I don't ususally write responses to op ed columns appearing in newspapers but i felt i had to get down in writing my appreciation of as well as my differences with David Rieff's article "Talking with the Jihadists" which appeared here today in The Guardian newspaper.
The arguments put forward by Mr. Rieff were wide in scope in terms of providing examples of struggles with other terrorist organisations as well as in highlighting the relatively different experiences of Europe and America with respect to terrorism. I especially liked the note of realism in his concluding sentence where he asks "But what adult ever thought history was just ?"
Mr. Rieff lifts some names from the annals of terrorism such as the Red Bridages, Eta and the IRA. I also wish to mention them here in the light of his subtitle "terrorism can be defeated by political comprose and negotiation". Can it ? Yet, it is specifically due the refusal by governments to compromise and negotiate with terrorists of the Red Brigades, Baader Meinhoff and The Shining Path that they are now the relics of history. We have seen Sinn Fein in power sharing arrangments but the IRA is another matter. I will get back to it later. Suffice it to say that history does NOT support Mr.Rieff's main thesis that "terrorism can be defeated by political comprose and negotiation".
There have been many terrorist organisations but most of them have shied away from expressly targeting civilians as a matter strategy. Even, the IRA which has caused much destruction preceded nearly all of its attacks by warnings allowing evacuation of by-standers. Or their attacks took place in places and times where deaths of innocent by-standers would be avoided or minimised.
Having considered some of the more extremist terrorists and considered the IRA i cannot, therefore, think of any terrorist or terrorist group which, after having expressly targeted civilians as a matter of strategy, ever morphed into a respectable political leadership. A possible exception to this may be Yasser Arafat. Yet even Arafat's legacy is still being questioned. Even now, FARC continues its terrorism in Columbia despite having been given many concessions by the central government. So it would seem that the evidence that terrorism can be defeated by "compromise" and "negotiation" is not only not there but is overwhelmingly refuted by history.
Mr.Rieff speaks of a "constituency" he alleges the terrorists represent and so wishes to press home his point with more urgency. He says the "constituency" of the current terrorists is all of Islam. Is it ? Some Muslims might not appreciate such a comment because it asserts that these terrorists represent them.
But let's stay with this point about "constituency". Yasser Arafat had for decades been leading what could be called a "national liberation movement". His constituency consisted of Arabs displaced in the early days of Israel's formation -- a clearly defined group of people with a common and genuine grievance. Yet what common grievance can a married British born man of Pakistani descent who has a job and a family and living in Europe share with an unemployed Palestinian living in a camp in the Middle East ?
I suggest that we need to turn our attention on the perpetrators themselves and ask a deeper question : what is motivating these people to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of a fight not their own, for a people not their own, in a cause not their own ? None of the causes put forward have any connection with the perpetrators except that of religious solidarity.
Islam operates more like an ideology than a religion. Marxism was an ideology which operated as a religion and brought forth extreme acts from a similarly nebulous "constituency". The nebulousness of the constituency, as history has shown, has never been a deterrent, at least in the short run which is the point at which all actions receive their motivation.
And whether it's "religion" or "ideology" man will do evil because man is inherently evil. The Bible says "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Terrorism and all evil, big or small, is ultimately personal and individual. We do need to bring this down to the level of the personal and the individual --- to you and to me otherwise we would be deluding ourselves not unlike these suicide terrorists. And when we do make it personal and individual the only answer to each individual's plight -- to yours and mine , the Bible teaches, is JESUS Himself for "The wages of sin is death bur the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Can i be even more personal and individual and ask *you* : Have *you* received Jesus as Lord and Savior ?