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Madrassa and rogue Sharia law - 1

by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

(July 10, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) When I for the first time forecasted that Madrassa was becoming breeding ground of Jihadists, many of my fellow journalists instantly raised their fingers at me saying, I was serving the purpose of 'foreign interest'. Policymakers in the government were even much aggressive in bringing sedition, treason and blasphemy charges against me. They tried to give justification to such actions saying, my criticizing the Madrassa and forecasting the rise of Islamist militancy within such institutions; I was hurting the sentiment of Muslims and was doing harm to Islam!

Ridiculous indeed!

In this article, I will discuss many of the unknown and untold facts on Madrassas in the world, along with some very exclusive investigative information on such religious schools.

Muslims consider Madrassas as the basic place of generating clergies as well as those who can be the custodians of Islam in the respective countries. But, many are still unaware that in the name of religious education, major segment of such Madrassas are active as breeding ground of Jihadists. Instead of real Islamic education, the students are taught of religious hatred. Their brains are filled with the poison of hate towards everyone who is not a Muslim. Moreover, the very old notion of 'killing Jews and Christians' and remaining a good Muslim is very strong planted in the minds of thousands of students of such institutions.

For past several years, I have done extensive investigation into the Madrassa education system and the Qaomi [Koranic] Madrassa in Bangladesh as well as studied extensively on such religious schools around the world and each of my inquisitive investigations finally ended in identifying growth of radical and militant Islam right within the 64,000 Qaomi Madrassas in Bangladesh, as well others within the Islamic and non Islamic world.

Although people are always putting focus on Madrassas involvement in breeding Jihadists, they are yet to investigate the inside stories in Madrassas, where male and female students are sexually abused by the clergies on a regular basis. Sodomy is a growing phenomenon in the Madrassas, and according to various reports, silent spread of HIV and Aids is gradually putting a huge blanket on the large number of students and teachers coming of such institutions.

Terrorism and rise of radical Islam is a global problem. Islamic terrorism [also known as Islamist terrorism or Jihadist terrorism] is religious terrorism by those whose motivations are rooted in their interpretations of Islam. Statistics gathered for 2006 by the National Counterterrorism Center of the United States indicated that "Islamic extremism" was responsible for approximately 25% of all terrorism fatalities worldwide, and a majority of the fatalities for which responsibility could be conclusively determined. Terrorist acts have included airline hijacking, beheading, kidnapping, assassination, roadside bombing, suicide bombing, and occasionally rape.

According to some experts, Perhaps the most resonant incident of Islamic terrorism was the 9/11 attack on the United States. Other prominent attacks have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Israel, Britain, Spain, France, Russia and China. These terrorist groups often describe their actions as Islamic jihad [struggle]. Self-proclaimed sentences of punishment or death, issued publicly as threats, often come in the form of fatwas [Islamic legal judgments]. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have been among the targets and victims, but threats against Muslims are often issued as takfir [a declaration that a person, group or institution that describes itself as Muslim has in fact left Islam and thus is a traitor]. This is an implicit death threat as the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death under Sharia law.

The controversies surrounding the subject include whether the terrorist act is self-defense or aggression, national self-determination or Islamic supremacy; the targeting of noncombatants; whether Islam ever could condone terrorism; whether some attacks described as Islamic terrorism are merely terrorist acts committed by Muslims or nationalists; how much support there is in the Muslim world for Islamic terrorism; whether the Arab-Israeli Conflict is the root of Islamic terrorism, or simply one cause.

Osama bin Laden is the millionaire son of a construction magnate. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's deputy, is a medical doctor. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaida in Iraq was an uneducated street thug who converted to a radical form of Islam in prison. Recently we saw a female Belgian convert to Islam become a suicide bomber in Iraq. It is difficult to identify what such people have in common other than a willingness to kill — and sometimes to die — for a cause they are convinced is right. No study has so far been able to explain why some people become terrorists and others don't. Socio-psychological factors and questions of identity seem to be important and the dynamics of various cults have some striking parallels to terrorist cells. One thing we frequently see in the trajectory of terrorists is a conversion experience that occurs within a small, tight-knit group. The dynamics of such groups tend to reinforce personal conviction, especially among individuals whose other social networks have frayed or can't match the intensity of bonds forged in what is for them an existential struggle.

