Kafeel Ahmed, a PhD student working in the field of computational fluid dynamics, went ahead and tried to bomb the Glasgow International Airport in July 2007 and died due to burn injuries sustained in his failed terror attempt. Six years later, last week, Mehdi Masroor Biswas was arrested on various grave charges including section 125 which deals with “waging war against Asiatic allies of India”. Mehdi operated “Shami Witness” twitter handle described as the most influential online propaganda outlet of the ISIS (the newest kid in the long list of Islamic terror outfits) followed by “three quarters” of all influential ISIS leaders across the world.
Both these young men in their 20s were employed by large private firms in one of the most tolerant and cosmopolitan cities of the world, Bangalore. Both these young men had no direct relationship with any major terrorist organization and were not trained by terrorist cells. Both these young men had no prior criminal or violent record. Yet both these plain looking young men of the “next door” variety possessed some of the most brutal videos of butchery and some of the most destructive and violent messages from Islamic radicals – it is as if these men simply loved the orgy of violence without actually being directly part of any extremist organization.
There are two central reasons that define this dehumanization of radical Islamic terrorists. The first reason is a structural imposition of modern times – an innovation of horrific proportions designed by the big daddy of modern Islamic terrorism, Osama Bin Laden. When Al Qaeda built and pioneered its non-traditional ‘Clandestine Cell System’ architecture to create impenetrable subgroups of terrorists who had little connection to the internal leadership core, one really couldn’t have envisaged how deadly its outward growth trajectory would be. Initially, there were sleeper cells built outwards through what is termed (in the intelligence circles) as ‘positive control’ exercised by the members of core group leadership – the 7/7 London Subway bombings were a classic example of this. But now this whole cell structure has morphed into a far more deadly entity wherein any individual ‘lone wolf’ Islamic terrorist with absolutely no direct linkage to the core leadership can act out the worst terrorist scenarios by merely following widely disseminated radical messages – the widespread availability of internet and social media has made it all too easy for the mushrooming of these ‘lone wolf’ Islamic Jihadists.
The second reason for this new totally dehumanized Islamic terrorism phenomenon is more fundamental. This is a reason that is seldom discussed by the newspapers or electronic media or even by historians because it is so politically incorrect. Fact is that for any such outward growth of terror cells there has to be a favourable ecosystem in the first place. Unfortunately, Islam as a religion provides such an ecosystem to its believers. This is why we must understand that the terror phenomenon within Islam is not a post-modern invention, instead it has been a historic vestige.
For those of us who grew up in the 80’s or even early 90’s, one of the most redefining moments of our history was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant end of Cold War. As a wide-eyed “youngster” of that pre-Internet era, I was deeply influenced by the Fukayama hypothesis of “End of History” and for a long time truly believed that Capitalism had won the ultimate prize in human civilization, until one day Samuel Huntington disrupted my daydreams and irrevocably destroyed my fantastic notions.
“The twentieth-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and the West” – this simple historical fact is at the heart of Huntington philosophy of ‘clash of civilizations’. Most of the twenty first century intelligentsia are unwilling to acknowledge the history of this conflict and only want to recognize the modern global terrorism phenomena of the Al Qaeda variety.
According to one count, some 92 acquisitions of Muslim territories by non-Muslim governments happened between 1757 and 1919. By the turn of the new millennium in 2000 AD, 72 of these territories were once again back in Muslim control. This is where the problems of conflict begin to arise. Muslim states are by far the most violent in nature as is borne by the fact that since 1820, in close to 200 years, 64% of all wars have involved Muslims in one form or the other (mind you, this statistic is despite of the fact that it was a period that also included the two bloody world wars). “For almost a thousand years”, observes Bernard Lewis the Oriental historian of British-American origin, “from the first Moorish landing in Spain to the second Turkish siege of Vienna, Europe was under constant threat of Islam.”
In fact, Huntington writes that “Islam is the only civilization which has put the survival of the west in doubt, and it has done that at least twice”. Although, since the beginning of the twenty first century every major war that the world has seen has had Islam at the center of contention. Yes, this is a stunning piece of statistic, non-Islamic wars are almost “too minor” to be counted among those conflicts which have caused widespread casualties. A total of more than 7 lakh human beings have been killed since 2000 in various wars of Islam (which do not even include acts of terrorism outside the Muslim world).
What exactly are these young men, seemingly from normal backgrounds, fighting against? At the outset, various geopolitical justifications are forwarded as causal factors – Palestine, Chechnya or even Kashmir for that matter – which, one might notice very easily, despite having no geographic connect, invoke the same level of anger and violence in a Muslim Jihadist of UK or Kenya or Hyderabad. Sometimes, very creative causal theories like the post-Godhra riots are also used by “intellectuals” to understand or analyze this love for terrorism. The truth is obviously a lot more fundamental.
A modern Muslim fanatic commits acts of terrorism and violence just like the wars waged by his predecessors of the last 1000-odd years as a way to express his hegemony over the rest of the world. As has been the case for more than a thousand years now, the Muslim world considers the “west” as its mortal enemy. Here, the term “west” is used as a broad brushstroke to encompass various civilizational accomplishments of a developed society through institutions like democracy, freedom, rule of law, equality, technological advancements and so on.
Thus, a modern Muslim terrorist considers India (and by extension the Hindu religion) as an enemy on par with say the United States. This clash of civilization between the “west”, or should we address it as the liberal democratic world, and the Islamic world does not need causal geographic entities, and Palestine or Chechnya or Kashmir are purely incidental to the end goal; in fact, if these geographic flashpoints hadn’t existed, then a radical Muslim would have invented his own Palestine or a Chechnya or a Kashmir. In reality, the end of Christian territorial imperialism of the twentieth century has produced a very effective geographical segregation of the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. The actual territorial faultlines are few and far between.
What we are seeing today is a classic “societal war” as described by Barry Gordon Buzan, Emeritus Professor of International Relations in the London School of Economics. Islamic terrorism is engaged in a societal war against non-Islamic beings which essentially means that the entire infidel (kāfir) world is a direct enemy. In this societal war, a terrorist’s profile is no longer limited to being a card carrying follower of various Jihadi groups but could be just any average guy living next door or working with you as a colleague or your co-passenger in a train or a bus.
The Peshawar attack last week on helpless school kids, while being barbaric and inhuman, is not as dangerous a development as say the Sydney hostage crisis or the arrest of “Shami Witness” which all happened almost simultaneously. Immediately after the Peshawar attack, messages were being circulated through social media (mainly WhatsApp) about an attack on an Indian school by terrorists in many big Indian cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. Many parents refused to send their kids to school out of fear, especially in Bangalore where the ISIS terror handle owner of Shami Witness was arrested. Eventually, the Bangalore Police Commissioner had to send mass SMS messages to hapless parents about there being no imminent terror threat, but whether he really was sure about his own statement is anybody’s guess.
This is the reason why this new phase of Islamic terrorism is so dangerous, for no longer is this war being centrally controlled with an identifiable command structure or an enemy with a face. With 23.4% of the world or 1.6 billion adherents to choose from, we will never really know who would turn out to be the next Kafeel Ahmed or Mehdi Mohammad and what amount of destruction he would be capable of.