Do five Americans detained in Pakistan really prove a trend?

December 12, 2009

lahore mosqueThe arrest of five young Americans in Pakistan who according to Pakistani officials wanted to go to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan has, perhaps predictably, increased fears of radicalisation within parts of the United States own Muslim community.

It follows the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, who police say scouted out targets for last year’s attack on Mumbai, and discussed with Pakistan-based militant groups plans for attacks in Denmark and India; and also comes after  last month’s Fort Hood shooting in which 13 people died.

U.S. newspapers have been quick to see a pattern.  “New Cases Test Optimism on Extremism by U.S. Muslims,” declared the New York Times. Or according to the L.A. Times headline: “U.S. sees homegrown Muslim extremism as rising threat.”

But is there really a new trend? And how is this supposedly measured? By actual incidents? On what basis can you argue that the Fort Hood shooting was part of a trend within the American Muslim community?

Or by the numbers of arrests made? If that were true, you would have to work out whether the arrests were also the result of better policing and improved coordination between different countries’ intelligence agencies.

Or by public perception and media attention? Given that the Obama administration has made Afghanistan and Pakistan its foreign policy priority, you would expect anything connected with those countries to get more attention.

But consider this. In the early years after 9/11, American police broke up a network of militants based in Virginia, some of whom had received weapons training in militant camps in Pakistan. The Virginia jihad network, linked like Headley to the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the Mumbai attack, was active long before this supposedly new trend in “homegrown Muslim extremism”.

In his book on his work as an investigating magistrate in France, Jean-Louis Bruguiere writes about how Willie Brigitte,  a Frenchman convicted of links to terrorism, trained in a militant camp in Pakistan in the company of two Americans and two Britons. The two Americans, he writes, were of Pakistani origin. All underwent weapons training in a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in Pakistan’s Punjab province in 2001/2002 — in other words long before the supposedly new trend.

By contrast, the five Americans, also from Virginia, apparently failed to make much headway in their alleged attempt to join the jihad in Pakistan. According to a Pakistani security official, they had first visited a madrasa linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group in the southern city of Hyderabad, but the school turned them away. The  five then tried to contact the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba,  in Lahore. They failed there because they had no guarantor, the official said.

This is not to suggest that Pakistan-based militant groups pose less of a threat than they did six or seven years ago — although the report that the Americans were turned away suggests they may be under greater scrutiny than before.

But it does mean we need to think very carefully before subscribing to the idea of a new trend among American Muslims –  all the more since such attempts at establishing patterns could encourage what Dawn columnist Ayesha Siddiqa calls an unimaginative and dangerous narrative pitting Islam against  the rest.

According to this blogger at Changing Up Pakistan, “I find it disconcerting that we cry, ‘witch!’ with near reckless abandon before all the facts have been revealed. I also find it sad that the Muslim-American community has to constantly be on the defensive, releasing immediate statements in the aftermath of such developments, initiating campaigns to educate Americans about Islam.”

Or as Ali Eteraz writes more forcefully:  “There is no need for one Muslim to condemn the crimes of another. Collective responsibility cannot, and should not, be accepted. Where one accepts collective responsibility one opens the door to collective punishment. Are Muslims individuals? Or are they one singular marionette that pirouettes each time its string is pulled?”

Comments

It’s interesting to read that you need solid references or guarantors to enroll in to a jihadi camp in Pakistan.

Posted by NPegasus | Report as abusive
 

It’s interesting to read that you need solid references or guarantors to enroll in to a jihadi camp in Pakistan.
Report as abusive
- Posted by NPegasus

Na its just a security check. They don;t want spies in alq

Posted by punjabiyaar | Report as abusive
 

Sure the American Islamic community should not be held responsible for the actions of a few nutcases.

But the community should assist in ferreting out extremists and should work to discourage extremism.

Groups like CAIR which do the whole wink-wink nudge-nudge routine on Jihad and extremism tend to make the community look bad and make them more likely to be held collectively responsible. American Muslims should work hard to distance themselves not just from extremists but from groups that tolerate extremism in any form (the groups that say it’s not okay in the US but it’s okay in Kashmir or Palestine). Only then will American Muslims be taken seriously.

The West didn’t tolerate such views from Sikhs two decades ago. It didn’t tolerate such views from Tamils in recent years. Why would it find it acceptable for some Muslims to justify violence, even if it’s not in the US?

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive
 

It’s interesting to read that you need solid references or guarantors to enroll in to a jihadi camp in Pakistan.
-Posted by NPegasus

It’s also tough to join the mafia without somebody vouching for you. Thugs everywhere tend to be secretive and only trust other thugs. Jihadists are no different.

Posted by kEiThZ | Report as abusive
 

Myra:

@But it does mean we need to think very carefully before subscribing to the idea of a new trend among American Muslims – all the more since such attempts at establishing patterns could encourage what Dawn columnist Ayesha Siddiqa calls an unimaginative and dangerous narrative pitting Islam against the rest.”

—–I agree with Ayesha’s article. Hameed Gul is very clear that there is war between civilizations going on and if this ex-DG ISI feels so, these 20-something young men are nothing.
There was a thin line that stopped these 5 innocent men from turning into terrorists. Why these guys are attracted to religious extremism and fall for perverted Jihad and fight against their own nation. Question is not these 5 men or other such examples, the bigger question is how more are surfing the web or looking for other ways to become so-called “Jihadi”. My assumption is many and that is scary. These American men have not personally suffered to wage “Jihad”. So why this is happening, keeping aside the “trend” part of the discussion? A unique thing about Islam is the concept of Muslims around the world recognizing each other as brothers and when one is hurt, the rest feel pain (academic). Given that there are billion Muslims and around 50 Muslim nations, and that the world is not a utopian place, the problems are bound to exist and call for Jihad is going to get even more attractive. In the absence of this concept of brotherhood, these men would not take this step when Muslims in America are quite well accepted.

At the same time, Islamophobia by ignorant non-Muslims is also a cause for concern when they have neither an idea of the culture nor the religion or politics of the troubled place. Classic example was presented during US Presidential campaign when an old American lady told John McCain that his rival Obama is an Arab. Such is the illiteracy. What is media doing about it? Why the photographs of the accused are released before the charge is proved? This has happened even in the case of arbitrary arrests made in the past. Media is the big culprit there. Myra/Reuters can tell us the positive achievements of the media in this direction.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive
 

Myra,

Is it not the clash of civilisation? My point is very simple : why only muslim community is at war with the rest of the world ? According to one theory, muslims are at war with US for its support to Israel, it does not sound convincing , there are other hot spots as well where muslims are really under threat , Ughyur muslims in China, has any body ever thought about them ? Why no jehadis have ever thought of going to China to fight for these poor and hapless ughyur muslims?

It is not so simple , there are larger designs : Saudi Arabia spends more than USD 100 billion for development and spread of madarsas globally . Whether this fund is also used for global jehad ?

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive
 

@Keith:

“But the community should assist in ferreting out extremists and should work to discourage extremism.”

By the same logic, would you not then have expected all Cambridge University students to ferret out Communist sympathisers just because three of them, Philby, Burgess and McLean, turned out to be Soviet spies? Or have expected all Irish Americans to monitor their own, just because some funded the IRA?

@ All,

One of the big dangers of assigning collective responsibilty (independently of the ethical questions it raises) is that it tends to play into the hands of extremists — OBL would probably be the first to support the idea of a clash of civilisations.

Take a look at this review of the book “Terrorism: How to Respond”, by Richard English:

“In English’s view, the most serious danger posed by terrorists is their capacity to ‘provoke ill-judged, extravagant, and counter-productive state responses’ rather than the actual damage caused by their actions.”

