From the “bombers” in London to the “Deobandi” current
In this article, we have tried to attempt an inquiry going back along the path of radicalism: from the history of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the four “bombers” of the 7th of July attack in London - whom we have taken as an example - to the history of the Hindu Pakistani fundamentalist school of “Deobandi” and of its bearers to the West. Over a distance of almost one and a half centuries, from the first Koran school of Deoband to the militant Islamism of Mawdudi, from the Afghani Jihad to the international of Bin Laden, focusing on the stages of one ‘that comes from the sacred’ that walks in our midst, in the steps of young Moslems ‘brought up at home’, for whom the distance between the past and the present is short, but the memory of hatred against the West is long.
The boy’s dream of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the four “bombers” of London, was typically British: to become a professional cricket player. Son of that wave of immigrants which, from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have populated the industrial heart of north-central England. He grew up near the young hooligans of Leeds, where he was studying Sport Sciences at the Metropolitan University and he saw himself, one day in the future, at the wheel of a red Mercedes. They say that until the age of 18, he had no interest in politics, either domestic or foreign and he studies the Koran like all young boys do their homework, feeling more British than Moslem. Then, during the 4 years between the 11th of September 2001 and the 7th of July 2005, he changed. He changed inside, secretly, frequenting places like the Iqra Learning Centre, an Islamic district library, where anti-western propaganda material circulates. An ultra-rigorous vision of Islam had entered his head, known as the Deobandi doctrine, which, from the Pakistan “madrasse”, enters European territories through circuits always more alternative to the mosques, where “bad teachers” (from our point of view), champion the cause of the isolation of the immigrant communities from the contamination of “non-Islam” and the “re-Islamization of the individual”. This “re-birth” of Shehzad to become a true Moslem would take him back along a path of subsequent radicalized stages, in that Punjab where his ancestors had rebelled against the British colonialism and where thousands of “Koran schools” open their doors to young Islamic or newly converted people, to then close them again against the western world.
He was there for the first time in 2002 and it seems that he had already entered into the missionary network of Tabligh Eddawa, which represents the main expansion medium of the Deobandite doctrine in the West. He had come back the following year and had met an emissary of the “the Army of Mohammed” (Jaish-e Mohammed) – a Deobandi inspired group, active in Kashmir in an anti-Indian function, but tied to the international jihad – on which trail, the American journalist, Daniel Pearl had been decapitated, the first western person to be beheaded on T.V.
The last journey of Shehzad Tanweer to Lahore (from December 2004 till February 2005) is recent, and his companion is another anglo-pakistani, Mohammed Sidique Khan, the eldest of the four London bombers and their “Pygmalion” on the jihad “road to no return”. At home, they say that “Baby” (Shehzad’s western nickname) had gone to learn how to recite the Koran correctly, but the truth was that he had entered into contact with the “Army of the Pure” (Lashkar-e Tayyabe),another Deobandi group, considered the armed wing of Bin Laden in the region, with the predilection for suicide attacks. When Shehzad returns to Leeds, there is only a short time before his “appointment” at the Aldgate metropolitan station.
At this point, we think that the repeated proximity with the Deobandi circuit must have influenced the radicalization process of Shehzad to the point that he became a so-called “born-again”.
We will try then, a flash-back into the past on the tracks and vectors of a school of thought in the West that, for a long time, Bin Laden has tried to use as a reservoir of recruitment. It is not by coincidence that 5 months before the 11th September, 2001 in occasion of the “International Deoband Conference” at Peshawar, the Saudi sheik would addressed a message (denied by the conference organizers) in which he called for all the young to go to Afghanistan for military training, the only country in the world which conformed to the Shari’a, (the Shariah).
Everything started in 1867, in a Koran school of Deoband, a small Indian city, north of Delhi, (still an important centre of Islamic studies), where a movement of religious revival was developing which, in the India colonized by the British in the second half of the 19th century, preached to the Moslems, the “return to the Islam of the origins” purifying it of the British colonial rule contamination and of the Hindu majority. Ten years before, the last Sovereign of the long Moghul dynasty, based on the application of the Shariah, had been deposed, and the India Moslems adapted badly to the Anglo Saxon Common Law.
