel sick from inside.

A bizarre new world awaits us, where old rules of social and political behaviour have broken down and new ones are yet to be defined. Catapulted into a situation of darkness and horror by the extraordinary force of events, as rational human beings we must urgently formulate a response that is moral, and not based upon considerations of power and practicality. This requires beginning with a clearly defined moral supposition — the fundamental equality of all human beings. It also requires that we must proceed according to a definite sequence of steps, the order of which is not interchangeable.

Before all else, Black Tuesday’s mass murder must be condemned in the harshest possible terms without qualification or condition, without seeking causes or reasons that may even remotely be used to justify it, and without regard for the national identity of the victims or the perpetrators. The demented, suicidal, fury of the attackers led to heinous acts of indiscriminate and wholesale murder that have changed the world for the worse. A moral position must begin with unequivocal condemnation, the absence of which could eliminate even the language by which people can communicate.

Analysis comes second, but it is just as essential. No "terrorist" gene is known to exist or is likely to be found. Therefore, surely the attackers, and their supporters, who were all presumably born normal, were afflicted by something that caused their metamorphosis from normal human beings capable of gentleness and affection into desperate, maddened fiends with nothing but murder in their hearts and minds. What was that?

Before all else, Black Tuesday’s mass murder must be condemned in the harshest possible terms without qualification or condition, without seeking causes or reasons that may even remotely be used to justify it.

Tragically, CNN and the US media have so far made little attempt to understand this affliction. The cost for this omission, if it is to stay this way, cannot be anything but terrible. What we have seen is probably the first of similar tragedies that may come to define the 21st century as the century of terror. There is much claptrap about "fighting terrorism" and billions are likely to be poured into surveillance, fortifications, and emergency plans, not to mention the ridiculous idea of missile defence systems.

But, as a handful of suicide bombers armed with no more than knives and box–cutters have shown with such devastating effectiveness, all this means precisely nothing. Modern nations are far too vulnerable to be protected — a suitcase nuclear device could flatten not just a building or two, but all of Manhattan. Therefore, the simple logic of survival says that the chances of survival are best if one goes to the roots of terror.

Only a fool can believe that the services of a suicidal terrorist can be purchased, or that they can be bred at will anywhere. Instead, their breeding grounds are in refugee camps and in other rubbish dumps of humanity, abandoned by civilization and left to rot. A global superpower, indifferent to their plight, and manifestly on the side of their tormentors, has bred boundless hatred for its policies. In supreme arrogance, indifferent to world opinion, the US openly sanctions daily dispossession and torture of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. The deafening silence over the massacres in Qana, Sabra, and Shatila refugee camps, and the video-gamed slaughter by the Pentagon of 70,000 people in Iraq, has brought out the worst that humans are capable of. In the words of Robert Fisk, "those who claim to represent a crushed, humiliated population struck back with the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a doomed people".

It is stupid and cruel to derive satisfaction from such revenge, or from the indisputable fact that Osama and his kind are the blowback of the CIA’s misadventures in Afghanistan. Instead, the real question is: where do we, the inhabitants of this planet, go from here? What is the lesson to be learnt from the still smouldering ruins of the World Trade Centre?

If the lesson is that America needs to assert its military might, then the future will be as grim as can be. Indeed, secretary Colin Powell has promised "more than a single reprisal raid". But against whom? And to what end? No one doubts that it is ridiculously easy for the US to unleash carnage. But the bodies of a few thousand dead Afghans will not bring peace, or reduce by one bit the chances of a still worse terrorist attack.

This is not an argument for inaction: Osama and his gang, as well as other such gangs, if they can be found, must be brought to justice. But indiscriminate slaughter can do nothing except add fuel to existing hatreds. Today, the US is the victim but the carpet-bombing of Afghanistan will cause it to squander the huge swell of sympathy in its favour the world over. Instead, it will create nothing but revulsion and promote never–ending tit–for–tat killings.

Ultimately, the security of the United States lies in its re-engaging with the people of the world, especially with those that it has grievously harmed. As a great country, possessing an admirable constitution that protects the life and liberty of its citizens, it must extend its definition of humanity to cover all peoples of the world. It must respect international treaties such as those on greenhouse gases and biological weapons, stop trying to force a new Cold War by pushing through NMD, pay its UN dues, and cease the aggrandizement of wealth in the name of globalisation.

But it is not only the US that needs to learn new modes of behaviour. There are important lessons for Muslims too, particularly those living in the US, Canada, and Europe. Last year I heard the arch–conservative head of Pakistan’s Jamaat–i–Islami, Qazi Husain Ahmad, begin his lecture before an American audience in Washington with high praise for a "pluralist society where I can wear the clothes I like, pray at a mosque, and preach my religion". Certainly, such freedoms do not exist for religious minorities in Pakistan, or in most Muslim countries.

One hopes that the misplaced anger against innocent Muslims dissipates soon and such freedoms are not curtailed significantly. Nevertheless, there is a serious question as to whether this pluralism can persist forever, and if it does not, whose responsibility it will be. The problem is that immigrant Muslim communities have, by and large, chosen isolation over integration. In the long run this is a fundamentally unhealthy situation because it creates suspicion and friction, and makes living together ever so much harder. It also raises serious ethical questions about drawing upon the resources of what is perceived to be another society, for which one has hostile feelings.

This is not an argument for doing away with one’s Muslim identity. But, without closer interaction with the mainstream, pluralism will be threatened. Above all, survival of the community depends upon strongly emphasizing the difference between extremists and ordinary Muslims, and on purging from within jihadist elements committed to violence. Any member of the Muslim community who thinks that ordinary people in the US are fair game because of bad US government policies has no business being there.

To echo George W. Bush, "let there be no mistake". But here the mistake will be to let the heart rule the head in the aftermath of utter horror, to bomb a helpless Afghan people into an even earlier period of the Stone Age, or to take similar actions that originate from the spine. Instead, in deference to a billion years of patient evolution, we need to hand over charge to the cerebellum. Else, survival of this particular species is far from guaranteed.

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 1

My fatwa on the fanatics

Illustration: Amili Setalvad
The magnitude of the terrorist attack on America has forced Muslims to take a critical look at themselves. Why have we repeatedly turned a blind eye to the evil within our societies? Why have we allowed the sacred terms of Islam, such as fatwa and jihad, to be hijacked by obscurantist, fanatic extremists?

Muslims are quick to note the double standards of America — its support for despotic regimes, its partiality towards Israel, and the covert operations that have undermined democratic movements in the Muslim world. But we seldom question our own double standards. For example, Muslims are proud that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West. Evangelical Muslims, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, happily spread their constricted interpretations of Islam. But Christian missionaries in Muslim countries are another matter. They have to be banned or imprisoned. Those who burn effigies of President Bush will be first in the queue for an American visa.

