Saturday, July 20, 2024
03:40 PM (GMT +5)

Go Back   CSS Forums > CSS Optional subjects > Group I > International Relations

International Relations Notes on IR

Reply Share Thread: Submit Thread to Facebook Facebook     Submit Thread to Twitter Twitter     Submit Thread to Google+ Google+    
LinkBack Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old Monday, August 22, 2005
Emaan's Avatar
Senior Member
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 87
Thanks: 1
Thanked 92 Times in 36 Posts
Emaan is on a distinguished road
Default Reconciling Approaches To Terrorism


Madeeha Bajwa

Introduction: Defining Terrorism

Terrorism is not a phenomenon unique to the modern era. Viewed from a historical perspective, there are numerous examples of terrorist acts.1 Modern terrorism arguably began in the 1960s, with 1968 marking the beginning of international terrorist incidents. In the 1990s, secular terrorists were overwhelmingly replaced by religious nationalists attacking foreign citizens and the agents and symbols of secularism in their own country and, increasingly, taking their campaigns of violence abroad. 'Terrorism today is complex and fluid, with reduced emphasis on a formalised group structure typical of terrorist insurgents in the past. Individual terrorists are now more security-conscious, better funded and more resourceful than in the past. Equally problematic for governments are that they are also less predictable and less tied to one group.' 2

Proposed Definitions of Terrorism

It would be relevant at this point to come up with some definitions of terrorism in order to comprehend the term better. Michael Walzer proposes three typologies of terrorism. Terrorism as a national liberation or revolutionary movement is the intentional killing of innocent people, so as to spread fear and chaos through the entire population in order to pressurise its political leaders. Secondly, there is state terrorism, commonly used by authoritarian and totalitarian governments against their own people, so as to make any form of opposition impossible (most importantly political opposition). And, finally, there is war terrorism: the conscious effort by a particular country to kill civilians/non-combatants in such large numbers that the opposing country's government is forced to surrender (of which Hiroshima seems to be the classic case).3 What is common in all three typologies is that civilians/non-combatants are being targeted; they are instrumental in order to achieve a certain end. However, it seems that 'militant 'jihad'', the subject of this study, does not fit into any of these typologies so we will have to analyse more definitions.

According to Wilkinson, terrorism is a form or mode of violence. He defines violence as the illegitimate use, or threatened use, of coercion resulting in, or intending to result in the death or injury, restraint or intimidation of persons or the destruction or seizure of property.4 Wilkinson argues that it is precisely because terrorists by definition follow a systematic policy of terror (threatened and actual use of violence) that their actions are analogous to crimes.5

At another level, most American definitions of terrorism feature some elements of three inter-related factors (the terrorists' motives, identity and methods). Identifying motives, identities and methods is a good place to start analysing terrorism. Of course, it is not something that is very easily accomplished because modern-day terrorists cannot be so easily classified. Their motives, identities and methods are complex and hence any simplistic definition will not suffice.

The academic definition of terrorism proposed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) though verbose does include some of the elements:

'Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organisation), (imperiled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought" (Schmidt, 1988).6

Problems of Definition

Despite the contemporary relevance of the phenomenon of terrorism, like many other political terms, it is a widely contested one. The use of the term 'terrorism' is interspersed with statements like 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.' Some experts on terrorism are doubtful as to whether terrorism can be defined at all. As Walter Laqueur opines: 'Even if there were an objective, value-free definition of terrorism, covering all its important aspects and features, it would still be rejected by some for ideological reasons […].'7

The problem of not having a widely agreed-upon definition is illustrated by how the UN Member States still have no agreed-upon definition. It is even acknowledged by the UN that terminology consensus is essential for a complete international convention on terrorism, which some countries propose as a better alternative to the current 12 conventions and protocols. This lack of agreement has been a major obstacle to meaningful international countermeasures.8 This can be seen by a look at many of the anti-terrorism measures taken since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, where governments have used unclear and often overbroad definitions of terrorism. Paul Hoffman argues that such vague classifications run the risk of including non-violent, expressive activity into the sphere of terrorism and can be the basis for repressive regimes attacking political opponents, or indulging in other manipulative uses under the guise of conducting antiterrorism campaigns. Many anti-terrorist laws violate the principle of legality and provide a basis for governments to label political opponents or human rights defenders as 'terrorists'. In addition, it can subject them to exceptional security measures that would not be tolerated in other contexts.9

