The psyche of terror

Where does the civil society stand in its war against terror? Are the hi-tech security measures and strict policing sufficient to deal with this menace? The failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square has underlined the grim reality that the civil society cannot hope to win this war till the religious mindset — which is the motivating factor behind mindless violence — is not suitably dealt with.
The strategy of these “terror minds” is to fuel vulnerable individuals and groups that are sold out to the superiority and inevitability of Islamic domination and turn them to act independently to cause mayhem. In America, for instance, the Times Square bomber Faizal Shahzad is the latest among the American and European citizens sent to wreak havoc. And all — from David Coleman Headley to shoe bomber Richard Reid, from underwear bomber Syed Ahmed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the Virginia Five — have a connection with Pakistan.
Nearer home, their counterparts are the Indian Mujahideens, like the Bhatkal brothers who were behind the Pune German bakery blast on February 13, 2010, the groups in Kerala led by T. Nasir, now captured, who recruited young Muslims for training in Pakistan, and the Delhi bomb blast accused Salman aka Chotu who operated from Nepal. All of them have been working under orders from the jihadi organisations based in Pakistan, described in a recent Time magazine article, Beyond Times Square: The Threat from Pakistan, as “ever lengthening list of extremist groups operating in Pakistan’s northern wilds”.
The jihadists working from Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and other places are not just targeting India or the United States — they are targeting the entire civil society. Their aim is to establish what they consider a Quranic society where girls would not be allowed to go to school, women would be fully covered from head to toe when stepping out of the house, the criminal and civil laws as adumbrated in their holy book would be enforced strictly and anyone even uttering a word against the content of the holy book would be beheaded.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned Pakistan that it will face serious consequences if the next terror attack is traced to Pakistan. Her statement follows Shahzad’s confession that he received training in South Waziristan, Pakistan. The way the jihadi threat is evolving, terror groups will only laugh at the US’ warning. And anyway, what has the US actually done? It has persuaded the Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to resume his force’s war against the Pakistani Taliban. But America’s warnings seem ineffective against the jihadi wall that the Pakistan establishment has built to promote a medieval society.
It must be galling for the Americans that the terror plots are now being hatched in their vulnerable urban conglomerations and that jihadi terror can so easily cross the Atlantic and mingle with citizens of the US. “There is no doubt that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other Pakistani groups are now recruiting among Americans”, says the Time magazine report.
In India, too, they are succeeding in recruiting. If the Pune bomb blast is any clue, the local recruits could well carry out an attack as vicious as 26/11 in Mumbai. As in the Times Square plot, it would be Pakistani jihadis who would be directing this event from their safe havens while our “secularists” would be shedding tears for the “innocent” young men conducting the murderous event.
Is there something in the way Islam is preached and practised that makes its faithful vulnerable to jihadi propaganda? This question can no longer be swept under the carpet with the claim that Islamic scholars have denied any connection between the interpretation of their faith and the terror mindset.
Look at the type of demonstrations which are held even if a single doubt is expressed about the practices of the religion, let alone its doctrine.
A cartoon in far away Denmark provokes violent demonstrations in Meerut, followed by calls for fund collection to reward the man who comes forward to murder the cartoonist. In fact, one of the tasks given to Headley by his Pakistani handlers was to plot the murder of the Danish cartoonist. Is this total rejection of any dissidence, any questioning and any discussion of the faith responsible for creating a mindset that is vulnerable to terrorist propaganda?
India has had a long tradition of Hindus and Muslims living together. The proliferation of cloistered madrasa education and its funding by the orthodox Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia have widened the divide between the two communities even where harmony existed before.
A true scholar of Islam like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad failed to win mass support in his community while a lawyer-turned-politician, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, led the community and partitioned the country. Why did the bulk of Muslims in pre-Independence era reject a man like Mahatma Gandhi and choose to follow Jinnah who was not even a practising Muslim?
A report has now surfaced about how Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic cleric in New York who spent 21 of his 39 years in the US as an imam and proclaimed that post-9/11 his people had come to the US to build and not to destroy, is now hiding in Yemen leading terror attacks on America. Awlaki recently declared on his website: “America as a whole has now turned into a nation of evil… jihad against America is binding upon myself. Just as it is binding on every other Muslim”.
What connects the Times Square bomber and the German Bakery bomber in Pune is such an overarching mindset. Worldwide cooperation in anti-terror plans can succeed in averting incident after incident but the terrorists count on one event succeeding out of a hundred failures. Unless the civilised nations threatened by such relentless terror begin to focus on attacking this mindset itself, we cannot hope for a terror-free world.

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at

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