Terrorist organizations are not just independent actors whose sole goals are to create terror and chaos—they do have political objectives. This is sometimes overlooked and easy to forget, especially when the media constantly bombards us with images and endless columns that portray Islamist terrorism as a type of phantom menace without political infrastructure.
The lack of will to clearly define the enemy on the part of media, politicians and law enforcement officials seriously undermines our ability to formulate effective strategies to combat terrorist networks and the people and nations who fund them. We cannot accept the mythology that these current forms of terrorism are amorphous entities, arising in response to western imperialism and Arab poverty.
On the contrary, Islamist politics is not some kind of nebulous, unquantifiable structure; it has emerged as a major force in the Middle East and South East Asia. In this respect, while Islamist terrorist groups clearly have political objectives, it is essential to understand that they also have powerful, political backing. A minority in the Islamic world may perpetrate the violent tactics of terror, but terrorism itself enjoys widespread support from individuals and nations alike.
The reality here is that these Islamist groups are waging a civilizational battle to transform the Middle East and do so with help from legitimate political figures and nations. One such group is the Jamaat-i-Islami, a renowned fundamentalist group with ties to terrorism that was formed through the leadership and teaching of Maulana Abul Al Maududi and is prominent in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Another group allied to the fundamentalist cause is the Muslim Brotherhood, which was formed by Hassan Al-Banna. The Brotherhood is mainly prominent in Arab countries; however, the Islamist movements frequently share ideas and use each other’s works to consolidate their ideology. The first Jihad in Afghanistan, for instance, was a major factor in the blending and co-operation of Islamist designs.
The JI and the Muslim Brotherhood have been vocal in spreading Shari’a law and in their rejection of all western ideologies and institutions. They have stated that they want to defeat western liberalism and secularization, which they see as the greatest threat to the Muslim world. But every time these groups have managed to gain power in countries like Afghanistan and Sudan, their anti-Americanism is accompanied with the abuse of human rights and the promotion of hatred and intolerance.
When looking at Islamist politics, therefore, western commentator and journalists cannot accept the model employed by European governments to steer movements like the Irish republican movement and Basque separatist movement from political violence. Negotiating with terrorist groups or labeling militants “reformers” only serves to legitimize the Islamist movement and give it a stronger political infrastructure. Instead, we must connect the Islamist movement to its proxy terrorist groups as one would Sinn Fein to the IRA or Battisuna to ETA. Islamic scholars and Middle Eastern experts have scoffed at this type of thinking as simplistic, but in this, they only protect Islamism’s ideology of hate and totalitarianism and nurture its growth.
The political objectives of the Islamist movement cannot be allowed to progress-violent or non-violent. Islamists believe that the laws of society must be made from the passages of the Quran. In democracies, we believe that laws are progressive-they change. We believe elected representatives should implement and write laws. Islamists, on the other hand, believe this should be done by unelected religious clerics, which by the very nature of Shari’ a law makes them fundamentalist. They want a theocracy with no separation of church and state.
Western politicians and authorities should also be aware that our best aspirations could be used against us. When Islamists speak of democracy, they don’t mean they want to have a government and political systems with wide-ranging views and opinions. Islamist parties just want one or two elections, which will get them into positions of power. Saudi Arabia’s free elections, for instance, meant anti-western Islamist clerics gained wide support, and some cynics say the Saudis knew that this was going to be the outcome, and this is why they had the elections. Whatever the case, we must recognize that democratic reform must be accompanied by clearly defined strategies to combat the very ideology of Islamism.
The British government has been the prime candidate for being two-faced in the War on Terror, possibly more so than Saudi Arabia. The British authorities have repeatedly shown a lack of clarity and consistency in dealing with radical Islamists. They have adopted poor strategies for tackling Islamist groups in the UK.
The UK government has formed a strategy called Project Contest to steer British Muslims away from Islamist radicals, a novel idea which could have disastrous long-term effects. While this strategy of rolling back Islamists is supposedly being implemented, the government itself has been having highly publicized meetings with representatives from the Islamic Foundation UK and other groups tied to the Jamaat-i-Islami. The consequence of this is that the British government and Scotland Yard have recently let representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood take over the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque.
The British government has thus engaged in a type of appeasement by negotiating with groups with suspected links to terror. The Islamic Foundation is the UK branch of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a known fundamentalist party which has ties to the Taliban, and many JI members themselves have ties to Al-Qaeda and other Jihadi groups. Khurshid Ahmed is a senior leader within the JI and is also the chairman of the Islamic Foundation. He has written appraisals of the use of terror on the JI website: “In the verse to strike terror (into the hearts of, the enemies, of Allah and yours enemies) is stated the objective of these preparations which is to keep the enemies of Allah and yours, terrorized so that they dare not attack considering you a soft and easy target.” Khurshid Ahmed goes on to endorses the Jihad culture and promotes it in the same document: “The foundation stone of defense policy should be to defend our faith and country…history of Islam stands witness that the sprit of Jehad alone can make a smaller nation’s defense invincible from threats and assaults of a powerful enemy.”
Ahmed also believes that there is a global conspiracy by the West to make India invade and control Pakistan. This promotion of fear acts to consolidate the JI’s power and helps recruit for Jihad. The UK government’s co-operation with the JI serves to endorse their radical politics. Surely, this is more likely to legitimize the use of violent pre-emptive Jihad.
But the effects of such negotiation and cooperation do not stop here, but potentially pose a dire treat to western culture itself. It has been rumored that the Islamic Foundation will have a major input into the curriculum of Islamic schools in the UK. In this sense, such negotiations can seriously jeopardize western values of education with the ironic twist that British taxpayers might have to front the bill for Islamic faith schools with an Islamic curriculum influenced by Khurshid Ahmed and the JI.
As one can see, the difficulty in combating terrorism then is that it is a hydra, a multi-headed monster that is able to strike from several positions at once. Western strategists must recognize that the Islamist threat has become multifaceted and chooses to attack on many fronts. If we are to win this war, we cannot fight on only one of these fronts, while ignoring the greater danger of indulging the spread of Islamist ideology.
Promoting freedom of speech and basic human rights are paramount in tackling the stagnation and tension in the Muslim world, but we must be carefully that our promotion of democracy be accompanied with effective strategies to combat Islamism in all its many forms. Otherwise, democratic reform could become yet another shield behind which Jihadi groups hide to plot their murderous designs.