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Terrorism and Its Enemies – An Alliance of Civilizations

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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.

The military operations in Afghanistan broke up the Arab Muslim base, the Al Qaeda, and since 2003, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba have been coordinating most efforts. It is to be noted that at least five of the organizations have Pakistani bases and sources of support. Also, after the Afghanistan war, these groups retreated to Pakistan where they regrouped, before making their way in small groups to Iraq in late-2003, under the guise of Haj pilgrims.

The Iraqi movement is nominally headed by Ahmad Fadil Al-Khalailah, better known as Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who saw action against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and later organized against King Hussein of Jordan. He has been affiliated with the Jamaat al-Tawhid wa’l-Jihad. which has a strong European presence, and has helped at least 70 British Muslims travel to Iraq since last year. It is not known to be a member of the IIF.

The Western governments have mistakenly strengthened the puppet masters of these groups by building up their leadership into iconic figures. Similar mistakes were made by Indira Gandhi in India with Bhindranwale in Punjab and the LTTE leader Prabhakaran in Sri Lanka. Post-World War II, the covert coordination of intelligence agencies that proved effective against earlier terrorist movements, lost ground in the 1980s, allowing these non-state actors to gain prominence as self-proclaimed representatives of their societies. Political interests allowed them to flourish, and an inability to keep the focus on their state sponsors has let them gain much ground in these communities.

In one example of this, the continuing inability of the West to bring Pakistan’s failed house to order reminds one of similar support of General Pinochet, and others that led to much grief. While General Musharraf has much more intelligence and many of his counter-terrorist actions have borne fruit, his earlier support for the same groups and failure to root out terrorist sympathisers and supporters from his own army and governments is troubling at the very least. Pakistan has faced much terrorism itself, and he was the target of numerous personal assassination attempts. More needs to be done, as we shall see.

Locations and Bases:

The IIF has various concentrations in Pakistan, apart from the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) that house the remaining Taliban, the Uzbeks and Chechens, the larger groups have been based in Karachi and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Various seminaries and madrasas such as the Tablighi Jamaat in Raiwind, the Muridke madrasas and the Binori madrasa are center-point. A few were recently cracked down on by Gen. Musharraf post the London attacks.

The key group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), originated from the Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad (Center for Religious Learning and Social Welfare). It was established by Hafiz Saeed and Zafar Iqbal of the Engineering University, Lahore, and Abdullah Azzam of the International Islamic University, Islamabad, in 1987. They operate close to a 100 madrasas in the town of Muridke outside Lahore. The sleeper cells busted by the FBI in Maryland and Virginia were run by the LeT. They renamed themselves to the Jamaat ul-Dawa to circumvent bans, but this is only cosmetic. They are linked with the Snakehead syndicate, as well as supplying fighters to Iraq. There are indications that at least one of the 7/7 London bombers visited a Muridke madarsa (PBS report). They are autonomous and coordinate the IIF.

The Jaish-e-Mohammed have links with the Binori madrasa complex in Karachi. This is allegedly where Osama bin Laden was treated for splinter injuries after Tora Bora. This is a hardline Deobandi group, originator of most of the policies of pan-Islamic terrorism. The chief imam, or mufti, of the Binori madrasa was Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai. He was killed by unknown assailants on May 30. He was second only to the chief Mufti of Pakistan. He was the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and issued nearly 2000 fatwas, mostly against the US, India and Israel. as the mentor and godfather of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its militant wing the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. He was designated patron-in-chief of the Jaish and was a member of the shura of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam.

External to Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islamiya are based out of Indonesia, and reportedly Bangladesh. The Jamaat-Ul-Fuqra operate out of the US and Carribean, and are dedicated to cleansing Islam through violence. They have acquired various rural compounds across the US, sheltering various cadres and elements. Their head, Sheikh Mubarak Gilani is now in Pakistani custody.

The list could go on, but it should be clear that pan-Islamic terrorism is much more than an Arab Muslim movement.

The global war, it has already been found, is not a single-focus war, with pure military objectives. It requires covert action, psy-war approaches and social engineering, similar to the multi-lateral, international “alliance of civilizations” that arose post-World War II, and which was fostered by the global terror of the War itself. As B Raman, erstwhile counter-terrorism head of RAW (India), put it, in a prescient column in 2001,

In the 1950’s and the 1960’s, when a large number of democracies in the Western as well as the non-aligned worlds were faced with armed Communist insurgencies sponsored by Moscow and Beijing, all the affected countries fought this menace jointly through a mix of overt and covert actions in a discreet, non-spectacular manner. That is the model to be emulated after updating it, where necessary.