At another level, there are scholars who argue that the persistent disputes over definition often become devices, not of an honest exertion to arrive at the truth, or of an effort to protect the rights of the innocent, but strategies to manipulate terrorist violence for strategic or political advantage. For example, Gill says that in the wake of the September 11 attacks in America, there were repeated public demands for evidence and for clarifications on what constituted 'terrorism', including by those sympathetic to the terrorist cause.10

One would disagree with such an argument. An attempt to find a definition might be critical as the means through which the understanding of terrorism is increased. Of course an attempt to find a definition will entail the search for evidence (contrary to Gill's argument) and one must guard against biases and prejudices. An increased understanding of terrorism will most likely generate better and more effective ways of dealing with it. Defining terrorism allows terrorists to be defined (or not), justifying (or not) any action that is being taken against them.11 It is also because of problems of definition that Gill contends that a continual moral ambivalence has persisted over the years regarding the character of 'acts of terror': 'For some terrorism is a manifestation of psychopathology; for others it is a symptom of social discontent, oppression and injustice; for others, it is their religious obligation and still for others it is a crime not only against humanity but also on civilised society itself.'12 Such ambiguity must be surmounted and it is keeping this in perspective that this study attempts to make out a detailed analysis of the term.

The most important aspect of this study's approach towards terrorism is that it locates its moral significance in the object of attack, i.e., terrorism is given its distinctive moral character by the fact that it uses violence against those who should not have force used against them. Using the idiom of the 'just war' theory, it justifies the use of force against non-combatants.13

Morality and Terrorism

Explaining the motives and causes of terrorism is as difficult as defining terrorism is. Two potential explanations, the materialist explanation and the 'root causes theory' are broadly similar. The materialist explanation for terrorism attributes terrorism to injustice, poverty, and the existing widespread global inequalities. The 'root causes theory' suggests that terrorism is directly caused by certain social and economic conditions of deprivation, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, legitimate political grievances, historical wrongs etc. and that no counter-terrorism initiative has any possibility of success unless the root grievances are addressed.14

Walzer is more persuasive than the materialistic explanation or the 'root causes' theory, when he argues that a combined cultural-religious-political definition for terrorism is needed. For Walzer, the materialist explanation is unconvincing because it doesn't explain why terrorism hasn't emerged in places like Latin America or Africa.15 Similarly, according to Showitz, there is no substantive root cause of terrorism. He argues that to concentrate on such factors such as poverty, illiteracy and disenfranchisement is to fail to explain why all groups with grievances and disabilities have never resorted to terrorism.16 One would agree with Showitz and Walzer that the materialist explanation and the 'root causes theory' are too simplistic. This sudy would argue that this is largely so because they overlook the 'moral' aspect of understanding terrorism.

Terrorist activities like militant 'jihad' of the form carried out by al-Qaeda raise a wide range of moral questions because they are carried out with the assumption that the killing of innocent people is justified. The moral fact explanations put forward by western/secular philosophers and commentators are many and multi-fold. They can be classified into two sorts: moral facts that refute and condemn terrorism of all sorts; and moral facts that justify (or at least, explain terrorism).

Examples of moral fact arguments against terrorism could be:

• A conflicting and higher moral demand (for perpetrators of terrorism), is essentially a demand of conscience to obey the law and abstain from violence.17

• A hypothetical social contract exists between the state and the individual, therefore, there is an obligation to obey the law and abstain from violence. 18

• 'This is the ramifying evil of terrorism: not just the killing of innocent people but also the intrusion of fear into everyday life, the violation of private purposes, the insecurity of public spaces, the endless coerciveness of precaution.' 19 This quote illustrates an approach that shows that the ends of terrorism can never justify the means that are employed and this is one of the most common approaches towards terrorism.

