Sep 8, 2009

Terrorism is about occupation, not religion

Why did these young Muslim men decide to kill thousands of people? Excerpts from their “martyrdom mission” video recordings all point to one simple theme: “Get out of our lands”.

Irfan Yusuf — Lawyer, author and commentator

Irfan Yusuf

Lawyer, author and commentator

Why did the three young Muslim men convicted this week in Britain of a major terrorist plot decide to kill thousands of people? Two of the men were children of Pakistani migrants. The third was of Jamaican heritage. The plot involved the use of liquid bombs that would have blown up some seven airliners bound for North American cities. Excerpts from their "martyrdom mission" video recordings all point to one simple theme: "Get out of our lands". If this was about religion, we’d have seen many more ordinary British and other Muslims joining such missions. If this were about religion, even 1% of 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide would mean 12 million terrorists located in every corner of the planet. We’d be seeing much more terrorism than we are now. But suicide terrorism isn’t about religion. If it was, the largest and most successful user of suicide terrorism would not be Sri Lanka’s crypto-Marxist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. The Tigers believe their traditional lands in the Jaffna Peninsula of Northern Sri Lanka are under occupation. The Sri Lankan government insists the Tigers can be dismissed just by using the "terrorist" label and by focussing on ethnic wedge issues. Distorting genuinely held grievances is as absurd a strategy as ignoring them. The IRA used terrorism to fight British occupation. The Brits tried to discredit the IRA by using the "t" word, thus trying to divert international attention away from the genuinely held grievances of Irish nationalists. These young men and their Al-Qaeda masters's central grievances are no different. In his recently published book Fit To Print: Misrepresenting The Middle East Dutch journalist and Middle East Correspondent Joris Luyendijk reminds us of what he calls "the third dimension" of Osama bin Laden’s message which "has hardly made it to the Western media". Luyendijk writes about Western interference in the form of propping up dictatorships "...with money, weapons, and intelligence for decades":
Bin Laden pointed out this interference in practically every video, and his message could be summarised in two words: sod off ... Prominent Westerners often labelled the 9/11 attacks as "a direct assault on Western civilisation". But whoever looks at Bin Laden’s story will see that he presents his program as one of self-defence ... This part of Bin Laden’s message has remained, for the most part, out of the Western news stream, meaning that very few Westerners know about their enemy’s motives.
Yep, our exposure to terrorism is very much linked to our foreign policy. And if the words of an experienced Arabic-speaking journalist like Luyendijk aren’t enough to convince you, consider the findings of Professor Robert Pape who has studied every suicide terrorist attack from 1980 to 2004 and who concludes that "...overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland". None of this provides any moral justification for the acts of terror cells and their sponsors. And there’s no doubt that religious leaders also have an enormous responsibility in ensuring that vulnerable young people aren’t sucked into fringe fundamentalist theology used by such groups. But our politicians also mustn’t be sucked into fringe fundamentalist politics of insisting terrorism happens in a political vacuum and our foreign policies (especially ones that involve our military presence overseas) don’t increase our exposure to terror.

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34 thoughts on “Terrorism is about occupation, not religion

  1. Gavin Moodie

    I agree, and add that some Zionists were terrorists at least until 1948. As with other terrorists, Zionist terrorists aimed to expel Britain from its occupation of Palestine and to establish a Jewish state.

  2. The Zebras

    Uh-uh.. religion can’t get off that easy. Despite whatever legitimate grievances these people had, it is through religion that they were prepared to respond to them with such atrocity. In the case of these young men and the London bombers, religion provided them with the moral justification to commit murder. Their interpretation of their faith convinced them that they were doing the right thing. This is the difference between them and other people with the same grievances who don’t murder. Despite what you say about the IRA and the Tamils, sectarianism were enablers in both these conflicts and it sickens me when religious apologists attempt to let religion of the hook for these atrocities. This article totally misses the fundamental truth that while there will always be bad people committing evil, only religion enables good people to do evil.

  3. kate

    You can’t wriggle out of it that easily Irfan. Terrorism is about occupation AND religion.

    It may be nurtured in extremist nationalism and testosterone (which explains why most religious adherents are not terrorists), but religion provides the essential element of justification and fatalism.

    Every mainstream religion (except Buddhism) teaches that (a) God has chosen you [and that everyone else’s life is of lesser worth]; (b) there is an afterlife, and this life is essentially meaningless. Therefore, if you believe that you are chosen of God, and immortal, and that God has already determined that your victim will suffer eternal torment, it makes perfect sense to become a suicide bomber. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The fact that most religionists don’t choose that path does not change that fact.

    Without the religious delusion, you might still choose terrorism, but you do it in the knowledge that this life is all there is, and that there is no all-powerful sky fairy sanctioning your actions.

  4. Kirk Broadhurst

    Good article, although I agree with the above comments that you can’t let religion ‘off the hook’ – all that religion, and dogmatic belief generally, is a blight on civilisation.

    In the days following 911 it was quite clear that the attacks were retaliation against America. ‘They hate us’ is not a good enough reason to explain suicide bombings. ‘We killed their family and destroyed their life’ is a much better explanation.

  5. Peter Scruby

    I almost forgot that Islam is a religion of peace..but I was reminded by your article…thank-you.
    Irfan Yusuf, you’re articulate and intelligent,but still an apologist for acts of terrorism,which co-incidentally are perpetrated,more often than not, by terrorists in the name of Islam..but in your view are territorial rather than spiritual.
    Perhaps you could marshall your fellow believers and castigate a little more vociferously the terrorist acts that seem to coincide with followers of Islam more than other ‘peaceful’ religions.

  6. Kevin Herbert

    What’s very clear is that Bin Laden’s 11/9 plot was aimed at the heart of US Jewry i.e. New York.

    This view does not get a line in any mainstream US media.

    What a disgrace.

  7. Kevin Herbert

    Peter Scruby: how do you classify the bombing of civilians in GAZA last January, or the extra judicial killings of Palestinians?

    Also, would you please give us your data on which you rely to state:

    “…acts of terrorism,which co-incidentally are perpetrated,more often than not, by terrorists in the name of Islam”.

    Also, you might like to provide the data on how many Christian countries are currently under occupation by Muslim nations.

    Based on your post, I’d say you’re racially biased against Muslims.

  8. acannon

    This is an interesting article. It often seems like religion is used as a ‘point of difference’ to cover the actual motive (for war, whatever), often to do with money, resources etc. Of course you can’t really separate these factors from each other completely because religion is so much a part of an individuals ‘worldview’ and what is deemed ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

    Re Zebras’ comment, about religion ‘enabling’ good people to do evil… I want to disagree with this but not sure how to put it in words. Do you mean people use it as an excuse to do bad things? In which case, I’m not sure they qualify as ‘good’ in the first place. I think I’m rambling – will stop now.

  9. Gary Stowe

    The critical flaw in Irfan’s argument is contained in the line he quotes as to what the “terrorists view as their homeland”. The “terrorists” intially referred to were born in Britain, of Pakistani and Jamaican backgrounds. Britain is their homeland, not any place they might like to imagine otherwise, and neither Paksitan nor Jamaica is under occupation.

    Not that I’m in total disagreement with his argument, but it’s too simplistic. If the only thing necessary to justify killing civilians is a belief that it’s somehow defensible because other people are occupying the place one chooses to nominate as one’s homeland then those Jews who choose to believe in the “Promised Land” of their history have every right to kill Palestinian civilians who are in the way of their “reclaiming” it, Australian aborigines have every right to slaughter all the invading immigrants of whatever stripe who’ve arrived since 1788 and I have every right to bomb Muslims in the streets of Auburn because they’re now occupying what I choose to define as my “Christian homeland.”

    Sorry, the homelands argument wouldn’t be allowed in any other context. Get back to the religion, and accept that it’s got some really nasty interpretations.

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