In this Terrorism dossier and intelligence report, the origins, history and operations of two terrorist organizations – Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah – are discussed. From a study of the rationale and motive of these two groups, we can arrive at the security implications for the Australian government and the preventative measures that could be taken to thwart any possible terrorist attacks.
Group Names and their interpretation:
Firstly, the term ‘terrorist organization’ should not be interpreted to mean a formal hierarchy of personnel who are assigned fixed responsibilities and duties. On the other hand they imply propaganda and support mechanism whose aim is to recruit willing individuals from the Islamic world to participate in the holy war, also known as ‘Jihad’. Consistent with this fact, the term ‘Al Qaeda’ was not Christened by Osama bin Laden; rather, it was the United States intelligence agency CIA that referred to the Islamic activists led by bin Laden in this manner in the mid-1990s. Al Qaeda, translated from Arabic, literally means a “foundation or precept’. The term Jemaah Islamiyah is translatable into “Islamic community” (Utley, 2004, p.34). Hence, the employment of terrorism is not an intrinsic aspect of these organizations. Terrorism is only a tactic that was adopted during the last decade or so, but there is nothing inevitable about it. This fact should be kept in mind by Australian security agencies, while drawing awareness campaigns and security measures, for far too often western intelligence tends to portray these Islamic groups to indulge in terrorist activities for terror’s sake. This is not true. The Jihadists’ objective is to defend their faith and their way of life, which they feel is threatened by the western cultural and military interventions in the Islamic world (and there is sufficient proof to support this assertion). It is prudent on part of the Australian government to address the grievances held by the world-wide Islamic community and attempt to remedy it, instead of imposing more internal restrictions or external interventions, for the latter approach does not address the root cause as the former does. To quote,
“Radical Islam will continue to grow if Muslims, despite being the world’s second largest religious community, continue to be treated like pariahs of the international community. Never in recent history have Muslims been subjected to such intense scrutiny, marginalization, and siege on a global scale. This state of utter bewilderment, disorientation, panic, and rage has the potential to intensify in the future, even in Southeast Asia, a region long known for peace and prosperity” (Utley, 2004, p.34).
Both Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya are founded on universal Islamic precepts of jihad and brotherhood. Hence, the role of their leaders is secondary to their message. For instance, even when Al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was assassinated, there was no cessation in the local insurgency. Similarly, there is no conclusive evidence that Osama bin Laden is alive, yet the numbers of terror attacks targeted at western interests have seen an unprecedented rise since the events of September 11. Also, the Southeast Asian region is populated by numerous militant Islamist outfits, whose ideologies are nearly the same. The threat posed to Australian interests in Southeast Asia comes from small and marginalized groups who are spread all across the region. Alongside Jemaah Islamiah (JI) in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia; “we have the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia; and al-Maunah in Malaysia; the Abu Sayaff in the southern Philippines; Pattani United Liberation Organization in southern Thailand; and Laskar Jihad, Majlis Mujahideen, and Islamic Defenders’ Front in Indonesia.” Hence the security measures taken by the Australian government should not confine itself to a particular militant entity, but should focus on the broader phenomenon of global Jihad (Chehab, 2006, p.37).
The present wave of Islamic revivalism and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism across the world originated during the 1970s. The movement started as a reaction to the disillusionment and failure associated with modern neo-liberal economic policies. The first world has had longstanding association with Muslim-dominant nations that are oppressive, authoritarian and dictatorial. A prime example of this would be Saudi Arabia, with whom the United States and its allies (including Australia) don’t seem to have a problem, in spite of copious evidence of severe human rights violations within its borders (Smith, 2002, p.34). This apparent hypocrisy of the west had induced a sense of discontent and anger within the wider Islamic community. That is when influential Muslim thinkers such as like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb involved themselves in social activism, which later spawned militant outfits like the Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah. This point is illustrated succinctly in the following passage: