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TERRORISM is the deliberate, unjustifiable, and random use of violence for political ends against protected persons. Obviously, there is no inextricable connection between Islam, or any other great religion, and terrorism. In fact, there is often a great confusion between the phenomenon of political violence and terrorism. The term terrorism applies to a special category of opprobrious acts rather than to all acts of politically inspired violence. Muslims have engaged in terrorism in the modern era, and, just as Jews and Christians engaging in terrorism, they have sometimes claimed a justification based in religion. In point of fact, however, shari `ah (the divine law) does not condone the use of violence except to combat injustice, and noncombatant immunity is a prominent feature of Islamic thinking on jihdd (religiously sanctioned warfare). In warfare, necessity might justify putting noncombatants at risk, but harm to innocents should neither be intentional nor excessive. Thus, phrases such as “Islamic terrorism” significantly misrepresent the religious roots of violence committed by Muslims.

More than any other part of the ummah, the Middle East has, since World War II, become infamous as a cockpit for terrorism, although many of the perpetrators have not purported to act in the name of Islam. Arguably, the first modern act of political terrorism in the region was the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1947, which was carried out by Jewish terrorists led by Menachem Begin, then leader of the Irgun. Following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, Begin became leader of the political opposition, and in 1977 he became prime minister of Israel. In the 1960s and 1970s, Palestinian fidd’fyin (guerrillas) launched dozens of horrendous acts of violence against innocent bystanders, all in the name of gaining recognition for Palestinian nationalism. These acts included the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, a long series of skyjackings, including four in 1970 that helped precipitate the civil war in Jordan, and several bloody attacks on air travelers both inside Israel and in Europe. Significantly, the Palestinian perpetrators were inspired by a secular irredentist ideology, not by religion. The same can be said for Kurdish guerrillas who, in the 1980s and early 1990s, committed a number of vicious acts of violence in Turkey as part of their quest to win an independent Kurdistan.

Muslims, claiming an Islamic rationale for their violence, are also noteworthy. In Egypt, in 1954, the Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood) attempted to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, who then accelerated his suppression of the organization. More recently, President Anwar el-Sadat was assassinated by extremist Muslim conspirators in 1981. Muslim revolutionaries, intent on toppling the regime of Hosni Mubarak have, since the late 1980s, engaged in escalating acts of violence including terrorism to destabilize further the Egyptian government. Many of these acts have been egregiously indiscriminate, targeting innocent foreign tourists, in addition to state officials, soldiers, and police officers. These acts illustrate the scope of activities that constitute contemporary political violence; whether they all constitute acts of terrorism is another question.

Terrorism is notoriously difficult to define, since the term is often used to refer to generic acts of violence committed by political adversaries. Terrorism is a marvelous epithet with which to bludgeon or tar one’s adversaries. But the moral indictment is often debased, because there is a tendency to apply the label selectively to foes, while turning a blind eye to equally contemptible acts carried out by friends or allies pursuing congenial goals.

The quest for a definition of terrorism has bedeviled diplomats and international lawyers, and there is no internationally accepted definition of terrorism. Although terrorism is frequently decried, the standard practice in international law has been to proceed inductively, criminalizing specific acts such as air piracy, attacks on diplomats, or the theft of nuclear materials. Thus, there is general agreement that hijacking of commercial aircraft or vessels constitutes a form of terrorism when carried out by nonstate perpetrators.

Acts of violence carried out within the borders of a state are more problematic to characterize, since illegal acts of violence might be legitimate, especially when the state authorities harshly repress dissent and when the illegal acts do not target protected persons. To argue that an act of political violence is unlawful (a factual statement) is not the same as arguing that it is illegitimate (a normative conclusion). It is important to distinguish between those political systems where citizens can effectively voice their demands and those where whole categories of citizens are disenfranchised. In the second category of states, those where the state is deaf to its citizens and residents, violence might be justifiable and legitimate even though it is deemed illegal by the authorities. In contrast, in the first category of states, political violence is both illegal and illegitimate, because the enfranchised citizen need not resort to violence to be heard or to enjoy the protection of the state.