The psychotic young men, members of such extremist organisations as Al-Muhajiroun and ‘Supporters of Sharia’, shouting fascist obscenities outside the Pakistan embassy, are enjoying the fruits of Western freedom of expression. Their declared aim is to establish ‘Islamic states’. But in any self–proclaimed Islamic state, they would be ruthlessly silenced.

This is not the first time concerned Muslims have raised such questions. But we have been forced to ignore them for two main reasons. In a world where it is always open season for prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and Islam, our main task has seemed to be to defend Islam.

The other reason concerns ummah, the global Muslim community. We have to highlight, the argument goes, the despair and suffering of the Muslim people — their poverty and plight as refugees and the horror of war–torn societies.

So, all good and concerned Muslims are implicated in the unchecked rise of fanaticism in Muslim societies. We have given free reign to fascism within our midst, and failed to denounce fanatics who distort the most sacred concepts of our faith. We have been silent as they proclaim themselves martyrs, mangling beyond recognition the most sacred meaning of what it is to be a Muslim.

But the events of September 11 have freed us from any further obligation to this misapplied conscience. The insistence by the Muslim Council of Britain that the Islamic cause is best served by the Taliban handing over Osama bin Laden, is indicative of this shift.

The devotion with which so many Muslims, young and old, in Europe and America, are organising meetings and conferences to discuss how to unleash the best intentions, the essential values of Islam, from the rhetoric of jihad, hatred and insularity, is another.

But we have to go further. Muslims are in the best position to take the lead in the common cause against terrorism. The terrorists are among us, the Muslim communities of the world. They are part of our body politic. And it is our duty to stand up against them.

The psychotic young men, members of such extremist organisations as Al-Muhajiroun and ‘Supporters of Sharia’, shouting fascist obscenities outside the Pakistan embassy, are enjoying the fruits of Western freedom of expression. Their declared aim is to establish ‘Islamic states’.

We must also reclaim a more balanced view of Islamic terms like fatwa. A fatwa is simply a legal opinion based on religious reasoning. It is the opinion of one individual and is binding on only the person who gives it. But, since the Rushdie affair, it has come to be associated in the West solely with a death sentence. Now that Islam has become beset with the fatwa culture, it becomes necessary for moderate voices to issue their own fatwas.

So, let me take the first step. To Muslims everywhere I issue this fatwa: any Muslim involved in the planning, financing, training, recruiting, support or harbouring of those who commit acts of indiscriminate violence against persons or the apparatus or infrastructure of states is guilty of terror and no part of the ummah. It is the duty of every Muslim to spare no effort in hunting down, apprehending and bringing such criminals to justice.

If you see something reprehensible, said the Prophet Muhammad, then change it with your hand; if you are not capable of that then use your tongue (speak out against it); and if you are not capable of that then detest it in your heart.

The silent Muslim majority must now become vocal. The rest of the world could help by adopting a more balanced tone. The rhetoric that paints America as a personification of innocence and goodness, a god–like power that can do no wrong, not only undermines the new shift but threatens to foreclose all our futures. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 2


‘Muslims have to reject the discourse of anger’ — Hamza Yusuf

Tuesday’s terrorist attacks have saddened and maddened millions — and raised questions for many about Islam. Speculation abounds that the hijackers were inspired by terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who teach that violent acts can pave the way to paradise. But what does Islam really say about such matters? About jihad and martyrdom?

We asked Hamza Yusuf, an Islamic scholar in the East Bay, who said the attackers were "enemies of Islam.’’ Not martyrs, but "mass murderers, pure and simple.’’

Yusuf, whose articles about Islam are published internationally, talked about the attacks, the hysteria that he fears could grip the United States, and the role that Muslims and others must play in opposing violence. "We’ve got to get to some deeper core values that are commonly shared," he said.

Why would anyone do what the hijackers did?

Religious zealots of any creed are defeated people who lash out in desperation, and they often do horrific things. And if these people indeed are Arabs, Muslims, they’re obviously very sick people and I can’t even look at it in religious terms. It’s politics, tragic politics. There’s no Islamic justification for any of it. It’s like some misguided Irish using Catholicism as an excuse for blowing up English people.

They’re not martyrs, it’s as simple as that.


You can’t kill innocent people. There’s no Islamic declaration of war against the United States. I think every Muslim country except Afghanistan has an embassy in this country. And in Islam, a country where you have embassies is not considered a belligerent country.

In Islam, the only wars that are permitted are between armies and they should engage on battlefields and engage nobly. The Prophet Muhammad said, "Do not kill women or children or non–combatants and do not kill old people or religious people," and he mentioned priests, nuns and rabbis. And he said, "Do not cut down fruit–bearing trees and do not poison the wells of your enemies." The Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet, say that no one can punish with fire except the Lord of fire. It’s prohibited to burn anyone in Islam as a punishment. No one can grant these attackers any legitimacy. It was evil.

What role should American Muslims have in opposing this brand of violent Islam?

I think that the Muslims — and I really feel this strongly — have to reject the discourse of anger. Because there is a lot of anger in the Muslim communities around the world about the oppressive conditions that many Muslims find themselves in. But we have to reject the discourse of anger and we have to move to a higher moral ground, recognizing that the desire to blame others leads to anger and eventually to wrath, neither of which are rungs on a spiritual ladder to God. It’s times like these that we really need to become introspective.

The fact that there are any Muslims — no matter how statistically insignificant their numbers — who consider these acts to be religious acts is in and of itself shocking. And therefore we as Muslims have to ask the question, "How is it that our religious leadership has failed to reach these people with the true message of Islam?" Because the acts of these criminals have indicted an entire religion in the hearts and minds of millions. Ultimately, this is a result of the bankruptcy of these type of people who claim to be adherents to the Islamic religion. These people are so bankrupt that all they have to offer is destruction.

If there are any martyrs in this affair it would certainly be those brave firefighters and police that went in there to save human lives and in that process lost their own.

Why do some people regard the hijackers as martyrs?

That’s an abomination. These are mass murderers, pure and simple. It’s like Christians in this country who blow up abortion clinics or kill abortion doctors. I don’t think anyone in the Christian community, except a very extreme fringe, would condone that as an acceptable Christian response. In the same way, there’s no Muslim who understands his religion at all who would condone this. One of the worst crimes in Islam is brigandry — highway robbery, or today we’d say armed robbery — because it disrupts the sense of well-being and security among civilians.

Suicide bombers have cited a Qoranic verse that says, "Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord."

That is meant for people who are legitimately defending the lands of Islam or fighting under legitimate state authority against a tyrannical leader. There is no vigilantism in Islam. Muslims believe in the authority of government.

Imam Malik, an early Islamic legal authority, said that 60 years of oppression under an unjust ruler is better than one hour of anarchy.

Then why is there such strong support in parts of the world for the attacks?