Examples of moral fact arguments that explain terrorism thus are:

• 'Here is how it works for Americans: we fought the Gulf War, we station troops on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, we blockade and bomb Iraq, we support Israel - what do we expect? Of course, the September 11 attacks were wrong; they ought to be condemned; but - a very big 'but' - after all, we deserved it; we had it coming.' 20 This is the sort of argument where the victims internalise the blame for what is happening. That is to say, that there is some sort of a 'moral equivalence' perceived between the injustices carried out by Islamic terrorists and the injustices carried out by western military forces and state policies.

• The problem of justice - the first and main problem of all moral and political philosophy - as an attempt to explain terrorist activities (referred to earlier in this paper as the 'root causes theory').21 Consequences of deprivation may be separated into two categories - first there are those that have to do with economic and social life. There is no doubt that huge disparities in wealth and incomes exist. The second set of deprivations is political in kind and has to do with certain freedoms and the lack of them. It is here that one finds demands for national self-determination and demands of peoples to lands to which they have rights.22 Kashmir, Chechnya and Palestine are all areas where terrorism is the way of dealing with political deprivation.

Understanding 'Jihad': A Moral Duty

'Jihad' is Arabic word which means 'exerting utmost effort' or 'to strive'. It is interesting that 'jihad' is as ambivalent a term as 'terrorism' is. No single doctrine on 'jihad' is universally accepted. The word connotes a wide range of meanings, from an inward spiritual struggle to attain perfect faith to an outward material struggle. However, though the precise meaning of the term might be contested, its importance in the practise of Islam is not. The importance of 'jihad' is based on the Quran's command to struggle in the path of God and in the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his early companions. It is considered one of the fundamentals of Muslim belief and practise though it is a concept with numerous meanings, used and potentially abused throughout Islamic history.23

Martyrs who sacrifice their lives to establish Islamic ideals or to defend those ideals hold a special place in Islam. Under Islam, individuals who die in the way of Allah are distinguished from others in life after death in several ways: this act renders them free of sin; they bypass purgatory and proceed to one of the highest locations in Heaven near the Throne of God; as a result of their purity they are buried in the clothes in which they died and do not need to be bathed before burial.24 The Quran states:

'Were you to be killed or to die in the way of God, forgiveness and mercy from God are far better than what they amass.' (3:157)

'Never think that those who are killed in the way of God are dead. They are alive with their Lord, well provided for.' (3:169)25

Historical Background

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence saw 'jihad' as an obligation in a world divided into the land of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the land of conflict (dar al-Harb).26 One school of thought, the Shafii, posited a third category, the land of treaty (dar al-Sulh), or a territory that had concluded a truce with a Muslim government.27 There is also a distinction between 'offensive' and 'defensive 'jihad''.28 Alternatively, there is another interpretation that classifies 'jihad' into the 'greater 'jihad'' (which is the individual non-violent striving to live a good Muslim life, following God's will) and the 'lesser jihad' (which comprises violent struggle stated to be for Islam).

For John Esposito, the life and experience of the early Islamic community gave the example for the spread and defence of Islam through hijra (emigration to avoid persecution of the followers of the religion) and 'jihad'. When Muhammad and his companions suffered unrelenting abuse in Mecca, they emigrated to Yathrib, later named Medina. There the Muslims could struggle ('jihad') to spread and defend God's word and rule as they had now set up and strengthened the community at Medina. Esposito argues this pattern of hijra and 'jihad' in crises, together with the concept of the Ummah (the worldwide Islamic community), which stresses a pan-Islamic unity, has guided Muslims throughout the ages, including the use of these concepts in the ideologies of Osama bin Laden and many terrorists today.29

After the death of the Prophet, Islam was riven by deep divisions and conflict revolving around leadership and authority. This subsequently resulted in the division of the Islamic community into two major and often competing sects, - Sunni and Shii.30 An important aspect of the nature of Islam is that though there might be differences between different sects within the religion, they share a common faith based on the Quran and Sunnah, or the life of Muhammad (pbuh). They comprise the Ummah. Consciousness of the Ummah has been reinforced in the past few decades by the proliferation of media coverage of world events.31

