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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jihad and Terrorism: Are both synonymous? By: Yasmeen Ali

Jihad and Terrorism: Are both synonymous?

By: Yasmeen Ali

(This is a cross post from Opinion Maker & Pakistan Observer).

On August 10, 1945, the day after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yosuke Yamahata began to photograph the devastation. His companions on the journey were a painter, Eiji Yamada, and a writer, Jun Higashi.

Western media is more often than not, awash with the details of “jihadists” who commit atrocious acts in the name of religion. More and more, Islam is projected as a religion of violence, hatred and vengeance. However, Islam comes from the root word Salaam, which means peace. It also means submitting one's will to Allah .The word Salaam is also an attribute of God. In this context, it means ‘The Giver of Peace’.

Two terms needs definition here. Jihad and Terrorism. Jihad is the Arabic for what can be variously translated as "struggle" or "to fight," depending on the context. In the West, the word is generally understood to mean "holy war," and denotes, inaccurately, to exclusively military connotations. The Quran does call for "jihad" as a military struggle on behalf of Islam. But the Quran also refers to jihad as an internal, individual, spiritual struggle toward self-improvement, moral cleansing and intellectual effort. It is said that Prophet Muhammad considered the armed-struggle version of holy war "the smaller jihad," but considered the spiritual angle of holy war--the war within oneself--as "the great jihad."

Terrorism, is a different concept altogether. According to Jason Burke, it may be defined as “the use or threat of serious violence" to advance some kind of "cause".

But does Islam condone terrorism ? Is Terrorism and Jihad one and the same? Military conflict is to be directed only against fighting troops and not against civilians. As a matter of fact, all religions of “The Book”, promote peace and tolerance, not violence. Attacking innocent civilians, women, children, sick in hospitals, people going about their daily chores who are not at war with you is terrorism. If there is a threat to human life, property and honor, fighting for defending life, property and honor is deemed as Jihad. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution which is a part of the United States Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791, aimed to protect the right to keep and bear arms and may be deemed a concept on the same lines.

We need to examine if Terrorism is linked ONLY to Islamic militant outfits using gullible minds to serve their vested interests? This question has come more sharply in focus with the case of Faisal Shehzad.

Terrorism has it’s roots in cultures and religion other than Islam. We need t remember, Indra Gandhi was killed by her Sikh body guards, as she had ordered the massacre in the Golden Temple of Sikhs, her son Rajiv ,was killed by Tamils, the very same who have the honor of inventing the suicide jacket, in the first place, they are Hindu Extremists. We also need to remember the Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh terrorist group, blew up Air India's Kanishka aircraft off the Irish coast on June 23, 1985, killing nearly 200 passengers and made an unsuccessful attempt the same day to blow up another Air India plane at Tokyo. In October 1992, suspected Sikh militants gunned down five civilians and a law enforcement officer in a heavily wooded area in Uttar Pradesh that had become a refuge for Sikh separatists fleeing a crackdown by Indian authorities in Punjab. The attack followed a massacre two months earlier of twenty-nine villagers in the same area. In that incident, villagers collecting wood in the forest were captured by suspected militants, bound, and killed by automatic gunfire .Then there are the “Christian Terrorists”, of all the religious wars in human history waged by any religion, at any place, and at any time, none have been bloodier, more genocidal, more barbaric, and more protracted than the 200-year "holy wars" by the Western Crusades against the Arabs and Islam.

"Islamic terrorism", a term coined by the West, is itself a controversial phrase, although its usage is widespread throughout the English-speaking world. Muslims object to the term as it contradicts the spirit of Islam, which is a peaceful religion. What then, allows people from different religion, more especially Islam, to terrorism in the name of Jihad? The reasons are varied ranging from injustices suffered in the hands of a system that offers no relief, to lack of avenue to improve one’s lot, lack of education, lack of an understanding of the religion that is exploited by vested interests, and, a genuine thinking, that they are answering to a higher call. Terrorism is often conducted in the name of religion. More often than not, it evolves from the misuse of the term “jihad” by vested interests thus exploiting impressionable minds. We must also face the failure of our leadership of all shades and hues, of too many vested interests and agendas.

Besides the obvious need to evolve long term and short term strategy to address the lot of the common man who fights a war of survival, it is extremely important, that we address the question if Quran be taught as a mandatory part of our curriculum in both government and private educational institutions? Will self understanding of The Book disallow others from planting twisted ideas in minds? Can we overlook the role of a strong leadership in addressing peoples grievances?

Jacques Chirac, in his speech on September 24th, 1986 correctly said,” A "war against terrorism" is an impracticable conception if it means fighting terrorism with terrorism.”. Regrettably, the West is yet to pay
heed to that sane advice.

(The writer is a lawyer currently teaching in the Beacon House National University. She owns & operates her own blog).


