IN the wake of the recent vicious murder of three Jewish children in Toulouse, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, made a sober appeal.
“It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine, and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life.”
The killer, Mohammed Merah, cold-bloodedly gunned down three children, three soldiers and a teacher over a 10-day rampage. Claiming to have been trained by Al Qaeda along the Afghan-Pakistan border, Merah is only the latest terrorist to massacre innocent people in the name of Muslims and Islam.
These acts of violence are not always as bloody: I recently received an email from some obscure group, purporting to be fighting for the Palestinian cause, urging Muslims in the US to start forest fires.
From Benghazi came televised images of young Libyans kicking over tombstones at a graveyard where the remains of Commonwealth soldiers killed in the desert during the Second World War lay buried. This act of desecration was intended to protest against the burning of the Holy Quran by American soldiers in Afghanistan.
These criminal acts, some gruesome, others bizarre, show yet again that finally, terrorism is a weapon of the weak. Unable to strike against well-protected military targets, these criminals lash out against vulnerable victims.
All too often, when outrages such as these occur, I hear somebody saying: ‘It’s terrible, but the Israelis [or the Americans] are doing the same things to Muslims.’ Let’s be clear there is no moral equivalence here whatsoever. Apart from the fact that two wrongs do not make a right, accidental deaths caused in the heat of battle or killings by deranged soldiers cannot possibly justify the calculated, cold-blooded murder of innocent civilians.
When the Sri Lankan civil war reached its bloody climax three years ago, one justification for the brutality shown by the army was the ruthless behaviour of the Tamil Tigers.
However, the Sri Lankan government is signatory to several international agreements on torture and human rights, and as a member of the UN, is accountable before its own people and the community of nations. The Tamil Tigers, by contrast, were a terrorist group with no regard for civilised values. So here, too, we cannot use the criminal acts of the LTTE to justify lawless behaviour by Sri Lankan troops.
It is an unfortunate reality of our times that all too often, states act illegally against their own and other civilians in the pursuit of their agendas. This weakens their stance against terrorism and gives spurious justification to militant groups. Thus, in Pakistan, intelligence agencies routinely kidnap, kill and torture terror suspects instead of investigating allegations and prosecuting those thought to be guilty.
Drone attacks, no matter how effective, clearly contravene international law. They also fuel rage across Pakistan, even if they are sometimes applauded by civilians in the tribal areas being oppressed by militants. How much better it would have been if Pakistan and the US could have adopted a joint approach to tackle the infestation of jihadi groups in the border region.
Israel’s long and cruel occupation of the West Bank has radicalised thousands across the Muslim world, as well as in the diaspora. But killing innocent people totally unconnected to the Middle East only makes things worse for the Palestinian cause, as well as for Muslim migrants in the West. Following the Toulouse murders, Muslim leaders have expressed their fears of a backlash.
Terrorist attacks in the West against innocent civilians cause revulsion and anger against the Muslim migrants who have chosen to make their homes there. They also lose support for the Palestinian cause as they are cited by the Israeli government to support the argument that it cannot negotiate with such brutal terrorists.
And yet the causality between state action and terrorist reaction cannot be denied. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been catalysts for the global jihad. In Russia, the brutal occupation of Chechnya has caused bloody terrorist attacks against Russian targets.
In Balochistan, nationalists have killed hundreds of settlers in retaliation for repressive state policies carried out by the Frontier Corps. But these killings have won them little sympathy outside the province.
Whatever the grievances, terrorism only succeeds in justifying further state violence, as well as causing loss of support for the cause the terrorists are fighting for. As we saw in Swat, the flogging of a young girl, and the widespread killings carried out by the Taliban, caused national revulsion and an effective counter-offensive by the army.
To justify their killing of western civilians, jihadis often cite the participation of the public in electing their rulers. Thus, they argue, nobody is really innocent as they have chosen their governments and are thus partly responsible for their policies. But this is sophistry used to rationalise mindless violence.