The anti-Sufi war in South Asia is trans-national. Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and other jihadis attack in all directions; contrary to the apparent belief of the Obama administration, the Taliban cannot be “contained,” but must be decisively defeated, and be seen to have been defeated. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Pakistani jihadis do not seek domination over South Asia as an end in itself, but to gain a platform for wider aggression. Afghan Taliban crossed the border to destroy the tomb in Peshawar of a greatly-beloved 17th-century Pashtun Sufi poet, Rehman Baba, in 2009. The capacity of the terrorists to shed blood inside India was shown by the atrocities committed in Bombay at the end of 2008. But the Indian Sufis had already been hit by the terrorists in 2007, when the tomb of Moinuddin Chishti, a 12th-century figure and the most famous of the subcontinent’s Islamic mystics, was bombed, leading two dead and 20 injured.
While violence against Sufis has become a prominent feature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan terror war, Western media typically note it and then move on, as if it were not a crucial factor in the conflict. Reporting on the Baba Farid assault, the Washington Post quoted Hamid Saeed Kazmi, Pakistani minister of religious affairs, who said the radicals “want to convert the war on terror into a sectarian war.” But the terrorists’ aim has always been sectarian conflict--as much when al Qaeda cadres attack the U.S. or murder Christians and Shia Muslims in Iraq, as when the Taliban massacre Sufis and Shias.
The sectarian hatreds of the Deobandis have been imported into Britain, where believers of South Asian origin make up the majority of Muslims. Radical preachers and the Deobandi missionary movement Tabligh-i-Jamaat (TJ) take over British mosques built by the conservative but law-abiding and apolitical Barelvi Muslims, or erect new structures from which they spread their venom and in which they recruit the young. In the United States, where South Asians form the plurality of the Muslim community, the Pakistan-based jihadi movement Jamaat-e Islami (JI) controls mosques and spreads extremism through the paramilitary Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the most influential organization among Pakistani-American Muslims. Worse, the al Qaeda-auxiliary Lashkar-e-Taiba, which attacked Bombay, has maintained an active network in the UK and U.S. for years.
As terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan expands, it’s time for anti-terror strategists and media experts to recognize the anti-Sufi war in South Asia for what it is: rather than an esoteric quarrel involving a curious and picturesque form of Islam, it is the vanguard of the radical assault throughout the region, and, by manipulating the South Asian Muslim diaspora in the West, against the world.
Irfan al-Alawi is executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor.
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