The connection between terrorism and tyranny

Waheed Abdel-Meguid
Thursday 28 Jan 2016

Fighting terrorism and resisting tyranny are not separate processes that can be dealt with successively. They should be dealt with simultaneously, as tyranny is one of the main factors that lead to terrorism

The more the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) menace expands, the more fighting terrorism on the military and security levels acquires an absolute priority. This is quite evident since the Paris attacks on 13 November.

The open war on terrorism, or using it as a pretext, has escalated and the security approach dominated over everything else. A change in the standpoints of some Western countries towards accepting Bashar Al-Assad during an unspecified transitional period became more obvious as well.

Thus, discussing this assumption with much more objectivity and realism is a necessity today more than ever, after its glitter increasingly shone. If it is true that not all that glitters is gold, consequently what glitters more brightly in a certain moment, especially when this happens under the pressure of fear from some danger or threat, is not more gold also.

Currently, the assumption of priority is one of fighting terrorism, rather than the factors creating this terrorism. This priority, indeed, requires eliminating confusion, which often happens when separating factors that cannot be but connected, because they constitute an indivisible formula.

Tyranny in its top stage is a kind of unspoken terrorism defined in international law as state terrorism. This terrorism is one of the most important reasons for the “black” terrorism that tops the global agenda.

The fundamental defect here is that fighting terrorism and resisting tyranny are not separate processes that can be tackled successively. The claim that it is necessary to fight terrorism first is but circumventing accumulated experience denoting that the environment of tyranny produces terrorists more than can be killed or incarcerated in any war on the same.

Tyranny with all its social, economic and cultural repercussions, not only political, is one of the most important factors of the emergence of “black terrorism,” which finds in extremist religious interpretations "intellectual cover" since its early beginnings in the 1960s.

The relation between terrorism and tyranny, hence, is old and long preceded the ISIS phenomenon.

Studying the origins of terrorism indicates that there were objective circumstances that drove some groups of youth into searching for an ideology that stimulates rebellion against despotic regimes, after the glow of leftist Marxist “ideologies” waned. They found their long lost authority in extremist fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) notions. This terrorism came out from the darkness of government prisons that carried despotism to an extreme. Then the extremist fiqh interpretations were extracted from obscurantist books in order to perform the function of “religiously legitimising” them.

The story started when tyrannical regimes closed the doors to peaceful change. Some of those before whom the doors were closed resorted to violence. Tyranny led the factors that drove them to terrorism. Its early beginnings, since this was the case, are due to oppression, repression and injustice.

Hence, the black banner bearers picked concepts such as jihad, loyalty and enmity, applying Sharia Law (the Islamic legal system) and other concepts in their most extreme forms of interpretation and reinterpreted them in accordance with their attitude towards armed violence. This is what happened in Egypt in the 1960s when armed “religious” organisations were set up.

The experience of Ayman El-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda organisation, has special significance in this context. This gentle boy, who is the scion of two ancient families (Al-Zawahiri and Azzam), and was excellent in his medical studies, turned to extremism leading to terrorism, which he called jihad, due to factors on top of which comes tyranny that filled him with fury.

This is what can be deduced from the story of his transformation in his book titled Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, where he explained how the execution of Sayed Qutb in 1966 affected him more than his writings. He said that he read “Qutb’s words mixed with his blood.”

Perhaps what Qutb wrote was forgettable, or to be understood in a less hardline light later, if he were not executed. According to him, the idea of the “temporary vanguard” does not differ in essence from the “advanced vanguard” or the “proleteriat vanguard” among some Marxist currents. But his execution added a “fighting” meaning to it. Thus, rebels furious against tyrannical authorities reformulated it within the requirements needed for providing a “religiously legitimate” point of reference for considering terrorism as jihad against these authorities. They not only considered these authorities tyrannical, but “infidel” as well. 

This naïve linkage between tyranny and infidelism was clearer for another youth in the same period, Shukri Mustafa, the founder of “Jama'at Al-Muslemin” (the Society of Muslims), which was known in the media by the name of “Al-Takfir wal-Hijra” (Excommunication and Exile). He wondered if those who practised this brutal torture in some Egyptian prisons in the 1960s were really Muslims. His limited, simple mind did not find an answer except that “such unjust men cannot be Muslims.” A reactionary educational system, established by a despotic regime, contributed to closing this mind.

This intimate relation between terrorism and tyranny is proven in many analytical writings and maybe the most recent of these is Ibrahim El-Haidari’s book Violence and Terrorism Sociology. For tyranny involves violence against society or some of its sections. Consequently, the culture of violence usually spreads in oppressed societies, in the manner in which El-Haidary’s book explains has taken place in Iraq in the last decades. This has also happened in Syria and other countries in varying degrees. If the bombs and missiles were to eliminate terrorism, then George W Bush would have been truthful when he declared, ecstatically, in May 2003 "Mission Accomplished." ISIS did not exist at the time.

Thus, we can say today, in a more confident tone than before, that confronting terrorism requires terminating tyranny, not cooperating with it or assisting it in Syria. This assistance means actually supporting terrorism and expanding its spheres.

For all this is but a mirage, or an attempt to market the illusion of pursuing the elimination of ISIS without implementing any radical political change leading to a pluralistic democratic regime based on citizenship in Syria, and real reformation in Iraq.

The doors to free participation must be opened, thus creating hope in a better future among the youth, including in other countries of the region.

The writer is a political scientist and commentator.

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