So, therefore, both the Sunnis and Shiites (despite their differences and conflicts) have the same overall conception of 'jihad' as a struggle in the path of God and both distinguish between the 'greater 'jihad' (the personal spiritual struggle) and the 'lesser 'jihad' (warfare). 'Jihad' is viewed by both sects as a religious duty compulsory on individuals and the Islamic community to defend themselves and their faith, to prevent invasion or guarantee the freedom to spread the message of Islam.32

Meaning of the Term 'Jihad'

The previous section has attempted to demonstrate that multiple meanings of 'jihad' exist. It is something that is accepted as one of the central duties of a Muslim, but it is not clear what this central duty comprises of in precise details. There is no single doctrine of 'jihad' that has always and everywhere existed or been universally accepted. It is rather the outcome of different individuals and authorities interpreting and applying the principles of the Quran, the Sunnah and the experiences of the early Islamic community in specific historical and political contexts.33 It was from the late twentieth century that the word 'jihad' started being used increasingly by resistance, liberation, and terrorist movements alike to legitimate their cause and motivate their followers.34

These diverse understandings of 'jihad' make judging and evaluating a 'jihad' a difficult task as it seems to be a matter of perspective. However, one would agree with Esposito that leaving the matter at that would be a serious mistake. Looking at what Islamic history, law and tradition have to say about 'jihad' becomes critical in both trying to comprehend the logic and motivations of a terrorist, and also in creating better relations between Islam and the West by enhancing understanding and dialogue.35

In order to understand the verses from the Quran that refer to war, it is important to keep in mind that there are two basic sources of Islamic belief: the Quran, (the revealed word of God) and the Hadith, (which comprise the sayings or actions of Prophet Muhammad). In addition, three factors are necessary for analysing the verses in the Quran; firstly, the textual context of the verse within the Quran, secondly, the historical context of the verse at the time of revelation, and thirdly, the manner in which the Prophet Muhammad implemented the verse.36 Though a detailed analysis of each verse is beyond the scope of this paper, it is generally agreed that they can be streamlined into two contradictory interpretations; a militant interpretation and a non-militant interpretation.

Non-militant Understanding of the Nature of 'Jihad'

It may be argued that, according to the non-militant understanding, the grounds for a legitimate war under Islamic belief are:

• War carried out in self defence.
• War carried out when other nations have attacked an Islamic state.
• War carried out on another state if it is oppressing its own Muslims.

However, such a legitimate war does not mean that any violent or indiscriminate action is permissible; there are clear guidelines according to which war must be conducted:

• In a disciplined manner.

• Without injuring non-combatants.

• With the minimum necessary force.

• Without anger.

• With humane conduct towards prisoners of war.37

The Quran ordains

'Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.' (Al-Baqarah: 190)

Abu Bakr (the First Caliph) gave the following rules to an army he was sending to battle:

'Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path.
You must not mutilate dead bodies.
Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man.
Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful.
Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food.
You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.'

The non-militant understanding is that various verses in the Quran relate the conditions for the legitimacy of 'jihad' as war in self-defence. Such conditions could be when an opposing side attempts to attack; or that it creates obstacles for spreading the message of Islam (which must be removed). Another condition for the legitimacy of 'jihad' would be people subject to the oppression and tyranny of a group from amongst themselves.38

Militant Understanding of the Nature of 'Jihad'

The militant interpretation of the term 'jihad' comes from the Quranic verses known as the 'sword verses'. These are quoted selectively to legitimate unconditional warfare against Mushrikeen (those who ascribed divinity to aught beside God) and were used by earlier jurists to justify the expansion of Islam in certain periods of wars. The argument, developed during the period of the early Caliphs, at a time when the Ulema enjoyed royal patronage was that the 'sword verses' abrogated the early Quranic verses that limited 'jihad' to a defensive war. The referred to verses were also partially quoted, as for instance,thus

'When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush' (9:5)

Muhammad Asad translates verse (9:5) thus:

'And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribed divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and taken them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every conceivable place. Yet if they repent, and take to prayer and render the purifying dues, let them go their way, for behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.'