Of course, legality and legitimacy are not always easy to disentangle, as the case of Algeria illustrates. The Islamic Salvation Front, often referred to by its French acronym, FIS, was on the verge of attaining an overwhelming parliamentary majority following its impressive victory in the first stage of a two-stage set of elections. Instead of allowing FIS to enjoy the fruits of its electoral victory, the Algerian army, fearful of the Islamists’ intentions and supported by about half of Algeria’s population seized power in January 1992. Understandably, the membership of FIS reacted with fury to the army’s action, and a civil war ensued, with thousands of FIS adherents arrested and detained under martial-law conditions. Moderate leaders in FIS were thoroughly discredited, and the Islamists launched a campaign of insurrection and violence that respected few moral boundaries and targeted not only government officials but also intellectuals deemed unsympathetic to the Islamists and individuals who favored western dress or styles of behavior. In a striking throwback to the Algerian Revolution of the 1950s and early 1960s, when French rule was overthrown, terrorism has again become the coin of the realm for both sides in Algeria, thoroughly polarizing Algerian society. [See Islamic Salvation Front.]

The right of a people to resist foreign occupation is widely, if somewhat erratically, upheld. A clear majority of world governments-including Egypt, France, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States-supported Afghan Muslims struggling violently against Soviet occupation. Relatively few observers outside the Soviet Union described the Afghani mujahidin as terrorists, even though their attacks were often condemned as terrorism by the USSR. So long as the mujahidin directed their efforts against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, right was literally on their side. [See Mujahidin, article on Afghan Mujahidin.] By the same token, though agreement is less general, the resistance by Lebanese Muslims (as well as Lebanese Christians) to the Israeli occupation of a portion of souther Lebanon, which it has occupied since 1978, would be similarly sanctioned, despite Israel’s understandable penchant for describing those that attack its soldiers and client-militiamen as terrorists.

A sounder test addresses the moral legitimacy of the means rather than the technical legality of the ends. If the Afghan or the Lebanese resistance forces broaden their campaigns to encompass protected categories of noncombatants, their actions tend to lose privileged status. Whatever the politics of the observer, distinguishing between attacks on soldiers occupying foreign lands and attacks on persons in universally accepted protected categories, such as children, or, more broadly, noncombatants, is not difficult. So long as a resistance force is discriminate in its methods and targets, it is not objectively justified to affix the terrorism label.

Deliberate and random uses of violence for political ends against protected groups constitutes terrorism. This is a functional and nonpolemical definition that has the merit of parsimony and universality. The perpetrators can be states, agents of states, or individuals acting independently. Indeed, the Iraqi government’s al-Anfal campaign in the 1 980s to intimidate and exterminate major segments of its Kurdish population clearly constituted an act of state terrorism. The record shows, however sadly, that states have been often able to commit murderous acts that dwarf the acts of horror committed by nonstate terrorists with impunity. Within the ummah, there are many examples, including the following: Indonesia’s bloody suppression of East Timor in the early 1960s; Syria’s annihilation of more than a thousand people in Hama in 1982; and Sudan’s savage campaign in the south to squash resistance to islamization in the 1990s.

In general, militant opposition movements of Muslims have focused their violence domestically on the authoritarian state, which is typically characterized as thwarting the imposition of shari `ah as the sole legitimate source of law. The writings of Sayyid Qutb (executed in 1966 by the Egyptian government) and his rejuvenation of jahiliyah (literally, a state of ignorance of the truths of Islam) as a description of contemporary Muslim societies has provided, for some contemporary groups, a rationale for acts of violence rationalized as part of a jihad to reestablish Islamic society.

Although most militant movements of Muslims have concentrated on domestic goals, the revolution in Iran spawned an ideology that has been used to justify the use of violence on the international stage in the late 1980s. Not only has the Iranian government been implicated in widespread assassinations and plots against political and intellectual opponents, but it has also lent material support to militant Islamist groups. This can be observed in the case of the Lebanese Shi’i group Hizbullah (Party of God).

