6 DECEMBER 2008, Page 14

The global force behind Mumbai’s agony is in our midst

Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi say that LET — the Army of the Righteous — is a worldwide Islamist organisation which is well-established in Britain. The Mumbai atrocities are further proof that the march of Islamic extremism is the central fact of our time The usual suspects are declaring that the ‘cause’ of the Mumbai bombings was Kashmir or some other local grievance. But what happened in Mumbai was no more a local event than the 7 July 2005 attacks in London or the assault in Madrid on 11 March 2004. Pakistani propaganda about its claims in Kashmir is almost entirely phony rhetoric intended to justify the predatory instincts of the Pakistani army and intelligence bureaucrats. Pakistan insists that Kashmiri Muslims are oppressed by India, but in fact Indian Muslims live better than Pakistani Muslims and have demonstrated a better capacity for true Islamic thinking.

The attacks on Mumbai are part of a global problem, which is why a passive Western policy toward the crisis is not acceptable. It may appear comforting to bien-pensant representatives of the ‘progressive’ elite. But in reality it represents an attitude of suicidal and irresponsible disengagement from confrontation with a continuing threat. In Mumbai, as in London, Madrid and New York, but also in the Islamic cities of Iraq, Istanbul and Jakarta, and in places like Peshawar and Quetta in Pakistan, a wide network of Muslim fundamentalists continue their global offensive.

The common enemies of all civilised humanity in the ongoing conflict include Saudi Wahhabism and Pakistani jihadism, the latter inspired by a fundamentalist variant of Islam called Deobandism. What Western appeasers must remember is that Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia before it, is two-faced, professing to oppose terrorism while powerful factions in its leadership espouse it.

There is a wide gap between the ordinary local people in Pakistan and India — whatever their faith — and Islamist radicals in the Pakistani armed forces and clandestine services. This division cannot be spanned by a few ameliorative gestures by Pakistani, American or British leaders. We owe it to these ordinary people to treat Islamism seriously wherever it occurs.

This war is mainly aimed at gaining the loyalties of the world’s Sunni Muslims. Saudi Wahhabis now favour a crisis in Pakistan. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has begun a slow and at times almost imperceptible process of anti-Wahhabi actions, and so the main body of Islamist radicals (claiming the mantle of Sunnism) have shifted their attention to Pakistan and its pool of Deobandi foot soldiers. On the subcontinent, the extremists can corrupt, recruit and kill more people, with more impunity, than is now imaginable in the Middle East. Remember that the Wahhabis have failed in Iraq, and the Deobandis, who produced the Taleban, are widely discredited in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now the most obvious choice as a new battleground. Action against India may be the pretext, but the reality is a radical, global strategy.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan resemble the old Soviet Union and East Germany in their special relationship, but they are different from these states in one key respect: no communist regime ever had a diaspora of two million in Britain, as Pakistan does today. The point that should be impressed on the mind of every Briton is that the Pakistani jihadi militia and the al-Qa’eda collaborators known as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET — Army of the Righteous) which attacked Mumbai have a significant following in Britain, Europe and the US.

Thanks to Pakistani government blandishments, LET is recruiting in British mosques as you read these words. This is not alarmist language; it is a pragmatic and direct statement of fact. LET was involved in the Heathrow plot of 2006. LET trained 27-yearold Rashid Rauf of Birmingham, planner of the multiple destruction of passenger aircraft, whom the US allegedly killed in November but who some say remains alive and who was, if nothing else, an inspirer of the Mumbai attacks.

LET is active in the US, where it ran an aggressive network headed by an American white man who converted to Islam, Randall Ismail Royer. Royer’s cell was known by the alarmingly anodyne nickname of ‘the Virginia paintball jihad’, because its ten or so wannabe mujahideen engaged in that form of imitation war as practice for the real fighting they would face as LET troops in Kashmir. Royer, a former functionary of the leading legal Islamist group in America, the presumptuously titled Council on AmericanIslamic Relations (CAIR), had been in Bosnia-Herzegovina and adopted the charming habit of ringing and harassing Bosnian and American Muslims who challenged Wahhabism. Then he was found driving around the American capital with a loaded AK-47 and 219 rounds of ammunition in his car.

Royer joined LET recruits from the US in Kashmir for what is best described as jihad tourism, taking up arms against the Indians. Royer also cleverly produced Islamist internet polemics intended to convey moderation and acceptance of Western values. He and his group were charged with 41 counts of conspiracy to levy war against India, an ally of the United States, as well as arms and related infractions. Royer and a LET comrade pleaded guilty to weapons violations in 2004 and received 20 years in an American prison. Royer’s religious wisdom was succinctly summarised when he commented on his arrest, ‘I really resent the idea that a Muslim with a gun — he’s a threat. A Jew with a gun — he’s not a threat.’ Perhaps a Muslim with a gun is not necessarily a threat; but an Islamist with a gun certainly is. We must not forget that, in taking the Islamist threat in Mumbai seriously, in admitting it to be a global problem we are protecting not just the West but ordinary Muslims too. We must not forget that many Muslims are also committed to civilised values and opposed to this perversion of their faith. The necessity of the struggle against Islamic extremism is the central fact of our time. To try to write recognition of the nature of Islamist violence out of comprehension of Mumbai and crimes like those committed there brings to mind Orwell’s dictum that there are some notions that only the media and intellectuals are stupid enough to believe.

There are few places in the world today without Muslims, and of course wherever there are Muslim communities there is this possibility of radicalisation. But no situation is currently worse than that of Saudi-satellite Pakistan and its British diaspora. So what should be done about it? The British authorities should resolutely quarantine, deport, otherwise expel, and in general combat LET and other Deobandi elements in the British Muslim population. This seems like a sensible and life-saving measure, but nothing remotely like such a policy exists.

Instead the Foreign Office mumbles about the difficulties of determining whether British subjects died as criminal assailants in Mumbai, the US tiptoes around the question of LET’s historically undeniable financing and training by the Pakistani military, and Pakistani representatives whine that they should not be judged until some kind of official inquiry into Mumbai has taken place. But what state other than Pakistan — however failing — would evince an incentive to tolerate LET? Would Sri Lanka have encouraged a gang of murderers to invade a major Indian city? Nepal, which happens to be Maoist? Burma? Hardly. Pakistan’s army is the moral author of the bloodshed in Mumbai; it recruits its cannon fodder in British cities like Birmingham and Bolton as much — or more than — in the slums of Lahore or Karachi, and it represents the main back-up for al-Qa’eda.

Ignoring the ideological and geographical dimension of the world struggle against Islamist violence denies the existential reality of the Mumbai events. The screams of the innocent in Mumbai are the immediately audible evidence of the meaning of the contest. To pretend that such deaths were caused by old complaints in Kashmir is to ignore the real threat and thus to endanger humanity.

So what must be done? Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons, and the Pakistani ruling clique is excitable about threatening their use. Nonetheless London and Washington appear paralysed. In this situation, the reaction of London may be more relevant than that of Washington. Presidentelect Obama babbled about bombing the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran frontier at about the time his opponent, John McCain, was pilloried for celebrating a proposed bombing of Iran. But in the transition period the new inhabitant of the White House apparently prefers to bemoan the diminishing potential for a Begin-Sadat-style photo op of the kind produced in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter. The thinking goes that getting Pakistan and India to hug one another, even while Pakistan continues to tolerate (if not deliberately assist) LET, will free the Pakistani military brass to make good on their repeated but empty promises to act against the Taleban.

It would be the worst of all mistakes to think that Pakistani complicity with the Taleban, and Islamabad’s support for the Kashmiri killers and their Mumbai militants, can be separated into two issues and handled in isolation from one another. Many indi viduals, British subjects included, went to Afghanistan and joined al-Qa’eda but ended up in Kashmir in the ranks of LET. The fighting in Afghanistan in some major part exists as a platform for continuing assault on Kashmir. Ending terror in Afghanistan is indivisible from the same task in Kashmir and, indeed, elsewhere around the world.

Obama seems to be living in a cloud-cuckoo land. If Pakistan is to avoid failing as a state, it must desist from harassing its neighbour, accept responsibility for fostering terror groups, and reform its army and intelligence services from top to bottom, rooting out every sympathiser of violent fundamentalism.

But this is unlikely to happen. Pakistan increasingly resembles a bus with no brakes, hurtling towards a cliff, and driven by a man, Asif Ali Zardari, who appears to have been struck blind. The lesson of Mumbai may be that for Pakistan rescue will come too late.

Stephen Schwartz is executive director and Irfan Al-Alawi is international director of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism at www.islamicpluralism.eu.