Spectacles of terror: From Islamic fundamentalism to the ‘un’holy Jihad
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 Sep , 2017

Since 9/11, the global press has exclusively covered all major conflicts, from Syria to Libya, to African Union joint task force against Boko Haram in Africa. Witnessing some of these intense conflicts, we come across many terminologies, frequently used by strategic and security experts, one of most frequently used is “Islamic Fundamentalism”. Islamic Fundamentalism, radical by nature, is violent by decree and poses grave threat to the “peace and security” in the global world today. An ideology which criticises democracy, rule of law, peace and prosperity, first came into limelight during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Many religious and political thinkers credit Islamic Fundamentalism as “more dangerous and violent” than communism, with the ability to collapse the global order in the 21st century.

Islamic fundamental radicalistic factions have conducted acts of violence against the “government institutions” using terrorising means such as bombing, kidnapping, assassinations and mass ethnic killings. They not only target government institutions or military installations, but also kidnap foreign tourists, diplomats, members of foreign delegations, journalists, any individual with a “media value” which they can utilise to spread their message.

Today, Islamic Fundamentalism has emerged as a global threat. The traditional “ideological” war between the West and Communism has been replaced with a new “religious” warfare between the West and radical Islamic fundamentalists. 

In the middle of this “extreme violence” another term security experts prominently use is “jihad”, commonly used by militant factions as a “defence”, justifying their actions while giving a touch of “freedom”. Jihad is usually employed by militant rebel factions to throw off a government established with “foreign” help, a symbol of “self-determination” as stated in the international law. It is important for policy makers and strategic leadership to understand that the “use of words” can be deceiving and the meaning vary for one country to another. So, according to the militant factions, terrorism is a way to attain “true freedom” and can be successful only when the “infidels” or the “non-believers” are eliminated as it is the “will of Allah”. In Arab nations, acts of terrorism are none other than a “violent” form of holy war, or Jihad and terrorists are seen as “liberators” against infidels. Moreover, in other scenarios, terrorism is seen as a “political vendetta”, since it claims the lives of innocent masses just to prove or make a point. In the light of some violent events, many nations did try to justify these acts, in the eyes of international law, it is a criminal offence alone.

With nations “vulnerable” to terror “plague”, it is important to know what the future holds, particularly in the event of massive attraction of “youths” towards Islamic Fundamentalism, and Jihad, coming to new shores and enrolling in “terror factions”. Violent factions spreading in South East Asia today paves a new way for Washington to “reassess” its strategy especially after years of “concentration” in the Middle East. With terror factions strengthening its bases in Asia and Washington’s “focus” in Middle East, the road towards the end of terrorism will be long and the journey for peace will be “violent”.

Understanding the terms

Two of the frequent terms strategic experts use are “Islamic Fundamentalism and Jihad”, frequently linked with each other. In an after action report of “one of the gruesome attack on the US”, often considered as the most “violent” militant attack on mankind, the then Bush Administration highlighted the names of some “active terror organizations”, particularly, Al Qaeda, under the then leadership of Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas, along with Hezbollah, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, followed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the then President of Iraq, Saddam Hussain. In an effort to support his campaign “War on Terror”, President Bush Jr. began his “counter-terrorism” operations under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom.

(Not clear??)It is moreover, important for policy makers to understand the reasons behind their inclination towards jihad and their recruitment for militancy irrespective of their religion. In order to do so, policy makers must keep the socio-economic, psychological conditions and theological and historical past into knowledge.

Islamic Fundamentalism: The Origin

The term “fundamentalism”, now used in relation with Islam, appeared first in Christianity. Religion experts link the term fundamentalism to “Anglo-Saxon” era. Protestant Christian fundamentalists held that Bible must be “globally” accepted and interpreted literally. The “grass root” definition of fundamentalism means a Protestant Christian who emphases the “word by word” interpretation of the Bible and implements it in his daily life. If we re-define the term in the context of Islam, fundamentalism would be “strictly observing Islamic fundamentals, literally following the verses of Qur’an.

For those who follow the “literal” definition of fundamentalism, would be known as fundamentalists. When masses discuss Islamic fundamentalism, people often link it to “religious struggle” often equating it to the crusades, linking it to “extremism” and “religious aggression”. Often considered by the masses as radical, extremist, terrorising in nature, masses particularly of the West find it “incompatible” with the “western” concept of democracy. Islamic scholars define religious fundamentalism as a “politico-religious movement” that aims to bring back the “golden era of the Prophet Muhammad and the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs”, a time of “pure Islam”. Thus, Islamic fundamentalists frequently propagate/brainwash their message to communities that relish western culture.

