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  • When discussing terrorism and foreign policy…


    by Zahed
    9th July, 2007 at 3:33 pm    

    In the ongoing debate on terrorism, nothing is more polarising, nothing sends political discourse into a tailspin more than the contention that foreign policy is one of the root causes of terrorism.

    As much as it is a favourite slogan among Muslims, it sends skeptics of Muslims and Islam into a near xenophobic rage. After the verbal fireworks go off, the dialogue fades until the next Islamo-crisis. Rinse, reuse, repeat.

    Although such linkage began mostly after 9/11, it resurged again in full force after last week’s attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow. No sooner had the soliliquy been deciphered (by non-Scots) from John Smeaton’s lips than the claim was made that terror like this is fueled by foreign policy. Oh wait. No it’s not, it’s just a diversion from the real cancer of extremism. Oh yes it is, you deluded, dangerous people. You get the idea.

    Two hundred Muslims gathered in London on Saturday to discuss what to do about terrorism and the official (sensible, yet obvious) advice to the public was that Muslims should report suspicious activity to the police. But inside, “foreign policy was mentioned over and over again,” according to one participant. “Whatever the government or some MPs say, it is a factor that is fuelling extremism.”

    But why wouldn’t sensible people make this this foreign policy-terror connection? When Mohammad Siddique Khan explicitly makes this connection in his Big Brother diary room, it’s hard to think he’s just doing it for the money. Likewise, I know Osama bin Laden is crazy, but when he says that he doesn’t have a beef with Sweden, I’m a little tempted to take the family to Stockholm this summer. I’m not afraid of the man. I’m just sayin’.

    You also can’t blame people who argue that Muslims are being cynical with the foreign policy argument. Darfur has been mentioned, as has the sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. Palestine, despite the very real injustices committed against it by Israel, commands a disproportionate attention among Muslims when compared to either of the above where far more Muslims die (at the hands of other Muslims). Palestine is not our political Mecca, yet we insist on praying to it every day.

    Still, these two modern struggles - against Islamic extremism on one hand and unjust foreign policy towards the Muslim world on the other - are valid and necessary. But like matter meeting anti-matter, when these distinct issues are mixed together, everything disintegrates. Muslims around the world are on one side, Western governments and their non-Muslim citizens on the other, hurling accusations in equal measure until they’re incapable of seeing the grain of truth each posesses.

    Foreign policy - in the eyes of Muslims who want to change it - does indeed fuel extremism among some Muslims who might otherwise be on the fence. But as an argument, connecting it to an increased risk of terrorism does nothing to alter the foreign policy it condemns.

    Likewise, it does nothing to address the extremism that exists in the Muslim world where foreign policy is not directly a factor. Considering the stakes in both of these conflicts, arguing that foreign policy fuels terrorism is not merely a non sequitor. It is the mother of all non-sequitors.

    Four years after the Iraq war started, we now know about the 650,000 directly or indirectly killed due to the Iraq invasion. We know about the missing WMDs, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and all the rest. We know these arguments are working - albeit too slowly - to convince good citizens in the US and the UK to turn on their government’s misadventures. But when an inference is made that terrorism is the expected blowback, everything grinds to a halt. One can’t challenge injustice with injustice.

    I’m still waiting for someone to say *explicitly* that if we don’t want terrorism in Britain, we should change British foreign policy. Curiously, no one ever does that because it sounds like, well… a threat. Hard to influence people that way, especially the majority of citizens who hate the Iraq mess and want a way out but don’t want to appear to capitulate to terrorism.

    Tony Blair and George Bush linked the threat of terrorism to foreign policy because fear of terrorism helped promote their grand foreign policy designs. How on earth will using the same fear dismantle them?

    Incidentally, in the Qur’an it says: “Let not the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice” (Qur’an 5:8). In other words, Muslims are not permitted to legitimise any motivation to injustice because it is only the injustice (terrorism, in this case) that matters. Even if that motivation is cited by the perpetrators, my instinct is not to honour it. In the context of this issue, that motivation is now tainted.

    If despite all this, Muslims and others insist on reducing the threat of extremism in Britain by addressing the Iraq conflict, then at least end that conflict with arguments that work, not with arguments that don’t. The more terrorism and foreign policy are conflated, the more we’ll have this circular argument and the more things will never change.

