Unlocking the mystery of why militant Islam continues to grow
While the Batla House debate over police action against alleged terrorists in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, a predominantly Muslim colony, continues unabated, outsiders are asking two questions. First, that old chestnut that while all Muslims are not terrorists, why is it that all terrorists happen to be Muslims? Two, at a deeper philosophical level, what is it in Islam, unlike other religious groups, that drives its youth to become suicide bombers? Why do their educated middle classes, that have had the best of both worlds, east and west, become militant radicals prepared to give up their lives for a supposed paradise in the other world? Is it because there is no place for doubt in Islam and they accept what is taught to them as the absolute truth? After all, the 19 suicide bombers of 9/11, the London bombings of July 7, 2005 (and other suicide bombings in Pakistan and elsewhere), were perpetuated by educated young men, largely brought up and educated in the west, and who honestly believed that a better world awaited them. Granta 103, the quarterly British literary journal (Special Indian price, £3.99) examines the phenomenon of the rise of the British jihad as its lead story in The One True God, Allah, along with other features, a mix of fiction, non-fiction and photoessays on British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
First, the facts on British jihadis. There are, at present in Britain, at least 200 indigenous active terrorist cells that are being monitored by the internal security service, MI5, with 4,000 British Muslims considered to be a threat to national security. How did Britain arrive at this state of affairs with all its security apparatus and its strict immigration policies? Richard Watson, an investigative journalist with the BBC who specialises in Islamist extremism and terrorism, does a hands-on job by interviewing the usual suspects, checking out their backgrounds, and how and why they were won over to the Islamic cause. So, he says that the “terrorist threat posed by Muslim extremists is specific and predictable, with mappable links criss-crossing their way back to the early 1990s when radical clerics were allowed to settle and work in Britain.”
Watson goes deep into the past of leading Islamic extremists, the influence of the Egyptian cleric, Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) whose book Milestones (“Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half Islam and half jahiliyya”) has become the Bible for al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups. But you have to read these interviews between the lines to get a hang of what makes jihadis click and why their numbers will continue to grow.
And it is this: militant Islam reduces sentient beings to single identities, when in fact we have multiple identities—nationality, religion, family, class, gender, income group and so on. Islamists exploit the emotions of a single identity, forsake reason and peaceful persuasion for violence. There is a fanaticism inherent in identity politics that reminds you of what Jonathan Swift said nearly two centuries ago: “You cannot reason someone out of something he has not been reasoned into.” Very simply what each of these interviews reveal is that we are dealing with captive minds that have closed all windows to the wider world outside.
Anthologies of short stories inevitably provoke a mixed response. But their great advantage is their variety, the promise of containing something for every reader—dipping backwards and forwards, you can put it down, wander around, and then come back to it afresh.
So we have Binyavanga Wainaina on what it means to be Kenyan, Catherine O’Flynn trying to make sense of a chaotic world, Aleksandar Hemon’s Subject + Object on a shining monument of the world of mourning, Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, The Woman in the Moon, plus fiction pieces and the photoessay on British troops trapped in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there’s much more.
6 months ago