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OPED: Breaking down the origins of terrorism


What motivates terrorism? Many acknowledge that most Muslims are not terrorists, that Islam doesn’t approve of terrorism and that there are terrorists in every community. But seldom is there a discussion on where terrorists come from. Some try to blur the commandments of Islam to suggest that there is room for such activity through the religion. Well, let’s delve into these issues further.

Yasir Ahmed

Globally, there are two broad kinds of terrorism. One – that done by organizations such as ISIS, Boko Haram, IRA, Communist extremist groups which are all seeking to fight for some cause. Two – that sponsored by nation states. The oppression of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, the massacre of Syrians by Assad or our own wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. are all examples of state-sponsored extremism. These acts are fed reciprocally by one kind of terrorism towards another. When governments oppress people for power or wealth, individual groups do similar extreme actions geared towards the government and civilians too. The rise of private extremist groups makes the state more aggressive in oppressing these groups and the innocent masses.

Iraq’s situation is similar. We were a strong ally of Saddam Hussein as long as we could access his country’s oil through petrodollar trade. But when he rejected American dictates and decided to use his country’s oil for his own people, we called him out as someone having mass destructive weapons, captured him and ruined the country’s collective setup through war.  The majority of Muslims opposes Saddam and recognizes his rule as oppressive. But through our policy, we cut a deep wound and vacated Iraq hoping it would self-heal. The complex diversity of Iraq which includes Sunnis, Shias, Yazidis, Christians and others means that leaving the country after exposing it to rampant violence does not close the matter forever. From quarters we do not know, terrorist groups rise seeking to find identity or dominance. Even after months of the ISIS crisis, we are still wondering about their origins, intentions and bloody actions.

Terrorists often need some justification to carry out their actions. Being exposed to constant suppression through the government, the passivity of the majority and the involvement of foreign players lead some individuals to form or join groups to retaliate. The media steps in and highlights these acts without providing any background while the extremists constantly use their past victimization as justifiable reasons for them. If they cannot wage a full-blown war against the Government, they use weapons or some of their recruits for suicide attacks. Since the job is intense and not something the average person would sign up for, convincing these recruits requires a higher level of motivation than just recollecting traumatic memories. That is when the usage of Islam’s name and its sayings on martyrdom come in.

Having said this, there are 4 points:

  • Most of ISIS’ victims are Muslims. How would a religion support killing its own followers? Also, there is no place in Islam for such violence no matter who it is directed to.
  • Suicide attacks are the means to terrorism, but terrorist attacks are not the means to suicide. The goal of the terrorist is revenge.
  • The solution to terrorism lies first in acknowledging some mistakes we have made in giving rise to these groups. If we abstain from interfering in others’ affairs, these groups can cease to exist over time. The ISIS problem demands a complex effort that requires sustained coalition with other nations in a spirit of uplift and respect.
  • Even in the face of injustice, terrorism does not work. The Muslim world has seen terrorist acts such as 9/11, ISIS, but also the Arab Spring. Violence has only led to more wars in response. But when Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans took to non-violent protest, even those opposed to democracy had to support these agitations. The nature of change is that it comes through purity. The Prophet Muhammad (peace) said, “Not equal are the good deed and the bad deed. Repel evil by that which is better, and then the one who is hostile to you will become a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient and one having a great fortune.”

— Yasir Ahmed is a mental health clinician working in the Lancaster area. He lives in Millersville and earned a master’s degree from Millersville University. He can be reached at yasirahmed13@yahoo.com.