These thoughts seem to be coming true, as evidenced by Tony Blair’s statement on meeting with the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, that,

We discussed the proposal that the Spanish prime minister has made for what he calls an alliance of civilisations, which is the idea that we join together, our countries with Muslim countries – Turkey is particularly involved in this – to form a coalition of civilised people from whatever race or religion to combat the barbarity of terrorism.

Worth reading: Al Jazeera’s piece “The World Faces One Threat” and the Times of London‘s “War on Words”, as well as “Pakistani is a bad word in Britain” by TVR Shenoy, that quotes Harry Potter, saying, “‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we really are, far more than our abilities.’

Next up: a SWOT Analysis of pan-Islamic Terrorism, and solution options.

Sources: South Asia Intelligence Review, B Raman, The Dudley Knox Library of the Naval Postgraduate School

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About aacool

  • GPW

    An interesting and well researched post. Thank you, Aaman!

  • Mihos

    Well thought and well written. Im sending everyone I know that cares tht is, to read this.

  • Egad, thanks folks! Just the tip of a rotten iceberg, really.

  • First class analysis.

    That meeting in the Philippines must have been somewhat like a Smersh meeting out of a James Bond film, yet it really happened from all accounts, as have several subsequent ‘terrorist conventions’ in other locations.

    Of course, what this points up, which you don’t mention, is that regardless of why we went into Iraq, because this is a movement which spans that region and beyond, wherever we took our troops – and Iraq is as good a place as any – the terrorists would come there to fight us.


  • Ah, but there were too many unintended consequences of the invasion – subject of a future post – but briefly: providing a new focal point for the groups, combining hitherto unrelated groups, and as another post unintentionally points out, merging the hydra(e?) of Shia Iran and the new Iraq

    Otherwise, spot on – unfortunately again – the ‘coalition of the willing’ is not really an ‘alliance of civilizations’

  • Wouldn’t there be unintended consequences to ANY direct confrontation with the terrorists, and aren’t we more prepared for the unintended consequences of war, especially in a foreign country than we might be for the consequences of other methods of dealing with terrorism – such as mass covert assassination – which, btw is one of the few other effective options and is specifically illegal under US law?


  • Your sagacity is stealing the thunder from my future pieces, but any strategy has to have covert and overt options. Failed states like Afghanistan under the Taliban, Pakistan, and others have not hesitated to use terrorism as a covert option of state policy. ‘Civilized’ states like the West, and India, have an effective covert action capability, but do not deploy it effectively for fear of public reprisal. The last points in the Raman article I link to in my main post are:

    # Carefully worked out and precisely-targeted deniable covert actions against the terrorist groups and their leaders. One should avoid spectacular overt actions against them, which would be counter-productive.

    # Public pressure for spectacular reprisals should be resisted.

    For example, India applied covert action effectively in East Pakistan in 1971, and ending Punjab terrorism in the 1980s. The British practice it effectively. Again quoting Raman, elsewhere,

    Covert action is not terrorism. Covert action is identifying the sensitive points of the adversary and exercising sustained pressure on those points through deniable means till results are achieved.

  • Raman’s idea of covert action is unrealistic. Carefully worked out and deniable are basically inconsistent with doing anything on the scale necessary to neutralize international terrorist leadership.


  • William Sweeney


    For a little perspective. Just so we all know where you are coming from.

    How can you pretend to be concerned about global terror when you can’t even control your own countrymen?

  • Bennett

    William, please try to make your links “clickable” so that they do not mess with the column width here on BC. Thanks!

    Aaman – Great post, thanks for the college course on where we stand today, and how we got there.

  • Richard,

    I make no apologies for violence or terror of any stripe. The article you link to is rather lopsided, though – I do not see reference to the Bombay World Trade Center blasts, or the Parliament bombings, or the 1000+years of Islamic oppression. Furthermore, his characterization of worsening Hindu-Muslim relations is not valid, in the general sense, as any educated Indian can tell you. Also, I do not think we are talking about the same thing when we compare organized global terror and social criminals/rioters.

    There should have been a crackdown on these elements – there was not – for political reasons.

  • That being said, I promise to focus on non-Islamic terrorism and violence soon enough.

