The skein of yarn spun out of the Palestinian struggle, and then got twisted in the relentless Western maneuvering in the Middle East to defend Israel. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan knotted it further before culminating in the tangle of terrorism that got crazy since the invasion of Iraq. If Muslim militancy is a big deal today, it wasn't born in a day. We're watching a classic example of how indulgence in unscrupulous solutions has aggravated the problem.
Many attempts are being made to strike at the root of terrorism. Countries have been invaded, dictators have been executed, terrorist leaders have been eliminated, targets have been targeted, and many restrictions have been imposed on travel. Finger printing, body scanning, luggage swiping and extensive background checking proved subliminally effective. Now the new ban on electronic devices larger than phones on flights has come as the latest solution. This one, like previous ones, is likely to push the problem to the next level.
So far it appears that terrorism can neither be tamed nor terrorised, because the terrorists always find ways to stay ahead in the game. The shape-shifting beast continues to transform from Taliban to Al-Qaida to Islamic State to lone wolf terrorists like Khalid Masood, who attacked the British Parliament on March 22. The common thread running through all of them is deep-rooted outrage against the western powers, particularly the United States.
These western countries have been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. If they're busying themselves with the immigrants cluttering their shores and borders, it's because civil wars sparked by their meddling are driving helpless people out of their homelands. While the cause remains ignored, the debate focuses on the effect.
Not to say terrorism is justified. Neither is the present form of the ongoing fight against it. The demonising of Muslims and their religion in the process is making scapegoats out of them for the sins of others. The insertion of Israel into the Arab territory is the original sin. Then the exploitation of the Mujahideen (which later became Taliban) to fight the Russians in Afghanistan gave birth to the spiteful Al-Qaeda itching to settle a score with the United States.
The insidious invasion of Iraq made things worse. The worse worsened in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, where much have been broken in the name of fixing. Terrorism is the reaction of certain Muslim minds living on the edge. The teeming majority of them have maintained calm despite the tyrannies inflicted on them.
Terrorism, historically, was never in the Muslim DNA. The only time a trace of extremism is found in Islam was when the Kharijites adopted a radical approach of Takfir in the 7th century. That too was an internecine struggle when some Muslims declared other Muslims unbelievers and worthy of death. There have been conquests, assassinations and intrigues, but Islam never had a history of terrorism. If anything, its spunk was manifested unto the enemies through direct confrontation in riots and wars.
The Islamic empire once spread from Iberia in the west to the Indus River in the east. The Muslim dynasties such as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and Mamluks were among the most influential powers in the world. In the Early Modern period, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals were able to create new world powers.
But terrorism as a political strategy in the Muslim context didn't exist until the creation of PLO in 1964. The Muslim world had fallen into the grip of western powers, whose collective agenda roiled Arab sentiments. For the control of oil, security of Israel, and other strategic goals, the West, under US leadership, used the Arab countries as pawns on the chessboard.
While terrorism dominates news, factors that dominate terrorism have been swept into the background. The western powers have killed many times more people in the Muslim countries than terrorists have killed in their countries. That calculus of cruelty rankles sensitive minds, which continues to ignite frustration and fury.
Meanwhile, terrorism has undergone changes to overcome resistance. No longer a Middle Eastern phenomenon, it's now looking for centres of gravity in Asia and Europe after the Middle East and Africa. The one-time cry of freedom of the Palestinian soul has amplified into a primal scream. It's a growing indictment of the western oppression against Muslims.
In its transformation, terrorism is going from wholesale to retail. Now one suicide bomber wreaks as much havoc as a band of warriors did in the past, not a single country being immune to this nightmare. Expanded in network and appeal, impressionable minds are being brainwashed faster than fire consumes dry leaves.
Terrorism in any form can never be defended. However it is in most cases a response to tyranny, and it cannot only be defeated by killing those who are ready to die. Every time a suicide bomber blows himself up, its loud bang scornfully yells that troublesome truth in our face.
The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.