Often the group is led by a 'charismatic figure' such as a 'jihad veteran', or jihad entrepreneur who raises funds and recruits for jihad. Such groups are found in many contexts, from prisons to social clubs. Often they are associated with a mosque, but generally they do not hold meetings in the mosque itself. Also the internet is playing a role in this conversion by exposing people to extremist views and the possibilities presented by jihad.

Many of the members of such cells have little history of extremism — or of piety. The most pious are not necessarily those most likely to become terrorists. Indeed, one could argue that for some people it is their poor understanding of Islam — and for the young suicide bomber, perhaps even their naivety — that has made them susceptible to extreme views.

Some analysts have argued that the root causes of terrorism lie not with the psychology or life experience of the individual but with deeper underlying political and economic currents. These root causes are variously listed as poverty, underdevelopment, un-employment, the demography of youth bulges, Palestinian dispossession and so forth.

These so-called 'root causes' are relevant but they do not go to the heart of the issue. First, there is the obvious fact that many terrorists are middle class or even from elites. Social studies of terrorists show that they are generally better educated than the broader population.

Secondly, terrorism is not limited to developing countries: look at the history of terrorism in developed democracies such as the United Kingdom. Finally, behind talk of root causes there is an assumption that they are somehow more real than the terrorists' self-proclaimed motivations, that economic factors are more solid than ideology or identity. But as the protests over the Danish cartoons showed: issues of belief, identity and culture are just as real as material ones for many Muslims, and may well drive the emotions of many even more strongly.

That said, dysfunctional economies and authoritarian political systems magnify feelings of frustration and anger which, in turn, provide fertile soil for those who manipulate questions of identity and victim hood in the cause of violent jihad.

Since 9/11 the nature of the terrorist threat has changed. It has become more decentralized and amorphous. Al Qaida is still an active threat even if it has not been directly responsible for any major attack for the past two years. Al Qaida is fighting a war that it believes will last for generations. It has not given up its goal of conducting catastrophic attacks in the United States. We should not forget that eight and a half years passed between the first and second World Trade Centre attacks, and that the relative failure of the first attack seems to have acted more as an incentive than a dampener.

One of Al Qaida's 'achievements' has been to draw many groups and Jihadists out of their local struggles and focus them on the 'far enemy'. Zawahiri, now Al Qaida's chief ideologist, himself moved from a local, Egyptian preoccupation to a global, anti-US ideology. And the story of Jamaah Islamiyah in Indonesia is about the transformation of a group which grew out of a national Islamist movement — Darul Islam — and has gone on to adopt the global Jihadist view of Al Qaida and others.

The terrorist threat today is best understood as a network of networks.

Sometimes the groups and cells that make up this extended network are held together by formal alliances — the best example is the alliance between core Al Qaida and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al Qaida franchise in Iraq. But most often the links are informal, based on personal contacts. Surprising to some as it may seem, Al Qaida does not exercise command and control over this extensive network.

Consequently terrorists co-operate with each other at a variety of levels. This co-operation may not be 'official', and it is certainly not part of a giant global plot directed from a cave somewhere on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ad hoc cells are formed for particular operations. A terrorist 'entrepreneur' with good access to financial donors can supply money. Cells or individual facilitators can provide others with documents or at least with the knowledge of where they can acquire them. A more experienced group can provide a trained bomb-maker to a cell that has a plan but not the technical expertise to carry it out. Veterans can vouch for new recruits to get them into training camps.

This amorphous structure can make it extremely difficult to determine who was responsible for an attack and how it was carried out. After a major attack such as Madrid or London, the automatic question is 'Was Al Qaida responsible?'