    Give people a way out by condemning foreign policy on its own injustices. Condemn terrorism by its inherent injustice. And put the Grand Canyon in between them.

    ———————-
    Zahed Amanullah is an associate editor at altmuslim magazine.
    This is a guest post.


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    Filed in: Current affairs,Middle East,Religion






    37 Comments below   |  

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    1. William — on 9th July, 2007 at 5:25 pm  

      Let’s love our enemies they point out our faults.

      Or another option could be

      Lets avoid the most common human scapegoat, I point out your faults so I don’t have to look at mine, I use your ignorance to cover up for mine etc etc.

    2. Chairwoman — on 9th July, 2007 at 5:52 pm  

      I’m going to be very blunt here, and no doubt I will be very unpopular, but sometimes the truth must be spoken, even on PP.

      No group of 3 million out of a total of 66 million can be allowed to dictate government policy.

      That’s it. It doesn’t matter who the group is, what their gripe is, or even whether they are right or wrong.

      The tail must never be allowed to wag the dog.

      And for members of the minority group to decide to force the government to bow to its wishes by violence, making them demands rather than wishes, by the way, is frankly despicable.

    3. Don — on 9th July, 2007 at 6:36 pm  

      Muzumdar,

      Unhelpful and factually inaccurate.

      CW,

      Isn’t that Zahed’s point? When a threat is made over a policy then the threat becomes the issue. Attitudes harden, even among those who oppose the policy. And not only on FP. When sectarian groups threaten violence if their delicate sensibilities are ruffled my response is not ‘Oh dear, you’re offended.’ but rather ‘Threaten me and mine and one of us is going down.’

      ‘…sometimes the truth must be spoken, even on PP.’

      Even? Is PP that egregiously untruthful?

    4. Chairwoman — on 9th July, 2007 at 6:48 pm  

      Don - Most of us like and respect each other, and often tiptoe around each other’s sensibilities, so we disseminate so as not to offend.

      I felt that this was a time when I had to bite the bullet and just come out with my opinion.

    5. sonia — on 9th July, 2007 at 6:59 pm  

      “Give people a way out by condemning foreign policy on its own injustices. Condemn terrorism by its inherent injustice. And put the Grand Canyon in between them.”

      Precisely and a very good ending.

    6. sonia — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:01 pm  

      i won’t derail a positive thread ( hopefully!) by launching into questions on the Quran… ill save that for another thread! i think it makes sense if you are trying to speak out to muslims to refer to a document/text that means something to them.

    7. Don — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:01 pm  

      Too cryptic for my fuddled mind. You’ll have to join the dots.

    8. sonia — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:20 pm  

      well actually, to be accurate, i haven’t yet posted about the Quran ( all in good time!) i was writing about some hadiths.

    9. Don — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:24 pm  

      I frequently read Sonia’s blog. I would never deny that the Quran contains many objectionable passages, hell, as an atheist I wouldn’t want to be seen as defending a sacred text. A blight on the earth, each one.

      My point was that you cited the Quran as having a plethora of incitements to rape and incest. Hadiths notwithstanding, as far as I know the Quran has one passage which can be seen as justifying rape (4:24) and none pertaining to incest. I’m no scholar and if I’m wrong I’ll put my hands up. Specify the plethora of verses and you win. But it has to be a plethora.

      My main point was that you were derailing a potentially positive thread out of mere spite and mischief making.

    10. sid — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:39 pm  

      If it is possible to accept both these statements:

      Foreign Policy is influenced by terrorism
      Terrorism is influenced by foreign policy

      then that would be the most satisfactory position to take, I’d say.

      The question is, after the invasion of Iraq, should muslims continue to interpret foreign policy as being targetted against muslims or should foreign policy have stopped at the use of al-qaeda as a pretext, retro-fitted, to invade Iraq?

    11. Don — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:42 pm  

      33:37 doesn’t run. Divorced wife of adopted son ain’t incest.

    12. Katy Newton — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:42 pm  

      I thought that Zahed’s article was a very well-thought-out attempt to steer a fair course between polarised opinions, but I suspect he’ll end up getting flamed by both sides.

