Terrorism & Politics
The critical relation appears essentially to be between terrorism and politics. If there were no politics, there wouldn’t be terrorism. Politics is the reason behind the burst of terrorism in all its forms and colors. Terrorism is an organized crime but also a political one, from the point of view of motives and aims. Without this political factor, it would just be an ordinary crime and its perpetrators would ordinary criminals whether, whether they were individuals, gangs or a mafia.
To continue with issues concerning definition, it is necessary to distinguish between terrorism and religion, and to declare innocent from terrorism and its outrageous practices, all religions. If it is argued that there are terrorist acts perpetrated in the name of religion, a close examination would reveal the political aims of these acts and the truth that religion has only been taken on as a cover to attract some innocent people to the ‘cause’, and in an attempt to gain false legitimacy.
The best accepted definitions of terrorism emphasise that this is a violent crime with multiple forms and shapes, various motives and aims, and that it is committed to destroying legitimacy and human values, and to intimidating and terrorizing societies. It is, by the nature of its own complicated composition, an international crime, plotted, planned, executed, and with its instruments and agents drawn form more than one country. It is indiscriminate in character and does not distinguish between various categories of its victims, and it cannot be accepted under any political, ethnic or cultural pretext.
It is, however, crucial that we do not confuse terrorism as a clearly recognised criminal act, and resistance against occupation, which is a legitimate right according to international law and treaties.
A terrorist act is, thus, a kind of crime manipulated and used to achieve certain goals that are political, in the first place, and that may reflect the interests of a certain ruler, country or group, and are intended to consolidate, extend or secure political power. By and large, these political goals are ‘racist’, partisan, or otherwise illegitimate, and cannot be publicly defended, nor do they admit to any divergence of views or demands of proof or evidence. Terrorism, consequently, seeks refuge in dark environments and in secret means, and creates alliances with any party or person, even with the devil himself if it can, to achieve its goals.
Terrorism is a foolish devil without homeland or identity. Terrorist groups join forces and cooperate with mercenaries, with organised criminal gangs, with the smugglers of weapons, with drug dealers, with extortionists, with forgers of false identities and passports, and with other criminals. Terrorists, consequently, destroy the values and principles that are held sacred by all religions and ethical doctrines.
Religions are sometimes forced into wars. But these are necessarily defensive wars; the defenders of religion do not take the first initiative, and fight only if all other peaceful means fail. Moreover, even where war becomes necessary, while all arts and tactics of warfare may be applied, including intelligence operations, those who engage in a religious war will never betray or stab in the back, or kill a prisoner of war or a civilian, or destroy civilian buildings and disrupt civilian life.
In the same way, religion – which is the core of positive and mature thinking that aims to promote life – cannot accept violence as the sole or main way to secure its goals, and this is particularly the case where such violence is random or indiscriminate.
We may here remember the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi who started his struggle early in the 20th, century to free India from the occupation and his means in front of canons and rifles was his will and principles, and he succeeded through the peaceful civil confrontation in making storms that over influenced all kind of weapons.
When the great leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was engaged in India’s freedom movement, Egypt was at the same time fighting the same enemy for the same goal. Mostafa Kamel, the young Egyptian leader was dead and Saad Zaghloul came had taken on the mantle of the peaceful struggle. Documents show that there were contacts between him and Gandhi, which was not at all strange, since both were struggling through peaceful means to reach peaceful ends. India created the great civil disobedience movement under Gandhi’s leadership. Similarly, there was in Egypt the 1919 revolution under Zaghlool’s leadership; this was a revolution that witnessed waves of people flooding the streets in support of their demand for independence, fearlessly confronting the bullets of the occupying forces that were aimed at their bare chests.
Random violence and killing is not a positive way of the intellect or of true religion, or of revolution. When decay prevailed in Egypt as a result of collaboration between imperialism and some localforces, a group of young officers took the initiative to act on behalf of the oppressed people. Thoughts about assassinating symbols of the decaying regime were brought up, and there was even a failed attempt. However, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader of the group, took the decision to halt all such operations on the grounds that revolutionary methods do not accept resort to random killings under any pretext, but choose the pathways of organised political action to fulfil the people’s will.