But, as Muhammad Asad has commented, to arrive at a full understanding of the import of this verse, equally important are verses 9:4 and 9:6 that precede and follow verse 9:5:

'But excepted shall be - from among those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God - [people] with whom you [O believers] have made a covenant and who, thereafter, have in no wise failed to fulfil their obligations towards you, and neither have aided anyone against you: observe, then, your covenant with them until the end of the term agreed with them. Verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him' [Verse 9:4]

'And if any of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God seeks thy protection, grant him protection, so that he might [be able to] hear the word of God [from thee]; and thereupon convey him to a place where he can feel secure: this because they [may be] people who [sin only because they] they do not know [the truth.]' [Verse 9:6]

The following verse demonstrates a similar problem in terms of a militant understanding:

'Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and his Apostle, nor hold the religion of truth (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the tax with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.'(Verse 9:29) 39

Again it is important to note the interpretation of commentators like Muhammad Asad who states that such verses have to be balanced in conjunction with other fundamental Quranic ordinances, such as 'There shall be no coercion in matters of faith' (2:256) - war is permissible only in self-defence: 'and if they desist, then all hostility shall cease' (2:193). In this context, it is necessary also to see verses (60:8-9), which state as follows:

'as for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for verily, God loves those who act equitably.' [Verse 60:8]

'God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive your forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] it is they, who are truly wrongdoers!'[Verse 60:9]

Modern-day 'Jihad'

Muslims have a legacy of traditions that call upon their societies to reform in every age. This is based upon the history of successful Muslim rule and expansion from the time of the Prophet till the period of European colonialism that reversed this pattern.40 Esposito argues that after this decline, it was the modern Islamic movements that became the driving force behind the resurgence of Islam. The powerful symbolism and revolutionary meaning of 'jihad' dominated Muslim politics in recent decades to an extent never seen before.

John Esposito sees the Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami as the two pioneer Islamist movements that spread to Sudan, Jordan and the Gulf, Bangladesh, India and Kashmir and inspired a proliferation of similar movements across the world. The following Islamic experiments in Egypt, Palestine, Algeria and Central Asia have illustrated the different manifestations of political Islam and the diverse understandings of 'jihad'. However the aim of all of these movements, regardless of whether they are peaceful or violent, share a common commitment to an Islamic revolution, a 'jihad' or struggle to implement an Islamic order or government (so as to transform Muslim societies).41 However, most of these movements and their formation, development, strategy and tactics have reflected the diverse political, economic and social environments out of which they arose.42 The majority of these Muslim reform organisations have worked within their societies but a radicalised militant minority has adopted violent 'jihad' to seize power or attack Muslim governments or Western countries.43

Many of these violent radicals justify their violence using historic memories of the Crusades and European colonialism, the creation of Israel, and American neo-colonialism. This is compounded by current events that further ignite feelings of injustice: the second Palestinian Intifada, the presence of American troops in the Gulf, the devastating impact of sanctions on Iraqi children, and 'jihad' of resistance and liberation in Kashmir and Chechnya. These are considered to be outrages not just among terrorist groups but also in the broader Muslim world.44

The militant minorities are distinct in that they operate globally. It was during the Afghan 'Jihad' against the Soviet occupation of the country in 1979, when scores of Muslims went to Afghanistan to be part of the 'jihad' against oppression of Muslims. The experience and success of that 'jihad' created a new, more global 'jihad' sentiment and solidarity which later brought Muslims from all over the world to participate in 'jihad' in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Kashmir and Central Asia.45 'Jihad' today has thus become the evocative symbol and rallying cry for mobilization in wars of resistance and liberation as well as in global terrorism.46 It is a powerful defining concept for ideologues seeking, in times of crises, to use their traditions to return power, peace and social justice to their communities.47

Understanding Osama bin Laden's 'Jihad'

Al-Qaeda is a radical tendency within a broader Islamic movement known as the Salafi movement. Salafis argue that only by returning to the example of the Prophet and his companions can Muslims achieve salvation. Therefore, the label 'Salafi' is used to signify 'correct' religious adherence and moral legitimacy, implying that alternative understandings are corrupt deviations from the straight path of Islam.48

Esposito sees Al-Qaeda as a radical fringe of a broad based Islamic 'jihad' that began in the late twentieth century as an Islamic revivalist movement.49 Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's declaration of war against America would bring together many elements from Islamic history (militant 'jihad', eighteenth century revivalists, Wahabi Islam and its condemnation of Western alliances with autocratic Muslim leaders). What is different this time around is firstly, the greatly enhanced power that globalisation affords to terrorist groups which is the ability to harness religion and technology to strike anywhere, anytime, any place.50 Secondly, now the term 'jihad' has become inclusive; resistance and liberation struggles and militant 'jihad', 'holy' and 'unholy' wars are all declared to be 'jihad'. Thirdly, 'jihad' is now not waged only against unjust rulers in the Muslim world, or foreign invaders, but also against a broad spectrum of civilians.51

However, this paper will merely focus on Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden should be understood as a product of the religious heritage and political climate in Saudi Arabia (an Islamic State with a rigid, puritanical, Wahabi brand of Islam), the militant 'jihad' ideology of Egypt's Syed Qutb, stimulated by the devastating Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.52 Various excerpts from Osama bin Laden's interviews are referred to by this study in order to understand his motivations and rationale better.

In an interview with a Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir, Osama bin Laden said 'to kill Americans - civilians and military - is the individual duty of every Muslim who can do it any country in which it is possible to do it.'53

Referring to the Muslim sense of historic oppression, occupation and injustice at the hands of the West, bin Laden said,

'What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years. Our nation has been tasting humiliation and contempt for more than eighty years.'54

He paints a world in which Islam and Muslims are under siege:

'America and its allies are massacring us in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq. The Muslims have a right to attack America in reprisal …The September 11 attacks were not targeted at women and children. The real targets were America's icons of military and economic power.'55

He claims that Al-Qaeda is carrying out a 'jihad' in the defence of Islam and against an unjust political world order:

'We are carrying out the mission of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The mission is to spread the word of God, not to indulge in massacring people. We ourselves are the targets of killings, destruction and atrocities. We are only defending ourselves. This is defensive 'jihad'. We want to defend people and our land. This is why we say, if we don't get security, the Americans too, would not get security. This is the simple formula that even an American child can understand, live and let live.56

In bin Laden's views, charges of terrorism are false because what might seem to be terrorist activities, are necessary and justified as the modern world is one within which the forces of evil, oppression and injustice attack the forces of good.57 He distinguishes between 'commendable' and 'reprehensible' terrorism. To terrify the innocent is unjust; however, terrorising oppressors is necessary:

'There is no doubt that every state and every civilisation and culture has to resort to terrorism under certain circumstances for the purpose of abolishing tyranny and corruption … the terrorism we practice is of the commendable kind for it is directed at the tyrants, the traitors who commit acts of treason against their own countries and their own faith and their own prophet and their own nation. Terrorising those and punishing them are necessary measures to straighten things and make them right.'58

It is often argued by such militant actors like Osama bin Laden that terrorism is the only option open to them, when faced with the superior military and economic power of the 'West'. They further believe that terrorism is fully justified. However, it is important to note that there is a huge debate among Muslims on this matter. Other Muslims further argue that it is wrong, inhumane and nothing in Islam would allow it (as violence must be proportional and only the necessary amount of force must be used to repel the army, that innocent civilians must not be targeted and that 'jihad' must be declared by the ruler or head of state). It is a contentious issue and for that reason this study contends that terrorism must not only be dealt with by force alone, but also by an intellectual dialogue. If the presumed authority behind the sort of 'jihad' witnessed today is Islam and the Quran then this authority will be the most effective challenger to such notions of terrorism as are being justified as legitimate militant 'jihad'.

