By Prakash Nanda
Terrorist attacks on Europe are becoming increasingly frequent over the past few years. Targets have been Madrid, London, Paris (twice) and now Brussels. Every time it occurs, we read and hear the standard explanations, mostly conflicting, of inadequate security measures on one hand and the lack of social cohesion on the other. However, these explanations are not sufficient to understand the menacing phenomenon.
For attacks on Brussels last week, we are told that policing is pathetic in the Belgian capital that houses about 2,500 international agencies and organisations, including the headquarters of Nato, World Custom Union, Benelux (the regional organisation of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), European Commission and the Council of European Union.
Brussels is a city of 11.2 million people. It has sent more foreign fighters (thanks to its large Muslim population – mostly immigrants from North Africa and lately West Asia) per capita to the Islamic State than any other country in Europe. But surprisingly Belgium has small security apparatus; its federal police have a total force of about 12,000. In fact, the Belgian Secret Service (the Staatsveiligheid) has been unable even to fill its desired quota of intelligence officers—a mere 750! And then, there is the country’s penal code that prohibits raids between 9 pm and 5 am “unless a crime is in progress”.
We are also told how these security bottlenecks have something to do with the fragile political nature of Belgium as a country. Such is the fragility that that in 2010-2011 Belgium set a world record for a democracy not having an elected government for 589 days just because opposing factions were unable to form a governing coalition.
This multilingual nation — in which citizens speak French, Dutch and German — is plagued by societal rifts and rivalry between jurisdictions. Belgium is a federation of three “disparate” regions having secessionist sentiments —Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia. The country has three separate parliaments and two distinct intelligence services—the civilian State Security Service and the military General Intelligence and Security Service—which meddle in each other’s affairs as little as possible. The federal police force is virtually toothless. Until recently Brussels, for instance, had 19 communes (boroughs), each of which, had its own police force. The number of communes has now come down to six, but the chaos prevails. Brussels has now six police forces, each answering to a different mayor. Such decentralisation does not help policing that needs the sharing, pooling and collating of information.
On the other hand, we are told how Belgium’s terrorism problem goes beyond security issues and includes social divides related not only to linguistic barriers but also to incorporating waves of Muslim immigrants in recent decades. Immigrants and their children maintain that they are ostracized and find it more difficult to get jobs. Then there is the Saudi factor – Saudi money to promote radicalism among the Muslim youth in Belgium; many of them become foot soldiers of Islamic State or the Taliban. And it so happened that two Muslim brothers turned out to be the suicide bombers last week.
I term this sociological argument to be “secular argument in global media, an argument that is very much sympathetic (or should I say empathetic?) to the terrorists if they happen to be Muslims (and unfortunately most of the major incidents of terrorism all over the world have been triggered by the Muslims). I do not know whether one could describe these “secularists” to be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” vis-à-vis the Islamic terrorists, but I can summarise that their sympathy or empathy is based mainly on three points:
One, there must be a distinction between the terrorists as individuals and their religion, Islam, which, all told, is a great religion of peace. Two, these terrorists are only reacting to the grave injustice to the Muslims perpetrated by the Western countries and their allies (and friends like India) in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Three, these terrorists also happen to be the “victims” of so-called democracy and capitalism in non-Muslim-majority countries in the sense that they are badly nurtured and remain deprived and depraved.
Naturally they have a grudge against this society for having “rejected them”. This, in turn, leads them to the religion as depicted by the Islamic fundamentalists, which they think to provide an emphatic rejoinder to the identity offered by Western society. The fundamentalists allure the likes of them by employing starkly religious language and invoking religious texts that promise “other-worldly” rewards as compensation for “this-worldly” sacrifice, including “the guarantee of eternal Paradise, and most famously, the lascivious offering of seventy-two heavenly virgins.”
Well, these are the standard sympathetic and empathetic arguments that one comes across whenever any terrorist attack takes place in the West, particularly in Europe. The main point here is to make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion and “the Muslim attackers”, who are mostly immigrants from the former colonies (in fact, some of them are also new converts from other religions, Christianity in particular) leading a life that is ‘a heady mix of unemployment, crime, drugs, institutional racism and endemic cycles of poverty and disenfranchisement.” To buttress these arguments, it is also stressed that the attackers are in a minority and that the majority of the Muslims in Western cities is law-abiding.
I have a problem with this school of thought. I am of the considered opinion that despite what they preach, each religion in the world has been associated with violence in some form or the other. Therefore, a religion committed to peace should be seen in terms of how it has handled violence and co-existed with others over the years. And here, the record of Islam is abysmal, indeed. Forget about the derelict Muslim youth; apostasy and blasphemy are the serious offences, leading eventually to death sentences in a brutal manner, are the official policies in countries in North Africa, West Asia and Pakistan. And all of them are “Islamic” countries. Therefore, to say that Islam does not have an issue with violent actions and that many of the fundamental tenets of Islamic faith do not authorise and even encourage violence is evading the truth. No religion, other than Islam in today’s world, uses the sword to kill and convert its enemies. Though it is true that not all Muslims share this zeal, the fact remains that Islam does have an issue with violence.
Any lingering doubt on this score can be further dispelled from the Muslims’ attitude towards secularism. Let it be admitted that secularism as an idea took birth in the Christian — West. It made a clear distinction between public and private life, in which religion was relegated to the private sphere with no hold over public life. In fact, it is the secular politics that explains why the immigrant communities, including Muslims, do receive in Western Europe some of the most generous benefits such as free education, free health, subsidised housing, and multiple other handouts from the State. There are many charms in secularism, in particular the freedom to believe what you will do in private. But this is something many Muslims, including those even in India, will not agree with. For them, the very distinction between private and public is either meaningless or unacceptable. It is highly unlikely that the Islamic world will embrace secularism even if peace comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, Muslims occupy Kashmir or Israel is destroyed.
What then is the way out? I have not come across any strategic thinker of repute finding an answer to this question. Those empathetic or sympathetic to the cause of “Islamic terror” have opted for the easier course of what I think simply surrendering to the Islamists’ cause. The “Indian secularists” fall in this category, though strictly speaking, Indian secularism is different from Western secularism. In the absence of any official definition, Indian secularism, the way it has been practiced, does not even imply “equal treatments of all”, let alone making a distinction between public and private life. Indian secularism has one set of rules for majority Hindus and another set of rules for minorities—one can lambast Hindu beliefs, but he or she has to be very sensitive when matters pertain to minorities; the government can make and regulate laws for Hindus and their places of worship, but it cannot dare to touch the minorities, particularly the Muslims. Under Indian secularism, we do not have even uniform civil laws.
Ultimately, Islamic terrorism is an ideological war—a war between those who believe in peaceful co-existence and pluralities of beliefs and those who say that theirs is the only way that must prevail. And it is going to be a protracted war. This does not mean that we have to get rid of Islam, or treat Muslims with hostility, but it means that we can no longer indulge in the false equivalencies peddled by our coward “secularists”. We have to be proud of and preserve our principles of equality, justice, co-existence and peace by ensuring that the numbers are in our favour. India will remain secular as long as the Hindus constitute the overwhelming majority, because a true Hindu always respects differences.