      Me? I stay out.

      FAR out.

      Man.

      It is good to see Sid back though. Hello Sid.

    13. Don — on 9th July, 2007 at 7:48 pm  

      Sid,

      That’s two questions and the answers are:
      a. No.
      b. Shouldn’t have gone there in the first place.

    14. sid — on 9th July, 2007 at 8:53 pm  

      Don, the fact is terrorism has increased as a direct result of foreign policy. This is certainly the case in Iraq where local terrorism has increased as a result of duplicitious foreign policy of the “Coalition of the Willing”. And here foreign policy used “Al-Qaeda links” to triangulate a motive for invading Iraq *after* the WMDs failed to materialise. Now the Iraqis are blamed for the failure of the mission, just as the Russians were blamed for the failure of communism and Hitler blamed the Germans for the failure of Nazism.

      Katy, thanks sweety. :-)

      Muzumdar, impersonating other commenters to make your point? man, are you scraping the barrel or are you scraping the barrel?

    15. Raul — on 9th July, 2007 at 9:05 pm  

      Since when is terrorism an answer to disagreements about foreign policy? I think this is disingenuous, surely there must be a better way for peace loving muslims to express themselves rather than justify global jihad which makes them a part of it and others suspicious of their sincerity. You can’t expect non muslims to understand a willingness to support or justify those who wish to bomb them.

      And getting worked up about Iraq and muslim suffering comes across as a bit thin considering its conspicuous absence during Sadddam or the Taliban’s reign. How about Saudi Arabia and the rest of the arab world? Human rights is not high on any Muslim society’s radar, global conspiracy fantasy against muslims is though. Ultimately jihad and mindless violence is little more than muslim aggression posing as victimhood.

      America and its policies are not the most popular anywhere, the Iraq war whatever the motives was a opportunity to bring in democracy and freedom but has been been squandered in the fiction of occupation to justify and fuel mindless killing, a lost opportunity and as usual America’s fault again. The terrorists routinely killing civilians, the shia-sunni divide, that’s America’s fault too.

      Terrorists and ex-terrorists routinely tell us what their cause is about. Osama Bin laden is not interested in Sweden, but he would be if it was the leading superpower and he wasn’t so pathetic.

    16. Clairwil — on 9th July, 2007 at 9:35 pm  

      Zahed,
      Fine article. What a shame about what has followed.

    17. Clairwil — on 9th July, 2007 at 9:50 pm  

      ‘Well exactly. Zahed should read the Qu’ran in context, warts and all, before he selectively quotes from it.’

      Fair point but weren’t you being selective in only highlighting the nasty bits?

      It might also be helpful if you could provide references to the parts you refer to as not everyone reading will have read the Qu’ran in any depth and may want to look into it at themselves. It would also be useful if you could explain how passages on rape, incest a paedophilia relate to a discussion on terrorism.

      Finally, if you could drop the macho I won stuff and refrain from calling other commentators names I’d be delighted as it puts timid souls off commenting and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to do that.

    18. Sunny — on 9th July, 2007 at 9:52 pm  

      I hope people are not being silly enough to engage in a debate with the banned idiot Muzumdar. His comments have been wiped and will continue to be in the future.

    19. Clairwil — on 9th July, 2007 at 10:07 pm  

      Sorry Sunny
      but looking like I’m responding to imaginary comments is punishment enough. Surely the online equivalent of a drunk fighting a bus stop.

    20. sid — on 9th July, 2007 at 10:23 pm  

      Since reading John Gray’s new book, I’ve made it my mid-year’s resolution to read everything in his back catalogue.

      Here is an extract.

    21. leon — on 9th July, 2007 at 10:32 pm  

      Without getting too drawn into the usual merry go round I would just like to make one small point:

      When we’re talking about foreign policy people really have to look further back than the last ten years and stop getting hung up on which ever party is in power. People like Bin Laden didn’t come along because evil exists in the world, he was essentially created (like Saddam) by other powers and their funding.

      Basically take a look at things like the Power of Nightmares for a historical context that seems to get lost in the distractive “Iraw created terrorism” “No it didn’t, what about 911, huh? HUH?” ‘debate’…

    22. Steve M — on 9th July, 2007 at 10:51 pm  

      Give people a way out by condemning foreign policy on its own injustices. Condemn terrorism by its inherent injustice. And put the Grand Canyon in between them.