Because we’re dealing in an age of ignorance and an age of anomie, the loss of social order. And people are very confused and they’re impoverished. What Americans are feeling now, this has been business as usual for Lebanese people, Palestinian people, Bosnian people.

What about Israeli people?

Certainly the fear element is there for Israeli people — that’s true, and the terror that they’ve felt. And there are still a lot of Jewish people alive who remember the fear and terror of what happened in Europe, so that’s not far from people’s memories.

It seems at some point, the cycles of violence have to stop. It’s a type of insanity, especially when we’re dealing with nuclear power. People are saying that this was an attack on civilization and that is exactly the point. And I think the question we all have to ask is whether indiscriminate retaliation is going to help preserve civilization.

The perpetrators of this and, really, all acts of terror are people who hate too much. There’s a verse in the Koran that says do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Being just is closer to piety. The evil of wrath is that justice and mercy are lost.

How do you explain Palestinians and others celebrating the attacks in the streets?

When you see ignorant people in the streets, rejoicing — the Prophet condemned it. It’s rejoicing at the calamities of your enemies, and Islam prohibits that. They do have a lot of anger toward America, because America produces much of Israel’s military hardware and so many American tax dollars go to support Israel. You have a lot of animosity in the Arab world. But the vast majority of Arabs are horrified by what’s happened. There’s animosity in the Muslim world toward American foreign policy. This is the unfortunate price of power and its exercise in the world, that you incur the resentment and animosity of a lot of people. But the majority of Muslims who I know don’t have anger toward individuals or the American people.

The concept of jihad has been widely used to justify violence.

Jihad means struggle. The Prophet said the greatest jihad is the struggle of a man against his own evil influences. It also refers to what Christians call a "just war," which is fought against tyranny or oppression — but under a legitimate state authority.

What is the Arabic word for martyr?

Shaheed. It means witness. The martyr is the one who witnesses the truth and gives his life for it. There are people in this country like Martin Luther King who would be considered a martyr for his cause. Also, if your home, your family, your property or your land or religion is threatened, then you may defend it with your life. That person is a martyr. But so is anybody who dies of terminal illness; it’s a martyr’s death. Because it’s such a purification that whatever wrongs they once did, they’re now in a state of purity.

And the greatest martyr in the eyes of God is the one who stands in the presence of a tyrant and speaks the truth and is killed for it. He is martyred for his tongue.

What does Islam say about suicide?

Suicide is haraam in Islam. It’s prohibited, like a mortal sin. And murder is haram. And to kill civilians is murder.

What is a martyr’s reward?

The Prophet said that a martyr who dies doesn’t have a reckoning on the Day of Judgment. It’s an act through which he is forgiven. But the Prophet also said that there are people who kill in the name of Islam and go to hell. And when he was asked why, he said, "Because they weren’t fighting truly for the sake of God."

If there are any martyrs in this affair it would certainly be those brave firefighters and police that went in there to save human lives and in that process lost their own. 

(Imam Hamza’s interview by the San Jose Mercury News was posted on the latter’s website, on Sept. 15, 2001)

(Hamza Yusuf, 42, started life as Mark Hanson, son of two US academics, only converting at 17. Thirty years ago, he seemed destined not for Islamic scholarship, but for the Greek Orthodox priesthood. Then, a near-death experience in a car accident and reading the Koran diverted him towards Mecca).


Islam and the enlightenment tradition

"I came out of the enlightenment tradition and I still believe in the best of the enlightenment tradition and I think that Islam confirms and enhances
that tradition and really doesn’t detract from it".

"In some ways the Muslim world is undergoing a protestant reformation right now and unfortunately because people don’t know about colonialism, about the shutting down of traditional Muslim universities all over the Muslim world with rare exception, and the fact that Islam has very few scholars at very high levels. Most of the brilliant students in the Middle East now go into medicine and engineering, they go into other things, they don’t go into philosophy. One of the interesting things you should think about, almost every one of these terrorists that are identified — and I will guarantee you that you will not find amongst them anyone who did his degree in philosophy, in literature, in the humanities, in theology — you’ll find that almost all are technically trained. And one of the tragedies in the Muslim world is that technical schools now, from an early age they identify students that are very brilliant in mathematics and they direct them towards only studying the physical sciences to the neglect of what makes us human, which is humanity, is poetry, it’s literature, as well as philosophy and theology, so these things are absent now".

(From transcript of CBC interview with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf aired on September 23, 2001)

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 3

‘If you hate the West, emigrate to a Muslim country’
  • Islam was hijacked on that September 11 2001, on  that plane as an innocent victim.
  • Many people in the West do not realise how oppressive some Muslim states are - both for men and for women. This is a cultural issue, not an Islamic one. I would rather live as a Muslim in the West than in most of the Muslim countries, because I think the way Muslims are allowed to live in the West is closer to the Muslim way. A lot of Muslim immigrants feel the same way,  which is why they are here.
  • Grainy videos of his sermons sell in their thousands and hint that he is not cut from the same cloth as teachers from the Indian sub-continent or Arabia.
  • Many Muslims seem to be in deep denial about what has happened. They are coming up with different conspiracy theories and don’t entertain the real possibility that it was indeed Muslims who did this. Yet we do have people within our ranks who have reached that level of hatred and misguidance.
  • Some Muslims tried to explain what has happened. But if you say you condemn something and then try to explain the background, it can mistakenly sound like a justification, as though this is their comeuppance.
  • would say to them (Muslim hardliners) that if they are going to rant and rave about the West, they should emigrate to a Muslim country. The goodwill of these countries to immigrants must be  recognised by Muslims.
  • Days before the September 11 killings, he made a speech warning that “a great, great tribulation was coming” to America. He is sorry for saying that now.
  • September 11 was a wake-up call to me. I don’t want to contribute to the hate in any shape or form. I now regret in the past being silent about what I have heard in the Islamic discourse and being part of that with my own anger.
  • We Muslims have lost theologically sound understanding of our teaching. We are living through a reformation, but without any theologians to guide us through it. Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage. We have lost our bearings because we have lost our theology.
( Hamza Yusuf, during his interview to the Guardian, London):

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 4

Fashions in atrocities

Illustration: Amili Setalvad

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
someone recently in formed me that half the terrorist organizations officially listed on some or another "terrorist watch website," were Muslim. Though Islamic law does not countenance terrorism or suicide of any sort, and I know these organizations represent an extreme splinter of an extreme splinter of Islam, I did not find the statistic particularly shocking.

Rather, if in the last fifty years world governments like the United States and Britain have somehow convinced themselves that it is morally acceptable to kill, starve, and maim civilians of other countries in order to persuade their governments to do something, it would be surprising if this conviction did not somehow percolate down to the dispossessed, the hopeless, the aggrieved, and the powerless of every religion and ethnic group in the world. It looks as if it has.