Terrorism, thus, is totally disconntected with religion, with revolutionary doctrines, and with the intellect, and is the instrument only of the enemies of life. If further evidence of this truth is needed, it can be found in the activities of the so-called ‘Islamic terrorist’ groups, who use religion as an excuse to justify what they do.
To touch the core of the truth, we have to go back through documents and references of more than a century ago, when we find dsetails of a conference held in Switzerland in 1896 under the presidency of Theodor Hertzel. Here, a secret agenda was prepared that used the Jewish religion as a way to achieve political goals shaped by the ideology of ‘Zionism’, which misstates the texts of the Jewish religion and the teachings of the prophet Moses, peace be upon him, to serve these goal. The protocols of Zeon’s sages were already distorted to create the unethical bases for Zionist racism, articulating the propositions that the Jews were the chosen people of God and that others don’t deserve to live. The Ten Commandments were also distorted, applying the moral principles only to and among the Jews. Thus, the principles, ‘Do not kill’, ‘Do not steal,’ etc., were interpreted to mean ‘Do not kill Jews’, ‘Do not steal from the Jews’, but these prohibitions did not apply to practices against others.
Towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, moreover, we find that there is a decision to work towards the creation of a ‘homeland’ for the Jews on an ethnic racist basis. At this point of time, its location was not clear in their minds, but the important thing was the decision to build such a country. During the preliminary search, the choices swung between various places in Africa and Asia, till they eventually decided on Palestine on the presumption and authority of certain ‘religious memories’. This ignored the well known fact that Palestine had stronger memories for Islam, as the location of the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine of the Muslims; and for Christianity, since Bethleham witnessed the birth of Christ, and where the Church of Easter and many holy places, including those in Jerusalem, had strong emotive and religious connotations. There was, clearly, much more here for Islam and for Christianity than for the Jews, but they found it convenient to add a religious touch to their political goals. They began their fight on these bases, and occupied territories in Palestine and surrounding countires, using the power of money and intrigue thill they secured a promise from the British foreign affairs minister, a promise that was condemned by historians, including the Britisher, Arnold Toynbee, who wrote, "We were taking it upon ourselves to give away something that was not ours to give. We were promising rights of some kind in the Palestinian Arabs’ country to a third party." The Jewish writer, Arthur Koestler, summed up the enormity of the injustice when he described the Balfour Declaration as a document in which "one nation promised a second the country of a third."
Zionism then started a guerilla war and terrorism through secret and immoral acts of violence against the citizens of the country whose lands they had seized. This is no fabrication or falsification – it is a reality that is admitted by Israeli sources themselves. This has been documented by a new generation of Israeli historians, who cite tens of facts and cases of the falsification of history, and give evidence of Israeli terrrorist practices, and identify, among their perpetrators, many who are famous leaders of Israel today. These revised histories have documented how they killed men, women and children, seized houses and farms, committed massacres through the years, assassinated all their opponent in many countries. That was terrorism in the whole meaning of the word, with political motives and goals, though it was executed under a religious cover.
It is not necessary to proceed further with this line of analysis. It is sufficient to say that these realities are obvious to those who know the facts, and who are willing to look upon them without prejudice. And this is the a prelude to the emergence of another phenomenon, because every action has a reaction. It was as a reaction to this Zionist attack in its Jewish guise that another movement started on the Islamic side.
Before we focus on the emergence of this phenomenon, it is necessary to note that the use of religion for political ends is not new to humanity or to history. The concept of fundamentalism emerged in the middle ages, when some Christian religious leaders began to use their religious position to control all aspects of both life and Faith. They arrogated themselves the final word in religious matters, and established increasing influence in secular matters by influencing ruler by the grant of what they called ‘indulgences of forgiveness’ that were meant to open up the gates of heaven. Conflict did, of course, emerge between the Catholic and Protestant doctrines, and this conflict still persists. In Britain, the church is still, in principle, controlled by the monarch. There are other, less obvious, avenues of religious influence over state politics. Even the constitutional structure governance in the United States, committed as it is to ‘secularism’, has almost always ensured the election of a Protestant Christian President – except for the rare exception, such as John F. Kennedy. None of this is, of course, within the ambit of terrorism; but it does exemplify the use and influence of religion in the wrong place. It is evident that a country’s religious identity is substantially determined by the religios affiliation of its majority community, though this may be consistent with a policy of respect for all other religions and the equal rights and duties of all citizens, regardless of their religion.
