Islamism's poison tree 

The Pioneer  

Teacher, I want to go London next month. I want bomb, big bomb in London, again. I want make jihad!"

"What?" I exclaimed. Another student raised both hands and shouted: "Me too! Me too!" 

Other students applauded those who had just articulated what many of them were thinking..."

That's how Ed Husain records his experience in the Saudi Arabian school where he had taken up a teaching assignment after embracing radical Islam. It was the day after the 7/7 suicide bombings in London that killed 52 commuters and Ed Husain, his faith in radical Islam by then dwindling rapidly after experiencing life in Saudi Arabia, was hoping to hear his students denounce the senseless killings. Instead, he heard a ringing endorsement of jihad and senseless slaughter in the name of Islam.

Disillusioned, Ed Husain returned to London and penned his revealing account in The Islamist - Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left. Debunking the lib-left intelligentsia's explanation that deprivation, frustration and alienation among immigrant Muslims in Britain are responsible for the surge in jihadi fervour, Ed Husain writes: 

"Many Muslims enjoyed a better lifestyle in non-Muslim Britain than they did in Muslim Saudi Arabia... All my talk of ummah seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical utopian slogans as one government, one ever expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal... I was appalled by the imposition of Wahhabism in the public realm, something I had implicitly sought as an Islamist..."

So, what does an Islamist seek? The reams of rubbish churned out by bogus activists and windbag columnists desperately seeking to rationalise crimes committed in the name of Islam, ranging from the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir Valley to the Mumbai bombings, from the attack on Parliament House in New Delhi to the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York, from the horrific assault on human dignity by the Taliban in Afghanistan to the nauseating anti-Semitism of the regime in Iran, cannot explain either the core idea of Islamism or what motivates Islamists. For that, we have to go through the teachings of Hasan al-Banna, the original Islamist and progenitor of the Muslim Brotherhood, but for whom and which perhaps we would have been spared the terror that stalks us today. 

Hasan al-Banna's articulation of Islamism in the 1930s, distilled from complex theological interpretations of Islam, was at once simple enough for even illiterate Muslims to understand and sinister in its implications when seen in the context of what we are witnessing today: "The Quran is our Constitution. Jihad is our way. Martyrdom is our desire." Imagined grievances and manufactured rage came decades later, as faux justification for adopting this three-sentence injunction that erases the line separating the spiritual from the temporal and giving Islam a political dimension in the modern world, thus expanding the theatre of conflict beyond the sterile sands of Arabia. 

Hasan al-Banna died a nasty death when he was murdered in 1949, apparently in retaliation of the assassination of Egypt's then Prime Minister, Mahmud Fahmi Naqrashi, but the seed he had planted in his lifetime was to grow into a giant poison tree, watered and nourished by Sayyid Qutub (whose tract, Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq was interpreted as treasonous, fetching him the death sentence in 1966) which over the years has spread its roots and branches, first across Arabia and then to Muslim majority countries; so potent is that tree's life force, its seeds, carried by the blistering wind that blows from the Mashreq, have now begun to sprout in countries as disparate as Denmark and India, Turkey and Malaysia, changing demographic profiles and unsettling societies. 

The world chose to ignore subsequent events and, like those who clamour for a gentler, accommodative approach to Islamism today by pushing for compromise over conflict, 'enlightened' scholars and public affairs commentators rationalised Anwar Sadat's assassination by Islamists on October 6, 1981. Even Egypt erred in setting free scores of conspirators, including a certain Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri. Similarly, the 'Islamic Revolution' in Iran with its blood-soaked consequences was hailed as a "people's victory" over Shah Reza Pehalvi's dictatorial regime. For Europe, which now is fast turning into Eurabia, it was business as usual - Iran's oil swamped out rational analyses. If any country had the farsight to sense the danger signals, it was, ironically so, Egypt which continues to remain wary of Iran, not least because of its export of rabid Islamism. That Tehran has riled Cairo by naming a street after Sadat's assassin, Khalid Islambouli, is only of partial significance.

It was in the immediate aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that Islamism acquired a new dimension and a vicious edge when it was coupled with Wahaabism, Saudi Arabia's severely austere version of Sunni Islam. Arab nationalism, which was unencumbered by Islamism till then, became an expression of faith in radical Islamism. In what passes for Palestinian territories, the intifada was born and while the popularity of Yasser Arafat's largely secular (which explained his hugely corrupt ways) PLO began to decline, Hamas, led by its paraplegic spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, began its murderous march which has culminated with Gaza Strip being declared 'Hamastan'. Yassin was killed by the Israelis for inspiring young Palestinians to blow themsleves up in buses, restaurants and markets, but that has not stalled Hamas or weakened it as an Islamist organisation.

In Lebanon, the Hizbullah is now facing competition from Fatah-al Islam in Palestinian refugee camps. In Britain, Hizb ut-Tahrir is seducing young Muslims like Ed Husain with its acid message of intolerance and bigotry. In India, we have the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tablighi Jamaat. The Deobandis are not to be scoffed at.

To neutralise the three-sentence injunction of Hasan al-Banna, we need more than a 'War on Terror'. We need to launch an assault on the idea that motivates terrorists. There is no scope for accommodation, nor is there any reason to capitulate or strike a compromise.

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