Hizbullah is an Iranian-funded party that came to light following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Hizbullah has proven to be a competent, dedicated, and well-led challenger to the more moderate Amal movement of the early 1970s. Although Hizbullah spokespersons were keen to dissociate the party from acts such as the kidnappings of Westerners in the 1980s, it became known that the Islamic Jihad organization that claimed credit for some of the kidnappings was using a flag of convenience masking Hizbullah involvement. Hizbullah

played a major role in inflicting a chain of humiliations on the United States: precipitating the 1984 departure of the American marines from Lebanon with the truck bombing of the marine barracks, while also helping to scuttle the U.S.-brokered 17 May agreement between Lebanon and Israel and holding the world in thrall over the fate of foreign hostages (including Terry Waite, the personal envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury). Equally impressive was the success of the Islamic Resistance (al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah) in forcing an Israeli withdrawal from most of Lebanese territory in January 1985.

In effect, the Islamic Revolution in Iran provided the substance for a new ideological framework that served to explain the causes of deprivation and suffering among the Muslim masses. The ideological framework legitimized and commended the use of violence against the enemies of Islam, particularly the West. This comes through quite clearly in the remarkable “Open Letter” of Hizbullah (reproduced in Norton, 1987). This revealing document was released by Hizbullah in February 1985 to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Shaykh Raghib Harb, the bright young cleric of Jibshit in southern Lebanon, who was assassinated twelve months earlier.

One of the burdens of the letter is to explain and justify the use of violence by Hizbullah, which, it is argued, has been trivialized in the West as “a handful of fanatics and terrorists who are only concerned with blowing up drinking, gambling, and entertainment spots. . . . Each of us is a combat soldier when the call of jihad demands it and each of us undertakes his task in the battle in accordance with his lawful assignment within the framework of action under the guardianship of the leader jurisprudent.”

The letter emphasizes that the 1978-1979 revolution in Iran was an inspiration to action, a proof of all that can be accomplished when the faithful gather under the banner of Islam. “We address all the Arab and Islamic peoples to declare to them that the Muslim’s experience in Islamic Iran left no one any excuse since it proved beyond all doubt that bare chests motivated by faith are capable, with God’s help, of breaking the iron and oppression of tyrannical regimes.” The letter described a world in which “the countries of the arrogant world” and especially the United States and the Soviet Union struggle for influence at the expense of the Third World. As a commentator in Al-`ahd, the Hizbullah newspaper, noted: “The Soviets are not one iota different from the Americans in terms of political danger, indeed are more dangerous than them in terms of ideological considerations as well, and this requires that light be shed on this fact and that the Soviets be assigned their proper place in the . . . forces striving to strike at the interests of the Moslem people and arrogate their political present and future” (9 May 1987, p. 12). Nonetheless, pride of place belonged to the Untied States, which directly, or indirectly through its “spearhead,” Israel, has inflicted suffering on the Muslims of Lebanon: “Imam Khomeini, the leader, has repeatedly stressed that America is the reason for all our catastrophes and the source of all malice. By fighting it, we are only exercising our legitimate right to defend our Islam and the dignity of our nation.” The French were also been singled out for attack, largely because of their longstanding sympathy for Christians in Lebanon, and for their arms sales to Iraq.

Hizbullah positioned itself as a force resisting the designs and games of Israel and the superpowers, whose jockeying for power, in its view, has led to subjugation and oppression throughout the Third World. “Thus, we have seen that aggression can be repelled only with the sacrifice of blood, and that freedom is not given but regained with the sacrifice of both heart and soul.” The objective is to free Lebanon from the manipulation and chicanery of the malevolent outside powers in order to achieve “the final departure of America, France, and their allies from Lebanon and the termination of the influence of any imperialist power in the country.” The Christian Phalange, who have, according to Hizbullah, unjustly enjoyed privilege at the expense of the Muslims, must be pummeled into submission. Virtually unnoticed outside of Lebanon, Hizbullah has been especially intolerant of competitors for Shi`i recruits. In this regard the Communist party, an especially appealing target given its alien and atheistic ideology, has been singled out for attacks. Dozens, if not hundreds, of party members were killed in a brutal, bloody campaign of suppression and assassination in 1984 and 1985. [See also Hizbullah, article on Hizbullah in Lebanon.]

The cost of terrorism is obviously most severe for its immediate victims, but there are heavy costs for the perpetrators’ society as well. The use of terrorism stereotypes a community, thereby reducing rather than enhancing international support for its claims. The heavy moral baggage of past outrages can be a burden. Not surprisingly, many Lebanese Shi is have come to resent the kidnapping of foreigners, sometimes on moral grounds, but often simply on practical grounds. Many acts of terrorism are patently counterproductive. Rather than weakening the resolve of the target population, terrorists-whether agents of a state or acting independently-supply the argument, and all too often the means for their own eradication.

