Blaming Islam for ISIS is like blaming Hinduism for 2002 Gujarat riots

Prasenjit Bose
Prasenjit BoseJul 09, 2016 | 10:49

Blaming Islam for ISIS is like blaming Hinduism for 2002 Gujarat riots

The macabre and brutal terrorist attacks in neighbouring Bangladesh and elsewhere have once again rocked our conscience.

The blood of unsuspecting innocents has been spilt yet again. It has also starkly displayed how educated and well-to-do youths, without any obvious reason to take up arms, have turned into cold-blooded assassins because their minds got poisoned with a deadly, extremist and hate-filled ideology. It is imperative for all those who cherish human values to speak out against such barbarities and the ideas that spawn them.


In doing so, however, we should avoid a common mistake - born either out of ignorance or prejudice - to blame any particular religion, Islam in this case, for the proliferation of terrorism and violence.

This is important for two reasons, first because it is factually and logically erroneous and second, that is precisely what the terrorists would want us to do - willy-nilly become a prop to their strategic game plan.

Like all the major religions of the world, Islam has been in existence for centuries - about 1,400 years to be a bit more precise.

And like all religions, it has its own rich and chequered history. Almost a quarter of the global population spread across several countries of the world, are followers of the Islamic faith.

A Bangladeshi man stands in the rain and pays his respects to the victims of the attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. [AP photo]

Like the believers of all other religions, an overwhelming majority of Muslims are ordinary peace-loving people, who abhor violence and bloodshed and have absolutely no role or connection to terrorism.

Terrorism is about politics, not religion

Blaming Islam for the horrendous acts of a handful of terrorists who deliberately invoke religion to pursue their own diabolical agenda wrongfully implicates a vast and internally diverse community, in its entirety.


Terrorism as we witness it today is a very modern, contemporary phenomenon, which uses the latest military hardware and communication technologies for its nefarious ends. Religious fundamentalism and extremism are essentially political ideologies. Terrorism based on religious fundamentalism and extremism is a specific kind of politics, which has grown into prominence over the past few decades.

If a billion people believe in or practise a religion, only a few hundred or thousand would believe in the politics of religious extremism and terrorism. Therefore, it should not be mistaken as religion per se. This is politics, which tries to masquerade as religion.

In fact, the success of this kind of treacherous politics is crucially dependent on misleading people into believing that it is about religion, to cause massive polarisation in society for and against it, and thereby garner mass support. Therefore, let us not fall into that trap.

The terrorist attacks in Dhaka on July 1 were preceded by attacks in Orlando in the US and Istanbul in Turkey. Following the Dhaka attacks, there have been terror strikes in Iraq's Baghdad and even at the Prophet's mosque in Medina. All these attacks have been masterminded or inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS), whose spokesperson had publicly called for a "month of calamity everywhere for non-believers" on the eve of Ramzan.


The very choice of the Ramzan month - in which Muslims across the world fast from dawn to dusk to express reverence and gratitude to almighty and empathise with those who go without food - to conduct terror strikes globally, clearly exposes how perversely the ISIS views and interprets Islam. Most of the victims of these terror attacks during the Ramzan month were also Muslims.

To blame Islam for the atrocities of the ISIS or the terrorists in Bangladesh is equivalent to blaming Hinduism for the destruction of the Babri Masjid or the 2002 Gujarat riots, and blaming Christianity for the rise of Nazism or the Klu Klux Klan in the West.

Hinduism motivated Mahatma Gandhi during India's freedom struggle; it also incensed Nathuram Godse to kill Gandhi. Christianity inspired Mother Teresa to selflessly serve the poor in Kolkata while it was not-so-subtly invoked by George W Bush to launch his "endless war" leading to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, killing millions.

Religion is too complex and mystical to be submitted to simple binaries of the compassionate and the violent. Even the most celebrated modern day critic of religion considered it to be the "the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions". How a particular religion or its edicts are being interpreted and invoked, by whom and to what ends, matter.

ISIS and global terror

We need to be clear that the Islam embraced by Cassius Clay to become Muhammad Ali, to mark his protest against racial injustice, is very different from what is being invoked by the ISIS, al Qaeda and other such organisations to spread terror and mayhem across the globe.

This is a particularly narrow, exclusivist and extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam, which has been characterised in academic and policy circles as Wahhabism or Salafism.

People stand by an explosion site in Medina, Saudi Arabia on July 4, 2016. [AP photo] 

This venomous ideology not only considers people of other religious denominations as "infidels" and atheists as "sinners", but also treats all other Muslims who do not subscribe to its sectarian interpretation of Islam as "apostates". That is why the brunt of the violence unleashed by the ISIS is being borne by the Muslims in the Arab world, especially in Iraq and Syria.

The birth and rise of the ISIS was a direct outcome of the occupation of Iraq by the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies and the subsequent attempts to topple the Syrian regime by arming anti-Assad rebels.

