As we noted here last year, "an important development has been taking place in the real "war" on terror -- not the profit-making, fear-and-domination machine of the Bush Administration's devising, but the genuine struggle to quell the violence of Islamist extremism. Yet despite the great potential of this breakthrough, an overwhelming majority of Americans have never heard of it. Certainly it has not been featured -- or even mentioned -- by the corporate press and government PR engines in the United States. And why not? Because it is a breakthrough toward peace -- and peace, as we all know, is not boffo box office."
Britta Sandberg has a new article on this topic at Salon.com, updating the developments since the spark for last year's story: the stunning renunciation of violence by one of the co-founders of al-Qaeda, the Egyptian doctor Sayyid Imam al-Sharif. Sandberg focuses on a former Libyan terrorist, Noman Benotman, as an example of the trend, and also notes the fatwa against violence issued this spring by the hardline Deoband faction:
In late May, India's influential Deoband religious movement issued a fatwa against terrorism. In a joint proclamation at a meeting in New Delhi attended by representatives of the country's leading Islamic organizations, the groups stated: "It is the goal and purpose of Islam to extinguish all forms of terrorism and to disseminate the message of global peace. Those who use the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad to justify terror are merely upholding a lie.”
The supreme mufti of the Deobandis and three envoys signed the document. "In terms of its theological significance, this is roughly the equivalent of a ruling by the Supreme Court in Washington," activist Javed Anand later said. The Deobandis, whose name is derived from a small city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, once inspired and offered religious instruction to fighters in the Islamic world. Militant Pakistani groups, jihadists in Iraq and even the Taliban invoked the Deobandis for many years. But those days are now gone.
Sandberg also notes the founding of UK-based group, the Quilliam Foundation, set up by former militants. But this group is more problematic than Sandberg allows in her story. It is now heavily backed by the UK government, and some of its members have simply converted their Islamic extremism into anti-Islamic extremism. Recently, its most high-profile adherent, Ed Hussain, who wrote a best-selling book about his turn from extremism, was instrumental in sabotoging an important UK conference examining "the diversity of Muslim art and culture" in Britain and drawing moderate, mainstream Muslim forces into a greater political and social engagement, as Seamus Milne notes in the Guardian:
The political debates brought together a broad range of voices - from the US Nixon Centre's Robert Leiken to Rached al-Ghannouchi, who played a key role in reconciling mainstream Islamism with democratic principles in the 1990s - as well as many more women than attend most mainstream British political events.
But plans for government ministers to take part were scuttled by attacks from Hussain and the Tory party and press, who claimed that some of the event's organizers "had had links with Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, though the details are contested," as Milne reports:
Note that there is no suggestion of involvement in current terrorism in this controversy, in Britain or Israel. The issue is the government's growing hostility to dealing with anyone connected with the highly diverse movement that is Islamism. This is a political trend that has violent and non-violent, theocratic and democratic, reactionary and progressive strands, stretching from Turkey's pro-western ruling Justice and Development party through to the wildest shores of takfiri jihadism. But it's largely on the basis of this blinkered opposition that the government is now funding Husain's Quilliam Foundation, promoting other marginal groups...
The British government, which is taking part in the military occupation of two Muslim countries, is hardly in a position to throw up its hands in horror at sympathy with political violence abroad. But blurring the lines between support for those fighting foreign occupation and backing for violent attacks on civilians at home helps get the government off the hook of its own responsibility for the terror threat...
This is also the key to official policy towards Muslim organisations in Britain. The groups currently regarded as beyond the pale - such as the organisers of IslamExpo - are those keenest to promote Muslim involvement in British society and politics. But they are also the most actively opposed to western policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine - an important point of common ground, incidentally, with most non-Muslim Britons. The organisations the government backs, on the other hand, are those who keep quiet about the wars the US and Britain are fighting in the Muslim world. If the priority is really community integration and prevention of terror attacks, this sponsorship of clients and stooges is going to have to stop.
But "sponsorship of clients and stooges" is the lifeblood of Anglo-American policy, and has been for decades. British and American leaders have never been interested in genuine engagement with other political or cultural viewpoints; they want acquiesence, obedience – or else. And as wholesale purveyors of political violence, they much prefer dealing with violent extremists – either by supporting them or fighting them (or, as in Iraq, doing both at the same time) – than coming to terms with more moderate forces who seek peaceful accomodation of diverse interests within society. That's too much like hard work.