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/1 1/the-sound-and-the-fury/

Myra

Myra

 

Myra:

Thanks for the link.
@collective responsibility: I think there are several ways to deal with the issue. For example if country ABC blames the Muslim community for terrorism, that could be pushing the issue under “collective responsibility”. However, does expecting the moderates in a community to guide the young people in right direction in privacy of their homes or in public places falls under “collective responsibility” or their responsibility as a member of a community for the sake of their own community? It is not tantamount to accusing the moderates of crime committed by another person in their community. It is about seeking their help for the sake of their own community since they are from within the community that gives them unique advantages over those from outside.

It is not all that simple to reject such expectations under “collective responsibility”. Perhaps we are looking things differently.

The link also had a discussion on the definitions of “terrorism”.

For example, a common many in Muslim countries feel that America and the West (not all countries) are also terrorists because they come to their soil for economic interests and their actions result in killing people, labeling some as terrorists/insurgents and remaining innocent civilians as “collateral damage”. I have seen a simple explanation being given by Muslims that no one can come and camp in their backyard without their permission and then dictate terms to them who are the owners of the house. According to them, this is what the West does and then labels those in the house who protest against them as terrorists/insurgents. They feel that this is terror itself. With this in mind, do you feel that a discussion on who is a terrorist will be helpful——–US definition alone is not helpful when they are party. How about UN or other sources?
_____________________________________

Manish:

@My point is very simple : why only muslim community is at war with the rest of the world ?”

——Although I got your point, many Muslims will object to “only Muslim community”—-perhaps a (avast) majority is a better word.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive
 

@The West didn’t tolerate such views from Sikhs two decades ago.
-Keith

Keith: I hope you are aware that it is on records that initial Khalistan movement was supported by politicians from the West (you can find specific names if you google), specifically in US/Britain and Canada. They were allowed to open Khalistan Consulates and form “the government of exile of Khalistan” in some countries. Living in the West and disconnected from real scenario of Sikhs in India, these old pro-Khalistan Sikhs living in the West brought misery to Sikhs in India. Canadian politicians also supported the movement.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive
 

Rajeevk ,

Thanks for pointing out my mistake. I have no intention to offend any community . As a citizen of India, I have respect of all the religion. I am trying to raise very simple issue : why all the terrorists are followers of a particular religion ? Why all the terror acts are committed , innocent people are massacred in the in the name of religion? I am pretty sure no religion preaches violence, if any religion does so or motivate people to resort to violence, there should be global debate on the relevance of such religion?

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive
 

The people who are most affected by Islamic terrorism are the Muslims. Once they collectively renounce terrorism and not encourage religion issue fatwa or jihaad, we can hope for peace in the muslim community. They under estimate the power and resilence of non Muslims.

Posted by AtulNeogi | Report as abusive
 

Whether it is an American trend or otherwise may be debated. Without pointing a finger, there is a definite global trend. However, I think it is important to also realise that the term Islamic terrorism or militancy is overdone and fuels further anger.

There were terrorist groups many many years before predominantly Islamic groups got into the act – ethnic German, Italian, Irish, and Japanese radicals, to name a few, operated to devastating effect much before the current trend. Somehow everyone seems to have forgotten them or their existence. Terrorism became headlines only after the US was attacked. In fact everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten that the IRA, a terror outfit if ever there was one, was largely dependent on Americans funding it. I think the Muslim community as a whole, resents, with reason, being branded a militant society.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive
 

@I am pretty sure no religion preaches violence, if any religion does so or motivate people to resort to violence, there should be global debate on the relevance of such religion?”
—Posted by manishindia

Manish: It is hard to get any fruitful discussion on such sensitive subjects such as religion. Perhaps Reuters media can try it in faith blog. I am also curious why a holy book is interpreted so differently by people, giving some people justification for becoming suicide bombers while others find the teachings in line with Sufi tradition. People with twisted ideology and those vulnerable to twisted interpretations of religion might be in minority, but we know that this minority has taken the rest of the community and rest of the world for a wild ride. Few in the community who have been brave enough to protest against religious fundamentalism have done so at the cost of their lives and facing gagging or fatwa. Religious extremism is common to all religions, but not all religious extremists have succeeded in asphyxiating the the moderate voice.

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •