Jihadists or Terrorists?

Perhaps many politicians, journalists, and even academics intend to conflate Jihadism and terrorism and by so doing implying that Jihad is terrorism. While both concepts adopt political violence as a mean to achieve their goals, there is a difference between Jihad and terrorism.

Jihad has never been about intimidating or killing for the sake of killing. Jihad does not kill infidels just because they are infidels. In fact, killing has never been the purpose or the ultimate goal for Jihad. The essence of Jihad is sacrifice and the concept of struggle. True believers will sacrifice their lives in this struggle. There is no doubt that Jihad violence does intimidate, but who? This depends on whether the Jihad’s mission is defensive or offensive. Defensive Jihad calls on people to sacrifice their lives in order to defend their religion, nation, and people against all kinds of aggression. Similarly, offensive Jihad implies sacrifice, so Muslims must sacrifice their lives to spread the message of Islam worldwide and rescue the people from darkness and slavery to lightness and freedom.

Contemporary Jihad is defensive Jihad, where Muslims are defending themselves from invasions, occupations, and dictatorships.

For more than two centuries now, Muslims were committed to defend themselves against western imperialism which occupied their countries, killed their people, took their wealth, changed their cultures and languages, and above all, divided them from a one nation-state into nation-states, and established a Jewish state in their land (Palestine).

This kind of defense, therefore, whether peaceful or violent is a reaction to all those atrocities and cannot be labeled terrorism because their mission is motivated by defense, not for political gains. It is illogical and unfair to pay no attention to the offensive actions of the aggressors, and blame defensive reactions.

Defensive Jihad engages with the freedom fighters, revolutionary groups, and anti-occupation or anti-colonization movements. However, Jihad is an Islamic rule based on an ideology. Muslims devote and sacrifice their lives and their souls for it. Jihad is not just defending the religion, in fact, Jihad is defending the country, the nation, the family. The nation is the Muslim nation which includes all Muslims around the world. This explains the reasons behind the old-new phenomenon of emigrant Mujahedeen, and their constant movements from one country to another, for instance, from Afghanistan to Bosnia, to Chechnya, to Somalia, to Iraq, and now to Syria.

Therefore, this phenomenon cannot be understood without comprehending the nation concept in Islam, and the duty of a Muslim towards his or her nation. Muslims have a duty to defend their fellow Muslims around the world from all kind of aggression. Moreover, defensive Jihad, where fighting against an invader or an enemy, might turn into an open war without borders or into a transnational force without agreed upon mutual common morals and rules between the Jihadists and their enemies.

Offensive Jihad, which is irrelevant today, is more about conquest, but it is very different from colonization and imperialism, so while imperialism seeks economic and political interests, offensive Jihad is one means of spreading the political-religious reign of Islam to extend to an Islamic empire. In other words, imperialism relates to commodities and materials, but offensive Jihad is concerned about people and religion regardless of their culture. Muslims do support a multilingual and multicultural nation indicating that offensive Jihad approves and respects the different cultures, where consistent with Islamic values. The Spanish language, for instance, had never been under threat from the 800 years Arabic-Islamic presence in Spain, but in turn, the Arabic language in Algeria faced real extinction as a result of the 130 years French occupation. Moreover, the Spanish themselves changed the languages of South American countries that they occupied.

Whether we agree on their activities or not, it must be acknowledged that most of the Islamic groups that we hear about today such as Al-Qaeda, Hamas, ISIS, and others emerged as a reaction to unlawful and illegal actions that were committed by states in the West and the East.

Al-Qaeda was a movement that countered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Along with the Mujahedeen, Al-Qaeda and the West had one goal which was to defeat the USSR. However, after the collapse of the USSR, the West changed its attitude toward Al-Qaeda. Hamas is a nationalistic Islamic movement that was established as a reaction to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, so its goal is the liberation of their land. Although its activities never left the borders of Palestine, it is listed as a terrorist group.

ISIS was established as a reaction to the American- British invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the following explicit sectarian Iranian intervention in the country. Sunnis in Iraq endured all kinds of humiliation and unprecedented brutality. Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State, believed that American national interest was worth killing half a million Iraqi children as result of the international sanctions in the 1990s. Journalist Chris Hedges acknowledged that ISIS was bombed and brutalized, however, governments and media do not want people to see or know that, but only to see the reactions to that brutality, so people do not understand how and why the brutalized became brutal.

Finally, defining terrorism as using violence for political gains is an unfair and unrealistic definition, and surely does not promote world peace. It makes the aggressor equivalent to the victim or the brutal equivalent to the brutalized, and does not distinguish between action and reaction, and no attention is paid to the scale of the reaction. We need to redefine both concepts, Jihad and terrorism and link them to their causes, their roots, and their ultimate goals rather than just concentrate on their effects and implications. This would be the first step towards a safer world despite two big obstacles: world anarchy and western arrogance.