  • gonzo marx

    well done!! nicely written, very informative and as objective and a root canal…

    i do note Mr Nalle hitting his Agenda and the erroneous assumptions made because of it…

    might i suggest that this Information, which was clearly available to the US planners and policy makers long ago, lends credibility to the Idea that the highest priority should have remained finishing the Task in Afghanistan to crush the remant of the Taliban and al Qaeda as top priority….

    next priority should have been stabilizing, and rooting out , the terrorist organizations in Pakistan…note from the Article that not only are there more organizations there than anywhere else…but Pakistan has minor missle technology, the terrorists there directly threaten INdia(a good ally to the US) and Pakistan HAS NUCLEAR WEAPONS!!!!

    these incontrovertable facts, added to the proximity of the two countries, which would aid in logistics, factored in with the direct aid of Musharif(president of Pakistan) and the high probability of aid from India in this common cause, should show clearly that Pakistan/Afghanistan are/were the highest priority areas for this theatre of conflict…

    now, all resources are distracted away from the region, only a skeleton force in Afghanistan, which is not making real progress versus the Objectives there…NO attention paid to Pakistan…see the Article for just how many of these groups are based out of this nation….all this while Pakistans nuclear capabilities, and thus huge possible terror implications, are relatively unguarded from internal forces loyal to any of the above terrorist organizations…

    yet the drone goes on and on about Iraq(which i realize, is a problem the US now “owns”) …please show mewhich of these organizations were based in Iraq prior to the Invasion?…andhow much is there now?…all of it Imported

    i have heard the “better there than here” argument..and i say the Facts show that argument is bullshit…check the Incidents in Indonesia, Israel, Spain and now London

    a difficult dilemma…where the hell are the experts, the “Bonds”….hell, where’s Dick Marchinko?

    in conclusion…

    /golfclap for Aaman

    a worried /sigh for those supposed to be running this Operation…and an exhortation to be smarter, think harder and fuck the Administrations politics…do the Job!!

    this IS important stuff


  • The Kid

    Great work. This is an unusually clear headed look at the terrorist threat. The assertion that an alliance of civilizations is required to effectivly combat terrorism is dead on.

    The hard part is getting world leaders to set aside politics and get the job done. Currently, most politicians use terrorism as a political lever, rather than addressing the issue honestly. We desperately need our leaders to stop the pissing contests and get the job done.

  • Great, great post. Learned a lot. I’m sure this post is appreciated by many more than those who congratulate you here.

  • Nancy

    Aaman, if you don’t have a PhD already, use this as a base. Very excellent.

  • Thanks Nancy, and folks. I left the piece as short as I could given the constraints of the format – there is much more meat there to chew on.

    Opinions are welcome.

  • Mihos

    I was reminded today of the IRA bombings performed by Irish nationals against anyone they saw fit and recall clearly the apathetic stance many Protestant American politicians had. Regardless, terrorism must be dealt with in philosophical terms from within our global community. The special interests of military industrialists must be dealt with the same fervor. We humans outnumber both terrorists and military industrialists but with every month passing where we the comfortable sit back and passively absorb our bad news on our prized media centers a dozen more frustrated young men will turn into bombers of one kind or another. Its insidious. Im not a religious person but if i were I would swear the God of Nothingness is spreading like a plague consuming all tht humanity has worked so hard to build.

  • My friend, if you read the piece closely, you will see that I stress these are not ‘frustrated young men’, unless they are frustrated for reasons that all young men are frustated about.

  • valery dawe

    Aaman wrote in comment #7 >Failed states like Afghanistan under the Taliban, Pakistan, and others have not hesitated to use terrorism as a covert option of state policy. ‘Civilized’ states like the West, and India, have an effective covert action capability, but do not deploy it effectively for fear of public reprisal.< Which 'Civilized' states like the West are you referring to that fear public reprisal?

  • Hmmm – I would think the United States, Britain, France – don’t you agree?

  • Mihos

    I read it clearly. Nonetheless, ranks are being created out of thin air. What mothers
    would have knowingly sacrificed so much to bring a child into the world to just have him march into the front lines prepared to slaughter in the name of some poorly defined strategy reacting to some even more poorly defined enemy or ideology?

    The soldiers have to come from somewhere and Im concerned that our unease with the topic and our apathy really is enabling more and more demigoguery.
    Some of the willing participamts end up as soldiers in the war against terrorism and the rest as armed combatents against the industrialists; either way you look at it whomever is selling guns and ammunitions is faring nicely. And whomever hates women is winning their campaign to punish woman by stealing her stability and productivity.

  • Valery: “Which ‘Civilized’ states like the West are you referring to that fear public reprisal?”

    Aaman: “Hmmm – I would think the United States, Britain, France – don’t you agree?”

    Valery meant to imply that the western nations are not civilized. Valery is a troll. It’s better to just ignore trolls and hope they go away.


  • Well, I’m sure y’all know what Mahatma Gandhi said when asked what he thought about Western Civilization?

    “I think it would be a good idea!”

    I joke:) Yr right – trolls are ravenous creatures, and ignorance is the best medicine for them.