      Superbly well put.

    23. sid — on 9th July, 2007 at 11:39 pm  

      The problem happens when British muslims are exhorted by Inayat Bunglawala to join him to justify and defend scumbags like these on the grounds of FP.

      Or when Blair’s FP advocates tell us Iraq and Guantanamo are “anomalies” in an otherwise just war against terror, and blame muslims of having “loyalty-issues” when they don’t buy it.

    24. bikhair — on 10th July, 2007 at 12:21 am  

      Zahed,

      I think these people are staying true to their ideological roots. Fitna is their religion and there isnt anything that they will not use as an excuse to commit the sins that they commit. It isnt foreign policy, it is deviance. Now I know I will get in trouble by you for saying that but its true. There is never an excuse for sin and misguidance.

    25. Random Guy — on 10th July, 2007 at 9:43 am  

      Zahed, your article is the first one I have read that provides clarity (and hope?) to this FP/terrorism issue.

      Let us hope that people take note.

    26. Refresh — on 10th July, 2007 at 10:40 am  

      Zahed, timing of your article is perfect. All those armchair radicals and generals have been exhausted which gives us a window of opportunity.

    27. Katherine — on 10th July, 2007 at 11:24 am  

      Everyone should read “The Battle For God” by Karen Armstrong. Written before 9/11 and scarily prescient, it traces the rise of fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam and Judiasm throughout the 20th Century. Depressing but essential, in my opinion.

    28. Boyo — on 10th July, 2007 at 1:02 pm  

      WTC 1993. Nairobi. 9/11. Bali - Islamist terror was taking place long before Iraq. With or without Iraq the airport bombers may well have happened. Would the 7/7 bombers? Maybe. In any case it gave them an excuse.

      Which is not to say Iraq has not added fuel to the flames, but it is false to say it - or Palestine for that matter - is the root cause. The root cause is Islamist ambition: to shift the West out of Islamic states and create a Caliph. Its not like OBL has even tried to pretend otherwise.

    29. sonia — on 10th July, 2007 at 1:23 pm  

      21 leon - good point

    30. sid — on 10th July, 2007 at 1:28 pm  

      Unlikely. Even in Muslim-dominant countries, politicised Modernist Islamist movements, whether in the form of Jamaati Islami, Muslim Brotherhood, and their Maududian and Qutbdian offshoots, are struggling to gain mass acceptance. They’re oddities and querios in their own lands in spite of the fact they’ve been around since the 1940s. If they’re in the political wilderness in their own backyard, I hardly think they posses electoral or mass-movement appeal in the west.

      That is not to say that they are not dangerous, outfits because they have not been able to remove the advocay of violence and apocalyptic tendencies from within their ideologies.

    31. sid — on 10th July, 2007 at 1:35 pm  

      Unless, of course, they’re endorsed as “umbrella organisations” by successive British governments in the way the MCB has been.

    32. Vilka — on 12th July, 2007 at 10:13 am  

      Zahed

      FANTASTIC POST

    33. Anas — on 12th July, 2007 at 4:10 pm  

      Wow. Zahed’s fine article has changed my mind. See, before I used to think that FP was one of the most, if not the most, important factor in the growth of the threat of terrorism in the West. But forget all the arguments in favour. Forget the reports from intelligence organisations that argue that the deep resentment in the Muslim world and among Muslim communities of Western FP, especially Iraq, in essential in radicalising Muslims and must therefore inevitably increase terrorist recruitment, and all the data that points to that conclusion — inluding the words of MSK and Tanveer. The argument is wrong, not because it’s not supported by the evidence, but because it’s polarising, “ does nothing to address the extremism that exists in the Muslim world where foreign policy is not directly a factor” and “as an argument, connecting it to an increased risk of terrorism does nothing to alter the foreign policy it condemns“. Phew. That’s that one sorted out.

