In the past, the more enlightened of us could comfort ourselves with the thought that poverty and social repression produce malcontents and terrorists. Unfulfilled aspirations of statehood were also considered as contributing factors. Even then, though, this was not entirely true. While the rank and file of guerrilla movements might come from economically or socially deprived sections of the society they rebelled against, their leaders and financiers were invariably educated, well-off citizens, if not of the same society, then of some other.
Things are very different today. Especially after the attacks in London, where it seems "Paki is a dirty word" once more, and memories of the race riots seem fresh once more, the perpetrators of the attacks were educated British citizens, who "completed"' their schooling by betraying the society that fulfilled their aspirations rather than reforming/changing the one that failed them.
The blanket assumption that terrorists are trained or at least influenced by the madarsas or Islamic schools of Pakistan and elsewhere, though valid in part, is misleading as it masks some realities. As William Dalrymple points out in his recent column in The Guardian,
there is an important and fundamental distinction to be made between most madrasa graduates - who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication - and the sort of middle-class, politically literate, global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaida operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular scientific or technical backgrounds and very few actually turn out to be madrasa graduates.
At the same time, it may be informative to look at various aspects of modern Islamic terrorism, before exploring possible solutions.
Intelligence services, and the cognoscenti, have long known the term Al Qaeda is pretty much a misnomer today, and has been for a while. After the "terrorist summit" of 1998 in the Phillipines, where the Islamic International Front was formed, knitting together as disparate groups as the Egyptian Brotherhood, the Islamic Jihad, the Uzbek nationalists, and at least five Pakistan-based terrorist organizations, the base of Al-Qaeda was replaced with a loosely knit confederacy of sinister groups. The key members are known to be:
- The Al Qaeda, and its military wing, the 055 Brigade
- The Jamatul Jihad of Egypt led by Dr al-Zawahiri, and other Egyptian groups
- The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan led by Jumma Namangani
- The Hizb-e-Islami Turkistan, also led by Namangani
- The Abu Sayyaf group of the Southern Philippines
- A few Chechen groups operating out of Pakistan and the Chechnya region
- An organisation of the Uighurs of Xinjiang in China
- The Harkat-ul Mujahideen of Pakistan
- The Lashkar-e-Tayiba of Pakistan
- The Sipah-e-Sahaba of Pakistan, an extremist Sunni organisation which has been campaigning for the proclamation of Pakistan as a Sunni State, and their militant wing, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
- The Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami of Pakistan
- The Taliban : Originally talibs, or students from the madrasas, and then Afghanistan
These organizations have separate, distinct objectives and interests. The Al Qaeda claims to fight for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and for the withdrawal of the US and British troops from Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian groups want Islamic rule in Egypt and tighter control in the region. The Harkat and Lashkar want the merger of J&K with Pakistan and, subsequently, the "liberation" of Muslims in other parts of India. The Sipah-e-Sahaba wants a Sunni State in Pakistan and the declaration of the Shias as non-Muslims. The Uzbek group wants an Islamic State and the Turkistan group wants an Islamic Federation of all Central Asian republics and Xinjiang. The Uighurs want independence from China. The Chechens have been fighting for independence from Russia. The Indonesian groups, led by Hambali want an Islamic Caliphate stretching from Southeast Asia to Iran.