Religion goes deep into the soul with its power, and is necessarily distanced from all acts described as terrorism. Nevertheless, what happened in the Zionist case elicited a strong reaction, and a religious group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was formed in Egypt, exactly ten years after the Balfour Agreement. The birth of the Muslim Brotherhood occurred under the sight and benediction of British Intelligence, who had the upper hadn in Egypt since the British occupation in 1882. The British support to this Islamic group was the result of two considerations. First, it created an Islamic cell that would help counter the Zionist movement, which had begun to direct its violence against the British authority as well. The British, at this stage, described the Zionist gangs as terrroists, and included in their number Yitzhak Shamir who later became Israel’s Prime Minister. Second, it helped realise the strategy of ‘divide and rule’, protecting British imperial interests in the region by encouraging ethnic struggles between local populations and factions, giving them the upper hand.
Over time, as the Zionist gangs pursued their political goals through increasingly violent activities, including killing and torture, they clung more and more to their religious identity and sought religious justifications for their actions. On the other hand, the Muslim religious group also tended progressively to employ violence, especially after the 1930s and 1940s, which was the ear of armed militias under the flag of various political parties and doctrines. There was, thus, the Haganah and other gangs contesting under the flag and principles of Zionism, projecting the Jews as the chosen people of God. In Germany, the Naxi militia worked under Hitler’s leadership and projected the ideology of the ‘pure’ German race as the ‘master race’. Then there were Mussolini’s Fascist gangs in Italy. It was in this context that some forces in the East were also manipulated by different intelligence agencies.
It was in these years that, by the end of the 1940s, and with substantial help from British intelligence, the Islamic Liberation Party was established on the West Bank in Palestine, to confront the Zionist gangs who were, by then, in open conflict with British troops, and also to confront the tide of communist thinking which was gradually sweeping across the region, promising to ‘fight the injustices’ of imperialism. The British found it convenient to thwart the Marxists by projecting them as athiests who were a threat to all religions, and and also claimed that this political ideology allowed women to have more than one husband at the same time. Islamic sentiments were thus provoked to counter the advance of Left Wing ideologies into the region, and this was, importantly, done by British Intelligence.
It was from this organisation, the Islamic Liberation Party, that the Islamic Jihad Group was established in Egypt, and went on to execute the terrorist operation in Cairo in 1977, when they made an abortive attack on the Technical Military Faculty, and kidnapped and subsequently killed Sheikh Abdel Razak El Zahaby, a religious leader who was also the minister of religious endowments. Such operations continued thereafter, either executed by the same group, or by others that secceeded from it or that were established on its model. These groups called themselves, and were labelled by others, as ‘Islamic’, though nothing could be further from from religion than their violent activities. Islam refutes such conduct completely. But there are groups that wear the Islamic robe and that work to fulfil the passions and ambitions of their leaders who seek power and domination, or to execute the strategies of foreign powers, spreading sedition and conflict in society, distorting the image of their religion in the process. It is interesting that the leaders of most of these groups lived abroad, often in Europe, and worked openly. No nation, niether the US nor any other, ever moved against these leaders, until terrorism eventually reached out and affected them.
This is the context within which we must assess the events of the late 1970s, when the West started moving against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, in order to prevent Russia from realising its twin and long enduring objectives to secure a warm water sure, and access to Arabian oil, and to block off the possibility of the emergence of a Soviet-Chinese axis that would control all of Asia.
The United States orchestrated this movement, deploying not only weapons and resources, but also religion, against the Soviet. It was the US that mobilised youth, raising the slogan of Islamic Jihad to recruit thousands of Arabs and Afghanis, training them and funding them. The Soviet Union eventually retreated from Afghanistan for many reasons, one of which was the activities of these West-supported fighters. The result was that this group of fighters thought that they alone had humbled that great power, and were inspired to continue with their struggle, now redirecting their violence against other countires, perpetrating extreme and often suicidal operations. These fighters relied on presumed Sheikhs and Ulema, who pretended to have the wisdom and the knowledge, and who claimed to better comprehend and explain the Koran, when they were, in reality, imponent and ignorant.