It all depends on what you mean by 'Al Qaida' and by 'responsible'. Certainly Al Qaida's ideology and its record of attacks may have provided inspiration, but beyond that, the direct fingerprints are harder to find. Because of the nature of this network of networks, it is always possible to find intriguing personal links back to core Al Qaida — such links do not necessarily mean direct command and control. More importantly no direct Al Qaida involvement — for either planning or finances or other help — is needed to carry out successful attacks. Partly as a result of this network of networks structure, we should be careful not to ascribe to Islamist terrorism a monolithic unity. There are connecting threads: the conviction that the “US and its allies are waging a war against Islam”, the contempt for apostate' Muslim regimes, rejection of liberal democracy as atheistic and decadent and particularly the appeal of the single narrative of Muslim victim hood. But it is also the case that the Jihadist movement is diverse with a large degree of internal disagreement over goals and methods. Nor are terrorist groups exempt from the squabbles over money, personalities, and thwarted ambitions that afflict all organizations. One example of disagreement is the current debate between Al Qaida leaders such as Zawahiri on the one hand and Zarqawi's network in Iraq on the other over the legitimacy of killing Shia. Various groups have varying opinions on the legitimacy of killing any civilians. There is also the persistent debate over whether to fight the near 'enemy' — the allegedly corrupt and apostate regimes of the Middle East or Indonesia — or the far 'enemy', the United States which allegedly keeps those regimes in power. We should not however latch onto such disputes as evidence terrorist groups are about to implode. The Jihadist tent is a broad one. Whatever their differences, most Islamist terrorists see themselves as fighting for the same cause: God is one; His cause is one, so His army is one.

My contention that terrorism will be with us for some time yet is not intended to suggest that the fight against terrorism is failing. Rather I would say that while we have had some big wins it is perhaps premature to declare victory. Many terrorist leaders and planners have been killed or captured around the world. Crucial middlemen have been arrested, such as Hambali who was a link between Al Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah, as have skilled planners such as Khalid Sheykh Muhammad, the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 attack. The invasion of Afghanistan shut down Al Qaida and other groups' training camps there. Al Qaida's core leadership has been driven underground. Multilateral conventions have made the transfer of terrorist funds more difficult. Terrorists have been forced to limit their use of electronic communication and fall back upon couriers. Improved border security and more secure travel documentation have made travel more difficult. We have seen unprecedented co-operation at the bilateral and multilateral level among security forces and intelligence agencies. As a result plots have been disrupted and many terrorists have been captured.

These global efforts underline the global nature of the threat. Those waging the jihad certainly see it as a global struggle as events in Iraq demonstrate. There, Jihadists see an environment rich in both targets and propaganda opportunities. Iraq is being used as a rhetorical rallying point by Jihadist groups around the world. Jihadists see in Iraq an opportunity to attack the far enemy, the United States. Their target is also what they regard as the near enemy: the democratically elected government of Iraq which they portray as an American puppet. And in Iraq, as elsewhere, Jihadists have also been quite adept at exploiting communal and regional tensions. Videos of attacks on Coalition forces appear within hours on the internet and we know that such material is manipulated in the radicalization and recruitment process. Propagandists use the war to reinforce their narrative of Muslim victim hood, of the clash of civilizations and of cosmic war between Islam and the crusading West.

Also, terrorist networks and cells have formed to supply recruits, funds, and the everyday equipment of the bomber to the Iraq jihad. These facilitation networks extend throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Western Europe. It would however be a mistake to see the insurgency in Iraq as essentially a jihad campaign. Foreign Jihadists are responsible for a disproportionate number of the suicide bombings targeted at the coalition and Iraqi forces. But the foreign Jihadists in fact comprise only a small fraction of the overall insurgency which is more about Iraqi Sunni resentment at the loss of power than jihad against the west. And importantly the global threat from Islamist terrorism would exist irrespective of what has happened in Iraq.

Nor is Iraq in the same league as pre-9/11 Afghanistan as a base for global Islamist terrorism. So far terrorist groups have not been able to establish training camps in Iraq on the scale of Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s.

Also, most insurgents in Iraq are locals, and many will not want to extend their jihad outside of Iraq. There is a concern about the potential for a terrorist bleed out from Iraq — the Amman hotel bombings, for example, were planned in Iraq and carried out primarily by Iraqis under the direction of Zarqawi's network. Zarqawi, having been imprisoned in Jordan, has a particular grudge against that country. But a key point here is that the scale and nature of the Jihadists groups in Iraq are quite different to what we faced in Afghanistan.

