9 December 2015


Tuesday, 08 December 2015 | Abhijit Iyer-Mitra

Increasingly, the situation in West Asia, with terrorists striking at will, is beginning to look like the 30-year war in Europe, which was a war of immense death and destruction involving convoluted interests and fickle alliances
Within the space of a month, the Islamic State has done something unprecedented pull of major terror attacks on four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. These attacks have invariably brought statements from the leaders of the affected nations to the effect that they will wipe out the scourge of the IS. The question remains: How will this be done, or for that matter can it be done at all?

Increasingly, the situation in West Asia is beginning to look like the 30-year war in Europe, a war of immense death and destruction involving convoluted interests and fickle alliances. The product of that war though was the Westphalian system, that laid the roots of the modern nation-state. Westphalia also gave each sovereign prince the right to enforce religious homogeneity within his domain. In that sense, while the IS rejects the Western notion of the nation-state, it practically follows the Westphalian order on religious matters, imposing homogeneity in the area it controls, even though its methods are far more brutal than those of Europe in the 1600s.

Frequently, people tend to confuse this with the freedom of religion which came much later in the late 1700s largely as a result of industrialisation. Industrialisation required the pooling of resources and especially intensive use of capital. Given Christian restrictions against “simony and usury”, the prime source of capital became the Jews of Europe. Consequently, the emancipation of Jews was necessitated by industrialisation, and the further into that process nations went, the more identity discrimination broke down in order to enable a whole of society approach to building industry. That began the process of religious freedom and a host of other measures such as the abolition of slavery, which was redundant in an industrial society anyway. Essentially, this meant economic feasibility was passed off as virtue.

While mumbo-jumbo modern ‘histories’ tell us that it was the “enlightenment” that produced the results, the fact is that enlightenment philosophies would have been seen as sheer lunacy had the economic base not existed to be receptive to such ideas. The simplest example of this was Thomas Jefferson — a man infused with the revolutionary and enlightenment ideals of France and yet anachronistically the single biggest slave owner in Virginia, an agricultural southern State where slavery was an economic necessity, unlike its industrial northern neighbours.

In many ways it is this ‘Jefferson complex’ that characterises West Asia. The skyscrapers of Dubai and Riyadh and the airlines of Qatar simply mimic the effects of industrialisation without having laid the basis or having given rise to the causes necessary to sustain the trappings of the first world. It has simply been a Western cut-and-paste model applied to a suddenly cash-rich feudal society, and consequently, its modernisation is as laughable as Jefferson’s belief in liberty and the equality of man. This is vastly different from the deep industrialisation of the ‘Asian Tigers’, resource-poor States that had human capital rather than oil and commodities, actually develop an industry with the accompanying social problems, rather than lazily purchase an off-the-shelf model. The concept of human value addition is non-existent in West Asia and the economic necessity for inclusivity absent in its entirety. In such a society, the concept of separation of mosque and state and freedom of religion are impossible to achieve simply because the socio-economic causes of industrialisation are absent. What does this have to do with the IS?

Defeating so-called jihadists in the military sense has by itself proven extraordinarily difficult. Every time an organisation like the Al Qaeda is defeated or the the Fatah tamed, a much more radical organisation like the IS and the Hamas fill the vacuum. More worryingly, much like the overuse of antibiotics tends to produce particularly virulent and drug resistant strains of virus, these sub-state actors are showing signs of rapid adaptation to military tactics in a way that states cannot match. But the bigger social problem remains after defeating them militarily. If that is possible, then what? Payment of lip service by saying the methods of the IS and the al Qaeda are “un-Islamic”, far from being the solution to the problem, is in fact the problem. Why should any state be Islamic to begin with? The same arbitrariness in declaring so-called jihadists un-Islamic is a mirror reflection of their fatwas declaring ‘moderate’ Islamists un-Islamic. The fundamental problem remains: Who exactly has the authority to decide what is and what is not un-Islamic?

The dim-witted belief of some ‘scholars’ that the trend of declaring the IS and the others misguided and un-Islamic somehow creates a counter-narrative that will succeed runs completely contrary to current events. The fact remains that, using religion to fight religion is risky to the point of being foolish. What brought an end to the intra-Christian wars in Europe wasn’t some new interpretation of religion; it was the secularisation of Europe. Statements then from ‘celebrities’ in India, calling the crimes of the IS “un-Islamic”, are far from helping. If anything, they are aiding the environment of self-delusion and denial that the Muslim world is stuck in. Europe did not get rid of its blasphemy laws by claiming that blasphemy was somehow un-Christian. The French Revolution did not substitute one form of Christianity with another version equally prone to hijack by the lunatic fringe. Far from it, it was the separation of Church from state that led to religious emancipation, the legalisation of divorce, decriminalisation of homosexuality, and civil rights for Jews and Blacks in a short span between 1789 and 1793. All of these were blatantly un-Christian, un-Catholic acts. Blasphemy, for example, right up to 1789, was punishable in France by with the right arm hacked off. None of this could have been done within religion; they all had to be done outside of it.

The bottom line then is this: You can have 100 wars on terror, but you’re not going to succeed till the organic industrialisation enables the separation of mosque and state. The next incarnation of the IS will be far worse and the liberals of the world crying themselves hoarse by calling these acts “un-Islamic” are simply prolonging the suffering. 

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