The justifications made by Al-Qaeda's for its violent attacks on civilians can be summarised into three main arguments. First, the United States is waging a war against Islam and therefore, violence is a defensive 'jihad' that is incumbent upon all Muslims. Second, Muslim proponents of a non-violent response to the United States (or the Crusader-Zionist alliance) are corrupt, ignorant and/or hypocritical, and, therefore, are not credible religious mediators. Third, there is no unconditional prohibition against killing civilians in Islam and civilians can be purposely targeted under certain conditions (which exist in the present day).59

Is Militant 'Jihad' a Just War?

What the above statements by Osama bin Laden have illustrated is that he believes his actions to be morally justifiable. Killing innocent civilians is defensible in the light of religion and for a larger cause, that it is a 'just war'. The terms 'war' and 'jihad' are also used interchangeably in militant declarations. However, it remains to be determined whether militant 'jihad' is actually a 'war', and more importantly, whether it is a 'just war'. A requirement of 'just war' theory is that one party is believed to be morally culpable, while the other intends to rectify a wrong. The just party is therefore not constrained to accept some constraints on its mode of conducting war, and it has the right to destroy any person who can bear arms against it.60 The contemporary version of the 'just war' is that only self-defence justifies retaliation, a doctrine that is accepted in the UN Charter.61 In such a case, would terrorist activities, in self-defence be justifiable? In order to answer this question, it is useful to compare 'jihad' with 'war' and to determine whether they are the same.

Mark Burgess claims that terrorists usually describe themselves as fighters or soldiers in a cause, though they are compelled by circumstances to use differing strategies, tactics, and methods from better-equipped national armies.62 He argues that an analogy with 'war' is a misinformed one as 'war' is regulated by a series of laws (in theory if not always in fact) that prohibit certain weapons and tactics as well as attacks on certain categories of targets (like non-combatants) and placing limits on the treatment of prisoners. The terrorist usually operates outside laws (as are codified in the Geneva Conventions) by targeting non-combatants, operating in civilian clothes, and often taking (mistreating or killing) hostages.63 For Burgess, it is these reasons that make terrorism very different from war.

According to Wilkinson, a fundamental premise of the laws of war is that states are entitled to employ war as a rational instrument of policy to serve limited and clearly defined ends. It is, therefore, in the perceived interests of all governments to uphold some basic humanitarian restraints on the conduct of war in order to ensure the fabric and functioning of society is not irreparably damaged between the states at war with each other.64 However, where terrorism is concerned, or more specifically where 'jihad' of the Al-Qaeda variety is concerned, he argues that:

• The goals and aims of this sort of terrorism are neither limited nor clearly defined.

• The very nature of this 'jihad' is that humanitarian restraints are not possible to maintain (the very aim is to target civilians).

• This type of terrorism lacks a territorial jurisdiction or a juridical framework as it is trans-national in nature.

By shifting the criteria for culpability from actions to motives, a fundamental principle of traditional international law, and one for almost all existing domestic legal systems too, has been overturned. Rapoport claims that the 'just war' doctrine that was initially devised for states cannot be coherently utilised or applied when one party is not the state.65 Therefore, it can be argued that militant 'jihad' cannot be defended under the guise of a 'just war'.

The Framework of Human Rights

'Terrorism' and militant 'jihad' brings forward an abundance of discourse related to morality and human rights. It is argued that the taking of innocent life is immoral and wrong. This study will attempt to argue that forming a consensus on this basic principle of human rights can lead to a consensus in dealing with militant 'jihad' exemplified by Al-Qaeda. A basic principle delineated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), issued by the UN General Assembly in 1948, states:

'The right to life, liberty and security of person; the right to freedom of thought, speech, and communication of information and ideas; freedom of assembly and religion; the right to government through free elections; the right to free movement within the state and free exit from it; the right to asylum in another state; the right to nationality; freedom from arbitrary arrest and interference with the privacy of home and family; and the prohibition of slavery and torture.'66

