Friday, July 06, 2007

Back to the doctors

By Carol Gee

The medical backgrounds of the alleged terrorists recently arrested in the United Kingdom have been items of fascination for the great number of readers interested in my recent post here at The Reaction, "The irony of doctor/terrorists." I, too, remain fascinated, so today I return to the subject in much more depth.

Yesterday Great Britain lowered the "terror alert" level. Having detained a significant number of suspects, officials have stepped down just a bit. According to Stephen Fidler and Christopher Adams of The Financial Times, "Terrorist alert eased but threat persists." To quote from the story:

The terrorist threat level has been cut from the maximum, signalling that counter-terrorism officials believe a cell responsible for three failed car bomb attacks over the past week has been largely wrapped up.

...Security officials confirmed that investigators believed the main actors in the ring had been taken into custody. Eight people have been detained, all of whom have worked for the National Health Service and of which seven were doctors or trainee medics. Six were from the Middle East and two from India.

...The investigation would look into possible connections between the alleged plotters and others overseas, and examine the suspects' work history while in hospital to see if any of them used their positions for terrorist actions.

One of the eight -- a 27-year-old Indian doctor called Mohamed Haneef -- was still being held yesterday in Australia... Another Indian doctor, also recruited from the UK and who had worked alongside Dr Haneef in Australia, was released without charge.

In a strange way it is a very small world. After hearing about the UK terrorist crisis, I wanted to read what one of my good blogger friends thought about doctors as terrorists. Originally from Basra, Iraq, by way of immigration to Australia, then to the U.S., Fayrouz in Beaumont wrote this (7/4/07 -- from which I quote a portion) about "The terrorist doctors":

"Those who cure you are going to kill you.” That was the cryptic message from an Al-Qaida chief to an Anglican priest who tries to bring Iraqi sectors together. The latest wave of terror in Britain solidified my belief that the main goal of terrorism is to change our way of life. The second goal is to make us distrust each other.

...What's more shocking is the Iraqi doctors who were part of the new cell of terror. Just in time to screw up the hopes of many decent Iraqi doctors who want to make a future in Britain and other Western countries.

Now that Al-Qaida turned our attention toward Middle-Eastern doctors working in the West, I bet it's going to turn its efforts to recruit other unsuspected professionals of Middle Eastern background. They may be nurses, teachers, athletes, actors, professional women or even journalists. The terrorist recruiters and planners would do anything to build more mistrust among us.

I know that I won't change my way of life in the West. I won't let the terrorists take it from me.

We are still mystified by the idea of physicans becoming terrorists. Medical doctors belong to the helping professions, in my mind. As a middle class college student I was "socialized" into my profession - that of social work. I was taught the proud history of one of the "helping professions." I was required to be non judgemental, to follow strict ethical principles, to avoid acting outside of my area of expertise, etc. Thus another headline caught my eye, (for a story by Stephen Fidler and Roula Khalaf in The Financial Times, July 3 2007), "Suspects raise profile of ‘middle-class’ radicals." To quote:

British security services and policymakers face a critical question over the three failed bomb attacks in Glasgow and London. If the main suspects came from outside the UK, were they radicalised overseas or in Britain?

...Regardless of where they were radicalised, their background appears to be decidedly middle-class.

Militants from comfortable backgrounds have dominated the upper echelons of the al-Qaeda network since its inception. Osama bin Laden hails from one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia -- the bin Laden group is one of the biggest contractors in the kingdom -- and he is known to have earned a degree, perhaps in civil engineering, from the King Abdelaziz University in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

...His number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, meanwhile, came from a professional, middle-class family and followed in his father’s footsteps by studying pharmacology at the University of Cairo. Mr al-Zawahiri’s predecessor as leader of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad organisation, Sayyed Imam al Sherif, is said to have been a surgeon. Mr al-Sherif now leads a campaign against violence. Meanwhile, Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian, and early leaders of the global jihadi movement killed in 1989, studied agriculture in college before turning to sharia law.

“The profile of a poor, destitute jihadi is not accurate,” says Dia Rashwan, expert on Islamist groups at Cairo’s al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies. “Notice how jihadis are good at IT -- and how they set up websites.”

The threat persists -- The most I have learned about what might be going on that could cause this phenomena is from a professor who has made a deep study of jihadis, who they are and what they are about. I watched her on C-SPAN last year. Professor Mary Habeck was also featured at Georgetown University's Women in International Security event, "Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror," October 26, 2005. I quote from the program summary:

Mary Habeck present the logic of al-Qa'ida and like-minded extremist groups by which they justify September 11th and other terrorist attacks.

...This book provided the background of the afternoon’s discussion on Islam, jihadism, and the mindset of jihadist terrorists. Habeck argued that after September 11, 2001, “Americans agonized over why nineteen men hated the United States enough to kill three thousand civilians in an unprovoked assault. Analysts have offered a wide variety of explanations for the attack, but the one voice missing is that of the terrorists themselves.” She delved into the history and root beliefs of Islam and showed the group how jihadists twist the meaning and intent of Islamic law to suit their own needs. She delineated the paradoxes among traditional tenets of Islam, more radical Islamist beliefs, and those ascribed to by jihadists.

Habeck described jihadism’s aberrant view of tawhid, the central belief of Islam (that there is only one god and he has no partners or equals), and its equally aberrant view of jihad. She discussed the political, ideological, and military goals of jihadists and articulated the appeal that jihadism has to those who believe in it:

It claims to be the only authentic version of Islam;
Jihadists are sacrificing their lives for their community;
They are doing something to attain revenge and retribution for the aggression they feel has been waged against them by secular society; and
Jihadism offers certain salvation and participation in liberation.

Habeck then discussed the problems with jihadism, and the real threat that it poses to the Muslim community:

Jihadists kill fellow Muslims and innocents;
They use terror in the name of Islam;
Their definition of jihad is difficult to swallow;
Jihadists declare takfir – declaring all Muslims that do not ascribe to their version of jihad (and other non-believers) as unbelievers who are unworthy of life and are non-human (They are thus divorced, and can have their property seized in the name of jihad);
They mix Islam and politics;
They ascribe to extremist shari’a;
They cross-fertilize wahabism and jihadism to form Wala’ wa’l bara (This is a prescription to love the believers and hate the non-believers–and distance yourselves from them and always hate them in your heart); and
Jihadists hold an aberrant view of tawhid.

But just what is the threat? I am not usually a fan of Christopher Hitchins. But he wrote something on 7/2/07 for Slate Magazine that raised some further questions for me. "Car bombs designed to kill women," was the headline. I am not sure whether I agree or disagree. But of one thing I am sure, it is a big mistake to over-generalize, or fall into stereotypical thinking that paints with far too broad a brush. Because one thing is true, the next thing does not necessarily follow. Misogyny is not the same as suicidal radical jihad. It may be a part of it, but somehow does not seem enough to explain the London and Glasgow events. In conclusion, I believe that we must be willing to learn an awful lot more about the minds of terrorists before we can be the least bit effective against their implacability.

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