We Americans are not bombing people, young and old, whose lives, when they survive, are brutally interrupted by the loss of an arm or a leg, or a father, or a son, or a mother, or a house that the family saved for years to build. We are too civilized for that. Rather, we bomb Iraq. We bomb Sudan. We bomb Southern Lebanon. We bomb "Palestinian positions." We don’t cause the tens of thousands of birth defective and mentally retarded babies with the chemical mayhem and ten–year famine we are currently paying for in Iraq: We are "imposing sanctions."

We don’t kill actual human beings with all the explosives we are dumping on these countries. We are killing generic Iraqis, generic Sudanis, generic Palestinians. It sounds like we may now have to kill some generic Afghanis. And now the shock of all shocks, the devastation of all devastations: some crazy people this past month decided to kill a lot of generic Americans. What on earth made them think it was morally acceptable to kill people who hadn’t committed any crime, who were not combatants, and were not killed in self–defence?

The answer, I apprehend, is not to be found in Islam, or in any religion or morality, but in the fact that there are fashions in atrocities and in the rhetoric used to dress them up. Unfortunately these begin to look increasingly like our own fashions and sound increasingly like our own rhetoric, reheated and served up to us. The terrorists themselves, in their own minds, were doubtless not killing secretaries, janitors, and firemen. That would be too obscene. Rather, they were "attacking America."

The attack has been condemned, as President Bush has noted, by "Muslim scholars and clerics" across the board, and indeed by all people of decency around the world. I have read Islamic law with scholars, and know that it does not condone either suicide or killing non–combatants. But what to do about the crime itself?

The solution being proposed seems to be a technological one. We will highlight these people on our screens, and press delete. If we cannot find the precise people, we will delete others like them, until everyone else gets the message. We’ve done it lots of times. The problem with this is that it is morally wrong, and will send a clear confirmation — if more is needed beyond the shoot-em-ups abroad of the last decades that show our more or less complete disdain for both non–white human life and international law — that there is no law between us and other nations besides the law of the jungle.

People like these attackers, willing to kill themselves to devastate others, are not ordinary people. They are desperate people. What has made them so is not lunacy, or religion, but the perception that there is no effective legal recourse to stop crimes against the civilian peoples they identify with. Our own and our clients’ killing, mutilating, and starving civilians are termed "strikes," "pre-emptive attacks," "raiding the frontiers," and "sanctions" — because we have a standing army, print our own currency, and have a press establishment and other trappings of modern statehood. Without them, our actions would be pure "terrorism."

“If in the last 50 world governments like the US and Britain have somehow convinced themselves that it is morally acceptable to kill, starve, and maim civilians of other countries in order to persuade their governments to do something, it would be surprising if this conviction did not somehow percolate down to the dispossessed, the hopeless, the aggrieved, and the powerless of every religion and ethnic group in the world. It looks as if it has”.

Two wrongs do not make a right. They only make two wrongs. I think the whole moral discourse has been derailed by our own rhetoric in recent decades. Terrorism must be repudiated by America not only by words but by actions, beginning with its own. As ‘Abd al–Hakim Winter asks, "Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double agents?" I think we have to get back to basics and start acting as if we knew that killing civilians is wrong.

As it is, we seem to have convinced a lot of other people that it is right, among them some of the more extreme elements of the contemporary Wahhabi sect of Muslims, including the members of the Bin Laden network, whom the security agencies seem to be pointing their finger at for this crime. The Wahhabi sect, which has not been around for more than two and a half centuries, has never been part of traditional Sunni Islam, which rejects it and which it rejects.

Orthodox Sunnis, who make up the vast majority of Muslims, are neither Wahhabis nor terrorists, for the traditional law they follow forbids killing civilian non–combatants to make any kind of point, political or otherwise. Those who have travelled through North Africa, Turkey, Egypt, or the Levant know what traditional Muslims are like in their own lands. Travellers find them decent, helpful, and hospitable people, and feel safer in Muslim lands than in many places, such as Central America, for example, or for that matter, Central Park.

On the other hand, there will always be publicists who hate Muslims, and who for ideological or religious reasons want others to do so. Where there is an ill–will, there is a way. A fifth of humanity are Muslims, and if to err is human, we may reasonably expect Muslims to err also, and it is certainly possible to stir up hatred by publicizing bad examples. But if experience is any indication, the only people convinced by media pieces about the inherent fanaticism of Muslims will be those who don’t know any.

Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral.

And we Americans should take the necessary measures to get the ship of state back on a course that is credible, fair, and at bottom at least moral in our dealings with the other peoples of the world. For if our ideas of how to get along with other nations do not exceed the morality of action–thriller destruction movies, we may well get more action than we paid for.

(Excerpted from an article by the writer accessible on

Nuh Ha Mim Keller's English translation of ‘Umdat al–Salik [The Reliance of the Traveller] (1250 pp., Sunna Books, 1991) is the first Islamic legal work in a European language to receive the certification of al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest institution of higher learning. He also possesses ijazas or "certificates of authorisation" in Islamic jurisprudence from sheikhs in Syria and Jordan.

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 5

‘Think Taliban, think Nazis’

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio to day, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but "we’re at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?" Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done."

And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I’ve lived here for 35 years I’ve never lost track of what’s going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I’m standing.

I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters.

But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It’s not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country.

Some say, why don’t the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they’re starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan — a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with landmines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that’s been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They’re already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today’s Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They’d slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don’t move too fast, they don’t even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn’t really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban — by raping once again the people they’ve been raping all this time.

So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they’re thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people.

Let’s pull our heads out of the sand. What’s actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden’s hideout. It’s much bigger than that folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we’d have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I’m going. We’re flirting with a world war between Islam and the West.

And guess what: that’s Bin Laden’s program. That’s exactly what he wants. That’s why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It’s all right there. At the moment, of course, "Islam" as such does not exist. There are Muslims and there are Muslim countries, but no such political entity as Islam. Osama Bin Laden believes that if he can get a war started, he can constitute this entity and he’d be running it. He really believes Islam would beat the West. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he’s got a billion soldiers. If the West wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that’s a billion people with nothing left to lose, that’s even better from Bin Laden’s point of view. He’s probably wrong, in the end the West would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?


Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 6

CIA bin Laden

The US government refuses to admit its central role in creating the vicious movement that spawned bin Laden, the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists

"Throughout the world ... its agents, client states and satellites are on the defensive — on the moral defensive, the intellectual defensive, and the political and economic defensive. Freedom movements arise and assert themselves. They’re doing so on almost every continent populated by man — in the hills of Afghanistan, in Angola, in Kampuchea, in Central America ... (They are freedom fighters.)"

Is this a call to jihad taken from one of Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden’s notorious fatwas? Or perhaps a communique issued by the repressive Taliban regime in Kabul?

