Towards Understanding Islam in the Postcolonial World Order. By Taj Hashmi, Honolulu, Hawaii


As the discord between modern and traditional Muslims is ideological by nature, so is the conflict between Islam and the West. And ideology is more about power, influence and identity than a mere reflection of culture and belief system. While modern Muslim elites are unwilling to concede power and privileges to the mullahs, most mullahs and their followers – mostly rural and small town lower elites with traditional Islamic or “vernacular” education – are also unwavering about not conceding any ground to non-traditional “Westernized” Muslims. The Iranian Revolution and the Taliban/al-Qaeda experiment in Afghanistan have inspired mullahs and their followers to go the Khomeini or Taliban way. Meanwhile Western duplicities and open support for Islamists during the Cold War had further emboldened Islamists within and beyond the Muslim World. State-sponsorship of Islamism by Saudi Arabia, Gulf States and Pakistan, among other states, has also been a contributing factor to the rise of political Islam. Arab autocrats promote Sunni orthodoxy to contain Shiite Iranian influence; and Pakistani rulers sometimes promote Islamists to bleed archrival India and to neutralize secular democratic opposition at home.
For distancing ourselves from any pseudo-history of Islamism, we need to understand that postcolonial Islamist re-assertion is a legacy of defeats and humiliation for the Ummah. “The death of Nasserism… in the Six-Day War of 1967”, one analyst observes, “brought Islamism as the alternative ideology in the Muslim World.” We also need an understanding of the Muslim psyche vis-à-vis the Muslim experience in Palestine, Kashmir, Iran, Algeria, Egypt, and among other places, Iraq and Afghanistan. How the Cold War allies – Muslims and the West – turned into adversaries or competitors in an uneven “elite conflict” in the Globalized World for conflicting hegemonies and ideologies demands our attention.
We also need to discern the Cold War Islamism from the post-Cold War one. While during the Cold War, Muslims considered the West a “suspect-cum-ally”. Nevertheless, Muslims regarded the West as a friend against their common enemy, communism. Although the end of the Cold War following the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan had heightened Muslim optimism, they were soon crestfallen by the not-so-benign role of the West. Instead of ushering in a new dawn of hope and empowerment for Muslims, the New World Order did not bring anything new to the Muslim World. By 1991, almost all the Muslim-majority countries – barring Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia – had remain autocratic; and by 2003 three of them – Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan – had been invaded by Western troops. In short, the cumulative unpleasant post-Cold War Muslim experience has led to the beginning of another Cold War. “Islam vs. the West” has become the new catchword. Meanwhile, pre-modern ultra-orthodox obscurantist forces had gained upper hand in many Muslim-majority countries. Interestingly, enamoured by the concept of transnational Muslim solidarity, Muslims in postcolonial societies are grabbing the elusive Ummah as their security blanket as weak and marginalized people find security in number. We may impute the prevalent obscurantism among sections of Muslims to their backwardness, lack of education and opportunities for various historical factors, but we cannot turn a blind eye to Western duplicities and hegemonic designs in the Muslim World. One can at best consider the Western lip-service to “democracy and freedom” in the Muslim World as condescending, insincere and deceitful; its insistence on bringing peace without justice from Algeria to Iraq and Palestine to Kashmir is simply shocking and terrifying.

Islamism, a Postcolonial Syndrome
Since most Muslim countries with a handful of exceptions were European colonies, the Muslim-West conflict is at least as old as colonialism. One may trace the roots of the conflict to early medieval era, even predating the Crusades. The inter-state conflicts between Muslim neighbours are by-products of colonialism. European colonial powers’ arbitrarily drawing lines “across the desert”, which created artificial states like Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia and truncated entities like Syria and Iraq; have further accentuated the conflict. The postcolonial ascendancy of the Pax Americana, which coincided with the beginning of the Cold War, divided the Muslim World between pro-American and pro-Russian camps. However, the end of the Cold War signalled the beginning of another between the Muslim World and the West. In the wake of the Cold War, the overwhelming Muslim majorities globally turned anti-Western in general and anti-American in particular. They were disillusioned with the West for its continued support for Israel and regimes hostile to their interests in the Muslim World. As substantial part of the global disempowered people, they also believe the West-sponsored Globalization process has not been beneficial to their interests at all. We must contextualize Islamic reforms, resurgence and Islamist militancy and terrorism to the dilemma of postcolonial Muslim community. They can neither forget their pre-colonial and colonial pasts, nor can they fully integrate themselves into the modern world due to various cultural and economic constraints.
The Ummah represents a racially, culturally, politically and economically diverse global Muslim community. As Muslims have economic, political and sectarian differences, they also have different ways of resolving problems, organizing dissent and protest, violently or peacefully, in the name of Islam or with secular agenda. Algerian Muslims, for example, fought a protracted bloody war of liberation against France. Algerian Muslims having the tradition of fighting a people’s war against oppressive regimes are more likely to take up arms against their enemies than Muslims in some other countries. They are not that different from Afghans. As the French colonial rulers did not allow representative self-governing institutions and relatively free press, unlike what the British experimented in its colonies; Algerians lack the tradition of organizing protests and demonstrations against their rulers in a peaceful constitutional way. The French allowed no Gandhis in their colonies either. Consequently, as Fanon has argued, the “colonized, underdeveloped man” in Algeria metamorphosed himself into a “political creature in the most global sense”. Unlike the “colonized intellectual”, the relatively free peasants posed the biggest threat to the French in Algeria. [1] The postcolonial Algerian government’s maintaining the colonial hierarchical systems, especially in the realm of education by continuing with the French and Arabic medium schools to create the employable and under-employable, French and “Vernacular” elites respectively. According to Roy, Algerian Islamist “lumpen-intellectuals”, mostly with science or engineering background, had been striving for “lumpen-Islamism”. He has demonstrated how corrupt autocracy in Algeria was responsible in culturally Islamizing the polity by toying with Islamism for the sake of legitimacy.[2]
The situation in Egypt, Sudan and Somalia is not that different from Algeria; the only major difference being their different colonial experiences. Unlike Algeria, Egypt was notsharply polarized between Western and Vernacular elites, as the titular heads of state or the khedives (later glorified as kings up to 1952) ran the administration with both Western and Arabic elites. By gagging the freedom of expression, proscribing all opposition parties and even executing dissenting politicians, postcolonial rulers have left no space for constitutional politics either in Egypt. As under Nasser and Sadat, Hosni Mubarak’s government also does not allow political dissent. Since April 2008, there has been a crackdown on the anti-Mubarak “Facebook Revolution” by Ahmed Maher. This youth movement through Facebook and Twitter has been mobilizing support for boycotting sham elections under Mubarak.[3] Dissident Muslim Brotherhood and others also face persecution on a regular basis. This has paved the way for clandestine organizations, especially the Jihadists. It is noteworthy that Pan-Islamist thinker Jamal al-Din Afghani’s Egyptian “great-grand-disciple”, Hassan al-Banna was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Banna’s disciple, Sayyid Qutb directly inspired Ayman al-Zawahiri “who in 1967 established the first jihadist cell in the Arab world”. [4]
It is noteworthy that Indian (Pakistani after 1947) Islamist Maulana Maududi (1903-1979), who founded the Jamaat-i-Islami (Party of Islam) in 1941, was both influenced by the Brotherhood and his writings also influenced the latter. However, Jamaat and Brotherhood were (are) different as well; while Maududi admired fascism, Banna had admiration for socialism and wanted social justice for the poor. Interestingly, although the Egyptian Brotherhood holds a supranational ideology, the FIS in Algeria has been primarily an Algerian nationalist movement for “Islamo-nationalism”.[5]
Islamism is not a new factor in Sudan. In 1881 Muhammad ibn Abdallah proclaimed himself the Mahdi or Messiah and declared “jihad” against Ottoman rule. The Mahdi, and after him his son Sadiq al Mahdi, ran a theocratic Mahdi State (1883-1898) in northern Sudan. The country became a military-backed theocracy during 1989 and 1999 while General Omar Bashir and the “de facto ruler”, militant cleric Hassan-el-Turabi, were in good terms. Since its relatively smooth transition to democracy after the first multi-party elections in April 2010, we may see the end of Islamist resurgence and militancy, which dogged the country for almost two decades. Sudan provides an example of how international pressure to de-Islamize the polity and the fear of total disintegration of the country worked towards democratic transition. Then again, we must not lose sight of the fact that Western biased media, leaders and people with extreme prejudice against everything Islamic or Muslim represent did not miss the opportunity to misrepresent the tribal civil war in Darfur as an “Arab and Islamic” onslaught on “non-Arabs” – Muslim and Christian – in southern Darfur.
Somalia is another example of colonial misgovernance and plunder. Once resourceful and fertile, Somalia went through about a century of Egyptian, Italian, British and French colonial rule. Italy and Britain controlled the country for eighty years up to 1960. While northwestern Somalia, which was under the “benign” British has a semblance of governance and law and order; the “not-so-benign” Italian controlled (1880-1960) southeastern region, under Islamist warlords and pirates is one of the least governable regions in the world posing grave threat to the security of the entire region. It seems Somalian Islamist groups, the Al-Shabab and their likes, are being inspired by the fighting traditions of Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, the “Mad Mullah” of the British colonial rulers up to World War I. [6]
The unique Islamist regime of Saudi Arabia, which openly practices and promotes the age-old Shariah code beyond its perimeter, is a Western ally. Although scholars and leaders across the world despise the pre-modern Wahhabism, the state-ideology of the country, the oil-rich monarchy has love-hate relationship with the West. Ultra-orthodox Wahhabism emerged as an alternative to the colonial Ottoman caliphate which ran the country and the neighboring regions of Iraq-Kuwait and Greater Syria up to the end of World War I. Had there been some space for liberal nationalist movements under the autocratic Turkish caliphate, the more stringent and backward-looking Wahhabis would not have succeeded in establishing what Saudi orthodoxy represents today. The Saudi promotion of Sunni orthodoxy reflects the regime’s paranoia about pro-Iranian, anti-monarchical “Shiite heresy” and the growing Muslim Brotherhood-Iranian understanding.[7]
Iran is very different from other Muslim-majority countries in many respects. Although never formally colonized by any European power, this predominantly Shiite polity remained subservient to the West until the 1979 Revolution. Iranian mullahs did not always oppose the West. The well-entrenched formally hierarchical clergy, a class of privileged landed gentry that virtually was “running a state within the state” under Muhammad Reza Shah; unlike Sunni clerics, have been well-educated in Western sciences and philosophy, including comparative religion and Marxism. [8] Had the Shah left the ayatollahs and mujtahids to themselves by not adversely affecting them by his problematic land reform program or the White Revolution, there would not have been any Islamic Revolution. [9]
In neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamic resurgence is a by-product of what foreign invasions, ethno-national conflicts and civil wars turned them into, failing if not totally failed states. Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni autocracy in Iraq; and more than three decade-long civil wars – fought on ethno-national / tribal and even on sectarian lines – caused and accentuated by foreign invasions and interventions in Afghanistan, led to the ongoing Islamist terrorism and ethnic cleansing in these countries. Colonial rulers’ arbitrarily drawn lines to reconstruct the political geography; and the postcolonial rulers’ denial of any space to civil societies and freedom of expression in both Iraq and Afghanistan made room for Islamism, a hotchpotch of tribal, sectarian, ethnic and other identities. Al Qaeda’s exploitative-cum-hegemonic mobilization of Sunni and Pashtun ethno-national groups, respectively in Iraq and Afghanistan; and most importantly, American (Western) sponsorship of the “jihad” against Soviet Union in 1980 were the catalysts of Islamism in both Iraq and Afghanistan and beyond. Islamist violence in Iraq may be attributed to the Shiite assertion, Sunni retaliation and the invasion of 2003, the Afghan situation is quite complex; tribalism, ethno-nationalism, narcoterrorism and proxy wars by India, Pakistan and Iran are the main factors behind the Afghan crisis, or “quagmire” as some analysts love to use the expression with regard to Western intervention in the country. Despite the hyperboles about the “success” of the “Surge” in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact remains that even if they emerge as stable democracies in the distant future, the Ummah is least likely to forget and forgive the US and its allies for directly or indirectly killing around a million Muslims in these countries since 1991. Tom Friedman has aptly described the bleak, undesirable situation in Afghanistan on the CNN. To paraphrase him: “Americans’ Training Afghans to fight is like someone training Brazilians to play soccer…. Who are training the Taliban? They even don’t have maps and don’t know how to use one….America needs nation-building at home, spending another trillion dollars in Afghanistan won’t work …. American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan may be compared with an unemployed couple’s adopting a child.”[10]
While the situation in Pakistan to some extent is similar to that in Bangladesh vis-à-vis Islamist politics, Pakistan has probably more in common with Afghanistan and what Algeria was going through in the 1990s with regard to Islamist terrorism. It is rather too early to assume that Islamist terror in these countries is going through its passing phase. Undoubtedly al-Qaeda and the Taliban are retreating, having very little support among Pakistanis, and their support base has always been very weak and insignificant in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Yet, both these countries are paying the price of state-sponsorship of political Islam. Again, factors responsible for the growth of proto-fascist intolerance and extremism – secular or religious – such as youth bulge, mass poverty, illiteracy, misgovernance and corruption are very much around in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Last but not least, they are still struggling over their identities. The polities are not sure if they are primarily multi-ethnic / multi-lingual or “Islamic”.

Although India is not a Muslim-Majority country, it has the second or third largest concentration of Muslims after Indonesia and Pakistan; some 150 million or more. Although perennial communal conflicts between more advanced Hindu majority and less advanced Muslim minority eventually led to the communal partition in 1947; and occasional rioting and even mass killing of Muslims in postcolonial India has been quite common, yet Indian Muslims in general do not believe in carving out another “Muslim Homeland” out of India. However, the situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir since 1947 is anything but normal. Denying the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination by violating UN resolutions since 1948, India has kept more than one-third of its regular army and thousands of paramilitary troops in this Muslim-majority state where violations of human rights has been endemic since long. Since long leading human rights activists, including Arundhati Roy, have been publicly asking India to stop what they call the genocide of Kashmiri Muslims and to concede to the majority Kashmiris’ demand for independence.[11] The marginalization of Muslims in India and the frequent incidents of large-scale attacks on them by Hindu mobs – mainly instigated by proto-fascist Hindu extremist groups such as the Shiv Sena and RSS in collusion with communal Hindu law-enforcers – have been breeding Islamist militancy in northern and western India. The Muslim pogroms in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 and the Gujarat killings of 2002 may be mentioned in this regard. One finds vivid accounts of discriminations and marginalization of Indian Muslims in the (Justice Rajinder) Sachar Committee Report, appointed by the Government of India. [12] Despite their “second class treatment” and discriminations by the Indian government, Muslim masses in general and clerics in particular have been opposed to terrorism in the name of Islam. In 2008, 6,000 Muslim clerics from around the country gathered in Hydrabad to register their disapproval for terrorism in the name of Islam.[13] In a personal correspondence with the author, Professor Harbans Mukhia wrote (February 28, 2009): “I think in the Indian milieu of being surrounded by a vast majority of Hindus, who have no notion of the ultimate truth, the Day of Judgment and therefore no notion of proselytisation, the Indian Muslims have been far less prone to fundamentalist manifestations than others, especially as among the Arabs.”
Islamism in Southeast Asia has differences and similarities with the syndrome elsewhere in the world, having its unique intra- and inter-state variations. However, prior to the recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Bali, southern Philippines and southern Thailand, scholars, political leaders and security practitioners had been complacent about any impending threat of Islamism in the entire region. They considered Indonesian and Malay Muslims’ syncretism as the main antidote to religious extremism, which is often a by-product of puritanism. Sukarno, so far the most charismatic leader of Indonesia, also played an important role in retaining its syncretistic heritage and keeping the largest Muslim-majority country relatively secular. However, Suharto’s ascendancy changed things almost overnight. He used Islamist fanatics in the mass killing of actual or so-called communists to strengthen his position; and thus legitimized Islamism and promoted political Islam for the sake of legitimacy, taking full advantage of Western “soft corner” for Islam during the prime of the Cold War. Later the emboldened and crest-fallen Islamists turned into his adversaries, turning the Jemaah Islamiyah into the most powerful Islamist organization in Southeast Asia. An al-Qaeda affiliate, JI believes in global jihad and wants to establish an Islamist state in the region, encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei southern Philippines and southern Thailand. [14] Ethno-nationalist separatist movements of Malay Muslims in Southern Philippines and Thailand during the last two decades have metamorphosed into Islamist movements, thanks to the growing resurgence of Global Islam.
The so-called Globalized Islam possibly exists among the Muslim Diaspora, refugees and marginalized people having no stable identity or sense of belonging to a nation or community besides the elusive transnational Ummah. [15] These “nowhere men” do not represent any civilization to fight for it; they are just angry people who have fled the “burning grounds of Islam”, carrying the fire with them and angry at the world around them.[16] There are, however, conflicting views as to why Islamists among the Diaspora resort to terrorism and even suicide attacks. As one analyst explains the British suicide attacks in July 2005:
For an earlier generation of Muslims their religion was not so strong that it prevented them from identifying with Britain. Today many young British Muslims identify more with Islam than Britain primarily because there no longer seems much that is compelling about being British. Of course, there is little to romanticise about in old-style Britishness with its often racist vision of belonging.[17]

If we accept the above as the right explanation of terrorism by members of the Muslim Diaspora, one wonders as to how about twenty Somali-American young men from Minnesota “vanished” in 2008; went to Somalia to fight for al-Qaeda and one of them, Shirwa Ahmed, last October blew himself up killing dozens of Somali opponents of their “jihad”. These young Somali-Americans came to the US in their early childhood.[18] And the US does not promote multiculturalism. It is difficult to explain the “home-grown” Islamist terrorism; Major Nidal Hasan’s killing thirteen fellow American soldiers for example, in terms of some cultural or economic explanations. American and its allies support for Israel in general; and their invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in particular have been the last straws. Muslims resort to terrorism not necessarily due to religious factors. As Rami Khouri has explained the Pakistani American Feisal Shehzad’s justifications for the attempted bombing of Times Square in New York, Muslims’ sense of collective humiliation at local, national or global level by their rulers or foreign occupation forces may turn them into terrorists.[19] One cannot agree more with Evelin Lindner, renowned psychologist and founder of the Center for Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, that:
Basically all human beings yearn for recognition and respect; their denial or withdrawal is experienced as humiliation. Humiliation is the strongest force that creates rifts and breaks down relationship among people….Men such as Osama bin Laden would never have followers if there were no victims of humiliation in many parts of the world….The rich and powerful West has long been blind to the fact that its superiority may have humiliating effects on those who are less privileged.[20]
Throughout history, most of the time, Muslims primarily fought among themselves; more Muslims than non-Muslims fell victim of Muslim wrath everywhere. The situation has remained the same; especially in the wake of the US- led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. They have wide-ranging problems of poverty, backwardness, bad governance, and above all, the crises of identity and integration into the modern world. Again, Muslims are not the only people reviving their faith during the last fifty-odd years; Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus have been on the same path to rebel against “secularist hegemony and started to wrest religion out of its marginal position and back to center stage”. We may agree with Karen Armstrong that no religion has so far been able to withstand changes over the last four hundred years in science and technology, philosophy and ideas, and socio-political and economic systems and structures. Religious revival is not just retrogressive but an attempt to cope with these changes and challenges of rationalism against myths and superstitions.[21] Again, the lines between “ethnic” and “religious” are too blurred to locate the real factors behind many conflicts.
The Muslim World and the West have been at loggerheads for centuries. During the 8th and 17th centuries, Muslim caliphates and empires had been the most formidable superpowers from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean World. Europeans in general either remained subserviently awe stricken by their Muslim hegemons or hell-bent to turn the table to their own advantage. One gets the reflection of this love-hate relationship in the corpus of European and Turco-Arabic literature, travel accounts and history. As Dante’s The Divine Comedy (written between 1308 and1321) is an epitome of hatred for Islam and its Prophet, so is Voltaire’s play, Fanaticism or Mahomet the Prophet (written in 1736). Hegel, Francis Bacon, Marx or Max Weber, among other Western scholars, had hardly any kind word for Islam either. Hegel and Marx through their discourse of “Oriental Despotism” portrayed the Orient, including the Muslim World, as inferior to the glamorous and enlightened West. The “Orientalists” only noticed despotism, splendour, cruelty and sensuality in the Muslim World to legitimize Western colonial hegemony in the orient.[22] British colonial rulers used expressions like “mad mullah” and “the noble savage” to undermine Muslim rebels and their followers in the Middle East and South Asia.[23]
Some Muslim leaders throughout history had been extremely prejudicial and discriminatory to their non-Muslim subjects and adopted oppressive policies against Jews, Christians and Hindus. The extermination of around a million Armenians by Turks in 1915-17 may be mentioned in this regard. Not only Muslim clerics and laymen but also sections of the intelligentsia and politicians glorify early and late medieval “Islamic Empires”. One just cannot ignore Europeans’ collective memories of subjugation of their ancestors under Muslim rule as an important factor to the growth of Islamophobia in the West. Similarly, one cannot deny the history of Western colonial rule of almost the entire Muslim World; and even worse, the postcolonial Western treatment of the Muslims in general and Arabs in particular as important factors in the promotion of Westophobia among Muslims. Only Turkey may be singled out as a Muslim-majority country, which ran a parallel and rival colonial empire in Eastern Europe, North Africa and Middle East for centuries. However, the loss of Turkey’s last vestiges of its empire soon after World War I sent two ominous signals to Muslims, especially in the Subcontinent: a) that while the Muslim World was under European (Christian) domination, Muslim supremacy and conquests of non-Muslim territories (often glorified by Muslim scholars and laymen) had become history; and b) that with the demise of the Ottoman caliphate, Indian Muslims had no one else to “help them out of British paramountcy”.
We must not lose sight of the extra-territoriality of transnational “jihads”. Al Qaeda, Taliban and their likes not only fight for the “liberation” of Arabia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir, but they also champion the cause of establishing an alternative Global Islamic Order. Islamists always claim to be the peace-loving champions of justice against injustice and freedom against (Western) hegemony. Very similar to Communism, Islam and Islamism promote transnational camaraderie and fraternity among their adherents. Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “formal declaration of jihad” against Soviet Union from Pakistan, and the decade-long US sponsorship of the mujahedeen refurbished their image as the greatest “freedom fighters” of all times. Lessons learnt in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1980s should never be forgotten. Exploiting ethno-national and class conflicts, Islamist extremists have turned yester-years’ “freedom fighters” into transnational insurgents and terrorists today.
Islamism is a political ideology to regulate Muslims’ private and public affairs in accordance with Islamists’ version of the faith. Again, it is not all about violence and terrorism; there are Islamists who believe in peaceful and democratic means of establishing their version of the utopian “Islamic State”. Both terrorist and peace-loving Muslims converge on one point that it is Muslims who have been at the receiving end of Western prejudice and exploitation since the beginning of Western colonialism. Consequently it is essential that we know and empathize with the Muslim discourse of “What went wrong with the Muslim World?”, or in other words, “Is the West and its allies hell-bent on destroying Islam and Muslims?” This is not a new discourse; Muslim scholars, saints, poets and politicians have been posing these soul-searching questions for the last 200-odd years, from Egypt to Arabia and Afghanistan to India and Indonesia.[24]Islamism got a new lease of life in 1979. Two events that shook the world took place in that year: the Islamic Revolution of Iran and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Never before in history, leaders, scholars and analysts in the world took so much interest in Islam and Muslims as have they been taking since 1979. Since then, more Muslims than non-Muslims have fallen victim to Western and Islamist wrath and attacks. However, despite their differences and history of bloody conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, they often close ranks against the West. While the First Gulf War of 1991 agitated Muslims against West; US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after Nine-Eleven have simply antagonized most Muslims towards the West. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are critical of the invasions have never been sympathetic to the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Islamist ideologues, who espouse the cause of “global jihad” against their Muslim and non-Muslim enemies, have benefitted most by exploiting the average Muslims’ hatred for postcolonial Western duplicities and hegemonic designs in the Muslim World. They love to hate anything Western, including pro-Western governments, leaders and culture. Paradoxically, some West-bashing Muslims also aspire for “Western-Style” democracy, justice and peace in the Muslim World. Since Nine-Eleven both the West and the Ummah in general are confused; and afraid of each other. By demonizing the “others”, Western and Muslim leaders, scholars and laymen justify the “inevitability” of the “Clash of Civilizations”. Muslim bewilderment and fear of Western retaliation against them led to the proliferation of denials and conspiracy theories after Nine-Eleven, which portray Jews and American government as the masterminds behind the attacks.
Calling all ethno-national freedom fighters “terrorists” does not resolve any issue but takes us all to a dark cul-de-sac. This is reminiscent of how European colonial rulers used to portray armed freedom fighters as “robbers” and “outlaws” and their armed resistance as “disturbances” or “problems of law and order”. Similarly, since the heydays of the Cold War we find Western policymakers, media and intellectuals denigrating all rebels and freedom fighters fighting Western interests as “terrorists” or “communists”. Western ambivalence towards religion-based polities is noteworthy. While it despises the Islamic regime in Iran; the West is prepared to go to any extent to defend the Zionist state of Israel. An understanding of violent Islamist extremism hinges on the understanding of what the postcolonial Third World in general and the Muslim World in particular think of Western hegemony and arrogance. Evelin Lindner has beautifully explained it through her personal field work experience in Rwanda and Somalia in 1998. She conveys the perceptions of the downtrodden Rwandans and Somalis about the West in the following manner:

You from the West, you come here to get a kick out of our problems. You pretend to help or do science, but you just want to have some fun….You pay lip service to human rights and empowerment! You are a hypocrite! We feel deeply humiliated by your arrogant and self-congratulatory help! First you colonize us. Then you leave us with a so-called democratic state that is alien to us. After that you watch us getting dictatorial leaders. Then you give them weapons to kill half of us. Finally you come along to “measure our suffering.[25]

[1] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Grover Press, New York 2005, Ch V, pp.181-234
[2] Oliver Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, I.B. Tauris, London 1994, pp. 75-88
[3] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The April 6 Youth Movement”, September 22, 2010 (accessed November 22, 2010)
[4] Fawaz A. Gerges, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy, Harcourt, Inc. New York 2006, p.37
[5] Ibid, pp. 129-30
[6] Ioan Lewis and Anita Adam, Understanding Somalia and Somaliland: Culture, History and Society, C Hurst & Co, London 2008, p.5
[7] Oliver Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, I.B. Tauris, London 1994, pp.120-21
[8] Ibid, pp.172-3
[9] M. Reza Ghods, Iran in the Twentieth Century: A political History, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder 1989, pp.192-230
[10] CNN, Fareed Zakariya GPS, June 27, 2010
[11] Arundhati Roy, “Kashmir’s Fruits of Discord”, NYT, November 8, 2010
[12] Government of India, Ministry of Minority Affairs, Sachar Committee Report, New Delhi 2006
[13] Harbans Mukhia, “Indian Muslims: One of a Kind”, Times of India, 20 December 2008
[14] See Greg Barton, Indonesia's Struggle: Jemaah Islamiyah And the Soul of Islam, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney 2005
[15] Oliver Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah, Columbia University Press, New York 2004, pp.67-9
[16] Fouad Ajami, “The Clash”, New York Times Sunday Book Review, January 6, 2008;
[17] Kenan Malik, “multiculturalism has fanned the flames of Islamic extremism”, The Times, July 16, 2005
[18] Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball, “Recruited for Jihad?”Newsweek, February 2, 2009
[19] Rami Khouri, “Terrorists AreAlso Spawned by Humiliation”, NYT, June 29, 2010[20] Evelin Gerda Lindner, “Humiliation as the Source of Terrorism: A New Paradigm”, Peace Studies, 33(2), 2001, p.59
[21] Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Ballantine Books, New York 2001, “Introduction”
[22] Edward Said, Orientalism, Vintage Books, New York 1979, passim
[23] Akbar S. Ahmad, Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society, Vistaar Publications, New Delhi 1990, pp. 117-40
[24] Hafeez Malik, Moslem Nationalism in India and Pakistan, Public Affairs Press, Washington, DC 1963, pp.123-98
[25] Evelin Gerda Lindner, op cit, pp.62-3

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