Conflicts of Difference in Religion in the Middle East

The Middle East has been in a state of turmoil since the early 1900’s. Conflicts arose from differences in religion, control over territories, and uneven political distribution. These conflicts were not just between countries, but also within individual counties. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and others have engaged in multiple civil wars over the years. This constant fighting and struggle for dominance between political groups has led to the weakening of these middle eastern governments. The lack of government stability has consequentially led to terrorist organizations such as Markaz-ad-Dawa-Wal-Irshad, Al Qaeda, and ISIS emerging to promote their ideals in these areas.

Another terrorist group branching off of the Pakistani Islamist organization Markaz-ad-Dawa-Wal-Irshad is the Lashkar-i-Taiba. The Lashkar-i-Taiba, also known as the “Army of the Pure,” formed in the early 1990’s in Afghanistan and are headquartered in Pakistan. They have transformed into one of the largest radical Islamism groups in South Asia. This collective group split from the former Islamic group Markaz-ad-Dawa-wal-Irshad because they wanted to be more radical in the opposition of India.

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Lashkar-i-Taiba’s leader, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, enforced the use of advanced military tactics against India and other western countries that were considered enemies. The terrorist group’s traditional agenda was first to liberate the territory of Kashmir from India.

Kashmir is geographically located between Pakistan and India. The group did not recognize India’s right to exist, and therefore believed it should not control the region of Kashmir. As conflict over Kashmir continued, Lashkar-i-Taiba also wanted to spread international jihad throughout the region, and eventually all over the world.

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International jihad means that the group would use military force against anyone who opposed their radical beliefs of Islam. They believe that their strict version of Islam was what every person should live by. Lashkar-i-Taiba’s philosophies and agenda are still prevalent to this day. Lashkar-i-Taiba’s had a mixture of religious, political, and economic motives during this time. As mentioned earlier, international jihad was one of their main goals.

Their actions of terror were influenced partly by religion, as their targets were people in India, people from western countries, and even sometimes other Muslims. What these types of people all had in common was that they did not believe in the Lashkar-i-Taiba’s specific teachings of Islam. The political motives were the desire for power and control. They wanted to gain total control over the territory of Kashmir. They also wanted to strengthen their nation state, which would legitimate their group, allowing them to continue to grow. Lastly, money specifically was an economic factor that motivated their group. It was concluded Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligences (ISI) wanted India to be unstable, so they supported Lashkar-i-Taiba’s objectives and funded the group with money, weapons, and other essentials.

It was also discovered Osama bin Laden contributed money to help further their activities. By having a combination of motives built the foundation for the group’s acts of violence against India. More generally, economics in the middle eastern area plays a part in encouraging terrorism. For instance, in Pakistan the distribution of wealth is not fairly spread out so people could join terrorist groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba to finance the collective along with themselves. Examples of terror acts to collect money are invading territories to gain more land and holding hostages for ransom. These organizations also fund raise and get donations. The economic background of these people matter too. It is speculated that people who are in poverty are more likely to engage in terrorism, but that is not always correct.

According to a survey of the economics of terrorism and counter-terrorism, “the findings suggest that on an individual level violent activity is not correlated with poor economic conditions or low levels of education. Actually, higher income and better education seems to promote participation in terrorist activity” (Schneider, Friedrich G). The reasoning for this could be that educated people may have an interest in politics. Given that they have a privileged background and better education in the country that is in economic distress could lead to the joining of a terrorist group in search of political change. Lashkar-i-Taiba recruited skilled and educated members so their attacks could be executed successfully, such as the attacks against Mumbai, India.

In 2008, Lashkar-i-Taiba conducted one of the largest terrorist attacks India has ever witnessed. It is often referred to as India’s 9/11. The organization planned multiple attacks at various locations across Mumbai, India. One location in particular was the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Gunmen entered the hotel and opened fire on anyone that was in the lobby. They then progressed floor by floor to search for more potential targets, while setting fires and throwing grenades to cause further destruction. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was a target for many reasons. The hotel is considered to be a significant architectural jewel in Mumbai and one of India’s major icons. It represents India’s history and culture. The Gateway of India is located right beside it, which both of these historical structures are on the Bombay port.

Many tourists go here to experience the culture of India in person because this location is well known and a “must-see” tourist attraction. There are also many tourism shops and restaurants that are around the hotel. Since Lashkar-i-Taiba opposed India and western countries, undertaking an attack on this particular hotel would not only grab India’s attention, but also the attention of the world. The group not only killed people from India, but travelers from other countries. Another reason for this location is because it is built right on the Bombay port. Lashkar-i-Taiba needed a route where they could travel without attracting attention. The ten gunmen hijacked a fishermen’s boat in Karachi and sailed to Mumbai. When arriving in Mumbai, they docked at fishermen’s slum, an area of extreme poverty on the shore, to remain unnoticed.

The hotel was eight blocks east of the slum. Since the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was highly populated with all kinds of people and was accessible by ship, Lashkar-i-Taiba selected this target to carry out their overall assault. Daood Gilani, or what many people actually know him by as David Coleman Headley, played a vital role in the terror attacks on Mumbai. From an outsider’s perspective, Headley seemed to be a relatively normal man. Little did others know, he was apart of the terrorist organization, Lashkar-i-Taiba, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. He decided to live what appeared to be an average life, allowing him to be unnoticed by the United States government or any other intelligence agencies investigating terrorist groups.

To make it even harder for the U.S. government to keep tabs on him, Daood Gilani went to the City Hall in Philadelphia and legally changed his name to David Coleman Headley. By changing his name, it made it easier for him to travel in and out of the country. When he arrived in India he was either perceived as a local or an American tourist. For example, Headley spoke fluent Hindu and did not have physical attributes that indicated that he was from Pakistani decent, so others believed that he was a local. To help the Lashkar-i-Taiba leaders pick targets for their attack, he would ride around on a bike with a camera videotaping the area. When locals saw this, they considered it strange but since he looked American they thought he was just some tourist taking pictures and videos. He also did this when he took boat tours. He went on almost every single boat tour in the Bombay Harbor to plan the best docking spot for the ten gunman that would terrorize Mumbai.

Another tactic of his was that he pretended to be a business man so he could get in contact with people that worked in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Do to Headley misleading others of his origins and intentions allowed him to be an ultimate inside source for Lashkar-i-Taiba. The documentary depicts David Coleman Headley as a “perfect terrorist” or considerably close to one. I think, other than his ethnic background, he actually was not the “perfect terrorist.” David Coleman Headley should have been arrested long before the Mumbai attacks occurred. He was reported to the FBI on many occasions. After being interviewed once with the FBI, he explained that he worked with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to help the United States government.

After explaining his involvement with the DEA, it seems as if any other reports against his questionable behavior were not investigated further. As time progressed after the Mumbai attacks, he started acting sloppily by leaving credit card charges, phone call records, and emails. Once the government realized that he was meeting with top members in Al Qaeda, they saw him as more of a serious threat and began investing every move he made. The U.S. FBI finally arrested Headley in the O’Hare International Airport. While in custody, he gave up a multitude of information about Lashkar-i-Taiba and his involvement in the Mumbai attacks. I believe if he was the perfect terrorist, he would not give up such crucial information about the interworking’s of the group out of profound loyalty.

I think the lack of government intelligence about Headley, the cyber traces he left, and his selfishness all prove that he is not the perfect terrorist, but instead slipped through the cracks. People who learn about David Coleman Headley often wonder why he was not captured sooner with the abundance of evidence and tips against him. I think that it is extremely complicated for the authorities to locate and pinpoint actual terrorists than many might think. Authorities find it challenging to profile terrorist into one category because their strategies of remaining unseen evolve and become more complex as time progresses.

Even though most terrorist have common goals and interests of fear, intimidation, and violence does not necessarily correlate with every terrorist fitting the same profile. Any person could be a terrorist if their ideas and beliefs match up with the ideologies of terrorist groups. Also, the volume of data that the world generates is an unimaginable amount. A person might be able to access all of this data, but they cannot collect it for very long, store it for very long, or even analyze it for very long. If the FBI and intelligence agencies are not given specific information to point them in the right direction, then it becomes more difficult to locate the right information to find terrorist communications and prevent attacks. According to Stephen Tankel, a college professor that conducted field research on conflicts and militancy in India and Pakistan, “To this day Lashkar-i-Taiba continues to train, fundraise, recruit, propagandize, and otherwise operate with the security establishment’s blessings” (2018).

It has been ten years since the Mumbai attacks, and the Middle East is still struggling to gain political stability against terrorist groups like Lashkar-i-Taiba. Kashmir remains a highly militarized area, where control is divided between the countries of India and Pakistan. Laskhar-i-Taiba still terrorizes anyone that opposes their views, but U.S. intelligence and other intelligence agencies around the world are working together to keep a watchful eye on them. United States intelligence has strengthened dramatically over the last decade due to technological advances in collecting, storing, and sorting data to intercept terror communications. To avoid overlooking people like David Coleman Headley, these advanced systems and technologies are constantly being enhanced and monitored. From the data gathered from David Coleman Headley, Lashkar-i-Taiba, and the Mumbai attacks terrorist intelligence agencies will use this information for the future and learn from it to help stop future terrorist organizations.

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Conflicts of Difference in Religion in the Middle East. (2022, Jan 03). Retrieved from

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