Ram Puniyani's recent editorial in the Daily Asian Age, "What has religion to do with Terrorist Violence," was certainly well-intentioned and got the basic premise right: religion is not at the root of terrorism, and it is a mistake to think it is. Unfortunately, the piece also contained factually incorrect information and reflected his moral and political philosophies. That's a shame, because what might have been a strong piece turned into pre-election anti-Modi rant that did more to divide people than unite them.
Religion is not the cause of wars and atrocities, and here I stand shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Puniyani. Certainly, itsmisuse has motivated killers: Crusaders whose holy war was launched for financial gain and to give an idle class of knights something to do; today's radical Islamists who use their personal interpretation of Islam to justify their murderous behavior; those Bangladeshis who justify land grabbing with a call to expel non-Muslims from the country; to name a few.
Rather, religion's moral lessons more likely put the brakes on deadly, tribal behavior. Dismissing those things would be equal to dismissing all secular philosophy out of hand because of the 100 million people killed in the 20th century in the name of the secular philosophy of communism. So yes, there is a tie between religion and terrorism.
Dr. Puniyani's first factual error is his claim that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, "American media coined a new phrase 'Islamic Terrorism'. This was the first time the terrorist act and terrorists got the prefix of religion." That's simply a complete fabrication. Two examples will suffice to debunk Dr. Puniyani's assertion: Taheri Amir's 1987 book, Holy Terror: Inside the World of Islamic Terrorism; Paul Fregosi's 1998 book, which repeatedly contained the phrase "Muslim terrorism."
Pre 9/11 scholarly and popular examples are extensive but hardly a good use of editorial space. Let us also add that it is a supreme stretch of the imagination to assert, as Puniyani does, that the recent murder of 50 at a mosque was due to the American media's word play 18 years earlier. Perhaps he next will accuse the media of running "fake news."
He then goes on to blame his favorite whipping boy (India's BJP) for "medieval Muslim kings [being] paraded as temple destroyers and those converting through the sword" solely as "propaganda tools." Sorry, doctor, but even if they were not really fulfilling religious prescriptions, the Mughal kings were just that. In his book, Hindu Temples - What Happened to Them, Sita Ram Goel lists 2000 destroyed in his first volume. And, yes, the book has its critics; but even they say only that the numbers are "inflated." The history of forced conversion is extensively documented and, unfortunately, continues to this day in many Muslim-majority countries.
It seems that Dr. Puniyani takes special delight in blaming the United States for all of these ills. Besides his inaccurate statements about Islamic terrorism, he glibly repeats (without foundation) the discredited notion that the United States was somehow responsible for Al Qaeda. Again, not true. It is true that the United States gave financial support to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in their fight against the Soviet Union, however, those Islamist groups were home grown in South Asia and existed prior to US involvement.
The Deobandi School in India had much more to do with the creation of Al Qaeda than did the United States. Moreover, until the fall of communism and the Soviet Union, all foreign policy was seen through the prism of the Cold War. Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made South Asian Cold War calculations even more difficult by taking India into the open arms of the Soviet Union, where it remained for decades. So, one might as easily blame Nehru for creating of Al Qaeda.
From his writing, Puniyani appears still to have some fond feeling for the Soviet Union and regret that the Cold War turned out as it did. We come to "learn" from him that it was "after the eclipse of the Soviet Union, the global imperialism has aimed to control the West Asian oil wealth under the cover of combatting Islamic terrorism." His unsubstantiated assertion makes even less sense when you consider that the United States long ago embarked on a program of energy independence and is itself the largest oil producer in the world.
US oil imports have been declining since the mid-2000s, and in January hit a low mark eclipsed only once since 1997. Moreover, its largest foreign supplier is Canada.Can we please put to rest the discredited and conspiratorial theory that the United States is fighting terror to control oil? The facts just do not support it, and it seems that the only support exists in the minds of those few who remain nostalgic for the long gone days of the USSR.
With all his vitriol for the United States, Puniyani misses perhaps the biggest cause of what happened in New Zealand. For years, partisans have been afraid to unequivocally condemn terrorism when it is committed against people they don't like. Anti-Israel terrorism is the most glaring example. Until the recent thawing of relations between Israel and almost all of the Arab and Muslim world, the latter almost consistently refused to condemn terror attacks against the Jewish State.
Yassir Arafat once even apologized to the father of a Muslim boy killed in a terrorist attack, making it clear that he would not have apologized to the father if the boy was Jewish. And the world of Arabs and leftists continued to laud this terrorist and bigot. When asked to condemn terror attacks, Arab leaders would respond by saying they oppose "all terror attacks," and never condemn those against Israel.
And then there were those many times we were told to "understand the Arab street's anger." Together, all of them said in a clear voice that terror can be justified at times, and the continued refusal of the UN, donor nations, and others to call Palestinians to account for continued praise and support for terrorists prolongs the deadly tradition and sends a solution to the conflict further away. This allowance for justifying terrorism if we don't like the victim, contributed far more to the terrorism in New Zealand than Dr. Puniyani's fantasies about media creations post 9/11.
The writer is an American human rights activist, journalist,
writer and lecturer
-Dr Richard L Benkin
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