History and terror

Print edition : August 21, 2015

The site of a recent car bomb attack in Baghdad. The U.S.' pusuit of its own oil interests has turned Iraq into one of the world's most unstable and violent places. Photo: Karim Kadim/AP

TERRORISM has become a global problem that leaves very few nations untouched. Violence and mindless killing is one aspect of it. Behind-the-scene agendas and manoeuvrings by countries and politicians form the other angle, which is usually overlooked at the time of the incident because the act of violence itself is so shocking.

In his latest book, Deconstructing Terrorist Violence : Faith as a Mask, Ram Puniyani, a Mumbai-based doctor and professor at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and well-known communal harmony activist, exposes these agendas and motives that have caused immeasurable damage.

He guides readers into an understanding of the layers and complexities of the subject of terrorism. His argument is that terrorism is a political phenomenon driven by the aim to either “control oil rich nations or push an agenda of sectarian nationalism”. Puniyani rejects the theory that religion is the reason for terrorist violence. He repeatedly points out that faith is used as a mask for political and economic gains and demolishes several popular and misleading perceptions about terror. He asks uncomfortable questions and recalls the close association that Saddam Hussein once had with the United States, the subsequent reversal of the U.S.’ policies, and its brutal pursuit of oil. Puniyani’s arguments are backed up by interesting examples from extensive research and published theories by international experts (such as Noam Chomsky) on the subject.

The preface, “A World Gripped by Terror: Is Terrorism Due to Religion?”, defines terrorism. “The primary focus of this book is to understand that terrorism is a phenomenon driven by political, social and economic agendas. The major roots of terrorism today are hidden in the agenda of control over oil resources by the United States. In India, terrorism has its roots in the fallout of India-Pakistan relations, and Hindutva politics. We need to see that associating a political-economic phenomenon with religion has caused great damage to the religious community so targeted.”

A fairly lengthy introduction gives readers a broad understanding of terror in contemporary times. Puniyani says the picture could not have been worse at any point of time. The impact of terrorism on the lives of people has been felt all over the world. Security has been tightened; huge forces are deployed to check and cross-check passengers at airports. Muslims, he says, have borne the brunt of these changes. This appears to be one of Puniyani’s main reasons for writing the book. He helps the layman understand that Islam is fundamentally not a violent religion and that it has been shrewdly adopted by radical groups and superpowers to further various other agendas. He cites the assassinations of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi as acts of violence not committed by Muslims. Additionally, Puniyani dwells on the Sri Lankan civil war, terror strikes by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Khalistan movement and Irish nationalism—movements that have taken the lives of thousands—yet have nothing to do with Islam.

Puniyani splits the book into four parts: Terrorism Today: The Global Scene; Terrorism Today: The View from India; India: A Victim of Global Terror; and Religion Politics and Terrorism. He subdivides these into eight chapters. Puniyani uses history, diplomacy and contemporary issues to understand the subject in its entirety.

The narrative begins with a chapter titled “A World Gripped by Terror”. The book questions George Bush’s reaction to the 9/11 attack: “As the invasion of Afghanistan began within just a few weeks, the U.S. claim that they prepared for this in three weeks is to be taken with a pinch of salt. Credible reports have appeared that the U.S. was planning to take military action against Afghanistan to oust Taliban months before September 11. (Koshy 2002, 63).”

Puniyani shows how many nations, especially Afghanistan and Iraq, have been victims of the U.S.’ skewed policies and how certain sections benefited. “Oil corporations and royal families of Kuwait, bankers, and builders were to celebrate the whole exercise with huge profits. The U.S. war industry got a big boost due to this war.”

The chapter “From ‘White man’s Burden’ to War Against Terror” traces the rise of terror following imperialist regimes and colonialism. Puniyani says it is critical to understand colonial history, the role of modernisation and the Industrial Revolution in the context of the rise in terror. He says: “Greater was the influence of industrialisation and modern education more was the secularisation process in those countries. Turkey and Egypt were amongst the ones where the ulema were not the major power and secular governments could come into being. In many other Islamic countries, the ulema and feudal forces became stronger in reaction to the hegemony of the Western powers.”

Puniyani points out that once the Cold War ended, there was an immediate rise in terror. “Terrorism became the weapon of powerful countries…. In fact the U.S. cleverly does not use its own forces but instead uses other forces such as the Al Qaeda and former Mujahideen to further their agenda,” he says. Puniyani lists numerous instances of “the U.S. using the language of saving the world from communism, making the world safe for democracy, and defending freedom, but instead some examples from smaller countries tell the real truth of the intent of U.S. policies”.

Puniyani devotes a good part of the book to the Israel-Palestine conflict. From the Eisenhower Doctrine to the Oslo Accord, he records the process by which the U.S. has sided with Israel and the extensive damage that the West does in West Asia. He also discusses Afghanistan’s significant role in the rise of terror. It is common knowledge to those who follow the subject that the Taliban is really a creation of the U.S. It used the Mujahideen to fight against the erstwhile Soviet Union, and once the Cold War ended it had no use for the Mujahideen. It not only abandoned those militant groups but labelled them terrorist and attacked them.

“One of the dangerous faces of CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] operations was to fund the terrorist activities through opium trade. They developed a whole chain of trade in which, to begin with, Mujahideen forced the cultivation of opium as revolutionary tax…. The Afghan people were levied to produce opium which was sent back in ships which were bringing armaments.” Puniyani discusses the U.S.’ relationship with Pakistan, the Iran-Iraq crisis, and the attack on Iraq. The chapter ends with the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The author raises questions about the blatant violations of international law in the operation. “The manner of his killing reminds us as to who is the biggest violator of international law—a superpower, with its tentacles spread all over the world, itching to undertake actions in the name of democracy and peace, but in reality protecting its interests of controlling oil wealth and maintaining global supremacy.” Puniyani dedicates an entire chapter to Islam, emphasising that the religion is not based on violence and revenge.

Terror in India

The second section of the book deals with terror in India. The writer discusses the conspiracies by the militant saffron Right in the country, backing it up with details on the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad in 2007 and the Malegaon blasts in 2008.

“The terms Islamic terror, Jihadi terror are wrong as the terms Hindu terror or Saffron terror. The right word for the former may be Al Qaeda terrorism and for the latter Hindutva terrorism,” he says.

Puniyani’s book focusses on Al Qaeda terrorism and Hindutva terrorism. “The Hindutva movement presents itself as an ideal for building a strong nation based on the tenets of ‘Hindu dharma’ and Hindu rashtra…. The major political force which is the vehicle of Hindutva politics, the RSS, has been spreading the version of history for the past many decades. Today, a large section of the media does accept this version of history. It in a way has become part of the ‘social common sense,” he says.

In the last two sections, Puniyani explains the horrific Mumbai terror attack. He says several key documents and investigative reports have not been made public. The police officer S.M. Munshi’s books question the operation and the aftermath, but the questions have remained unanswered.

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