It was the true men of religion and the intellectuals who began to confront these extremists long before the security forces and the troops did so. They exposed the true nature of these groups, making the common people and all citizens aware of the activities of these ambitious political organisations, exposing their networks of organised crime, their support to political parties, groups and powers that had no relationship whatsoever with religion.
Terrorism, as already stated, is a foolish devil without brain or religion, or doctrine or identity. And a terrorist is only a professional mercenary and killer. All other pretensions are a fraud and a swindle which are opposed by both religion and reason, and which are in clear moral opposition against the values of humanity, even as they strengthen the forces of ignorance and backwardness. The essential and original relation is between terrorism and unethical politics. Terrorism focuses on the destruction of life because it has no logic to confront other perspectives, or to persuade others. The relation between terrorism and this pattern of politics is one of time and place; each leaves its imprint on the other.
Crisis management, and what’s happening now
There is a well known aphorism: "To be able to prescribe the medicine you must first know the disease". Applied to the art and science of crisis management, this translates to the principle that, if a crisis is not resolved through a process of study, analysis and planning, it will ‘solve itself’ randomly. Thus, in the context of the crisis that manifested itself in the events of September 11, 2001, President Mubarak announced his perspective during his European tour that the media abbreviated as, "No to terrorism. No to random, blind war." The President raised questions regarding the cause of the crisis, but at the same time rejected terrorism, and with it the random solution that terrorism proposed. He clearly aligned himself with the search of a solution based on the scientific study and objective analysis of the causation of the crisis. Such study and analysis would necessarily demand a wide vision and understanding of all that has happened and that is happening in the international theatre.
If we look, for example, at the main suspect, Osama Bin Laden, and examine the causes of his emergence as a central figure in the international crisis of terrorism, we will be forced to talk about the ‘Arab Afghans’, of whom he is a leader. Such an examination will reveal many mysteries. The story begins in the late nineteen seventies, after the communist coup in Afghanistan against the royal regime in 1978. The new government asked for Soviet help, and Russian troops were sent in to back up the new coup leaders. USA found the situation unacceptable, with since it created a Soviet base in the middle of Asia and enlarged the sphere of communist influence – apart from bringing Russian ambitions regarding access to warm waters and the Gulf’s oil fields closer to realisation. The United States, consequently, worked to construct an international alliance to confront the new regime in Afghanistan, to greater legitimacy in the region, and, most significantly, to use others as ‘fuel’ in the conflict in order to avoid sacrificing her own children.
Unlike the present, the situation at that time allowed for highly secretive operations, and the activities and campaigns of this alliance received little publicity. It was at this stage that the slogan of Jihad made its appearance in the Afghan conflict, and the entire confrontation – essentially one between the Soviet Union and America, with Afghanistan as a mere proxy – was given a religious ‘Islamic’ colour. The Arab and Afghan fighters were encouraged to believe that the war in Afghanistan was a confrontation between ‘Islamic jihad’ and ‘atheistic communist expansion’. A deal was struck between Washington and a number of Arab countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other and Gulf countries, according to which Washington would provide the necessary planning, training, weapons, etc., while the latter group would provide the people to fight as well as some financial support. The result was that the Arab governments actively called for jihad, incited their people to volunteer for the war in Afghanistan, and allowed religious organisations to enter the fray to mobilise ‘mujahiddeen’ and to collect money.
The cadres so raised included hundreds of Egyptians, Sudanese and Yemenites, who were dispatched to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Some of them were certainly motivated by religious sentiments, but most were tempted by the money, because the financial awards were big and paid for in dollars. One of these volunteers was Ossama Bin Laden, who went not only as a Mojahid fighter in his twenties, full of youth, energy and passion, but also as a heavyweight financier. He and his brothers were very wealthy, their father was especially close to the late Saudi King Abdel Aziz Bin Saud. The family had established many companies, including a huge construction business that had contributed to the works for the enlargement of the Holly Kaaba and Mosque of the Prophet. For this and other reasons, Ossama bin Laden had a special status among the Mojahideen in Afghanistan, and he emerged gradually as a leader. His cooperation with American Intelligence increased, and he received large quantities of modern and varied weapons. Bin Laden established a structured organisation including the following components:
This consolidation of these organisations and processes continued till the Soviet withdrawal, which was the result, not principally, as the Mujahideen belieed, of their relentless fighting – though this was a definite contributing factor – but because of major shifts in the international situation, as well as dramatic changes within the Soviet Union. These combined to increase Soviet reluctance to remain bogged down in the Afghan quagmire.