  • Mihos

    If Valery is a Troll what does that make the bloghspere?
    Writers that share similar educational backgrounds and economic historys build a bridge named after the god of Hegemony.
    The three different opinions that matter must be little goats.
    I seem to recall our veritable thief in the white house reading this story to a group of bored little Black children in Florida as the specter of terrorism roared through the empty hallway of his head:
    The Three Billy Goats Gruff

    Once upon a time there were three billy goats, who were to go up to the hillside to make themselves fat, and the name of all three was “Gruff.”

    On the way up was a bridge over a cascading stream they had to cross; and under the bridge lived a great ugly troll , with eyes as big as saucers, and a nose as long as a poker.

    So first of all came the youngest Billy Goat Gruff to cross the bridge.

    “Trip, trap, trip, trap! ” went the bridge.

    “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” roared the troll .

    “Oh, it is only I, the tiniest Billy Goat Gruff , and I’m going up to the hillside to make myself fat,” said the billy goat, with such a small voice.

    “Now, I’m coming to gobble you up,” said the troll.

    “Oh, no! pray don’t take me. I’m too little, that I am,” said the billy goat. “Wait a bit till the second Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much bigger.”

    “Well, be off with you,” said the troll.

    A little while after came the second Billy Goat Gruff to cross the bridge.

    Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap, went the bridge.

    “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?” roared the troll.

    “Oh, it’s the second Billy Goat Gruff , and I’m going up to the hillside to make myself fat,” said the billy goat, who hadn’t such a small voice.

    “Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” said the troll.

    “Oh, no! Don’t take me. Wait a little till the big Billy Goat Gruff comes. He’s much bigger.”

    “Very well! Be off with you,” said the troll.

    But just then up came the big Billy Goat Gruff .

    Trip, trap, trip, trap, trip, trap! went the bridge, for the billy goat was so heavy that the bridge creaked and groaned under him.

    “Who’s that tramping over my bridge?” roared the troll.

    “It’s I! The big Billy Goat Gruff ,” said the billy goat, who had an ugly hoarse voice of his own.

    “Now I ‘m coming to gobble you up,” roared the troll.

    Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
    And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
    I’ve got besides two curling-stones,
    And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones.

    That was what the big billy goat said. And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns, and crushed him to bits, body and bones, and tossed him out into the cascade, and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely able to walk home again. And if the fat hasn’t fallen off them, why, they’re still fat; and so,

    Snip, snap, snout.
    This tale’s told out.

    * Source: Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, De tre bukkene Bruse som skulle gå til seters og gjøre seg fete, Norske Folkeeventyr, translated by George Webbe Dasent in Popular Tales from the Norse, 2nd edition (London: George Routledge and Sons, n.d.), no. 37, pp. 275-276. Translation revised by D. L. Ashliman.

  • what’s the symbolism of the billy goats?

  • Nancy

    I would venture to guess they represent 3 different ideas, & the last one shreds the troll, i.e. the ideas outsmart and/or overcome the troll.

  • Mihos

    Good question. I often wonder that myself. I also wonder why he was reading a story from Norway to innercity African American children. Reminds me of the records of the Oslo Accords.Perhaps the goats are the coalition of the willing/

  • valery dawe

    Aaman wrote:

    >’Civilized’ states like the West, and India, have an effective covert action capability, but do not deploy it effectively for fear of public reprisal.< Unless I'm not clear on what you're getting at, I'd say that the United States has no fear whatsoever of public reprisals in deploying either covert or overt action. Using the mining of Managua harbor in the 80s as an example, when found guilty of violating international law by the World Court, the US responded by withdrawing its regcognition of the court. That move didn't show much concern about reprisals.

  • valery dawe

    >>Valery meant to imply that the western nations are not civilized.< < Wrong on that count, Dave. >>Valery is a troll. It’s better to just ignore trolls and hope they go away.<< Another example of Dave Nalle wasting space.

  • It’s not the international political repercussions which are a problem, but the ones within the US. First off, we made foreign assassination illegal back in the 1970s, so that creates a major roadblock. And second, the American people don’t necessarily respons positively to hearing the administration is using assassination as an instrument of international policy.


  • valery dawe

    >>foreign assassination illegal back in the 1970s,<< When did the United States bomb Muammar Gaddafi? The 80's wasn't it? Missed him but killed his infant daughter. I don't recall much of a negative response from Mr. and Mrs. America at that time.

  • beadtot

    Into the coxcombs once again! How orthodox!

  • What does that mean – coxcombs, in this context, I mean?

  • Hans Johansson

    As an Aryan I feel ashamed that George W Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard are the dogs of Ariel Sharon and that I the Anglo Saxons are the lickers of Jews’ assholes.

    It is every Aryan duty to free the Anglo Saxons from the Jewish enslavery.