Fifteen years ago today the world changed forever. The boundaries between war and peace disappeared as a cowardly new kind of warfare manifested itself in the 9/11 attacks and a horrible new ideology was born. It is an ideology that continues to haunt us every time there is a new act of jihadi terrorism, and because the rules of war have changed completely, no leader of the ‘civilised’ world has so far been able to come up with an effective strategy to defeat jihadi Islam. It is possible that before very long we will see the Islamic State destroyed, but the ideology that is the reason why the caliphate was founded continues to have an allure that is disturbingly powerful.
Everywhere that there are Muslims we see the effects of this and everywhere there are Muslims we see excuses for why the allure is so strong. The excuses began immediately after 9/11, with millions of Muslims across the world refusing to accept that it was in the name of Islam that those airplanes were hijacked and used as weapons of mass destruction in New York and Washington.
Ridiculous rumours were given such credence in Islamic countries that books were written on the so-called conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks. Conspiracy theories alleged that there were no Jews killed in New York because Israel was behind the attacks and that the American government was itself responsible, to justify an invasion of Iraq. Rubbish like this is believed by far too many Muslims who see Islam as the target of the global war on terror. The biggest threat to Islam today comes from Islamism, but most world leaders hesitate to say this.
Last week in Vientiane, our Prime Minister blamed Pakistan for a problem that is far more complex than he seems prepared to accept. He said, “There’s one country in our neighbourhood whose competitive advantage rests solely in producing and exporting terrorism. The time has come for us to stop this global exporter of terror.”
If he had the current unrest in the Kashmir Valley in mind when he said this, he must think again. There are many reasons for the unrest, and one of them is that Pakistan continues to infiltrate jihadi terrorists into Kashmir, but we need to acknowledge that Islamism is nearly as big a factor. The Jamaat-e-Islami began the process of Islamising Kashmir more than 30 years ago, and the process is now complete.
All the louche infidel practices that once existed on account of the beneficial influence of Indic religions have long been erased. Dargahs where Hindus and Muslims both worshipped have disappeared, as have bars, cinemas and video libraries. As someone who was researching a book on Kashmir when the attacks on these un-Islamic practices began, I witnessed some of these personally. Kashmiri politicians did too, and for fear of losing public sympathy did nothing to stop them, so younger Kashmiri separatists are much more Islamist than those who led the movement for ‘azadi’ in the Eighties and Nineties.
Our problem with Islamism is sadly not confined to the Kashmir Valley. Indian Muslims in large numbers may not have gone off to fight for ISIS but evidence that they are attracted by the ideology of the caliphate can be found in Muslim-dominated localities across India. How can they not be affected when whole countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have become visibly more Islamist since the 9/11 attacks?
Before the lines between war and peace blurred on this day 15 years ago, it was easy to identify the enemy and wage a war to defeat him. It no longer is because the enemy is an ideology and not a country or a group of countries. So whether the leaders of the world admit it or not, what we face today is a war of ideas and ideologies in which defeat and victory are no longer as identifiable or clear as they once used to be. In India, with the second largest Muslim population in the world, it becomes even more important that the Islamist version of Islam is defeated. If our political leaders appear not to have come even close to defeating the jihadists, it is because they have tried to define the problem in very simplistic terms.
We have ‘secular’ leaders who acknowledge no difference between radical Islam and Hindutva. Against them stand political leaders who believe that the way to win this war is to transform the Sanatan Dharma into a Hindu version of radical Islam. The only possibility of preventing jihadi Islam from putting roots deep into Indian soil is to defend aggressively the religious and secular values that have always defined India. European countries that failed to stand up for their own values today have serious problems with jihadi Islam. We must learn from their mistakes.