A number of important advances made in the past decade are now helping us to put together a scientific model or theory of the phenomenon of religion-based terror. This has ranged from new studies on the contrasting evolution of India and Pakistan, to a recent statistical analysis of Islamic doctrines and an analysis of the impact of the propagation of Islam funded through Middle Eastern petrodollars. On the side of tackling terror, insights have been gained on the origin of terror and its propagation. We are also able to better understand how a broad coalition of people and nations could be mobilized to tackle terror. Some ideas have been developed on how, by advancing rational thinking, one might wean away educated Muslims from terrorist ideologies.
The context of studying the relative evolution of India and Pakistan is that although the majority religions in these two nations are different, they share language, culture, ethnicity, and culinary habits, and yet Hindu-majority India has managed to create wealth and focus on development but Islamic Pakistan has turned into a major fountainhead of religion-based terror.
Statistical analysis is a useful tool for deciphering the character of an entity or ideology that sends out mixed signals, perhaps to camouflage its true intent.
It is now increasingly realized that there are specific political objectives behind the religion-based terror war called jihad. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden outlined a condition for terror attacks against America to cease: “I invite you to embrace Islam.” During the past sixty years most non-Muslim minorities in all Muslim-majority regions of South Asia were terrorized into leaving for nearby non-Muslim-majority lands. Those who stayed behind were subjected to state-sponsored discrimination and exclusion, so that they would either convert to Islam or leave the country. All of this points to conquering — even during contemporary times — land and people for Islam.
If conquest is the ulterior motive then terror should be just one of the — albeit important — means of achieving the objective. Indeed, in Muslim-minority nations such as India, Islamists are seen to gain access to power through their control of the Muslim vote block and then promote or advocate policies that advance their agenda. This may be called a non-violent form of jihad.
From where does the passion to conquer come?
A recent groundbreaking statistical examination of Islamic doctrines appears to overwhelmingly identify the roots of the motivation to conquer with the doctrines themselves. About sixty-one percent of the contents of the Koran are found to speak ill of unbelievers or call for their violent conquest; at best only 2.6 percent of the verses of the Koran are noted to show goodwill toward humanity. While there might be some subjectivity to this analysis, the overwhelming thrust of the inferences should be taken note of. This new analysis sheds light on not only understanding the roots of terror, but also on how to address Islamic radicalism.
Even if conquest is emphasized in the doctrines, if the structure of a religion itself allows room for personal growth, the focus of its adherents will likely be oriented constructively inward.
What is now commonly known as Sharia or Islamic law deals with many aspects of day-to-day life. This “divine” law was formulated over a thousand years ago and reflects the customs and traditions of Arab tribes of a bygone era. Just about all communities in Muslim-majority nations find themselves under different degrees of the Sharia — and, as a result, are hard-pressed to embrace a modern way of life, including modern education. This is the likely reason that, despite oil wealth, in the Human Development Index (HDI) published each year by the United Nations — a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living — of the 32 countries rated “high” in 2006, not one was a Muslim-majority country. However, of the 30 countries rated “low,” 16 were Muslim countries.
In other words, Sharia makes the process of wealth creation — the basis of building modern civilizations — difficult for Muslim communities to achieve and indirectly helps channel Muslim energies toward the outlet of the adventure of conquest through jihad. Besides the theological grounds, the cover for waging a multi-front jihad is derived by associating unbelievers with certain “injustices” perpetrated on Muslims. The perception of the so-called injustices created and sustained relentlessly can be viewed as the primary mode of building up anger and hatred in the minds of Muslims.
Yet an ideology alone is not capable of making a transnational impact unless it has resourceful and committed backers. The main backing comes from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a nation that uses Islamic doctrines in place of a constitution — and is very well endowed with oil. This free or unearned wealth has shielded the flaws of the Sharia-based system there from being exposed. By many accounts, the Saudi Arabian government alone has spent billions of dollars since the mid-1970s to propagate Islam around the world as a conduit for advancing its interests. In addition to distributing Islamic doctrines, substantial amounts have been spent on constructing new mosques, staffing them, and producing propaganda material.
This funding has coincided with an increase in violent extremism directed at non-Muslims and a regressive outlook seen in Muslim communities all over the world. If the Islamic doctrines and their subsequent interpretations are overwhelmingly and violently disposed toward non-Muslims and emphasize the importance of adhering to outdated customs, their propagation will inevitably lead predominantly to the abovementioned characteristics. In retrospect, we now realize that attacks such as the one on 9/11 — or what are yet to come — are an inevitable consequence of this long-term funding and indoctrination process.
How could the terror threat be mitigated?
On the side of ideology that generates the passion for jihad sit the clergy and mosques. However, execution of jihad has to involve educated Muslims. After all, without modern education, the tools of the modern world — from weapons to other kinds of infrastructure — could not be effectively used to conduct terror. Yet this critical segment of the Muslim population is also susceptible to rational ideas. A nuanced, science-based analysis and articulation of ideas, designed to deemphasize the importance given to Islamic scriptures and to loosen the vice-like grip of the clergies, has to be part of any logical approach to winning the war of ideas. This could be among the critical missing pieces in unraveling the terrorism jigsaw puzzle.
For instance, if available evidence suggests that an ancient scripture was taken down and stored in an unreliable manner, then one could arguably conclude that the scripture couldn’t be taken literally.
A war of ideas makes the war on terror similar to the Cold War between the Soviet-based communist ideology and American-led liberal democracies. The West won the Cold War as a non-occupying power — and brought liberty and development to the former communist states by vigorously undercutting the ideology of its former adversaries.
In the context of the model of terror discussed here, some of the most talked-about ad hoc strategies of neutralizing terror — “backing the moderate Muslims,” “promoting democracy in the Muslim world by familiarizing the success of the Western democracies in Muslim communities,” “protecting populations from terrorists (in Iraq and Afghanistan),” or “bringing forth economic and educational development” — may be seen as either not focused enough or not efficient enough to undercut the ideologies that are spawning religion-based terrorism.
Terrorism continues to exact a huge toll on human lives and diversion of scarce resources. The sheer scale might make these acts a crime against humanity. As discussed before, much of the ideology behind the terror was propagated around the planet by nations in the Middle East. Even the so-called non-state outfits such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, or Hamas have their funding sources and ideological guidance traced to nations in the Middle East or South Asia.
A multi-pronged approach to tackling terror has to involve taking certain nations to task on the grounds of sponsoring crimes against humanity, for backing certain terror outfits and other entities. However, this has become particularly complicated because a broad ideology-based movement located in these nations is behind terror funding and sponsorship. Hence, this undertaking is necessarily massive and calls for a broad coalition of nations. Building up, on the basis of grievance, a coalition of states that are victims of terror, including ones from the developing world — India, Thailand, the Philippines, to name a few — is called for. In particular, a large and strategically located nation such as India, a perennial victim of religion-based terror and the next-door neighbor of Pakistan, gives the West some compelling ideological, political, and military options.