US' Arab allies like Saudi Arabia have been complicit in providing ideological and logistical support to the ISIS.

The cynical geopolitical games that continue to be played by the US and the Saudi regime, alongside other players like Israel, Iran, Egypt and Turkey, between or against each other in the oil-rich Middle East, account for the catastrophe afflicting the region. It is from this epicentre that the extremist ideology and terrorism have emanated and spread, causing convulsions across the globe.

The ISIS needs to be militarily defeated and smashed as an immediate solution. The problem currently is that the US, the Saudi regime and Israel are more interested in regime change in Syria and Iran than fighting the ISIS together with the rest of the world.

Moreover, even if the ISIS is defeated in the medium run, religious extremism and terrorism will continue to revive and thrive in mutated forms, unless peaceful and just solutions are found to the long-standing problems of that region, like Palestine or people's sovereignty over mineral resources.

In other words, only another Arab Spring, a successful one this time, which can together push back the hegemonic powers, dismantle the entrenched vested interests and usher in popular democracies in the region, can politically resolve the problem of extremism and terrorism.

The US-led war on terror will only perpetuate the cycle of violence and counter-violence. If a fanatic like Donald Trump comes at the helm in the US in the future, it may descend into a nuclear Armageddon.

Our subcontinent

In this subcontinent, we have our own problems of religious extremism and terrorism. US and NATO interventions, have as usual, played a major role in sponsoring and nourishing them, from the time Ronald Reagan hosted the Afghan mujahideen at the Oval office in 1983.

Pakistan's military establishment and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have also played a deliberate part in promoting religious extremism and terrorism, which has now grown into cancerous proportions in Afghanistan and Pakistan through the Taliban and al Qaeda, causing unprecedented death and destruction within these countries as well as in India and Bangladesh.

Moreover, we have our own dark chapters of history, like the Partition, which has to an extent institutionalised communal or religion-based politics in the subcontinent.

Majoritarian communalism in the shape of RSS-sponsored Hindutva has inspired violence and riots at regular intervals in India, consuming the lives of thousands of people over the decades.

The riots in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the targeted assassinations of rationalist scholars like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi or the lynching of Dadri's Mohammad Akhlaq on the suspicion of storing beef are the latest instances of the sordid saga.

The reactions of fundamentalist and terrorist organisations claiming to fight for Muslims have also become stronger. The unresolved problem of Kashmir provides further ground to such forces to operate in the Valley.

Bangladesh, with over 90 per cent of its population being Muslim, was born in 1971 out of a struggle between secular, Bengali nationalists and those who wanted Islamic rule. That struggle continues till date in determining the course of its national politics.

The Shahbag protests in 2013 demanding capital punishment for the war criminals, who committed inhuman atrocities during the Bangladesh liberation war, eventually led to the hanging of the war criminals.

The backlash started soon in the form of targeted killings of free-thinking bloggers, writers and publishers by the Islamist supporters, with moral support from Opposition parties like the BNP and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Awami League government initially dragged its feet in confronting the menace. Soon the serial attacks found new targets in minority Hindu priests, LGBT activists and has finally culminated into the terror attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

The identity of the terrorists in Dhaka and the fact that the ISIS was providing live online commentary of their barbarities inside the Holey Artisan Bakery show that the position of the Awami League government - that all such extremist killings in Bangladesh are the handiwork of the domestic Opposition and Pakistan's ISI - is not tenable.

In any case, there was always a thin ideological line dividing the home-grown versions of fundamentalism in the name of Islam and the global terrorism sponsored by the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS, which has now got totally blurred.

Rather than pursuing the red herring of domestic versus international terrorism, the efforts of the Bangladeshi government would be better spent in thoroughly investigating and bringing to justice all those linked to terrorist and extremist activities.

Justice in the case of such gory crimes against humanity can be delivered only when the truth is unearthed in its entirety.

If the truth becomes a casualty of petty political games, there can be no respite to the problem of religious extremism and terrorism. And if Bangladesh burns in the fire of extremism, eastern India, particularly West Bengal, cannot but be adversely affected.

Therefore, while we condemn terrorism with all our might, let us resolve to fight the deadly mix of politics with religion, which has created the Frankenstein's monster. Let us hold our own governments to account for cutting shady deals with religious fundamentalists and extremists of all shades, deliberately botching up terror investigations and failing to secure justice for the victims.

Let us realise that there is no lasting peace without justice. Let us fight to get the imperial hands off our societies, which have historically misused religious differences to divide and rule, and promote genuine international cooperation in combating the global terrorist menace.

And let us also, as individuals, become more tolerant as human beings, willing to listen, understand and engage with each other, even when we do not agree. Mutual tolerance and multiculturalism are the best antidotes to the politics of hate that breeds terrorism; not theological blame games.

Last updated: July 10, 2016 | 10:48
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