The literature of Lashkar you quote is also evidence against the terrorist organisation.
American author C Christine Fair’s just-published book, In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, provides new evidence on the terrorist activities of the Pakistan-based group. Drawn from extensive research into the publications of LeT (now called Jamaat-ud-Dawah), the book details similarities between Lashkar terrorists and the Pakistani army, its means of recruitment, motivation of slain terrorists and its links with their families. Declared persona non grata by Pakistan, Fair, a Provost’s distinguished associate professor in security studies programme with Georgetown University’s Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, spoke with Faizal Khan on the sidelines of the third edition of South Asia Conclave by Oxford University Press in Delhi. Excerpts from an interview:
You went through posthumous biographies of slain LeT terrorists. What was the motivation for these terrorists?
When I worked at the combating terrorism centre of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, we did a statistical abstraction of information from those biographies. For this book, I did a 20% random sample of the biographies. What we see from these biographies is that they had several motivations. One is that these guys were just bored. I don’t call them radical or fanatic. They were just like anyone else joining a military organisation. When I read these biographies, they look like any other military organisation recruiting. We have this expression in the US Army, ‘Travel the world, meet interesting people, and kill them’. In some sense, that is what Lashkar is. We see young ones bored with their lives, working in their uncles’ shops. This is not the life they want. They are looking for adventure. They could have joined anything. Lashkar happened to come around. Then there are boys who are like, “My parents are not good Muslims, I haven’t been a good Muslim.” Lashkar gives them some redeeming way forward. This is more of a religious motivation as opposed to a secular motivation.
Some are motivated by the history of Partition and what they hear about India. This is a political motivation. Some basically want a short cut to jannat (heaven). It is like taking the elevator to jannat upstairs.
The most interesting thing is the role of the mothers. How the mothers will tell their sons, “I don’t want you to come back a ghazi (hero), I want you to be a shaheed (martyr).” The mothers will tell them two things: “I want the status of being a shaheed’s mother.” And, creepily, “I want you to go to Allah and bring me to heaven.” There is no way that mama can go to heaven if it doesn’t involve her son getting shot. I can never imagine an American mother saying, “Son, I want you to come home in a coffin so that I can have the prestige of being a gold star mom.” Can you imagine an Indian mother saying this to her son? That to me was the most startling aspect. This raises the question: is this true that women actually say this to their sons, or is it just Lashkar telling other women what do ‘proper’ women do. We can’t disentangle that. But we do know that is what Lashkar thinks a ‘proper’ mother is. They say the mother reproduces the ummah (community) biologically and she also grooms them into being good Muslims. They also get empowerment as mothers.
You say in the book that these terrorists are well-educated.
We can’t say all the Lashkars are like this. We can’t say everyone who wanted to join look like this. The reason is these are the kind of people that the organisation’s operations demand. To do the kind of things that Lashkar typically does, you need fairly well-educated people. The other reason is that when you have more people who want to be a terrorist, then the organisation can pick quality. It is essentially a labour market issue. As long as I need only 10 people and 200 have applied, I can just pick the best. I think it is an artifact of supply and demand. It is also an artifact of the kind of people that they want.
Your book mentions particular attention paid by LeT to women. Would you elaborate?
The US Army pre-recruits people at the age of 16. We have both of their parents’ permission. Lashkar requires permission as well. Dad is not the problem. It is the mama who is worried. They understand mothers have a lot of influence. Mothers kind of rule the roost here (in the subcontinent) with their sons. The US Army was running advertisements targeting mothers during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on why the mothers should let their kids join the army. When you look at Lashkar’s work, it is impossible not to see the role of women. They have entire publications dedicated to mothers.
Is it also related to LeT’s handling of families?
It is related. They don’t want the families to turn on the organisation. The organisation of Lashkar pays a lot of attention to the family. They give them money. It is a big deal when a son dies. High level people from the organisation will come. They want to make sure the family remains a part of the Lashkar community. It is very, very clever. If you think about it, militaries do the same thing. That is why I don’t use words like radicalisation. This is just an organisation basically trying to man their mission. They are radicalising after they join. They learn to kill after they join.
The literature of Lashkar you quote is also evidence against the terrorist organisation. Yes, I have been offering the FBI this evidence for years now.
How important is Dar-ul-Andlus, the publishing house of LeT, for its anti-India agenda?
Dar-ul-Andlus is Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s singular publishing house. It publishes everything from calendars to pamphlets to books. It is hard to say what percentage of publishing of Dar-ul-Andlus goes to India. It engages in a lot of sophisticated issues of jurisprudence and Islamic thought. Dar-ul-Andlus is important to Lashkar. When you compare their publications to that of other (terrorist) organisations, you actually see how sophisticated the average consumer of Lashkar materials are. I saw a Jaish-e-Mohammed document many years ago. They were telling people what a fax machine was. Lashkar speaks to a much larger community of scholars. Obviously there is a lot about jihad, where obviously India figures primarily. The primary languages of publishing are Urdu and Arabic. Some is even in English.
Faizal Khan is a freelance writer