Terrorism as a subject has evoked a great deal of academic interest from various disciplines. Professor Unaiza, a consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, has put together this work ‘to sensitize and create awareness about the relentless sufferings of innocent civilians globally following 9/11.’ The book, as the editor points out in the preface, is a documentation of facts about the ‘violences in the Muslim world’ with contributions from various Arab and Muslim countries. An understanding of the Islamic states is imperative, as Professor Okasha points out in the book, ‘the more we are unable to understand the dynamics, frustrations and political systems in the Muslim world, the greater the chances for endless encounters. Unless we promote the fight against poverty, illiteracy, illness, unemployment, and ameliorating frustration due to lack of freedom and democracy and the despotic regimes in most Muslim countries, our struggle with terrorism will be futile.’
The chapter on Islam and Anti Terrorism places terrorism in the context of Muslim countries, differentiates terror-resorting Muslims from the ‘religion of mercy, compassion and tolerance’, conceptualizes terrorism as a means to induce fear to bring about political change and urges mental health professionals to intervene at both the levels—of the victim and the victimizer.
In elucidating the history of terrorism Niaz has put together an account of tracing organizations that have been involved in killings and loot to tracing the features of modern day terrorism, and writes, ‘terrorism or the threat of terrorist acts have been in existence for centuries’ (though at another place in the book, she writes, ‘terrorism is a relatively recent phenomenon used by anti-state elements to bring about change’). The chapter touches on some important aspects such as state sponsored terrorism. Religion and nationalism are seen as forces that are able to mobilize terrorist forces. The 9/11 attack by the Al Qaeda has magnified the threat and the boundaries of terrorism. The author warns that the attack might be important for the US but is not as ‘consuming as it has been made out to be’. She makes a pointed observation here, as do most parts in this book, that terrorism must not only be seen from the perspective of the westerners or the United States of America. Yet again, the discussion drifts to defend Islam when Idriss Teranti from Algeria provides an account of historical events which led to the current ‘Muslim Fundamentalism’, where he writes, ‘Islam is not a religion, but a historic movement which took human civilization to the highest zenith.’ The rise of Muslim fundamentalism has been seen as a result of growing narrow- mindedness and oppressive forces. The chapter is sketchy and makes certain dubious claims.
‘The Etiology of Terrorism’ is an interesting inclusion; this chapter seeks to answer the question: Why do people become terrorists? In providing a psychological understanding of terrorism Niaz falters, as at the outset she claims, ‘terrorism is the warfare of the feeble, and it is the option for those who are desperate for a cause that cannot be won by fair and square means.’ Terrorism is a dense and diverse area for a psychologist, as Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist insightfully points out, ‘There is a broad spectrum of terrorist groups and organizations, each of which has a different psychology, motivation and decision-making structure. Indeed, one should not speak of terrorist psychology in the singular, but rather of terrorist psychologies.’ Niaz here perplexes the reader by making some dangerous claims (e.g. a statement where the author denigrates the available psychological literature on terrorism calling it ‘lopsided and outlandish’ and states ‘simple facts are convoluted and magnified disproportionately to blame Islam as a religion and make it responsible globally for terrorism’) and by not providing the needed references. The author mentions the theories without much deliberation. Under a ‘theory’ of ‘frustrating psychosocial environment’ the author claims ‘socially dis-advantaged people’ are more likely to become terrorists; at another place in the book she mentions that terrorists are ‘minimally educated and certainly did not possess any depth of religious knowledge’. Both these claims have enough contrary evidence. The effects of terrorism are discussed next with a special reference to psychosocial effects of terrorism on the Muslim world—of suicide bombers being the worst victims. The focus yet again shifting to prevention of terrorism, the author then goes on to provide a historical account of the various wars, violent attacks and insurgencies in the Muslim world over the last few decades and suggestions to restore normalcy and peace in these areas.
The next section on the victims focuses on how the women the world over are affected by such violence and talks in detail about crimes against women—sexual, mental, social and political. Women in the ‘fundamentalist Muslim world need to be empowered’ and the oppressive practices, most often in the name of religion, are questioned. The young female suicide bomber is discussed—an interesting phenomenon, though not new. Children affected by trauma and war is an area frequently discussed by mental health professionals and calls for a humanitarian end to violence and terror attacks. The book also discusses the socio-economic-political triggers and impacts of violence and steps to combat them.
The book as a reference tool for a researcher is a good documentation of data from various sources. It could have benefitted from academic non-Muslim perspectives.