Still, the fact that the Terror Warriors in Washington and London are inevitably trying to turn Islamist renunciations of terrorism into another prop to justify their own violence does not lessen the development's importance in the real world. To be sure, this renunciation trend is in no danger of turning into a movement of satyagraha. Most of the Islamists renouncing terrorism against civilians still support the idea of open armed conflict against those "directly attacking Muslims." And as we noted last year:
The sentiments and strictures of the "corrected" Islamists remain repugnant -- as are all blinkered, self-righteous fundamentalisms, of whatever religious or secular character. But the repugnance of a set of beliefs -- or our fierce disagreement with the believer's ultimate dreams and ambitions -- are not, in the end, as important as the methods that believers adopt to achieve those ends. For example, if the neo-cons had stayed cozily nuzzling on the teats of rightwing cash cows, dreaming their dreamy dreams of "national greatness," "full spectrum dominance" and what have you -- and not sought to impose their extremist ideology on the world by state terrorism on a near-genocidal scale -- then who could object to what those consenting adults got up to in the privacy of their own think-tanks? Let them -- and the Islamists -- and any and all groupthinkers ply their music as they will, make their cases, proselytize, publicize, peddle their wares in the marketplace of ideas. But when an ideology arms itself, when blood is its argument and force and fear are its methods, then it becomes a crime against humanity.
For years now, the world has been suffering from a nasty gang war between two such criminal factions -- the Islamists and the Bushists. Both are tiny, radical minorities within the wider polities they falsely claim to represent. The fact that some major figures in one of these factions are now renouncing the use of "killing operations" to advance their odious ideas is surely a welcome development. If it saves only one innocent life from destruction, that is cause enough for rejoicing.
But not, as noted above, among the Terror Warriors. Again, last year's observations still hold true:
Yet this process -- which began in some quarters years before 9/11, and now involves hundreds of jihadist leaders and activists -- is being ignored by the very people who, ostensibly, have the greatest reason to trumpet it. But of course, such a development is actually bad news for the fanatical militarists of the Bushist faction. They ignore, reject or twist anything that undercuts their cartoonish myth of a vast, monolithic "Islamofascism" bent on world conquest at any cost -- and capable of carrying it out, unless stopped by multitrillion-dollar American war machine ranging over every continent.
That's why they will never declare "victory" in the "War on Terror." The "Terror" part of their PR slogan has never mattered in the slightest to the Bushists; this is evident in the fact that all expert analysts -- including America's own intelligence services -- say clearly that the Bushists' policies have actually increased terrorism around the world. It is the "War" in the "War on Terror" that the Bushists are concerned with. If bin Laden himself came down from the mountain (or, more likely, got up from his grave) and denounced terrorism as an abomination in the eyes of Allah; if every Sunni militant and Shiite militiaman in Iraq laid down their weapons and embraced Gandhian non-violence; if every jihadi training camp locked its gates, dismantled its bombs and turned its suicide belts into swaddling clothes, the Bushist "War on Terror" would go on. Some other suitable terrorism would be provoked, fomented or manufactured to justify their militarist, authoritarian agenda.
Of course, the emphasis on the "Bush Faction" in the preceeding passage is a bit misleading. Because the "War on Terror" is not simply a Bushist operation; on the contrary, it is enthusiastically embraced by the entire bipartisan Washington establishment. For example, Barack Obama has made it a linchpin of his national security strategy, especially with his intention to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan, which he calls a "war we have to win": words that should chill the blood of everyone who recognizes the implications of such an open-ended commitment. For if we "have" to "win" in Afghanistan – if defeat is not an option (just as Bush and McCain say of Iraq) – then what won't we do to secure that victory"? After all, Obama has pledged himself to what has become the most sacred, bipartisan principle of American foreign policy: no president should ever take any option "off the table." [For more on this, see Arthur Silber's devastating essay, Songs of Death.]
What a strange pass we have come to: a founder of al Qaeda has taken extremist Islam's most potent weapon "off the table" – while the would-be heirs of Jefferson and Madison adamantly refuse to forego anything -- even the threat of nuclear terror -- in an endless global war that has already killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
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This story was published on July 17, 2008.