In fact, this glowing praise of the murderous exploits of today’s supporters of arch-terrorist bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, and their holy war against the evil empire, was issued by US President Ronald Reagan on March 8, 1985. The evil empire was the Soviet Union, as well as Third World movements fighting US-backed colonialism, apartheid and dictatorship.

How things change. In the aftermath of a series of terrorist atrocities, the most despicable being the mass murder of more than 6,000 working people in New York and Washington on September 11, bin Laden the freedom fighter is now lambasted by US leaders and the Western mass media as a terrorist mastermind and an evil-doer.

Yet the US government refuses to admit its central role in creating the vicious movement that spawned bin Laden, the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists that plague Algeria and Egypt and perhaps the disaster that befell New York.

The mass media has also downplayed the origins of bin Laden and his toxic brand of Islamic fundamentalism.


In April 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan in reaction to a crackdown against the party by that country’s repressive government.

The PDPA was committed to a radical land reform that favoured the peasants, trade union rights, an expansion of education and social services, equality for women and the separation of church and state. The PDPA also supported strengthening Afghanistan’s relationship with the Soviet Union.

Such policies enraged the wealthy semi–feudal landlords, the Muslim religious establishment (many mullahs were also big landlords) and the tribal chiefs. They immediately began organising resistance to the government’s progressive policies, under the guise of defending Islam.

Washington, fearing the spread of Soviet influence (and worse the new government’s radical example) to its allies in Pakistan, Iran and the Gulf states, immediately offered support to the Afghan Mujahedin, as the contra force was known.

Following an internal PDPA power struggle in December 1979 which toppled Afghanistan’s leader, thousands of Soviet troops entered the country to prevent the new government’s fall. This only galvanised the disparate fundamentalist factions. Their reactionary jihad now gained legitimacy as a national liberation struggle in the eyes of many Afghans.

The Soviet Union was eventually to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989 and the Mujahedin captured the capital, Kabul, in 1992.

Between 1978 and 1992, the US government poured at least US$6 billion (some estimates range as high as $20 billion) worth of arms, training and funds to prop up the Mujahedin factions. Other Western governments, as well as oil–rich Saudi Arabia, kicked in as much again. Wealthy Arab fanatics, like Osama bin Laden, provided millions more.

Washington’s policy in Afghanistan was shaped by US President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and was continued by his successors. His plan went far beyond simply forcing Soviet troops to withdraw; rather it aimed to foster an international movement to spread Islamic fanaticism into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics to destabilise the Soviet Union.

Brzezinski’s grand plan coincided with Pakistan military dictator General Zia–ul–Haq’s own ambitions to dominate the region. US–run Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe beamed Islamic fundamentalist tirades across Central Asia (while paradoxically denouncing the Islamic revolution that toppled the pro–US Shah of Iran in 1979).

Washington’s favoured Mujahedin faction was one of the most extreme, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The West’s distaste for terrorism did not apply to this unsavoury freedom fighter. Hekmatyar was notorious in the 1970s for throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil.

After the Mujahedin took Kabul in 1992, Hekmatyar’s forces rained US–supplied missiles and rockets on that city killing at least 2,000 civilians until the new government agreed to give him the post of prime minister. Osama bin Laden was a close associate of Hekmatyar and his faction.

Hekmatyar was also infamous for his side trade in the cultivation and trafficking in opium. Backing of the Mujahedin from the CIA coincided with a boom in the drug business. Within two years, the Afghanistan–Pakistan border was the world’s single largest source of heroin, supplying 60 per cent of US drug users.

In 1995, the former director of the CIA’s operation in Afghanistan was unrepentant about the explosion in the flow of drugs: Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets... There was a fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.

Bin Laden has simply continued to do the job he was asked to do in Afghanistan during the 1980s — fund, feed and train mercenaries. All that has changed is his primary customer. Then it was the ISI and, behind the scenes, the CIA. Today, his services are utilised primarily by the reactionary Taliban regime

Made in the USA

According to Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1986, CIA chief William Casey committed CIA support to a long-standing ISI proposal to recruit from around the world to join the Afghan jihad. At least 100,000 Islamic militants flocked to Pakistan between 1982 and 1992 (some 60,000 attended fundamentalist schools in Pakistan without necessarily taking part in the fighting).

John Cooley, a former journalist with the US ABC television network and author of Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, has revealed that Muslims recruited in the US for the Mujahedin were sent to Camp Peary, the CIA’s spy training camp in Virginia, where young Afghans, Arabs from Egypt and Jordan, and even some African-American black Muslims were taught sabotage skills.

The November 1, 1998, the British Independent reported that one of those charged with the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Ali Mohammed, had trained bin Laden’s operatives in 1989.

These operatives were recruited at the al Kifah Refugee Centre in Brooklyn, New York, given paramilitary training in the New York area and then sent to Afghanistan with US assistance to join Hekmatyar’s forces. Mohammed was a member of the US army’s elite Green Berets.

The program, reported the Independent, was part of a Washington-approved plan called Operation Cyclone.

In Pakistan, recruits, money and equipment were distributed to the Mujahedin factions by an organisation known as Maktab al Khidamar (Office of Services, MAK).

MAK was a front for Pakistan’s CIA, the Inter–Service Intelligence directorate. The ISI was the first recipient of the vast bulk of CIA and Saudi Arabian covert assistance for the Afghan contras. Bin Laden was one of three people who ran MAK. In 1989, he took overall charge of MAK.

Among those trained by Mohammed were El Sayyid Nosair, who was jailed in 1995 for killing Israeli rightist Rabbi Meir Kahane and plotting with others to bomb New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Independent also suggested that Shiekh Omar Abdel–Rahman, an Egyptian religious leader also jailed for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, was also part of Operation Cyclone. He entered the US in 1990 with the CIA’s approval. A confidential CIA report concluded that the agency was partly culpable for the 1993 World Trade Center blast, the Independent reported.

Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, one of 20 sons of a billionaire construction magnate, arrived in Afghanistan to join the jihad in 1980. An austere religious fanatic and business tycoon, bin Laden specialised in recruiting, financing and training the estimated 35,000 non–Afghan mercenaries who joined the Mujahedin. The bin Laden family is a prominent pillar of the Saudi Arabian ruling class, with close personal, financial and political ties to that country’s pro–US royal family.

Bin Laden senior was appointed Saudi Arabia’s minister of public works as a favour by King Faisal. The new minister awarded his own construction companies lucrative contracts to rebuild Islam’s holiest mosques in Mecca and Medina. In the process, the bin Laden family company in 1966 became the world’s largest private construction company.

Osama bin Laden’s father died in 1968. Until 1994, he had access to the dividends from this ill–gotten business empire.