Let us leave it to Emilio Salgari, in the pages of the Sandokan saga, to recount how the “Sepoys”, Indian mercenary soldiers (both Moslem and Hindu) at the service of the British West Indies Company mutinied, refusing the orders to load the new “Enfield” rifles with cartridges greased with “pork fat” (Moslems) or cow fat (the Hindu), in order not to profane their religion. In fact, they were supposed to hold the cartridges between their teeth, before loading them into the magazine.
In the absence of a State which would undertake the task of applying the Islamic law, the Deobandi school (very similar, for rigor, to the Wahhabita school, created in Saudi Arabia, one century earlier) starts – through the teaching of the religious law and the production of hundred of thousands of fatwa, - to codify the licit and illicit behaviour of the Moslem people, drawing a “Maginot line” between the true religion (“din”) and impiety (“kufr”). A sort of incitement to “voluntary apartheid” arose, the result of an interior Hegira, which was accompanied by a profound contempt for British and Hindus, both nominated “kafir” (unbelievers).
In 1947, with the Indian subcontinent’s independence from the British, things seem to settle down and two separate States: India for the Hindu and Pakistan for the Moslems, were formed. But for the Deobandi, the challenge against “impiety” is turned against a nationalistic elite, which intends to anchor Pakistan to the west. Not only do the Koran schools increase, but their style becomes more political, due to the influence of Abu Al Mawdudi, the founder of the religious party of “Jamaat-e Islami”, who opposed the idea of an “Islamic State” to the idea of a “State for Moslems”. This ideologist will prove to be the maximum advocate of Islamic fundamentalism in the Indian subcontinent and the spiritual father of movements like the “Taliban”, which took power in Afghanistan in 1994, imposing an extremely severe integralist regime.
But the turning period is the 1979/1989 decade of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the Deobandi schools-barracks, spread throughout the refugee camps in Pakistan, will play an essential role in the ideological and military formation of the moujaheddin called, from every part of the “Umma”, to increase the resistance against the USSR and, subsequently, channelled into the areas of origin and into the West. These “Arab-Afghani” – as the first generation of veterans, trained and capable of training will be called – will be the “vectors” of an hybrid ideology in which the Deobandi behaviour codes will merge with the militant radicalism of Mawdudi and with the jihad Salafism of Palestinian, Egyptian, Saudi preachers who have entered into the madrasse, to theorize and promote jihad as a “religious obligation” towards all “enemies of the faith”. It is on this transversal connection that bin Laden will throw the foundations of al-Qaeda.
There is yet another fundamental question to be discussed and this is the crucial influence that the Deobandi school exercises on the Tabligh Eddawa, the largest world Islamic missionary movement originated, like the Egyptian Moslem Brothers, at the end of the 1920’s. This current – which following the many emigration routes came and rapidly spread throughout the West – imbues the codified and ritual Deobandi Islam with the ardour of a message of salvation. This preaching is “directed downwards”, to the immigrant population, to the Moslems with identity crises and to new Islam converts. Hostile to any kind of political prospective of a revolutionary nature, the movement assumes, rather more, the characteristics of a sect, for the incessant brain washing of its affiliates on the necessity of adopting a rigid code of self-discipline and prayers useful to the preservation of the Islam identity and to safeguard against the temptation of non-Islam. However, this extreme rigor risks provoking obsessive forms of alienation towards any “contagion” with the West, and leaves itself open to speculation by extremist Islamic formations, interested, through its c.d. “connectors” to recruit from among the immigrant community, “a fresh set of bodies” for the different Qaeda fronts.
Individuals like Mohammed Sidique Khan, who exercised the leader’s fascination on the London group, can, in fact, manipulate the minds of youths who are apparently well integrated, and programme them for “martyrdom”, in the name of the triumph of Islam and with the promise of a “hereafter” where rivers flow with “milk and honey”.
It is a “drift away from the sacred”, built on those whom we have called the “born again”, which leads to – described in the manner of Emile Durkheim – a form of “altruistic suicide”, where the individual sacrifices himself to strengthen the group he belong to, the “universal Umma of believers”, which is still today, held to be under siege by the “unbelievers” in Iraq, in the moderate Arab countries, in the West. In this sense, the martyrdom operation is a landing place considered by the shaid as a natural consequence of his “rebirth” as an authentic Moslem, with a “normality” which walks among us and which, after London, leaves us disoriented, to grapple with the frustrating vertigo of the precariousness.