The Soviet withdrawal, however, gave the Arab Afghans and the Mujahiddeen drawn from many parts of the world a sense of heroism and the belief that they had humbled one of the two Super Powers of the world. They had also acquired enormous combat experience and expertise in guerilla warfare, and had established an elaborate structure of organisations and cells. It was, in a sense, natural that they decided to invest this wealth and experience to continue their ‘Jihad’ elsewhere, often against regimes in their own countries. The result was that, when the Mujahiddeen forces entered Kabul in April 1992, the ‘Arab Afghans’ and foreign Mujahiddeen dispersed in many directions. A significant proportion of those who had been working in the sphere of humanitarian services, of course, remained in Afghan, helping to provide relief to Afghan refugees and others in the devastated country. Some joined in with the Afghan militia led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmad Shah Masood and Abdel Rassul Saif. A third segment, the one that was to prove the most dangerous both for the Arabs and for the world at large, chose the path of terrorist violence in and against other countries.
These were the groups that established an elaborate global network in their search for sources of finance, weapons, training facilities, safe havens, information, publicity and political influence. They also created numerous cells, some simply to observe and develop intelligence on target societies, others to facilitated a diffusion of their ideas, to establish media and political centres, as they did, particularly in Germany, Britain, Austria, USA, among other countries.
Bin Laden was a central figure in the evolving drama, and throughout the processes of development and consolidation of his terrorist networks, the United States and other Western nations did nothing to prevent the growth and strengthening of his organisational structures and its increasingly visible symbols. On the contrary, member organisations and cadres were provided easy asylum and residence for many reasons, which included their strong relations that had been established with Western intelligence organisations during the Afghan campaign. These overlaid older relations, such as those that existed between British Intelligence and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
A case in point is that of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian accused of terrorism in the 1993 World Trad Centre bombing in New York. I recall that I visited the United States in October 1992. At Washington, I received an invitation to a meeting at the Center for Middle East Studies, where I interacted with a number of advisors and experts, including Martin Indic, the manager of the Centre, who later became an assistant to Bill Clinton’s the National Security Advisor, subsequently, ambassador to Israel, and later assistant to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He initiated discussions on the subject by expressing – or pretending to express – his sympathies on the sectarian seditious movements in Egypt and connected violence just a day earlier in Suhag City in Upper Egypt. I tried to clarify that there was no sectarian sedition in Egypt, and tried to elaborate on my perceptions of the problem of terrorism. Within this context, I asked him how Omar Abdel Rahman got a visa to enter USA, when he was an Egyptian who had been to jail on charges of involvement in the assassination of President Anwar El Sadat. On his release from jial, Rahman had been permitted to travel to Saudi Arabia to make the Omra – a holy practice in Islam – in accordance with his constitutional rights to travel abroad. Instead of returning to Egypt, he went on to Sudan and stayed with his friend Sadel Abdel Maged, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood there. From there, and in just one week, he received an American visa, a task that would be extraordinarily difficult for any normal Egyptian in his own country, and much more difficult if it is sought from another country. So how did that happened?
Martin and his colleagues expressed their astonishment, did this actually happen?!
I went on to say, let that be, but tell me, why is he here now? And how is it that his visa is extended again an again?
Martin Indic said: according to my information, he married an American, so he has the right to stay.
I said: your law forbids polygamy, so how did he marry an American?
He said: I don’t know.
I added further, ‘Don’t you know that he issued a statement expressing his approval for the assassination of a number of intellectuals, and that he endorses the use of political violence?’
Martin Indic was obviously evasive, though he clearly knew a great deal about Rahman. It is not necessary to go on with the rest of a very long discussion, but the fact was that Indic was close to the circle of decision makers, the CIA and its information centres, but was not willing to acknowlege American ambivalence on these issues – an attitude shared by the entire US intelligence and strategic community at that time. The truth is, the US and other Western countries maintained their relations with these groups and their leaders so that they could arm-twist any Arab regime that did not toe their line. The fact is, the existence of these groups weakens their countries of origin, facilitates external control, and contributes to dispersal and disunity among Islamic states.
Before the October 1973 War, the Arab countries were poised to emerge as a sixth power centre in the world, and this seemed to threaten Western thinkers and strategists, as well as the globalisation propagandists. Consequently, the entire Islamist world was reconstructed in the image of the West’s ‘Enemy Number One’ after the fall of the Soviet Union. Of course, all this is ordinarily missed out in the Western discourse, and whenever the issue of terrorists acting against Arab regimes was raised, and a demand for extradition made, they would plead on a strict conformity with international Human Rights norms and processes. If the Arab countries argued that the individual in question had been convicted and sentenced, they would argue that this was by a military court, and could not be accepted. If the conviction had been delivered by a civil judge, they would argue that this was done when the country was in a state of emergency, or that the sentence was ‘exceptional’ and thus unacceptable. Eventually, when all other arguments failed, they would simply deny the man’s existence or presence on their soil. The argument was always that terrorist violence in Arab and Islamic countries was, in fact, ‘political opposition’ or ‘sectarian sedition’, as Martin Indic expressed it, and was the consequence of the absence of democracy and freedom in these countries.
All this time, the Islamist terrorist organisations were consolidating their hold, and men like Ayman El Zawahry emerged and created linkages with Osama bin Laden. It was more than evident that the world provided fertile soil for their growth. People who had strong attacments to their religions, especially those who had little education, were most vulnerable to the seduction of their ideologies; others, the young, the restless and the unemployed, were tempted with attractive salaries. Others still found the restrictive political and social structures of their homelands oppressive, and joined in with the violent reaction to thse. All these groups were backed and supported by various foreign intelligence agencies, with their hidden aims at weakening and destroying states, and of undermining their unity and progress. There were also other props that strengthened these groups and the causes they propagated. The most important of these was the Israeli racist occupation of Palestine and its barbarous practices against the Arab people, including its massacres and other violent acts in contravention of every international convention and law – all committed in full view and with the blessings of the great powers. There were also other regions where similar practices emerged, such as Bosnia, where the Arab Afghan worked side by side with the local Muslims. This was another conflict that resulted in the emergence of another militia, which came to be known as the ‘Arab Bosnians’ and which was later to join up with the Arab Afghans under the leadership of Osama bin Laden.
Many countries, including Egypt and Algeria, suffered immensely as a result of the continuous escalation of terrorist violence through the 1990s. It was clear that the West was not particularly upset by this course of events. There was, in fact, a great deal of propaganda and reportage that projected these terrorists as heroes and adventurers, even as the West continued to protect the leaders of these movements, and to provide them with platforms to air their views at various conventions and discussion fora.
It was necessary, during this period, to arrive at a final definition on the character and identity of these groups – whether they were really Islamic or represented other forces and interests. Such a definition needed to be based on objective criteria, and on thorough research, because there has evidently been a strong hidden agenda, a hidden war, that has been executed through terrorist movements apparently claiming religious (Islamic) inspiration. These movements have had no real relation with religion, but have been part of a conspiracy to exhaust the Arab nations and bring them to their knees, to waste away their emerging strengths, so that they are ‘easy to lead.’
So it wasthat terrorism under religious pretexts rose unhindered through the seventies, the eighties and the nineties, and has now entered the third millenium. Over the past decades, its dangers were discussed again and again in international conferences, and demands were repeatedly raised for clear definitions, for an analysis of the root causes of the phenomenon, for the need to fix responsibility and to increase international cooperation. These pleas fell on deaf ears.
No one took the problem seriously till the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and then, the ‘Third War’ was announced – the ‘first war’ of the new century. This war has exploded many myths, and has raised as many suspicions regarding its declared and hidden intents and objectives, and their linkages to the creation of a new international order and new relations of hegemony. It is imperative, within this context, that the countries of the Third World act to secure and protect their proper place on the map of the future.