Let me turn now to the importance of the internet for terrorists. Just like everybody else in our digital age, terrorists use the internet for many purposes. They use it to communicate and transfer funds, although counter-terrorism efforts have had some effect in restricting both. And they use it to raise funds — videotapes of attacks in places like Iraq and elsewhere are used to encourage further donations. But probably the most important use of the internet for Islamist terrorists is the creation of a virtual 'Ummah', or community of believers. Islamists are at the forefront of those recognizing the net's full potential to promote a virtual community. There are literally thousands of websites with chat rooms and bulletin boards where extremists can meet like-minded people. While such people are a small minority of the general population, the internet allows them to form a community of their own, reinforcing and radicalizing their views. It also provides a forum in which the merely curious, or disgruntled, can be exposed to extremist views. And while governments around the world can shut down extremist mosques, or deport radical imams, or even use new technology to increase their control of the internet, it is impossible to shut down the internet or deport firebrands to a place where they cannot access the internet and continue to preach in cyberspace.

But while the internet is important to the tactics of terrorism its role should not be exaggerated. Documents and videos posted on the internet can certainly be used for training. But despite the massive amounts of information on the internet, it augmented, not replaced, real world training in camps. The information on the internet is most useful to someone who has already received terrorist training. For example, the mere fact that there are recipes, of varying degrees of completeness, for chemical and biological weapons on the internet does not mean terrorists are successfully producing them. Nor has Islamist cyber-terrorism been a major problem so far. Whatever their wishes, Islamist terrorists currently have low capability to attack the internet itself or the infrastructure it supports. There are many states and criminal groups that have a greater capacity.

For Australia the trajectory of terrorism in Southeast Asia is of particular concern. And in many ways developments in Southeast Asia mirror those globally. Considerable progress has been made in counter-terrorism efforts. The political will to deal with terrorism is stronger today than in the aftermath of the first Bali bombings in October 2002. Better cooperation is occurring among security forces and intelligence agencies. Capacity building programs by Australia and others are bearing fruit. Key leaders have been arrested or killed. I have mentioned the arrest of Hambali, the main link between Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaida and a key player in the first Bali attack. Last year Azahari — also closely involved in the Bali 1 bombings — was killed. And around 300 Jemaah Islamiyah members have been arrested in Indonesia. Nevertheless, Jemaah Islamiyah remains a capable and resilient terrorist group. It retains links with Al Qaida but it is not dependent on Al Qaida for either funding or operational support. Under pressure it has become more decentralized in its structure and operational planning. But its strategic objectives and its targeting of Australia and the West are unchanged. Jemaah Islamiyah has continued to carry out attacks, most recently the second Bali bombing which targeted Westerners including Australians, but actually killed many more Indonesians. Jemaah Islamiyah can draw on a pool of trained bomb makers and a larger pool of sympathizers who can provide logistical support for a core of operational planners. This situation will not change soon, despite the general abhorrence of the overwhelming majority of Indonesians towards Jemaah Islamiyah's methods and goals. There are several other issues to which we must play close attention in Southeast Asia. One of the key elements of Al Qaida's method has been to globalize what are essentially local disputes and portray what are nationalist or ethnic conflicts as being part of a more important, and strategic global jihad. So we need to be alert to whether Al Qaida or Jemaah Islamiyah are succeeding in injecting themselves into the separatist conflicts in the southern Philippines and southern Thailand.

In the Philippines this is already the case with Jemaah Islamiyah's links into the southern Philippines giving it a longer strategic reach. In return for safe haven and a certain strategic depth, Jemaah Islamiyah has provided groups in the south with terrorist training. This relationship has extended the capabilities of all participating groups. In contrast we have seen little evidence so far that Jemaah Islamiyah or Al Qaida has managed to inject itself into the separatist conflict in southern Thailand, although the longer the conflict continues, the greater opportunity there will be for outside groups to interfere.

The war against terror is a misleading metaphor because it suggests there will be a decisive moment when we know whether we face victory or defeat. The reality is that this will be a long and incremental struggle waged on many fronts. Part of the struggle will involve finding and eliminating terrorists and constraining their support bases. But at a broader level it will also involve blunting the appeal of violent extremism by giving potential recruits a greater sense of hope than the nihilism which lies at the core of terrorist psychology.

It is in this area that economic and political factors intersect with the drivers of terrorism. Open societies delivering on the economic aspirations of their citizens are not a guarantee against terrorism. But they will go a large way towards blunting the appeal of extremists. Democracies are more likely to be responsive to the grievances that can lead people to adopt violence. They are more likely to implement the economic reforms which will not only increase the size of the pie but share it more equitably. In the long run democracy can break the political and economic hold of narrow elites, allow the kind of civil society that permits free expression, and reduce the corruption that plagues authoritarian societies. But democratization cannot be an immediate panacea. Firstly, groups like Al Qaida are not going to lay down their arms and participate in a democratic process. For Zawahiri and Zarqawi, democracy puts human law ahead of 'God's law' and is therefore abhorrent. They hate Islamist groups that participate in the democratic process as much as they hate the Middle East's current regimes. Terrorists would probably still target those governments — even with such Islamist groups in power — just as they target the democratically elected government in Iraq. Since new democracies would probably be supported by the West, then the West too will remain a target.

Secondly, democratization can in the short term increase strategic uncertainty. Due to the lack of secular or liberal political parties in the Middle East, it is probable that Islamist parties of some stripe would win many elections. And we simply don't know what a group like the Muslim Brotherhood would be like in power. The recent success of Hamas in the Palestinian elections illustrates these points. Certainly one can argue that the responsibility of governing should be a moderating influence in the long term. But whether this turns out to be the case in the short to medium term in the Middle East is by no means certain. And thirdly, radicals can exploit political space in democracies, especially newly emerging ones: space which authoritarian regimes would deny them. A militant Islamist fringe is now present in post-Suharto democratic Indonesia; a fringe which seeks to intimidate mainstream Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and parts of which is feeding recruits to Jamaah Islamiyah. Few Indonesians agree with their ideology, and even fewer with their methods. But enough are at least sympathizing with the Islamists' narrative of Muslim victim hood and “Western conspiracy” to make counterterrorism co-operation with Western countries politically sensitive.

While terrorism - even in the form of suicide attacks — is not an Islamic phenomenon by definition, it cannot be ignored that the lion's share of terrorist acts and the most devastating of them in recent years have been perpetrated in the name of Islam. This fact has sparked a fundamental debate both in the West and within the Muslim world regarding the link between these acts and the teachings of Islam. Most Western analysts are hesitant to identify such acts with the bona fide teachings of one of the world's great religions and prefer to view them as a perversion of a religion that is essentially peace-loving and tolerant. Western leaders have reiterated time and again that the war against terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. It is a war against evil.

Modern international Islamist terrorism is a natural offshoot of twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism. The “Islamic Movement” emerged in the Arab world and British-ruled India as a response to the dismal state of Muslim society in those countries: social injustice, rejection of traditional mores, acceptance of foreign domination and culture. It perceives the malaise of modern Muslim societies as having strayed from the “straight path” and the solution to all ills in a return to the original mores of Islam. The problems addressed may be social or political: inequality, corruption, and oppression. But in traditional Islam — and certainly in the worldview of the Islamic fundamentalist — there is no separation between the political and the religious. Islam is, in essence, both religion and regime and no area of human activity is outside its remit. Be the nature of the problem as it may, “Islam is the solution.”

The underlying element in the radical Islamist worldview is a historic and dichotomist: Perfection lies in the ways of the Prophet of Islam and the events of his time; therefore, religious innovations, philosophical relativism, and intellectual or political pluralism are anathema. In such a worldview, there can exist only two camps — Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb — which are pitted against each other until the final victory of Islam. These concepts are carried to their extreme conclusion by the radicals; however, they have deep roots in mainstream Islam.

