Reasoning about terror

Malik, Kenan

Date Written:  02/05/2013
Year Published:  2013  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20969

The trouble with much of the discussion of terrorism today is that it misses a fundamental point about contemporary terror: its disconnect from social movements and political goals. In the past, an organisation such as the IRA was defined by its political aims. Its members were carefully selected and their activities tightly controlled. However misguided we might think its actions, there was a close relationship between the aims of the organization and the actions of its members. None of this is true when it comes to contemporary terrorism. An act of terror is rarely controlled by an organisation or related to a political demand. That is why it is so difficult to discern the political or religious motivations



Muslims have been in Britain in large numbers for more than half a century. It is only in the past 20 years that radical Islam has gained a foothold. Blaming it all on Islam or on the Qur’an does nothing to explain the changing character of Muslim communities, and their evolving beliefs. Islam, like every religion, comprises not just a holy text but also a history, a culture and a set of institutions, not to mention a clergy and a body of believers. All these and more help define how the holy text is interpreted. ‘The key question’, the French sociologist Olivier Roy points out, ‘is not what the Qur’an actually says, but what Muslims say the Qur’an says.’ Muslims continually disagree on what the Qur’an says, he adds dryly, ‘while all stressing that the Qur’an is unambiguous and clear-cut.’

Equally unconvincing is the idea that terrorist rage has been driven by Western foreign policy. Just as Muslims were in Britain long before they turned to radical Islam, so Western governments were attacking Muslim lands long before Osama bin Laden took to a cave in Afghanistan. From Winston Churchill ordering the use of mustard gas against Iraqi rebels in the 1920s, to the CIA engineering a coup against the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq in Iran in 1953, to the brutal attempt by the French o suppress the Algerian independence movement in late 1950s, to Western backing for Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran in the 1980s, to America’s economic and military support for Israel there is a long history of Western intervention. There has always been resistance to Western intervention, and often violent resistance, but Islamic opposition is relatively new, and nihilistic terrorism newer still. In any case, the actions of the terrorists belie their supposed political beliefs. In July 2007, Islamic terrorists parked two car bombs outside Tiger Tiger, a central London nightclub. The bombs failed to detonate. Had they done so, they could have created far greater devastation than the 7/7 attacks. Just two minutes’ drive from Tiger Tiger were the Houses of Parliament and Britain’s Foreign Office. Yet the bombers chose to park their deadly load outside a building full of party goers – hardly the actions of political soldiers driven to fury by Britain’s foreign policy.

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