The Origins of British Jihad
by Stephen Schwartz
CONTRARY TO COMMON WISDOM, Muslim radicalism in the United Kingdom is not rooted in grievance against British, American, Israeli, or other Western policies. Nor is it a reaction to fear or prejudice by non-Muslims. It originates in a specific ideology imported to the country by two generations of Sunni Muslim radicals from Pakistan. The domination of British Islam by that ideology, generally known as Deobandism, produced the 7/7 bombings and the trans-Atlantic airline terror plot, and has made Britain the epicenter of jihadist violence in Europe.
Deobandism is not an ancient Islamic tradition. It began in India after the 1857 mutiny against the British raj, and was originally a fundamentalist, but peaceful, movement, convinced that the failure of the mutiny made religious teaching and cultivation a preferable alternative to violent combat against foreign rule.
In the aftermath of the Afghan war of the 1980s, Deobandi students ("Talibs") in Pakistani madrasas, being already fundamentalist, were noticed by Saudi agents in the Pakistani military and intelligence services. They were trained in totalitarian and terrorist methods and took over Afghanistan as the governing Taliban. From Pakistan and Afghanistan their message disseminated through mosques and madrasas where Pakistani Sunnis congregate--especially in Britain, America, and Canada. Because of their financial resources, proselytizing, and intimidation, they came to dominate Pakistani Sunni communities abroad.
THUS Rashid Rauf, the alleged trans-Atlantic airline plotter arrested in Pakistan, is the son-in-law of Ghulam Mustafa, founder of the Dar Ul-Uloom Madina madrasa, a hard-line Deobandi school. Rashid Rauf is also related by marriage to Masood Azhar, a figure in the 1999 Air India hijacking and close associate of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted of complicity in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl. Eight of the 23 suspects detained in the trans-Atlantic air investigation attended Masjid e-Umer, a Deobandi mosque.
AFTER THE DESTRUCTION of the Deobandi Taliban regime, the Pakistani jihadis moved their theater of operations from Afghanistan to Kashmir, the Muslim-majority territory joined to India. Fighting against India got the radicals a pass from the West since their strategy of terror was there viewed as an international border problem, rather than an Islamofascist offensive. Pakistan's President Musharraf has praised those who fight for Kashmir as virtuous patriots.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the Kashmir pretext has unfortunate staying power. Peter Bergin and Paul Cruickshank recently wrote in the New Republic, "how to explain the lure of militancy for [British Asian Muslims] who travel to Pakistan to become terrorists? The answer, in many cases, is Kashmir. A disproportionate number of Pakistanis living in Great Britain trace their lineage back to Kashmir." Yet such apologetics face a double-edged reality test: First, Britain plays no significant role in the Kashmir debate and therefore has no reason to be targeted on that grievance. Second, if Anglo-Pakistani Muslims, who go for terrorist training in Pakistan, want to blow themselves up, why not do so in Kashmir? The real problem remains global and not local; that of jihadist Deobandism, not of the Pakistan-India border.
Today, jihad ideology is stronger than ever and penetrates Pakistani Sunni mosques around the world, thanks to training of imams and political and social activities by networks such as Jama'at-i-Islami (Community of Islam), which is the dominant fundamentalist movement in Pakistan and has adherents abroad, as well. Meanwhile, recruitment for armed jihad in Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan is pursued by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous, or LET). Financing of the trans-Atlantic air conspiracy has been traced to the LET front Jama'at ud-Dawa (Community of the Call to Religion). LET, with support from the Pakistani armed forces and intelligence establishment, is noted for its constellation of terror training camps and eagerness to involve non-Pakistanis, and often new Muslims, in operations.
WHAT IS BRITAIN TO DO? Jama'at-i-Islami and Lashkar-e-Taiba were not included in the roster of 15 Muslim radical groups banned by the U.K. authorities late in 2005. Their influence in mosques and madrasas should be curbed. Furthermore, British authorities could vet the appointment of clerics in mosques and it would be helpful if they replaced imported fanatics with reputable domestic scholars. Britain has every right to demand that Muslim clerics be trained and certified according to a curriculum emphasizing local loyalty and European standards of citizenship.
An administrative structure already exists for the regulation of Sunni Muslim clerics in Europe--the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa[s] and Research. Unfortunately, the Council is currently headed by a Qatar-based fundamentalist, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who, among other things, defends suicide terrorism. Of its 33 members, 12 are based in Arab and African countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, while the rest represent immigrant communities, mainly Arab, in Western Europe. Only one, a Bosnian (who fully repudiates fundamentalism), is an indigenous European Muslim. Russian Muslims (of whom there are 23 million) are completely unrepresented on the council. It makes little sense to have Saudi clerics--of whom there are four on the council--participating in a body which is to guide European Muslims.
If Islam is to survive in Britain, it must reject the theological, political, and social blandishments of Saudi and Pakistani radicals. There should be no more tolerance of the misuse of British and Western hospitality by its sworn enemies.