The Long History of Terror as a Political Instrument
David J. Jonsson
Author: David J. Jonsson
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: April 23, 2007
Have you heard of ‘The Fort of the Assassins?’ FSM Contributing Editor David J.Jonsson takes us on a captivating historical journey back to the roots of modern Islamic terrorism. Was the Prophet Muhammad the instigator of Muslim barbarism? David describes how it all began.
The Long History of Terror as a Political Instrument
By David J. Jonsson
“The Fatimid state arose in the beginning of the 10th century, and it formed an umbrella over North Africa, and under its banner all of the tribal, denominational, political, and ethnic differences fused, and they all became one single Fatimid identity, which lasted 260 years and extended as far as the Arab East.
Islam has a long history of using terror as a political instrument. The most famous of these was the ‘Fort of the Assassins’ of the founder of the Ismaili order.
Terrorism, by which we mean the threat and use of violence against innocents, has a long tradition in Islam going back to Prophet Muhammad himself according to N.S. Rajaram in the article: Grandmasters Of Terror.
The most famous of the Islamic terrorist organizations was the Nizari Ismailiyun, a Shiite politico-religious sect, founded in 1094 by Hasan-e Sabah. He and his followers captured the hill fortress of Almaut in northern Iran, which became their base of operations. Hasan styled himself Grand Master and went on to set up a network of terrorist strongholds in Iran and Iraq. He had trained assassins, most of whom according to Marco Polo were drug addicts. According to Marco Polo, young boys captured by the Grand Master were turned into addicts by giving them progressively large doses of the drug hashish. This way they were totally dependent on him and would do anything in return for hashish. They came to be known as hashishin, from which get the word ‘assassin.’ So the use of narcotics in terrorism is nothing new.
Some historians doubt Polo’s account, but it is difficult to believe that he made up the whole thing. What is not in doubt, however, is the fact that Hasan-e Sabah and his successor Grand Masters commanded an army of assassins who spread terror among the people in Iran and Iraq. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, The Grand Master had “a corps of devoted terrorists, and an unknown number of agents in enemy camps and cities, who claimed many victims among the generals and statesmen of the Abbasid caliphate as well as several caliphs.”
The Nizari Ismaliyun or the Order of the Assassins expanded into Syria after its founder’s death. In the 12th century, Rashid ad-Din as-Sinan, famous as the ‘Old Man of the Mountain,’ set himself up as an independent Grand Master of the Assassin Order in the impregnable castle of Masyaf in Syria. For over a century and a half, from 1094 to 1256, these Grandmasters and their assassins spread terror throughout the Middle East. Their end came at the hands of the Mongol warriors of Haleku Khan—the grandson of Chengis Khan. He captured and destroyed assassin strongholds in Iran one by one, and finally Almaut itself in 1256. Two years later, in February 1258, Haleku’s soldiers sacked Baghdad itself and ended the Caliphate by executing the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustasim and his sons. So, the main result of the activities of the Assassins was the end of the Caliphate.
In more recent times, terror was used to gain political ends by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. In 1946, his call for ‘Direct Action’ in support of his demand for Pakistan led to street riots all across North India. The Congress party, which had won the election by promising that it would not allow India to be divided, capitulated and agreed to the Partition of India.
In all this, there is an almost religious belief that terrorism pays. In the Pakistani official manual The Quranic Concept of War by Brigadier Malik, it is explicitly stated: “Terror struck into the hearts of the enemy is not only a means; it is the end in itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved… Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him.”
One major point to ponder, when thinking about The Quranic Concept of War, is the title itself. The Quran is presumed to be the revealed word of God as spoken through his chosen prophet, Mohammed. According to Malik, the Quran places war fighting doctrine and its theory in a much different category than western thinkers are accustomed to, because it is not a theory of war derived by man, but of God. This is God’s war fighting principles and commandments revealed. Malik attempts to distill God’s doctrine for war through the examples of the Prophet. By contrast, the closest that Clausewitz comes to divine presentation is in his discussion of the trinity: the people, the state, and the military. In the Islamic context, the discussion of war is at the level of revealed truth and example, well above theory—God has no need to theorize. Malik notes, “As a complete Code of Life, the Holy Quran gives us a philosophy of war as well. . . . This divine philosophy is an integral part of the total Quranic ideology.” From Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly, Winter 2006-07, pp. 108-27.
The authority for this is the Qur’an (Anfal 8:59-60): “And let not those who disbelieve suppose that they can outstrip (Allah’s Purpose). Lo! They cannot escape. Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.” (Yusufal)