Scholars are wont to emphasize that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Although there is some truth in this observation, as illustrated by the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City by a band of militant Muslims, the major perpetrators are not individuals or nonstate actors inspired by a vision of Islam, but strong, authoritarian governments intent on maintaining or extending their power, or punishing their adversaries.


Cole, Juan R. I., and Nikki R. Keddie, eds. Shi`ism and Social Protest. New Haven, 1986. This important collection of articles probes the significance of the revolution in Iran for inspiring activism among Muslims outside Iran. A number of the authors stress that local conditions were often more important than the events in Iran for explaining the appeal of radical Islamist movements, including Shi 1 movements in Iraq, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

Esposito, John L. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality. New York and Oxford, 1992. One of the leading experts on Islam and politics explores and often debunks sensationalist perspectives on the Islamist phenomenon. Esposito distinguishes clear acts of terrorism from other forms of political violence and activism.

Fadlallah, Muhammad Husayn. Al-Islam wa-mantiq al-quwah (Islam and the Logic of Power). 2d ed. Beirut, 1981. The author is a leading Shi’i cleric in Lebanon whose writings reach well beyond Lebanon and whose khutbahs and fatwas are widely influential in Lebanon. This book provides an Islamist argument for the use of violence to overturn injustice and to confront the enemies of Islam. Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh. Berkeley, 1986. Kepel, a French scholar, offers a seminal analysis of the Islamist movement during the 1970s and early 1980s. including the assassins of Anwar Sadat. His discussion of the importance of the writings of Sayyid Qutb is particularly noteworthy.

Martin, David C., and John Walcott. Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War against Terrorism. New York, 1988. The authors benefited from many off-the-record interviews with high-level figures in the U.S. government. This book focuses on the U.S. response to Middle East terrorism, but the authors also glean fairly from a number of reliable accounts on “radical” Islamist movements. Mohaddessin, Mohammad. Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat. Washington, D.C., 1993. The author is associated with the mujahidin-i khalq, which staunchly opposes the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the book is sometimes polemical, it also provides a wealth of reasonably reliable information on Iran’s role in planning, fostering, and directing acts of political violence and terrorism.

Norton, Augustus Richard. Amal and the Shi’a: A Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon. Austin, 1987. An account of the political emergence of the Shi ah of Lebanon. The book includes programmatic documents of the two leading Shi’i movements.

Qutb, Sayyid. Milestones (Ma’alim fi al-tariq). Beirut, 1978. The author is arguably the single most important ideologist for radical Islamists in Egypt, and he is also read widely outside of Egypt. He emphasizes the corruption of Egyptian society, which he depicts as jahiliyah, and argues for the organization of an Islamist vanguard. Sivan, Emmanuel. Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics. New Haven, 1985. The author is a leading Israeli scholar, and he offers a readable and competent introduction to the leading thinkers who underlie contemporary radical Islamist politics, including Ibn Taymiyah, Mawdudi, and Qutb. Sivan argues that the radical trend will necessarily dominate more conservative or moderate trends in Islamism with clear ramifications for further intersectarian and antisecularist violence in the Middle East in particular.

Taleqani, Mahmud, Murtaza Mutahhari, and ‘Ali Shari’ati. Jihad and Shahadat: Struggle and Martyrdom in Islam. Edited by Mehdi Abedi and Gary Legenhausen. Houston, 1986. In addition to important articles by Mutahhari and Shari`ati on jihdd and martyrdom, the authors provide a capable introduction.

Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. New York, 1977. Although this book does not deal with the Islamic world at all, it is an important assessment of the limits that define justifiable versus unjustifiable acts of violence. Wilkinson, Paul. Terrorism and the Liberal State. New York, 1977. This book is commended for its useful development of the distinction between political violence and terrorism.

Wright, Robin. Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. Rev. ed. New York, 1986. First-rate reportage by a leading journalist who provides gripping accounts of a potpourri of hijackings, kidnappings, and other acts of violence.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/terrorism/

  • writerPosted On: October 19, 2018
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