      So, because some Muslims see the FP argument as a way of arguing against pursuing a murderous and fundamentally injust foreign policy — which they choose not to do on the grounds of its murderousness and injustice apparently — the FP argument is now null and void And of course the FP argument “[legitimises a] motivation to injustice”. Just as when a crime investigator tries to uncover the motivation to a crime s/he obviously legitimises it. And yes, anyone who makes the connection is an apologist for terrorism. What a great way to have an open debate on an issue.

      No group of 3 million out of a total of 66 million can be allowed to dictate government policy.
      That’s it. It doesn’t matter who the group is, what their gripe is, or even whether they are right or wrong.
      The tail must never be allowed to wag the dog

      Yeah, those wacky Muslims. Don’t they understand our culture and civilisation? Don’t they know that it’s the major corporations and the small percentage of the wealthy who should be allowed to dictate policy?

      Unlikely. Even in Muslim-dominant countries, politicised Modernist Islamist movements, whether in the form of Jamaati Islami, Muslim Brotherhood, and their Maududian and Qutbdian offshoots, are struggling to gain mass acceptance. They’re oddities and querios in their own lands in spite of the fact they’ve been around since the 1940s. If they’re in the political wilderness in their own backyard, I hardly think they posses electoral or mass-movement appeal in the west.

      I don’t know how true that is — about the mass acceptance of Islamism in Muslim countries. What about Hamas? Don’t the MB also have strong support in Egypt, despite the attempts of the totalitarian govt (our friends) — and in fact would probably win a fair election. I think the MB and related orgs also have strong support in many other Arab countries such as Bahrain and Tunisia. And doesn’t the fact that they don’t have more power in many countries due not to their lack of electoral appeal but because of the harsh political repression in those countries (a lot of the time supported by the West — but that’s unimportant!).

    34. Anas — on 12th July, 2007 at 4:18 pm  

      Corr: And *isn’t* the fact that they don’t have more power in many countries due not to their lack of electoral appeal but because of the harsh political repression in those countries (a lot of the time supported by the West — but that’s unimportant!).

    35. Chairwoman — on 12th July, 2007 at 4:54 pm  

      No group of 3 million out of a total of 66 million can be allowed to dictate government policy.
      That’s it. It doesn’t matter who the group is, what their gripe is, or even whether they are right or wrong.
      The tail must never be allowed to wag the dog

      Anas - I am very, very careful about syntax, and I made it very, very clear that it was not a ‘Muslim’ issue.

    36. Refresh — on 14th July, 2007 at 10:44 am  

      Making Blair History:

      “”There was an emotional intensity of being war leaders with much of the world against them. That is enough to put you on your knees and get you praying together.”

      I’m finally beginning to laugh again.

    37. Carl Harpin — on 17th July, 2007 at 8:08 pm  

      “No group of 3 million out of a total of 66 million can be allowed to dictate government policy.
      That’s it. It doesn’t matter who the group is, what their gripe is, or even whether they are right or wrong.
      The tail must never be allowed to wag the dog”

      Chairwoman - fine words indeed. So what about the Israeli Lobby in the USA wagging the big Bush dog to do as they pay him to do?

      What about here where the Friends of Israel group lobby Blair and dictate a policy most of the country disagree with? Surveys show that the electorate don’t agree with Blair on I/P and yet the Blair doggy didn’t listen.

      The vast majority of British people want a just solution to the I/P issue and yet a small, rich minority can influence policy to the point the Blair will waggle the carrot but beat with a stick.

      Again most people in the UK support the Palestinian aspiration to statehood, and yet Blair allowed a minority to waggle him and do precisely nothing on this issue despite his promises at the time of the Iraq War vote to do something about this issue. He actually left office and now wants to do something!

      What you forget is that politicians are not there to listen to the people, they are there to serve themselves. If politics was about listening to the people then Britian wouldn’t have joined the USA. If politics was about listening to the people the we wouldn’t have top up fees.

      The dog is wagged by money and future after dinner speaking circuits.

      Sorry but you are selective in reading history. Small groups of people with cash have always influenced politicians. That is how Oil companies, arms manufacturers etc. gain influence.

      It is precisely why Blair was so careful to cultivate friendship with Murdoch and Black. Strange how Blair found it more important to speak at the News International function than do what his electorate was asking and engage on Lebanon.

      Such antics show that a small minority wag the dog as long as it has money and media power :-)

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