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Roots of terrorism reach into the past

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  • Roots of terrorism reach into the past

    Roots of terrorism reach into the past
    By Harout H Semerdjian

    Asia Times
    August 5, 2005

    The roots of Islamic terrorism are not in the founding of the modern
    nation- state of Israel or in the US-led war in Iraq, as some wrongly
    assert. These events have merely fueled worldwide Islamic terror in
    the name of Allah, or God, and once again exposed the hostile face of
    Islamic fundamentalism. The recent acts of international terrorism
    are a modern-day demonstration of the deadly magnitude of terrorist
    objectives, particularly as they transpire on North American and
    European soil. What we are experiencing today, however, is not a new
    phenomenon in world history.

    With the birth of Islam in the 7th century came its steadfast
    dissemination, often through violence and jihad, or holy war. Over
    centuries, millions have converted to Islam through good faith while
    others have done so through subjugation and force under the ultimatum
    of the medieval sword. On Western soil, this form of terror is largely
    a new reality to cope with and is now even deemed a threat to the
    very existence of civilization.

    The eminent French writer Victor Hugo once appropriately remarked
    that "If a man has his throat cut in Paris, it's a murder. If 50,000
    people are murdered in the East, it is a question." For centuries
    entire indigenous populations in the Middle East and elsewhere have
    been exterminated in the name of religion. While the patterns of such
    events are not exactly the same as what we are witnessing today in the
    form of Al-Qaeda-inspired violence, the thought process behind the
    systematic and orchestrated murder of innocents is. In the last 200
    years, such sadistic acts have been further exacerbated by the advent
    of nationalism. Unfortunately, the breadth and scope of these crimes
    have been ignored by European powers due to a combination of short-term
    interests and short-sighted policies, often yielding tragic results.

    The first people in the modern-era to collectively fall victim to
    Islamic terror were the Armenians of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. What
    is today the eastern portion of the Republic of Turkey was for three
    millennia the homeland of the Armenians. This land that had nurtured
    generations of these people 2,000 years before the Turkic invasions of
    the 11th century, became a distant land for them almost overnight in
    1915. The outcome was one of the worst quantitative measures of terror
    and genocide in human history, resulting in the massacre of 1.5 million
    people and the destruction of an astounding 4,000 Christian churches
    and monasteries. An entire people was systematically targeted and
    annihilated on the grounds of their religion and what it represented
    in the confines of the Islamic empire.

    While this forgotten genocide, long ignored by the West, was a
    calculated result of Turkish nationalism and racist policies of
    Turkification, Islam was the ideological weapon for mass annihilation
    and slaughter. "Whoever kills seven Christians will go to heaven,"
    Islamic clerics and town criers would call out. For backward, rural
    Kurdish and Turkish religious communities, killing gavour (infidel)
    Armenians was an opportunity for salvation, while for the Turkish
    government it was the ultimate weapon for genocide.

    This is the same logic and method recently employed by Al-Qaeda,
    the Taliban and other deadly Islamic terror groups to incite their
    people against peaceful populations. Religion is a powerful ideology,
    and ideology has proven to be the single most destructive element
    in history. Today's Turkey - a member of NATO - is considered a
    strategic US ally in the Middle East. It is in this very context
    of alliance that the United States should expose this dark chapter
    in world history and require Turkey to own up to its Ottoman past,
    and hence secure a more reliable and responsible partner in the
    region. This is particularly important if this partner is said to be
    committed to fighting extremism and terrorist-prone elements within
    its own borders and in surrounding regions.

    In Israel today, Islamic terror against the Jewish "infidels", as
    Islamists have long labeled them, has claimed the lives of hundreds
    of innocent civilians. Afghan Mujahideen, the Islamic world's favored
    religious fighters, have long been known to assist the struggles of
    Islamic countries and regimes. Recently, Azerbaijan hired hundreds
    of such mercenaries to fight the Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh
    conflict. These very mercenaries were later exported to Chechnya to
    fight against Russians in the name of Islam.
    In Africa, the Islamic
    Janjaweed militias of Sudan are annihilating thousands of indigenous
    Sudanese in Darfur.

    Needless to say, the pinnacle of recent Islamic terror for the West
    was September 11, on the very soil of America - the nation that
    has been a global safe haven over the years to refugees fleeing
    war, ethnic conflict and religious discrimination, including large
    numbers of Muslims. Despite being a prime target of terror, America
    still continues, though often controversially, to aid and assist
    Arab and other Muslim countries. This is primarily because America
    distinguishes Islamic extremists and terrorists from Islamic moderates,
    who understand that the real message of Allah as one of peace.

    Islam is a noble religion based on respect, love, charity, good
    morals and values. In fact, the Koran calls the Christians and Jews,
    the two other Abrahamic faiths, the "Peoples of the Book" who ought
    to be protected. During the Turkish genocide of Armenians, it was
    the Muslim Arabs of the Levant and Mesopotamia who honorably gave
    shelter to the homeless and ravaged survivors. Islam has given the
    world a tremendous amount of knowledge, piousness and wisdom. Meantime,
    however, exploiters of the religion have unleashed an incredible degree
    of havoc on peaceful populations in the name of their faith. What we
    have witnessed among certain Muslim regimes over the past century
    is nothing more than an abuse of Islam for reasons of expedience and
    convenience. Their actions have been atrocious, immoral, and bellicose
    acts of desperation to dominate and dictate.

    The war that rages today within our own borders is a new, globalized
    variant of international terrorism. This latest extent of Islamic
    terror, quite ironically, has been advanced by modern, Western
    technology. This is a clear contradiction of the terrorists' struggle
    against modernization - and hence a clear sign of convenience of
    choice by the fighters as well as an indication of the incoherence
    of their jihad.

    The events of the last century, and particularly in the last
    decade, should embolden the West's commitment to fighting worldwide
    terrorism. This, however, cannot and should not be done without careful
    consideration of the historical development of today's problems. The
    way Islam has been exploited in the past has not been rectified one
    iota by the inability of the international community to call a spade a
    spade, or for that matter, a genocide a genocide. Truth has over and
    again been sacrificed to the expediency of political alliances and
    short-term interests, and thus the collective sense of being "beyond
    reproach" has prevailed in many countries where those who mastermind
    mass violence have lived. Herein lies the root of the reprehensible
    thinking that a people, a race, or a country "have gotten what they
    deserved" upon completion of a violent or terrorist act. Ironically,
    the same expediencies mentioned above may lie at the very root of the
    terrorist problems we are encountering today. US President George W
    Bush has rightly demonstrated increased determination in countering
    and fighting terrorism; hopefully he can match that resolve with an
    equal will to understand its real causes, and to remedy some of its
    most blatant manifestations through clear recognition.

    We need to strengthen this effort by promoting education and
    knowledge about historic and current issues of vital importance. The
    key in countering current acts of violence lies in understanding and
    absorbing lessons of history, and helping to set the historical record
    straight. Our fortitude and capacity to acknowledge past acts of terror
    will assist our current efforts in countering terrorism. Additionally,
    our findings and know-how in this regard should be exported abroad
    in defense of commonly upheld and applied standards of humanity. We
    are not there yet - neither in reality nor in the perception of the
    majority of our counterparts in the international community. Our
    global partners in this effort deserve our assistance and support,
    as well as the chance to benefit from our own introspection.

    Harout H Semerdjian is a Research Associate at Harvard University's
    Kennedy School of Government. He holds dual MA degrees from the
    Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy and the University of California,
    Los Angeles. He may be reached at [email protected]
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