By Dr. Rajkumar Singh
Current day terrorism has many faces. Its objectives are multifaceted and operations multi – pronged. The entire world is its stage, which has made it a prime concern for governments and societies around the world. No society is safed from its impact. It ranges from individuals to groups to international networks and thus poses a challenge to internal intelligence system of nation-states round the world. In the opinion of some analysts it is indeed a world war, not the third one, but the fourth and the truly world war. The first two world wars were traditional wars were classical wars. The first ended European supremacy and the colonial era. The Second ended Nazism. The third, which did not happen, as a dissuasive cold war, ended communism. From one war to the other, one went further each time toward a unique world order. But the fourth world war is elsewhere. It is that which haunts every global order and every hegemonic domination. Terrorism, like virus, is everywhere. Immersed globally, terrorism, like the shadow of any system of domination is ready everywhere to emerge as a double agent. There is no boundary to define it; it is in the very core of this culture that fights it.
Conceptual foundation of terrorism
The root cause of present, devastating terrorism is religious fundamentalism. Every religion comes into existence in given society with its values, its ethos, customs and traditions. A religion tries to reform a society by providing certain ideals and values. But the human behaviour is never determined simply by the religion one follows. It is determined by several factors – personal or group interest and inspiration, social mores and traditions and tribal or national expectation. Thus understanding religion varies according to tribal, national and ethnic considerations and one always finds a tension between the theological and the sociological. This tension could be creative or destructive, depending on the situation or approach of the people concerned. In fact any religion, particulary those that have existed over long periods of time and continue to be practised – speak to us in many voices. Their multivocality, which expresses the diversity of historical experience, allows for a degree of internal and external critique. Extremism in any religion propagates intolerance and hatred for other communities and that generally leads to violence that may take form of terrorism. Religious extremism driven by political motives invariably leads to terrorism, as the aim of the extremist groups is to capture or retain power. A fundamentalist sect or group may also want to isolate other sects or religious factions from national mainstream so that they are unable to compete with it politically or gain equal status. The fundamentalists look upon scriptures as the word of God. Fundamentalist traits have uniformally appeared in all the major religions of the world in recent years. In the USA, there are the Operation Rescue Protesters. In Israel, there is the Gush Emunium, who claim that God has given the Land of Israel, with precise boundaries, to his children. In Sri Lanka, there are militant Buddhists. However, it is Islamic fundamentalism which has the broadest global sweep, stretching from the Mediterranean through the Balkans, the Black Sea, across the Caucasus and Southern Russia, through Western China enveloping Pakistan and Bangladesh, affecting India moving on to Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.
It is, in fact the best organised fundamentalist force with a worldwide network. It is however, of an entirely different variety, it emanates from extreme rigidity of beliefs and disdain for other religions though it is against the true tenets of Islam.
Role of religious scriptures
Originally, the term Islam means submission to God, and as such, designates a religion, preached by the Prophet Muhammad at the beginning of the seventh century A.D. It believes that in obedience of God, lies peace, prosperity, happiness and the salvation of man. According to Islam, the other prophets who preceded Muhammad were all true prophets, and Islam is nothing but a confirmation of the true faith taught by previous religions and teachers. Religion is certainly a vital force in every society and Muhammad made Islam a permanent force vitally by giving it a natural and rational basis. It spread from Arabia to different countries of Asia, Africa and Europe. Thus, Islam could embrace diverse social and ethnic countries and it emerged as a universal religion from the very beginning.
The Quran is the scripture of Islam and the authentic source of its teachings. Its emphasis on the need for tolerance of diversity and the sanctity of life is worth nothing. God in the Quran requires the believers to show tolerance and respect to those who differ in their ways. It says: ‘to every people we have appointed a way of worship, which they have followed. So let them not wrangle with you over the matter. It emphasised the universal concept of religion such as the unity of God and the unity of human race. As regards the sanctity of human life, the Quran says : ‘anyone who kills a human being if not in retaliation for a murder, nor for causing corruption in the land – must be accounted to have killed all mankind, and who ever saves a life it will be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Islam’s concept of the unity of man had very deep and far-reaching effects on the social, political, economic and moral way of life of the Muslims.
Thus the ideas of radical Islam are in contrast to the message of Quran that the mystery of divine mercy is also being experienced in other traditions. Prophet Muhammad accorded the world – view and encouraged the Muslims to approach non – Muslims with respect and know how the mystery of God found expression in older traditions. With their internationalist attitude and travelling to foreign countries either in connection with their overseas and overland trade or in search of knowledge, the Muslims became the pioneers in starting inter – religious dialogue. In fact, the desire on their part to understand what other cultures might have to offer enriched their cultural heritage. However, the lofty ideals of Islam received a setback when the tribe of Quraysh claimed the Caliphate quoting a ‘hadith and superiority over other tribes.’
Effects of religion on society
Islamic society soon transformed into a feudal society. The reasons for embracing a religion could be quite varied. Some embrace it collectively along with other members of the caste or tribe or nation; some embrace it for political or economic advantages; and some after studying the religion. In its historical march to its present expanse, Islam has destroyed empires, countries, religions, cultures and people. In the process it even opposed the Sufi Islam which toned down the hard features of the original and introduced new concepts. Sufi Islam conditioned the Islamic mindset to acceptance of co-existence with other cultures and religions. Islamic extremism is invariably been politically driven and seldom a purely religious movement. It has no sanction either in Quran or in the practices of the holy Prophet of Islam. Distorted interpretation of various historical events by some Islamic clerics led to violence against non–Muslims in the past.
The creed of tolerance compassion, charity and civilised behaviour preached and practised by Prophet Muhammad were forgotten soon after his departure from the scene.
The stern commands in the holy Quran pertained to particular situations such as murderous attacks on Muhammad and his followers by the pagan tribesman. These were later misinterpreted or used by vested interests to wage wars against political opponents.
By Dr. Rajkumar Singh