By Tufail Ahmad, New Age Islam
1 July 2016
After the June 12 shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people were killed and more than four dozen injured, a debate has emerged as to whether such attacks should be called Islamic terrorism. Statements issued by U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the Orlando shooting scrupulously avoided mentioning "Islam" or any connection to the religion of Omar Mateen, the American citizen of Afghan origin who attacked the gay nightclub. Generally speaking, writers, politicians, activists and journalists of Left-Liberal ideological persuasion do not want to associate such acts of terror with Islam.
Such an attitude is despite the fact that during the course of the Orlando shooting, Omar Mateen called the emergency phone number 911 and declared his allegiance to the jihadist terror group Islamic State, or ISIS. After the shooting, the Obama government released the transcript of Omar Mateen's 911 telephone call but removed references to Islam or ISIS. This created a political furore in America, forcing the government to issue the transcripts of his telephone call in full. In the call he said in Arabic, "I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, may Allah protect him, on behalf of the Islamic State."
During the post-9/11 years, several terms have emerged to describe this specific type of terrorism: Islamic terrorism, jihadist terrorism, Islamist terrorism, radical Islam, political Islam, extremist Islam, and so on. Such terms have their purpose: they help the Western leaders avoid referring to Islam in the fear of backlash from Muslim communities. However, critics have argued that if you are afflicted with cancer and a doctor does not want to call it by its actual name, he cannot prescribe the right medicine or treat the disease. Such critics have argued that this type of terror is connected to Islamic teachings and therefore there is an urgent need for reform in Islam.
While such debates about the need for Islamic reform are underway, it remains a valid question to discuss whether such terrorism by Muslims should be called Islamic terrorism or Jihadi terrorism, or something else. Here are some key arguments on this debate. One, the terms like "Islamic" or "jihadist" terrorism are used by terrorist groups such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State themselves to describe their actions. Two, these jihadist organizations do not say that Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Maududi, former Pakistani military ruler General Ziaul Haq, or Egyptian theologian Syed Qutb started jihad. Instead, these groups cite the verses from the Quran and narrations of Hadith (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) to justify their actions. In fact, these jihadist organizations describe Prophet Muhammad as the leader of all Mujahideen.
Three, these organizations reject democracy and call for the imposition of Shariah rule in non-Muslim countries and a perfect version of Shariah in Muslim countries like Pakistan. They are therefore called jihadist, Islamist or Islamic groups. Four, not all Muslim fighters are called jihadists. For example, in Pakistan itself, a number of Muslim rebels fighting for the independence of Balochistan from Pakistan are not called Islamist, Islamic or jihadist groups because they do not stand to enforce Shariah rule. On the contrary, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are called jihadist or Islamist groups because they stand to enforce Islamic Shariah rule in Pakistan.
Five, outside the Islamic world, in Northern Ireland the Protestant and the Catholic groups were not called Christian terrorists because they were not fighting for the imposition of Christian rule. In America, aggrieved youths or mentally ill persons sometimes attack schools but they are not called Christian terrorists because they do not kill in order to establish Christian rule. Six, in Sri Lanka, fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not called Hindu terrorists because they were fighting for freedom of the Tamil people, not for the imposition of Hindu rule.
Seven, at one point in Britain, activists were called animal rights terrorists because they attacked laboratories where animals such as mice and monkeys were used to test new medicines. Similarly, some attacks in Europe have been identified correctly as "far-right Christian terrorism."
Eight, in India itself, not all fighters are known as Hindu terrorists. For example, Naxalite terrorists who are mostly Hindus have been fighting for more than 70 years but they are not called Hindu terrorists because they do not want to impose Hindu rule. On the contrary, some members of a group called Abhinav Bharat were called Hindu or saffron terrorists because they wanted to impose Hindu rule in a religious sense. Similarly, the Shiv Sena has repeatedly called for "Hindu suicide bombers" to attack Pakistan, but it is not yet called a Hindu terror group because such a call has not so farbeen implemented by Shiv Sena at the practical level.
The motivation of a terrorist should define its name and character. Identifying a disease by its correct name helps to give the right medicine. But if you have a cancer and a doctor gives you the medicine for tuberculosis, it cannot work. Let's understand it by an example: The United States knows that the terrorism in Afghanistan is created by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) but for the past 15 years the U.S. government has been searching for medicine in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan. As a result, the terrorism in Afghanistan continues to thrive.
Omar Mateen's motivation for attacking the gay nightclub was Islam and like the ISIS, he thought it legitimate to kill the transgenders. The government of Iran too thinks much like him and executes Iranians for homosexuality. In Saudi Arabia and Yemen, gays are stoned to death. Much like Omar Mateen, many Muslims kill gay community members. For example, on May 22, Ayesha – a transgender – was shot dead in Peshawar. In December 2013, Pakistani television reporter Uzma Tahir raided the homes of gay community members past midnight. Uzma Tahir said: "Allah forbid, if such children are born in your family, what will you do?" On her programme, Pakistan's so-called rights activist Ansar Burney expressed views similar to Omar Mateen and congratulated Uzma Tahir for invading the homes of transgenders. We need a new enlightenment for the 21st century.
(A version of this article was published by India's largest Hindi daily Dainik Jagran in its edition of July 1, 2016)
Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He is the author of “Jihadist Threat To India – The Case For Islamic Reformation By An Indian Muslim.”