Moreover, Islamic Fundamentalists view, America, their allies, particularly Israel, their enemies. According to them, western “socio-political” hegemony, history of colonialism, and western concept of “democracy” are primarily responsible for the decline of Muslim communities.

The Doctrine

The “era” of Islamic Fundamentalism goes back as early as 1920s. Still in its youth, Islamic Fundamentalism was “socially” complicated. It was linked with “western imperialism” and the Western colonization of densely Muslim regions.

The “Western imperial” past continued to haunt Muslim communities, especially the Arabs, the sole imagination of Western domination agitated the “radicals”. Forced to thrive in poverty and backwardness, or western concept of “underdevelopment”, aggression towards the oppressors were growing.

The vacuum that was created in the absence of “leaderless” Muslim communities, gave birth to a “violent” sect, which not only effectively addressed the “backwardness” within Muslims but also triggered a chain reaction which continues to attract and radicalise Muslim youths today. Salafism or Salafiyya, or “return to the ancestors,” was the brain child of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida. Similar to all radical fundamentalists movement, it was against the rule of law, and believed in “super national” powers especially the ones blessed with charisma given by Allah), and existence of one god, the messenger Allah.

Hasan al-Banna was the founder of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.   Mawlana Abu al-Ala Mawdudi established the Islamic Society in India in the year of 1941. They shared extraordinary political understanding even though they were living in two different countries. According to them, Muslims are weak because of their subservience of weak Muslim societies and their ignorance to travel the God’s decided path. Only those Muslims are ignorant who believe in secularism, profess distorted ideology and value more to the West, or other ideologies of East and Marxism. In an effort to bring back the Muslim honour, pride, power, or resurrect past victorious Islamic kingdoms Muslims must return to Islam, and re-implement the laws established by God and rule the state, society or its subjects under the God’s defined laws. Harnessing of Science and Technology should be strictly “Islamic”, in an effort to prevent Western influence.

Sayyid Qutb was one of the prominent figures in Muslim Brotherhood leadership of Egypt and religious experts credit Qutb for founding militant Islam. It is important to note that, there is relatively no difference in political and social ideologies between Qutb and al-Banna, but they vary differently in methods of carrying struggle. Qutb not only denied the existent socio-economic, political order, hegemony of the West, but actively professed “violent” form of struggle to his subjects. He professed the duty of every Muslim to participate in the “holy war”. Declaring an “all-out” war against the “non-believers” was a sacred duty of Muslims. It is also important to understand that, during this time, Muslim communities were facing numerous “hiccups” in socio-political scenarios in the East.

Many Muslim countries in the East, failed to restore their economy and culture after successfully establishing a “sovereign” state. Moreover, the state and the society were in violent confrontation, hanging in the balance between the Western world and industrial take over. Often fuelled by political corruption, social inequalities, the gap between the rich and the poor grew phenomenally wideshattering the dreams of an Islamic resurrection. However, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran resurfaced hope in masses. Even years after its victory, it failed to provide significant stability in Iranian “socio-politics”, as hoped by many. Under the umbrella of “secular and liberal” politics, the West poses a grave threat to “sovereign” nations in the East.

Pressured by a changing “cold-war” order, Muslim countries were forced to choose between East, West or Communism. For radical Islamists, Muslim rulers were “sold” to the Western oppressors or “liberals” in the East and became “victims” of oppressors between the East and the West.

Importantly, the unconditional support of the West to Israel is one of the significant reasons behind the “fall and decline” Arab nations, despite their “inclination” towards the West for support. Hence, the Muslim leaders of today can neither protect nor defend the Muslim interests nor can they reclaim the lost glory of Muslim kingdoms in the region. For radical Islamic fundamentalists, they are left with only one option, overthrow the existing system.

Reasons behind Islamic Fundamentalism


The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism is credited mainly to widening gap between the rich and the poor. As stated in the Human Development Report of 2001, the income levels of the East phenomenally declined after 1980. The world revenue share of the East was recorded to 2.4% share in the early 1960s, which reached to 1.8% in the beginning of 1980 while falling to an all-time low of 1.3% in the 1990. On the contrary, the richest countries reached over 71.62% in the early 1960s, over 78.3% in 1980s and 83.7% in 1990.

On the domestic front, the rift between the rich and the poor were deep. The rich which were 20% of the population shared over 70%-80% of national income, whereas the poor nations were left with 5%.Moreover, the economic deterioration in the East phenomenally increased in the early 1980s.

The radical Islamic Fundamentalists harnessed this situation to their objective, who radically propagated the messages of Islam and attracted thousands of “unemployed” youths in the name of Allah. Islam became the epicentre of “hope and justice” for people who lost hope in the political system, and for those who lost hope in their lives.

Political Scenario

The East witnessed a rise in Anti-imperialist, anti-opportunist uprising after the end the of World War I, where the uprising was more nationalist in nature than religious. The combined arms of Arab defeat in the hands of Israel during the 1967-Six-day war paved a path for radical Islamic Fundamentalism in the East. The defeat was carried by radical Islamists as a “weakness of liberal Islamic nations” in the East and “western” inclined leadership. The masses failed to interpret the secular agenda of top political leadership rising masses towards their top political leaders. The fall of “once Arab prestige” Gamal Abd el-Nasser especially in for those who viewed him as the “leader of Arab nationalism”who took harsh measures against Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, was carefully harnessed by Islamic Fundamentalist.

After the decisive Arab defeat in the 1967 Six-day war, another “boost” for Islamic Fundamentals was the Iranian revolution of 1979which rose Islamic fundamental groups in power. The Islamic revolution in Iran gave the necessary significant boost to radical Islamic Fundamentalist in the region. In the events that unfurled during the Islamic Revolution, Iran became a “contentious challenger” for Washington, particularly after it stormed American Embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats as hostage between November 4, 1979 until January 21, 1981, paving a way for many regional and local fundamentalist groups to rise against the West and rally behind Tehran.

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, Khomeini praised the “rise of Allah’s forces against Communist oppressors”. Furling the “Islam” flag, the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan received massive support from Washington and Muslim nations. Many radical Islamic group members, who had joined the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, returned to their “hinterlands” trained as “guerrilla leaders.” This also became a supportive reason behind the rise of Islamic Fundamentalist terror, particularly in and around the Middle East.

The final step behind the “fundamentalist terror” spread in the Middle East resulted during the Gulf War of 1990-91. The decisive defeat of Iraq during the war, shattered the Arabs. This decisive defeat of Arabs was incomparable to the defeat of Palestine in 1948 or in the hands of Israel in the 1967 Six-day war. This gave the “long needed opportunity” for Islamic Fundamentalist to declare all-out war against the “western oppressors” to protect the Pan-Arabism and Islamic integrity. In relation with the pan-Arabism movement and anti-West struggle, Muslims are “wearing the garment” with a radical colour. It will not be incorrect to consider “pan-Arabism movement in the East as a nationalist struggle but with a radical face of Islam.” Hence, many radical Islamic fundamentalist view the result of the Gulf war as “Western ways to dominate the East” solely leaving the duty to “eliminate western hegemony in the Middle East to god’s chosen warriors”. Thus, groups propagating radical Islamic fundamentalism have become more “romantic” in nature, attracting thousands of youths.

The agenda of “Anti-West and Anti-American” has received massive support from radical groups from across the Middle East. Muslims feel that their sacrifice during the “cold war era” went all in vein, as in the struggle of two global powers, America emerged as victorious. According to many experts US turned out to be meritorious. However, the real victors were the Islamic Fundamentalists. The decisive victory against the Soviets have trembled the “hegemony of the West” particularly for the masses in Middle East. Since, the Taliban pose a massive challenge against the Sovietsthey could too challenge the super power, America, too. Today, radical Islamic Fundamentalist not only poses a grave challenge to the world, but to US, in particular.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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One thought on “Spectacles of terror: From Islamic fundamentalism to the ‘un’holy Jihad

  1. While crying foul against the Jihadists who are not doing other than struggling to evict the foreign exploitation that had been blighting the Arab and Muslim world for the past centuries, the Indian abomination created by the same exploiters for their own good, is still functioning and kicking for survival. It’s time the many enslaved Nations that have been suffering for most of the pas 70 years at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists, to rise up and kick out this alien rule that dictate terms according to the filthy Vedas of Aryans. This Aryan hegemony is over stepping its limits lately by encouraging and abetting Genocides by particular branches of Buddhist fundamentalists. Mad-man and uneducated tea-vendor Modi went far and wide to support Myanmar’s Genocide by claiming the Genocide to a fight on terror. All these need to be taken seriously be the oppressed and enslaved, and cut off the venomous snakes head so that it never breaths again!

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