While the trigger for “Islamic awakening” was frequently the meeting with the West, Islamic-motivated rebellions against colonial powers rarely involved individuals from other Muslim countries or broke out of the confines of the territories over which they were fighting. Until the 1980s, most fundamentalist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood were inward-looking; Western superiority was viewed as the result of Muslims having forsaken the teachings of the Prophet. Therefore, the remedy was, first, “re-Islamization” of Muslim society and restoration of an Islamic government, based on Islamic law [Shariah]. In this context, jihad was aimed mainly against “apostate” Muslim governments and societies, while the historic offensive jihad of the Muslim world against the infidels was put in abeyance [at least until the restoration of the caliphate].

Until the 1980s, attempts to mobilize Muslims all over the world for a jihad in one area of the world [Palestine, Kashmir] were unsuccessful. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a watershed event, as it revived the concept of participation in jihad to evict an “infidel” occupier from a Muslim country as a “personal duty” for every capable Muslim. The basis of this duty derives from the “irreversibility” of Islamic identity both for individual Muslims [thus, capital punishment for “apostates” — e.g., Salman Rushdie] and for Muslim territories. Therefore, any land [Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Spain] that had once been under the sway of Islamic law may not revert to control by any other law. In such a case, it becomes the “personal duty” of all Muslims in the land to fight a jihad to liberate it. If they do not succeed, it becomes incumbent on any Muslim in a certain perimeter from that land to join the jihad and so forth. Accordingly, given the number of Muslim lands under “infidel occupation” and the length of time of those occupations, it is argued that it has become a personal duty for all Muslims to join the jihad. This duty — if taken seriously — is no less a religious imperative than the other five pillars of Islam. It becomes a de facto sixth pillar; a Muslim who does not perform it 'will inherit hell'.

Such a philosophy attributing centrality to the duty of jihad is not an innovation of modern radical Islam. The seventh-century Kharijite sect, infamous in Islamic history as a cause of Muslim civil war, took this position and implemented it. But the Kharijite doctrine was rejected as a heresy by medieval Islam. The novelty is the tacit acceptance by mainstream Islam of the basic building blocks of this “neo-Kharijite” school.

The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union were perceived as an eschatological sign, adumbrating the renewal of the jihad against the infidel world at large and the apocalyptical war between Islam and heresy which will result in the rule of Islam in the world. Along with the renewal of the jihad, the Islamist Weltanschauung, which emerged from the Afghani crucible, developed a Thanatophile ideology in which death is idealized as a desired goal and not a necessary evil in war.

An offshoot of this philosophy poses a dilemma for theories of deterrence. The Islamic traditions of war allow the Muslim forces to retreat if their numerical strength is less than half that of the enemy. Other traditions go further and allow retreat only in the face of a tenfold superiority of the enemy. The reasoning is that the act of jihad is, by definition, an act of faith in Allah. By fighting a weaker or equal enemy, the Muslim is relying on his own strength and not on Allah; by entering the fray against all odds, the 'Mujahid' [Jihadist] is proving his utter faith in Allah and will be rewarded accordingly. The politics of Islamist radicalism has also bred a mentality of bello ergo sum [I fight, therefore I exist] — Islamic leaders are in constant need of popular jihads to boost their leadership status. Nothing succeeds like success: The attacks in the United States gave birth to a second wave of 'Mujahidin' who want to emulate their 'heroes'.

What is Madrassa?

The word madrasah is derived from the triconsonantal root, which relates to learning or teaching, through the wazn [form/stem], meaning "a place where X is done." Therefore, madrasah literally means "a place where learning/teaching is done". The word is also present as a loanword with the same innocuous meaning in many Arabic-influenced languages, such as: Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Indonesian, Malay and Bosnian. In the Arabic language, the word madrasah simply means the same as school does in the English language, whether that is private, public or parochial school, as well as for any primary or secondary school whether Muslim, non-Muslim, or secular. Unlike the understanding of the word school in British English, the word madrasah is like the term school in American English, in that it can refer to a university-level or post-graduate school as well. For example, in the Ottoman Empire during the Early Modern Period, Madrasahs had lower schools and specialized schools where the students became known as danismends. The Hebrew cognate midrasha also connotes the meaning of a place of learning.

... Continued

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