(Bin Laden junior’s oft–quoted personal fortune of US$200–300 million has been arrived at by the US State Department by dividing today’s value of the bin Laden family net worth estimated to be US$5 billion by the number of bin Laden senior’s sons. A fact rarely mentioned is that in 1994 the bin Laden family disowned Osama and took control of his share.)

Osama’s military and business adventures in Afghanistan had the blessing of the bin Laden dynasty and the reactionary Saudi Arabian regime. His close working relationship with MAK also meant that the CIA was fully aware of his activities.

Milt Bearden, the CIA’s station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989, admitted to the January 24, 2000, New Yorker that while he never personally met bin Laden, "Did I know that he was out there? Yes, I did... [Guys like] bin Laden were bringing $20-$25 million a month from other Saudis and Gulf Arabs to underwrite the war. And that is a lot of money. It’s an extra $200–$300 million a year. And this is what bin Laden did."

In 1986, bin Laden brought heavy construction equipment from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan. Using his extensive knowledge of construction techniques (he has a degree in civil engineering), he built training camps, some dug deep into the sides of mountains, and built roads to reach them.

These camps, now dubbed terrorist universities by Washington, were built in collaboration with the ISI and the CIA. The Afghan contra fighters, including the tens of thousands of mercenaries recruited and paid for by bin Laden, were armed by the CIA. Pakistan, the US and Britain provided military trainers.

Tom Carew, a former British SAS soldier who secretly fought for the Mujahedin told the August 13, 2000, British Observer, "The Americans were keen to teach the Afghans the techniques of urban terrorism, car bombing and so on so that they could strike at the Russians in major towns..." Many of them are now using their knowledge and expertise to wage war on everything they hate.

Al Qaeda (the Base), bin Laden’s organisation, was established in 1987-88 to run the camps and other business enterprises. It is a tightly–run capitalist holding company albeit one that integrates the operations of a mercenary force and related logistical services with legitimate business operations.

Bin Laden has simply continued to do the job he was asked to do in Afghanistan during the 1980s — fund, feed and train mercenaries. All that has changed is his primary customer. Then it was the ISI and, behind the scenes, the CIA. Today, his services are utilised primarily by the reactionary Taliban regime.

Bin Laden only became a terrorist in US eyes when he fell out with the Saudi royal family over its decision to allow more than 540,000 US troops to be stationed on Saudi soil following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

When thousands of US troops remained in Saudi Arabia after the end of the Gulf War, bin Laden’s anger turned to outright opposition. He declared that Saudi Arabia and other regimes such as Egypt in the Middle East were puppets of the US, just as the PDPA government of Afghanistan had been a puppet of the Soviet Union.

He called for the overthrow of these client regimes and declared it the duty of all Muslims to drive the US out of the Gulf states. In 1994, he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship and forced to leave the country. His assets there were frozen.

After a period in Sudan, he returned to Afghanistan in May 1996. He refurbished the camps he had helped build during the Afghan war and offered the facilities and services and thousands of his mercenaries to the Taliban, which took power that September.

Today, bin Laden’s private army of non–Afghan religious fanatics is a key prop of the Taliban regime.

Prior to the devastating September 11 attack on the twin towers of World Trade Center, US ruling-class figures remained unrepentant about the consequences of their dirty deals with the likes of bin Laden, Hekmatyar and the Taliban. Since the awful attack, they have been downright hypocritical.

In an August 28, 1998, report posted on MSNBC, Michael Moran quotes Senator Orrin Hatch, who was a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee which approved US dealings with the Mujahedin, as saying he would make the same call again, even knowing what bin Laden would become.

"It was worth it. Those were very important, pivotal matters that played an important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union."

Hatch today is one of the most gung-ho voices demanding military retaliation. Another face that has appeared repeatedly on television screens since the attack has been Vincent Cannistrano, described as a former CIA chief of counter-terrorism operations.

Cannistrano is certainly an expert on terrorists like bin Laden, because he directed their work. He was in charge of the CIA–backed Nicaraguan contras during the early 1980s. In 1984, he became the supervisor of covert aid to the Afghan Mujahedin for the US National Security Council.

The last word goes to Zbigniew Brzezinski: "What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" 

(This article has been put out by the Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL).

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 7

Why be shy about SIMI?

The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslim religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25-year-old history of SIMI, have they spoken out publicly against an organisation that is a declared enemy of ‘democracy, socialism, nationalism and polytheism’.

Most Muslim religious and political leaders from India have condemned the September 11 terrorist attack on the US as "un–Islamic" but there is a widely held perception among non-Muslims that the public pronouncements notwithstanding, Osama bin Laden is a "hero" for a very large number of Muslims, whether globally or in India. The near universal protest of Muslim religious and political leaders against the September 26 decision of the government of India to ban the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), has, if anything, reinforced that feeling even among many secular non–Muslims.

On the face of it, this seems really unfair to India’s Muslims. For, after all, hasn’t their objection — if SIMI is banned, why not the Bajrang Dal, a Hindutva outfit all too ‘similar’ to the former in its aims, objectives and activity — also been voiced by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, communist parties and, lately, even Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, apart from any number of human rights groups.

But the moulvi sahibs and the siyasi netas among Muslims cannot wish away the problem.

The politicians’ objection to the ban against SIMI has largely to do with politics (both Mulayam and Mayawati have their eyes on Muslim voters in the coming UP elections, just as the BJP–led government’s selective ban on SIMI has more to do with its wanting a communal polarisation on poll eve than with SIMI’s alleged link with international terrorist outfits). Human rights groups protest has primarily to do with their objection, in principle, to the banning of any organisation so long as it does not cross constitutional bounds. Besides, there is the additional and legitimate concern over the implications of this singling out of SIMI (as against a simultaneous ban on the Bajrang Dal) for a religious minority that is already feeling battered and bruised. (See the accompanying piece by Teesta Setalvad).

The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslims religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25–year–old history of SIMI, have they spoken out publicly against an organisation that is a declared enemy of ‘democracy, secularism, nationalism and polytheism’.

For at least 10 years now, SIMI has been pasting stickers in large numbers in Muslim shops and homes, a thick red ‘NO’ splashed across the words, DEMOCRACY, NATIONALISM, SECULARISM, POLYTHEISM’. ‘ONLY ALLAH!’ exclaims SIMI’s punch line on the same sticker. The sticker leaves no doubt that for SIMI, any one who subscribes to the principles of democracy, secularism and nationalism, or believes in peaceful co–existence with polytheists, is not a Muslim, a follower of Islam.

You only have to visit SIMI’s website, to be greeted by the following message on its homepage: ‘Jihad our path’, Shahadat our desire.’ This is followed by the stern message for Muslims who are comfortable ‘Living under an un-Islamic order’ and a surah (Al-Nisa: 97) is quoted from the Quran: ‘Such men (read Muslims) will find their abode in Hell. What an evil refuge’.