Defining human rights from an Islamic perspective is a bit more problematic. The reason for this is that there is no exact equivalent for the English terms, 'human rights' in the traditional Islamic lexicon. A literal Arabic translation of human rights would be the frequently used Arabic term, al-Haquq al-Insaniyya for the modern term (human rights). For example, if we consider the word 'right' (Haqq), we find an array of concepts in Islam, which cover the range of rights mentioned in the UDHR. For example, regarding the 'right to life', Islam clearly and unequivocally guarantees that right. The Quran states, 'Take not life which Allah made sacred otherwise than in the course of justice' (6:151). Similarly, in the context of discussing the consequences of the first murder in human history, "For that reason [Cain murdering Abel], we ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a human being for other than murder, or spreading corruption on Earth, it is as if he has killed all of humanity. And whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved all of humanity" (Quran 5:32). Muhammad Asad's translation of the same verse is: Because of this did We ordain unto the children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being - unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth - it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.'(5:32)

However, despite this apparent convergence in Islamic and Western discourse over the importance of human life, the proponents of militant 'jihad' claim that its legitimacy in taking innocent lives through terrorist activities derives from Islam. This might be so because of the problems of multiplicity of interpretations, relating to examples like the 'sword verses'. However when these 'sword verses' are seen in a holistic manner, that is, in conjunction with the other verses in the Quran that stress the sanctity of human life, as well as no coercion in matters of religion (i.e. freedom of religion), such militant interpretations seem false.

There are numerous underlying similarities between Islamic and secular approaches to the 'right to life'.67 Condemning militant 'jihad' using the secular idiom of human rights might not reach out to the entire Muslim community. However, an extensive dialogue between the religious and the secular mainstreams that come to an agreement on the sanctity of human life will be most effective in initiating a consensus. This means a switch from aggressive and antagonistic approaches to each other which will not be an easy or quick thing to do but which is the only option for the long-term solution aiming for reconciliation between what are seen currently as the forces militant Islam and the secular West.


'Terrorism' and militant 'jihad' are widely contested terms and phenomena. They raise numerous moral questions over which the international community is divided in its opinions on. The Muslims who defend militant 'jihad' as their religious duty, on investigation, fall into the category of extremist, fringe groups, which exist in other faiths and ideologies as well. However, the vast majority of mainstream Muslims speak with one voice on the sanctity of human life, as underscored by Quranic injunctions. The way that the 'jihad' of Al-Qaeda organisation, and similar groups, operate by attacking unsuspecting, innocent civilians in the pursuit of a 'bigger' cause, falls outside the pale of Quranic injunctions that stresses the sanctity of human life. It is a challenge both to extremist interpretations of anti-Islam forces embedded within the 'secular' West to read the actual message of the Quran in order to understand what Islam stands for, as well as for the Muslim world to allow the mainstream tolerant Islam to reassert its moral authority on what interpretations truly reflect the spirit of Islam.
Reply With Quote
The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Emaan For This Useful Post:
munawar hussain (Wednesday, February 25, 2009), RidaZehra (Wednesday, April 05, 2017)

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are On

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Terrorism (A short Introduction) KHAN AMMAR ALI KHAN International Relations 1 Wednesday, September 22, 2021 12:20 PM
Dr. Shireen Mazari (The News: Every Wednesday) Abdullah The News 161 Thursday, October 27, 2016 09:25 AM
Terrorism Shaa-Baaz Essays 0 Wednesday, April 08, 2009 11:26 AM
Terrorism The Star Current Affairs Notes 2 Thursday, April 02, 2009 04:01 PM
Terrorism Amoeba Current Affairs Notes 0 Saturday, October 29, 2005 12:53 AM

CSS Forum on Facebook Follow CSS Forum on Twitter

Disclaimer: All messages made available as part of this discussion group (including any bulletin boards and chat rooms) and any opinions, advice, statements or other information contained in any messages posted or transmitted by any third party are the responsibility of the author of that message and not of (unless is specifically identified as the author of the message). The fact that a particular message is posted on or transmitted using this web site does not mean that CSSForum has endorsed that message in any way or verified the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any message. We encourage visitors to the forum to report any objectionable message in site feedback. This forum is not monitored 24/7.

Sponsors: ArgusVision   vBulletin, Copyright ©2000 - 2024, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.