My Enemy's Friend Is My Enemy

by Sudha R. Shenoy by Sudha R. Shenoy

In all the comments on the London bombers, some key historical developments have not been mentioned (to my knowledge):

1. The real political struggle in Muslim countries between Islamic fanatics and those who are not quite so fervent. This conflict has continued for a long time, and it is purely political. Islamic zealots seek powers of governance over their fellow-Muslims, to impose a specific set of highly restrictive regulations on them. These regulations embody a particular – narrow, grim, rigid – view of what Islam is about. From this latter standpoint, obtaining political power is a religious duty; and the field of duty for this purpose is the entire Muslim world – the "ummah" – This view is essentially a continuing reaction against the less constricting amongst Islamic traditions. Under the influence of the latter, and of the more liberal amongst "Western" ideas, most Muslims tend to be relatively less ardent in outlook. So far, such Muslims have succeeded in retaining political power in most (not all) of the Islamic world. But the struggle continues.

Thus: In Pakistan, the growing political power of the zealots led to the enactment of "sharia" – Islamic law – into legislation. This allowed bigots to persecute minority Islamic groups such as the Ahmadiyya, reduce the status of women, etc. Islamic fanatics also run an entire network of "madrassahs." These are not just "religious" schools, for simple learning of the Koran. They are also indoctrination centres. In northern Nigeria, the imposition of "sharia" – Muslim law – has led to continuing clashes with Christians and other non-Muslims. In Algeria an endemic civil war has continued for years, between the "modern" military, and the main – Islamicist – political party. In Egypt, the current rulers continue to persecute more liberal-minded Muslims. Nevertheless, the so-called "Muslim Brotherhood" have carried out (inter alia) a number of assassinations over the years – ranging from President Sadat to (most recently) the Egyptian ambassador to Iraq. The second-in-command in Al-Qaeda is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The rulers of Saudi Arabia have been dominated since the 18th century, by a particularly narrow and extremely intolerant school of Islam. The Wahhabis therefore dominate in Arabia, persecute the minority Shias (inter alia), and, with lavish official funding, have spread across Pakistan and the Muslim diaspora. Even so, Osama bin Laden has long opposed the House of Saud. He has a list of "religious" grievances of course – e.g., the stationing of US troops on the sacred soil of Arabia. But gaining control over its vast oil revenues is clearly his target.

2. Western governments are allies of current governments in the Islamic world, and obviously, very powerful allies. Hence Muslim extremists are also hostile towards these Western governments: "my enemy's friend is my enemy." On the 11th September 2001, practically all the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Yemen (the last had grievances against the Saudi ruling house.) On the 7th July this year, three out of four bombers had connexions to extremist madrassahs in Pakistan; and all fell prey to extremists in Leeds. The oldest, in fact, is reported to have preached zealously against Western policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Further, the three from Leeds were apparently banned from attending regular mosques. All four were instructed and supplied by an Al-Qaeda operative (also a Pakistani-Briton) who left Britain very shortly before the 7th. Thus they were foot-soldiers – pawns – in the larger struggle to gain political power in the Muslim world. Ordinary people in Britain suffered grievously – because their politicians and officials were allied to other politicians and officials – in the Muslim world; whom the latter's political opponents wanted to overthrow. These opponents' message is clear: "We can attack even such powerful allies."

3. For British politicians and others, this was (naturally) a case of baddies attacking the political unity of Britons. Michael Howard (Tory party leader) said the "terrorists' objective [was] dividing us one from another." Tony Blair (the PM): "We are united…our country will not be defeated by such terror… it is to us and not to the terrorists, that victory will belong….The two minutes silence" on the 14th is "an opportunity for the nation to unite in remembrance." He also called for "moderate and true…Islam" to be mobilised against the "extreme and evil ideology [rooted] in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of Islam." The Prince of Wales asked Muslims in Britain to denounce those who "preach and practise such hatred and bitterness." Such ideas were a "perversion of traditional Islam." "Extremists" (he said) are "offended by…good relations between faiths and cultures," so they "seek to break up…communities." – Now, earlier the PM had said: what the "terrorists" sought to "destroy" was "our values…way of life…tolerance and respect for others." Prince Charles echoed this sentiment: if people simply condemned all Muslims in general (he said) for the acts of a "tiny and evil minority," then "the bombers will have achieved their aim."

In other words, the bombers killed and maimed, and died themselves – so that Muslims might be blamed. The terrorists wanted non-Muslims to hate Muslims. – Alternatively, did the terrorists simply demonize the West? That won't wash, either: three were born in Britain; the fourth spent all his life there; and all had families there. The 11th September terrorists had university training in the West. The bombers in Britain used "military-level" explosives – which came apparently from the Al-Qaeda agent who organised them and built the bombs. Tony Blair himself blamed "Islamic extremist terrorists" from the outset, listing the various countries in which they had bombed innocent people. But such terrorist groups, from their very beginning decades ago, aimed at obtaining power in Muslim countries. For these extremists, attacks on "infidels" can only be another means to this political end. So we return full circle: by allying themselves with politicians and officials in the Islamic world, politicians and officials in the Western world have become involved in their allies' political conflicts: my friend's enemy also turns his enmity on me. All the waffle quoted above is to divert attention from this reality – and to rally subjects mindlessly round the flag.

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts