Saturday, January 2

Jihad and the Indian Home Minister

Sometimes I worry about our chattering political classes, specially about their grasp of basic funda’s relating to history, culture, politics and religion. Anyway, seems like our Indian Home Minister Chidambaram spoke (here is another report from a Muslim newspaper) at the Intelligence Bureau Centenary celebrations. The main bits which bewildered me are, and I quote:

The home minister also referred to the rise of a new kind of threat. He said, "Just as the Cold War came to an end, we witnessed the emergence of another kind of war, namely, jihad. Jihad is a war or struggle against non-believers and, currently, it is waged by a number of groups owing allegiance to Islam. Unlike the original Crusades, jihad is not fought like conventional war. Jihad employs terror as an instrument to achieve its objectives. The tactics of jihadis have been copied by militants belonging to other groups too, not excluding militants professing the Hindu faith."

There are so many things wrong with this statement (if correct, I have not been able to access a transcript of his speech). Let's see where all he went off the rails.

1. Jihad is not a war, it can only be termed as a religiously mandated observance. To confuse it with a political and military phenomena, which is the commonly known western sense of the word i.e. war, is seriously deficient and lacking. The word itself is a noun, meaning Struggle and you are supposed to struggle against your own weaknesses of the self (meaning to become better), to guard against bad or false utterances, guard against violence and the struggle with the sword. One can wage war based upon strict criteria (although these criteria can vary and this is the crux of the matter) against apostates, criminals, to defend the Islamic state, to expand the state, rebel against bad rulers, etc. etc. The wiki entry is a reasonably good overview of this topic.

2. The Crusades. Ah, another spectacular silly comment. The crusades were not war. If at all, then that was the Christian Jihad. At least as far as the religious angle is concerned. Various Christian Popes and rulers went about saying that the holy land had to be liberated and it was the Christian duty of the faithful to go about chucking out the infidels. Then the Muslims waged their Muslim Jihad on the Christian Jihad. Very confusing but war it wasn't. This was two religions having it out based upon their respective religious rulings. Here is a good site on how the Muslims viewed Crusades and this is a good book on it. Here’s a nice site from the Christian side.

3. War as we understand it is carried out between two recognised entities, and can be a civil war between two populaces, a war against something like drugs, a war against an idea like poverty or illiteracy, etc. etc. But we generally recognise wars between two countries or states, waged by armies in uniform, with a relatively formal beginning (with firing of a shot) and end (like signing a surrender or ceasefire agreement). It has force of law based upon what cannot be done rather than what its components are. The whole legal paraphernalia and edifice around war crimes (Hague, Geneva, Nuremberg, UN Tribunals and now the International Criminal Court) defines what cannot be done in terms of war. And the crusades definitely were not war, even if you want to apply current thinking to a medieval phenomena like the Crusades.

4. Terror. Again a silly formulation by the minister. Terrorism has 10.2 million definitions at the last count. By and large, they contain words like “use of violence”, “for political or religious or or or purposes”, “against a state or civilians”, etc. etc. But what actually counts on the ground is the definition as included in the Law of the various countries. See here for a good list of these laws.

5. Jihad utilising terror as an instrument. Now this is quite contentious. But if the understanding is that of #4 above, then by and large, that is not agreed upon by the majority of Muslim Jurists as shown by a very large number of jurists who have expressed their views on this. It is pretty much clear that the majority of Jurists do not think that terrorism (as defined by modern day law and usage) is allowed under Jihad.

So you might as well as ask, where on earth are these fundamentalists getting their religious justification from? Well, if one has to point to one source (and believe you me, there are tons of other sources), the original root lies in the time when the Mongols rampaged through the Middle East. A chap called as Imam Ibn Taymiyyah released his famous fatwa on Jihad. Here is the English version of the same and this fatwa, via Banna, Qutb, Maududi and others have come down to the current fundos in Al Queda, LeT and other assorted Mujahedeen’s. The main section is and I quote:

Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely [2:189, 8:39] and God’s word is uppermost [9:40], therefore, according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought. As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed, unless they actually fight with words [e.g. by propaganda] and acts [e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare]. Some [jurists] are of the opinion that all of them may be killed, on the mere ground that they are unbelievers, but they make an exception for women and children since the constitute property for Muslims. However, the first opinion is the correct one, because we may only fight those who fight us when we want to make God’s religious victorious. God, Who is exalted, has said in this respect: "And fight in the way of God those who fight you, but transgress not: God loves not the transgressors." [The Qur’aan, 2:190]……………….

The Sharee`a [shari'a] enjoins fighting the unbelievers, but not the killing of those who have been captured. If a male unbeliever is taken captive during warfare or otherwise, e.g. as a result of a shipwreck, or because he lost his way, or as a result of a ruse, then the head of state (imam) may do whatever he deems appropriate: killing him, enslaving him, releasing him or setting him free for a ransom consisting in either property or people [freeing Muslim captives in return]. This is the view of most jurists and it is supported by the Koran and the Sunna.

As you can see, there are some exclusions and the terrorists use it to appeal to their supporters. Here’s a very good overview of how Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwa and work has fed its way down to the fundos. But there is obviously a tension between the mainstream view and the terrorists view. Here’s a good overview of this tension. And in particular, if by this time you have not fallen asleep and are still facing problems in comprehending, read this rebuttal from Zawahiri. Warning, it's a book and pretty heavy going. That said, fatwas like this can cause confusion amongst the ranks. Coming from Darul Uloom Deoband means that it is respected.

Now, not having view of the transcript, I cannot say if the minister was right or wrong, but he was speaking from the perspective of the terrorist groups, well, then from their perspective, Jihad does have elements of terror, I am afraid.

6. Finally we come to the point he is making in terms of Hindu militants copying the tactics. Now this is a bit ambivalent. Reading for example Sarvarkar’s book Hindutva (which presumably would be the closest you can get to an ideological book), he talks about Hindutva relying on geographical unity, racial unity and common culture. But while he bangs on about Hinduism, nowhere does he reference any actual religious book to bolster his arguments, thereby giving me the impression that he is talking culture rather than religion, which applies to the notion of Jihad then as well. So that’s a crucial difference but on the other hand, terrorist tactics relating to propaganda, funding, violence against civilians, for political purposes, yes, he totally brought that on board. Here’s a good overview of the ideology and tactics underlying this Hindutva business.

But his other comments were weird and for such a sensitive topic, I am surprised that he spoke so loosely.

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