I once watched an interview with George Lucas. He was recounting the story of his writing the screenplay of a little movie titled, “Star Wars”. He had been searching for some meaning to the lives of his characters; some glue to keep their motivations focused on defeating the Emperor. He used politics at first, but that wasn’t quite essential enough for him. Then, through some conversations with Steven Spielberg, he discovered the power of religion: that fundamental moral adhesive that possesses the deep-seated roots to justify actions, any actions. He developed, ‘The Force’.
Jihad: A short history of a concept
Jihad is a word translated in the western media and known throughout the world, (sadly, I include many Muslim countries) to mean, “Holy War”. However, I would not say that is quite… Accurate. Jihad is an Arabic word that means simply, “to struggle.” It could be struggle by violence or struggle by non-violent means. It is an Islamic principle that contains multiple meanings. The word is formed from the Arabic root JHD, which denotes an intense effort to achieve a positive goal. Jihad entails the notion of good over evil: Food over hunger, opportunity rather than oppression.
An example of early Islamic usage of the concept of Jihad would be the mujtahid, who was a religious scholar who does ijtihad, i.e. strives to interpret religious texts in the light of new challenges and circumstances. Early Islam also saw the notion of Jihad manifests itself in warfare when there was a paramount need to defend Islamic believers.
Early Islamic theologians divided Jihad into two distinct and totally detached categories, Physical and Self. The physical-Jihad involved religious wars whose premises were strictly laid down. This notion of Jihad matured in a Muslim civilization that was encompassing a pluralistic world of opposing views, such as wars with rival nations and its own dynastic conflicts.
Self-Jihad was a struggle taken on by the self and the society; it also involved conquest, the conquest of ego and hubris, of greed and anger. Above all, however, it was a struggle to achieve piety, moral integrity, and spiritual precision. The Sufi’s of eras past concerned themselves with this Self concept; they sought to subjugate self and to give themselves over to the service of the Creator.
Jihad: A contemporary revival
Jihad as an international violent phenomenon was non-existent in the last four hundred-odd years. It was revived in the 1980’s when the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan with U.S. assistance, as well as with the help of that opportunistic military dictator of Pakistan at the time, Zia ul-Haq who launched a Jihad, (by now it had come to mean Holy War) against those Godless Communists. From that grew the U.S. prospect to mobilize one billion Muslims against Reagan’s Evil Empire. As soon as the money allotted came rolling down hill to the CIA from Congress, as well as from Saudi Arabia and other “Middle Eastern” nations, the CIA and the ISI launched the largest covert operation in CIA history and operatives around the globe began recruiting Muslim patriots to battle in the Great Jihad of the 20th Century. One of the early prize recruits: Osama Bin Laden.
In 1985 U.S. President Ronald Regan invited some bearded men to the White House. The President received them and then spoke to the press while pointing at the bearded men and said, “These are the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers”. -These bearded men wearing turbans and carrying arms were the “Afghan Mujahiddin”. Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000 radical Mujahiddin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America’s proxy war. The rank and file of the Mujahiddin were unaware that their Jihad was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam
In 1989, bloody and bruised the Russians withdrew, and a civil war in Afghanistan closed the door on the Russian chapter. By this time, the contemporary Muslim ideologues and militants have reduced the rich associations of Jihad to the single meaning of engagement in warfare, entirely divested of its conditions and conventions. This new Jihad idea spread to Chechnya, Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. These followers of the new Jihad, ignorant of their Islamic history, now kill innocent people through practicing what they had been armed for, all the while believing what they were taught to hold dear: the brand name concept of Islamic Terrorism; for we convinced them that it was Holy War.
I wouldn’t disagree with the fact that the U.S. met it’s aim in ousting the USSR from Afghanistan and hence, preventing them from ever meeting their strategic objective of reaching the Indian Ocean. However, the true problem lies hidden in the ubiquitously short-sited U.S. foreign policy and the collateral damage the results thereof.
As an example of the “collateral damage”, rather than cite the obvious and tragic Sept. 11th attacks, I will allude to an occurrence closer to the original action in Afghanistan: Pakistan. Before the CIA arrived in Pakistan in 1979 there was only a small rural market for opium. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of heroin addicts grew from zero to one-and-a-half million. Even before the Sept. 11th attacks, there were three million Afghan refugees living in tented camps along the border. Pakistan’s economy is crumbling. Sectarian violence, globalization’s structural adjustment programs, and drug lords are tearing the country to pieces. Set up to fight the Soviets, the “terrorist” training centers and madrasahs, lined down the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, produce fundamentalists with tremendous popular appeal within Pakistan itself.
To quote one American official, “The point is not the individuals, the point is that we created a whole cadre of trained and motivated people who turned against us. It’s a classic Frankenstein’s monster situation.”