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Religious Suicide in Islamic Asia : Anticolonial Terrorism in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines

This condenses and extends the argument of Dale’s (1980) Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier. European sources from the colonial period, he suggests, usually assumed that these suicidal jihads were the result simply of Muslim fanaticism and ignored the often devastating impact of Western colonialism. For contemporary Europeans and Americans the attacks in Kerala, Atjeh, and Sulu and Mindanao in the Philippines, had ‘the same quality of irrationality and indiscriminate brutality that most Westerners feel to be characteristic of modern Middle Eastern terrorist attacks’ nowadays (p.49). It is difficult for Westerners, he suggests, to develop ‘a degree of sympathetic understanding of the Asian Muslims’ (p.46) whose communities had been impoverished or destroyed by European expansion. But ‘for Asian Muslims who had experienced the destruction of their economies, assaults of their cities, massacres of their coreligionists, and attempts at conversion, suicidal jihads were not so unreasonable’ (p.56). Moreover, they did, he suggests, have some practical results, insofar as they persuaded European merchants and colonial officials to be more cautious and restrained in their dealings with Muslims (p.49). The article concludes with some brief but insightful reflections on the dynamics of terrorism, and the reasons why in the 20th century it declined in Kerala and Atjeh, and for a time in Mindanao.

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