The commentary on the above surah that follows reads: "Those people who had willingly submitted to living under an un-Islamic order would be called to account by God and would be asked: If a certain territory was under the dominance of rebels against God, so that it had become impossible to follow His Law, why did you continue to live there? Why did you not migrate to a land where it was possible to follow the law of God?"

In other words, an organisation that has had an impressive growth among India’s Muslims (see box) is teaching its youth that any idea of living in peace with Hindus and other non–Muslims in a secular–democratic India (‘un–Islamic order’) is a sure passport to Allah’s hell!

Very many Muslims in India and elsewhere will quote the saying of Prophet Mohammed that the ‘struggle against self for self-improvement’ is the highest form of jihad. But you have to be a fool to imagine that that is what jihad means for SIMI. Bear in mind that for this outfit, Osama bin Laden is "not a terrorist" and Kashmir is not an "integral part of India" and the picture is as clear as should be.

Around December 6, 2000 (the eighth anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid), SIMI plastered coloured posters in Muslim pockets throughout the country, praying to Allah to send another Mahmud Ghazni down to India. Whatever historians might think of Ghazni, SIMI is without any shred of doubt praying for a new destroyer of temples to be dropped over India!

While announcing its ban on SIMI, the Union government has claimed, among other things, that SIMI is linked to extremists and terrorists who are enemies of India. Given Hindutva’s dubious agenda, Union home minister LK Advani’s motives in the selective ban on SIMI are understandably suspect. But what about the fact that the Congress governments of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had asked the Centre to ban SIMI and Bajrang Dal simultaneously?

But Advani’s motives and evidence before the government apart, should anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the origin, worldview and activities of SIMI be in the least surprised if it turns out that SIMI has strong links with Islamic extremists?

Whatever historians might think of Ghazni, SIMI is without any shred of doubt praying for a new destroyer of temples to be dropped over India!

As Sajid Rashid, editor of the Hindi eveninger Hamara Mahanagar published from Mumbai, pointed out in a recent searching and scorching column, SIMI was created by Jamaat–e–Islami (Hind) to carry out its work among students and youth. What does the Jamaat–e–Islami stand for? Sajid Rashid: "the core belief of the organization revolves around the proposition that Muslims should propagate Islam throughout the world and struggle to establish the Kingdom of Allah globally. The Pakistani and the Kashmiri wings of the Jamaat–e–Islami are fully committed to conduct such a jihad to meet their objective".

What about the Indian wing of the Jamaat? "The Jamaat–e–Islami (Hind) is non–committal on the jihad question, and claims to be against violence," writes Rashid. How is it that Jamaat India resembles its Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi counterparts in every respect except on the jihad imperative? One view says that the circumstances of India compel the Jamaat wing here to adopt a different tactical position.

Interestingly, those convinced of the Indian Jamaat’s bonafide distaste for extremist tendencies, point out that it is for this reason that over 10 years ago it snapped its relations with SIMI and created a new outfit – Students of Islamic Organisation (SIO). But the opponents of the Jamaat among Muslims claim ask why the Jamaat is content keeping the SIO as purely a paper organisation and point to the surprisingly cordial and fraternal equation that obtains between the rivals (SIMI and SIO) at the ground level. The Jamaat in Pakistan, as is well known is the ideological parent of all kinds of Islamic terrorist outfits in Pakistan, including the Taliban. The detractors of the Jamaat (Hind) claim that having given birth to SIMI, whose perspectives and programmes increasingly resemble that of Muslim extremist outfits in Pakistan, the public posture of "ideological difference" between the Jamaat and SIMI is merely meant to hoodwink the Indian state and public.

Within India and globally, too, an as yet small group of Muslims have started going backwards tracing the lineage of the Jamaat–e–Islami to the Deoband school (in India) that is rooted in the not more than 250–years–old rigid, and orthodox Wahhabi sect, and forward to claim that today’s ‘Islamic terrorists’ are nothing but the most extreme version of Wahabbism.

Within days of the attack on America, the British Muslim, Hamza Yusuf (see his interview earlier in this issue) had declared, from the lawns of the White House soon after a meeting with President Bush: "Islam was hijacked on that September 11 2001, on that plane as an innocent victim". But, others like the American Muslim Nuh Ha Mim Keller are arguing that in fact Islam got hijacked nearly 250 years ago. To recall Keller’s piece (see earlier in this issue): "Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral".

Every culture, every religion, every society has its lunatic fringe. Indian Muslims can no more be blamed for the SIMI types in their midst than Hindus held responsible for the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. But as Ziauddin Sardar puts it in his piece (see earlier in this issue): "All good and concerned Muslims are implicated in the unchecked rise of fanaticism in Muslim societies. We have given free reign to fascism within our midst, and failed to denounce fanatics who distort the most sacred concepts of our faith".

It will not do for Indian Muslims to speak out against the ban on SIMI. Fairly or otherwise, the entire community will get implicated if Muslims fail to denounce the fanatics and the ‘fascism’ in our midst.’ 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 8

The Politics of a Ban

The banning of SIMI, selectively, while other rabid outfits escape stringent action is the latest example of the fundamentals of composite Indian nationhood being transgressed

The bombing of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon on September 11,01 came as a manna from heaven. And the National Democratic Alliance, dominated as it is, by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a political party that pays less than lip service to the notions of liberty, equity and justice through it’s union home minister, L.K.Advani grabbed this heaven–sent opportunity.

On September 26, his ministry with the full approval of the union cabinet banned the Student’s Islamic Movement of India(SIMI) under the Unlawful Activities Act of 1967.

Advani, while announcing his government’s decision accused it of ‘working for an international Islamic order, supporting militancy in Punjab, Kashmir and elsewhere... and engineering communal riots.’

The notification, banning the SIMI for two years, declared it as an unlawful association under Section 3 (1) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Under Section 4 of the Act, the Central Government is obligated to present it’s case before a Tribunal withing 30 days and justify it’s action. Within hours of the announcement, violence had broken out in both Lucknow and Kanpur and three persons demonstrating against the ban were shot dead by the police in the capital of UP.

Later the same evening, a two-page statement was made public by the home ministry. ‘SIMI is opposed to secularism, democracy and nationalism and is working for an international Islamic order... ‘Recently, investigation of 14 cases of terrorist violence which had caused 15 deaths and injury to 80 others in UP and Delhi in 2000–2001 exposed a deep nexus between SIMI and Hizb–ul–Mujahiddin.’

