The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fight the political ideology, not Islam

For some months now I have been thinking about Omar Sheikh, the bright undergraduate who left the London School of Economics to take up terrorism as a career and later masterminded the kidnap and beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl.

As a youth, Omar had Jewish friends. Later on, after meeting Arab and Pakistani guerrillas, he grew a beard but it seemed to me Omar was driven by political ideology rather than his religion.

Professor (now Lord) Meghnad Desai of the London School of Economics didn’t actually teach Omar in the early 1990s but must have been aware of the radicalisation of some LSE students caused by such factors as the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia.

In his new paperback, Rethinking Islamism: The Ideology of the New Terror (I B Tauris; £8.39) — he will be launching it shortly in Delhi at the India International Centre and at Delhi University — Meghnad has got it absolutely right. His view is that the religion of Islam must not be confused with the political ideology being pursued by extremists. And it must be tackled in the way that other political ideologies, such as “anarchy, fascism and communism”, have been confronted.

Meghnad tells me the British government is “completely wasting its time” talking to mosques in its bid to curb the terrorism espoused by some young Pakistani-origin Muslims in the UK.

Why so'

“It is necessary to understand the true nature of Global Islamism if we are to defeat it,” he warns. “It is also important not to get confused with problems of Islam as a faith or Muslims as a people. Global Islamism is the enemy we have to concentrate on; not all Islamism and certainly not Islam.”

Today, there are grim predictions that the new terrorism may last another 30 or even 100 years, prompting Meghnad to wonder: “How could British-born young men turn into suicide bombers and determined killers of their fellow citizens' We cannot fight terror until we see jihadism for what it is: a political ideology motivated by goals that are utterly distinct from religion.”

Meghnad’s central point is this: “There is one distinguishing feature of the new wave of terrorism that has done more than anything else to muddy the debate about its nature. This is the religious rhetoric which has been at the heart of its propaganda. The new terrorism wears Islamic garments. Its perpetrators recite and quote the Holy Koran. Its young agents the suicide bombers, men in most instances, go to their deaths with the promise of a paradise with scores of virgins waiting for them. But my argument is that one needs above all to separate Islam as a religion in both theory and practice and Islamism as an ideology. It is the ideology which feeds terrorism. It puts on religious garb and takes shelter in quotations from the Koran. But the ideology is political, its aim being the winning of power over people. In this, Islamism is much like other ideologies: Communism, anarchism, nationalism.”

May be I will get to discuss all this over a glass of wine with Omar Sheikh for President Musharraf appears minded to release him.

Launch pad

If Sania Mirza, 20, were to model a sports bra, she would probably arouse a little more interest in India than medium pacer Isa Guha, 21, who bowls for the England women’s cricket team, has done in the UK.

Isa’s side has just concluded a sponsorship deal with the Uplifted Lingerie Company.

Along with her vice-captain, Laura Newton, and all rounder Nicola Shaw, Isa has been photographed wearing the sports bra which the online lingerie company will supply to the England women players.

Newton said: “We’re delighted that have decided to provide us with sports bras — they are an essential part of our equipment and so it’s a fantastic deal for us.”

The company’s advertisement says: “If you are about to start heading to the gym this bra is for you. Offering maximum support with a funky style, this can also be worn as a top.”

If the latter practice were adopted, there is a danger that male attendance at women’s cricket matches, particularly in India, might grow.

Isa, a London University undergraduate born in England to Bengali parents who migrated from Calcutta, had no hesitation about being photographed in her sports bra.

“She wanted to do something to support the company,” I am assured by a spokeswoman for Uplifted Lingerie. “She was cooperative and happy about it.”

In marked contrast, Sania’s tennis skirts caused some religious elders to froth with excitement. One from the Sunni Ulema Board was quoted as saying: “The dress she wears on the tennis courts leaves nothing to the imagination. She will undoubtedly be a corrupting influence.”

UNTIED: Tony Blair

Bottom line

When Tony Blair got off the plane in Pakistan last week, determined to applaud General Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation”, the British prime minister wasn’t wearing a tie. These days even BBC television presenters on heavyweight political programmes affect “smart casual” by not wearing ties. Does the open-necked look represent the end of civilisation as we know it'

Among the few who dress formally in London are Indian businessmen who come (once a week) as part of CII or FICCI delegations. Ironically, the shabbiest are holidaymakers from India, men and women, who ought to be persuaded to abandon their baggy jeans, thick jackets and scruffy trainers. Ten minutes in Oxford Street will be enough to convince even the casual observer that God has been kind to Indians in many ways but our body shape was not created, sadly, with the Levis in mind.

Blair packed a Nehru jacket for a previous trip to Pakistan but didn’t wear it. In the sea of military uniforms, he would have looked out of place.

Big moment

Moni Varma, 57, managing director of Veetee, one of the biggest manufacturers of Basmati rice in the UK, was named “Asian of the Year” for 2006 last week by Jasbir Singh Sachar’s Asian Who’s Who, thereby following in the footsteps of the previous two winners, society hostesses Ramola Bachchan and Surina Narula.

Moni, who grew up in Malawi and is the landlocked African country’s “Honorary Consul” in Britain, recently spoke sympathetically about Madonna’s decision to adopt a baby boy, David Banda, from Malawi.

Cherie Blair attended the awards dinner briefly — “I want to be home when Tony gets back from Afghanistan” — and collected a prize for her charity work for Indian widows done on behalf of UK garments importer Raj Loomba, who is confident of achieving his ambition of being made “Lord Loomba” in Blair’s departing honours list next year.

Tittle tattle


What did I say' There has been gushing praise for Monty Panesar in the British media, with cover stories last week in the Radio Times, which provides television and radio listings, and the Mail on Sunday’s Live magazine. But when it came to it, rival spinner Ashley Giles, miraculously recovered from a long injury, hobbled on to the pitch against Australia. Poor Monty, with hopes dashed, has been stabbed in the back.

An open and shut case for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

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