  1. Well said.

    The Arabic word Jihad literally means "to exert effort." The effort will naturally be exerted towards the advancement of certain cause, let that cause be private or public, noble or vicious, psychological or physiological.

    The word Jihad as it stands in the Islamic context is primarily projected towards exerting effort for self-improvement and purification against the lusts of this world. In other contexts, it connotes the military struggle against transgressors, as the writer has rightly pointed out.

    Of course, this phrase is pretty much popular these days and used in efforts exerted towards defamation and libelling Islam. Unfortunately, naive Muslims are being used as tools in this campaign!!!

  2. Well developed discourse. Yes people are misused by vested interests in name of Jehad to serve their ends.
    That does not make it Jehad.
    History notes well, who started terrorism.
    Good pics Yasmeen.They speak louder than words!


  4. Many still believe that the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were the work of Arab terrorists who hate America. George W. Bush has even suggested in his usual idiotic fashion that they hate America because "America is free", "America is a democracy", etc. No. America used to be admired for these qualities. Where America is now hated it is because of its long-standing and intolerable interference and domination of other countries and its impoverishment of the people of those countries.

    "The initiators of the attacks decided to implement their plan after America has provoked immense hatred throughout the world. Not because of its might, but because of the way it uses its might. It is hated by the enemies of globalization, who blame it for the terrible gap between rich and poor in the world. It is hated by millions of Arabs, because of its support for the Israeli occupation and the suffering of the Palestinian people. It is hated by multitudes of Muslims, because of what looks like its support for the Jewish domination of the Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem. And there are many more angry peoples who believe that America supports their tormentors.
    Until September 11, 2001 ... Americans could entertain the illusion that all this concerns only others, in far-away places beyond the seas, that it does not touch their sheltered lives at home. No more."

    — Uri Avnery: Twin Towers

    Americans are largely unaware of the enormity of the crimes committed by their government (or rather, by individuals within their government). But in a representative democracy, such as allegedly exists in the U.S.A., can the people deny responsibility for the actions and policies of their government? How long can they allow their government, whose leaders they elect, to commit one atrocity after another and at the same time pretend that they themselves are innocent of any wrong-doing?

  5. In 2001,in an interview of Chomsky by David Barsamian,David asked a question.I am reproducing the Q & A by Chomsky:

    Q: Could you very briefly define the political uses of terrorism? Where does it fit in the doctrinal system?

    A: The U.S. is officially committed to what is called “low–intensity warfare.” That’s the official doctrine. If you read the definition of low–intensity conflict in army manuals and compare it with official definitions of “terrorism” in army manuals, or the U.S. Code, you find they’re almost the same. Terrorism is the use of coercive means aimed at civilian populations in an effort to achieve political, religious, or other aims. That’s what the World Trade Center bombing was, a particularly horrifying terrorist crime. And that’s official doctrine. I mentioned a couple of examples. We could go on and on. It’s simply part of state action, not just the U.S. of course. Furthermore, all of these things should be well known. It’s shameful that they’re not. Anybody who wants to find out about them can begin by reading a collection of essays published ten years ago by a major publisher called Western State Terrorism, edited by Alex George (Routledge, 1991), which runs through lots and lots of cases. These are things people need to know if they want to understand anything about themselves. They are known by the victims, of course, but the perpetrators prefer to look elsewhere.

  6. Excellent,presice,crisp article,Well written.

  7. No one supports violence, however, there is a growing hype especially from the West & India,that terrorism in this world started from Pakistan. A thesis can be written on reasons of growth of Taliban/Mujahideen/USA role. Suffice to say facts will be noted by history.
    The question is:How does Pakistan get rid of the elements that misuse peoples minds?An important point raised by Yasmeen is reading of the Quran. made compulsory in schools.I find the idea intriguing.
    Any comments on the view????

  8. Well said, Yasmeen, an excellent article.
    Nasar Malik,

  9. Very well argued. I like the way you write but do not necessarily agree with parts of the article. I cannot recall a period when Islam was a religion of peace. But then thats applicable to every religion and culture. As it happens, humans are the most inhuman of all the creatures.

  10. Excelent work.

  11. Very good job done Yasmeen....terrorism and voilence cannot be accredited to anyone religion sect ethnic identity or area.Terrorism finds it birth when the rule of law is flouted massive use of strength is brought into the process of controlling the weak. It can be termed as the very basic survival instinct given by God to the weak and when they find themselves absolutely helpless they resort to terrorism. Terrorism can be classified into types...state terrorism which is used by various governments to suppress the liberty of individuals groups or popular movement.Then the reaction by those groups or individuals is also in form of terrorism. It is absolutely illogical to put a brand of being terrorist to a certain religion sect ethnic group without going into the root cause of the issue....if anything can be attributed to the cause of terrorism its exploitation in any form.

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