‘More recently,’ the statement says, ‘SIMI organised protests against alleged burning of Quran in Delhi in March 2001. Its units gave wide publicity to the issue by utilising the Internet.It printed provocative posters in Ahmedabad in August 2001’ Besides, the Home Ministry has also accused SIMI of maintaining links with international organistaions like Muslim Students’ Union, ‘a pro–Hamas union of Palestinian students in India and Pakistan.’ The latest provocation, home ministry officials declared, came when SIMI chief Shahid Badr, speaking in Bahraich in UP, called Osama Bin Laden the ‘‘champion and true saviour of Islam’’ and condemned India for supporting the US. Badr, charged with sedition and inciting communal hatred in UP, is currently in Nepal, it is believed.

As many as 240 activists alleged to be part of the organization were arrested within hours of the government’s action and it’s offices sealed in different parts of the country.

Several issues, arise out of the decision of the government to ban SIMI. Despite the insecurities and attendant hysterias caused by global terrorism and the unpredictable channels of violence used to attain it’s goals, these relate to time-tested questions of state accountability and transparency, basic human dignity and freedom and the principle of non–discrimination.

History has shown that giving the go–byes to these essentials, even in moments of deep national insecurity and trauma can only be at our own peril. The chilling realities of the past weeks only reinforce the need for state and police accountability and transparency to be demanded and get heard, they require us to ask whether any fundamentals related to basic human dignity have been violated by the ban and finally whether the litmus test of non-discrimination has been cleared.

To speak of the first, and doubtless the tribunal that adjudicates on the ban will scrutinize government’s claims, we need to know the case by case investigations that reveal SIMI’s direct connections with criminal and anti–national acts. If there are some, or many, the Indian people need to be taken into the government’s confidence. The past few years especially have seen too many deliberate obfuscations and demonisations by persons in positions of power — the ISI bogey, the madrassa threat—are just two examples of these and the Indian people need to know which incidents exactly SIMI was responsible for and what proof the investigating agencies have to back their claims.

Sweeping generalizations on their ideology, unpalatable and medieval as it is, cannot substitute the need for sound police investigation , untainted by pre–suppositions and bias, that has (according to the home ministry statement) linked SIMI to 14 cases of terrorist violence, 15 deaths and 80 injuries. The fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution grant individuals liberty of association and movement and the adherence to anti–Constitutional or pan–Islamic ideologies by itself is not an offence. It is only when these ideas, unpalatable as they are get translated into actions, in themselves violative of our exhaustive laws, that prosecution and state action follows.

Time-tested questions of state accountability and transparency, basic human dignity and freedom and the principle of non-discrimination arise out of the ban on SIMI

If the issue is dealing with new types of crime, cross border, transnational crimes and volatile populations — and hence the discomfort with complete transparency, this too needs to be stated so that it can honestly discussed and debated. Do the times we live in actually demand a paradigm shift on the crucial questions of burden of proof—innocent until proven guilty? What are the implications of such a major digression, or change? Can civilization afford to let it happen without a rigorous debate?

Related to this is critical, international accountability. In support of claims by governments and investigating agencies to book cross-border crimes and check ethnic genocides, a global movement demanding the setting up of an International Court of Criminal Justice has become more and more vocal. So far, the two staunchest opponents to this idea –that could be an effective check on cross-border terrorism have been India and USA. Why?

Secondly, is the critical issue of human liberty and freedom. In the euphoria of such expansive state actions — as we have witnessed before in the decade–long sway of TADA in Punjab, Gujarat, Jammu and Kahsmir and Andhra Pradesh, it is the voiceless and underprivileged who are made victims of harsh laws. In the ten years that we had TADA in force, it was almost never (99 per cent of the time) used against ‘terrorists’ but civilians protesting or challenging state policy. It had a less than four per cent of conviction rate. Already there is an eerie national consensus on the need for a New TADA. In the aggressive political climate that we witness today, we need to be sure that the arrests that follow the ban on SIMI — and any detentions made under preventive detention laws in future— are responsible actions not malicious and deliberate acts aimed at further alienating a large section of our population.

For over six months now, two states from western and central India — Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — have been pushing hard for the ban on SIMI. In fairness, their stance was more nuanced and therefore, also more logical. While unequivocally demanding a ban, they were clear that it was not only SIMI that required such stringent measures or not only SIMI that threatened the fabric of Indian society. The Bajrang Dal too, in the assessment of the investigating agencies of both these states is also a terrorist outfit, who’s activities need to be curtailed and the outfit therefore, banned. And herein we come to the final issue, that of non–discrimination.

Fundamentally, it is on this critical issue that the government has failed the litmus test. The government order declaring the ban reveals a selective application of the law. In this order, the government speaks of the ‘alleged’ burning of the Holy Koran in March 01 as if it was an incident that did not take place. While the SIMI role in capitalisiing on the shameful incident is there for all to see, (see CC, May 2001), what escalated the violence was the brutal murders of protestors by the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) found in many volatile situations to operate with a sharp bias against the minorities. Besides, the arrests made by Delhi Police Commissioner of BD and VHP activists deliberately burning the Koran in March 01 as provocation is an incident that did take place.The Coimbatore blasts, in which SIMI is supposed to have a role are mentioned, but the brutal riots against the city’s minorities three months previously consigned to distant memory.

In both the language of the order and the action in banning SIMI alone, the government has erred gravely. Worse still, it has revealed itself, for all to see, in a partisan role. If we leave aside for a moment whether a ban is principally desirable or pragmatically effective, it is the basic principle of governance based on citizenship, not religion or identity, that the Indian Constitution and it’s polity are wedded to that stands violated by the ban on SIMI, selectively.

Quite apart from empirical evidence of the clearly disruptive and violent activities of the Bajrang Dal collected by the police and investigating agencies in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajsathan and Madhya Pradesh (distributing Rampuri knives disguised as trishuls — see special report), the tone of Advani’s response when he laughed off the question of a demand on a ban on the BD as a joke bears mention.

Completely discounting the evidence collected by the state investigating agencies that was conveyed to him at a national meeting of all DGPs in early September, Advani said, "nobody has so far come with any evidence suggesting that it is involved in terrorist and anti–national activities or has engineered bomb blasts or a secessionist movement". Taking Advani’s statements to their logical conclusion was the vice president of the BJP, V Rama Rao who said, "It was bad to equate the action of organisations of Hindus with Muslim extremist outfits."

Individuals, organizations and outfits, far more visible and publicized than SIMI have over the decades made loud and sharp statements that provoke notions of equity, are sectarian and certainly violate the Indian Constitution. The list is too long to include them all but the BD and the Shiv Sena are two notorious examples. The involvement of the RSS, Hindu Munani, Jan Sangh and other collaborators, in provoking communal violence, has been documented by innumerable judicial investigations (see CC, March 1998) Since the Indian state neither acts against these outfits for criminal actions nor considers banning them ‘because it is bad to equate action of Hindu organizations with Muslim extremist outfits’ we appear to have digressed one more fundamental of Indian citizenship and nationhood.

In the sharply polarized and hate–filled public atmosphere, this latest state action applied selectively, bodes ill. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 9