By Kazi Anwarul Masud*
New York Times’ (NYT) editorial of 28th March on bombing by a splinter group of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is a reminder, if one is at all needed, of the barbarity into which a part of humanity has descended in the name of religion.
The murderers have plainly given notice to the Pakistani authorities that they are now firmly in Lahore, the hometown of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to continue their terrorism and they are not on the run as claimed by the Pakistan government.
Despite NYT’s rightful observation that “a succession of Pakistani governments and the military have cynically used terrorist groups for their own purposes, encouraging them to act as proxy fighters against India” and the protests held in Islamabad by some people angered over the execution of the murderer of Punjub Governor Salman Taseer who wanted a revision of the Blasphemy Laws, it is difficult to believe that the majority of Pakistanis support the murders of innocent children, women and students by religious extremists who are bent upon waging a war on religion in the 21st century when the world is moving towards politico-economic integration beyond a country’s national borders.
While the inclusion of former client states of Soviet Union as members of the European Union was a natural progression in a globalized world and Brexit is an aberration reflecting the fear of the Britons of the current refugee crisis in Europe resultant of the mess in Syria, a call to the Muslims for a return to the 6th century puritan society is absurd rejection of modernism and has to be stamped out by all means. But then how to go about it? Do we take seriously controversial Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation and debate what is behind this breed of extremism, and how can it be defeated. In the age of al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram, is there a link between the violence these groups perpetrate and the faith they profess (or take lessons from) Robert I. Rotberg’s When States Fail: Causes and Consequences, that a state’s failure to provide citizens with basic rights and services allows violent nonstate actors to emerge and take control. Failures were not limited to economic needs; a lack of political inclusion, freedom of expression, and the right to live with dignity has been primary drivers of youth radicalization and violence.
Equally the 2015 study by Mercy Corps, Youth & Consequences: Unemployment, Injustice and Violence, has to be taken note of which examined conflicts in countries such as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Somalia, found that the principal drivers of political violence are not the high unemployment or lack of opportunities traditionally articulated by development agencies. Rather, the study found that the political violence, which is often framed in religious terms, was linked to experiences of injustice: discrimination, corruption, and abuse by security forces. In this context, religious spaces often become incredibly important — and powerful (Foreign Policy-Manal Omar-Is Islam a Religion of Peace).
However senseless the brutality perpetrated in Iqbal Park in Lahore it would be unfair to blame the Islamic values as reflecting the carnage periodically thrust upon the world as more than one billion Muslims live in member countries of Organization of Islamic Cooperation and beyond. For no fault of their own the Muslim Diaspora are being persecuted by some people in the West who want the young Muslims in particular to back to their “original land”- a country they have not seen or from where their parents or grandparents had come and in case of Europe invited to come to help restore war devastated economies after the Second World War.
The Islamic world, however, must become active in countering the terrorism unleashed by these evil forces and destroy them before they destroy Muslims’ access to the West who for centuries have been leading the world in all fields of human progress. At the same time the Islamic world must also recognize the internal hemorrhage that in the words of Benazir Bhutto’s (Reconciliation- Islam, Democracy and the West):- “Within the Muslim world there has been and continues to be an internal rife, an often violent confrontation among sects, ideologies, and interpretations of the message of Islam. This destructive tension has set… a deadly fratricide that has tortured intra-Islamic relations for 1300 years.”
More explicitly writes Vali Nasser (Foreign Policy-War for Islam) “sectarianism should not be dismissed out of hand as an ancient feud that defies modern logic. The violent paroxysm in today’s Middle East is a modern phenomenon, a product of contemporary politics and priorities. Furthermore, it is playing out not in obscure theological forums but in the political arena. Sectarianism today is a perfect storm — the product of a confluence of factors at play in the region.
The first culprit in stoking sectarian conflict is Islamism. This modern-day ideology, born in the 1930s, calls for an ideal Islamic state built on the foundations of Islamic law and sharia. The Islamic state is a utopian panacea that looks to religion to perfect modernity. But the Islamic state is not a generic idea, as it requires harkening to either Shiite or Sunni conceptions of Islam. Shiites and Sunnis each have their own methodology, interpretation, and practice of law. As such, there can be no such thing as a non-sectarian Islamic state.
In a region in which Islam matters so much to politics, it is inevitable that the critical question then becomes “what Islam” and “whose Islam.” But an article published in January 2010 reveals FBI data that terrorist attacks on US soil between 1980 to 2005 there were more Jewish acts of terrorism within the United States than Islamic (7% vs. 6%). These radical Jews committed acts of terrorism in the name of their religion. These were not terrorists who happened to be Jews; rather, they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terrorism based on their religious passions, just like Al-Qaeda and company. Yet due to the disparity in media coverage between the two Muslim terrorists were projected far more than the others (Latinos 42% while extreme left wing groups were responsible for 24% of terrorist acts).
The figures given above are not to condone the barbaric acts of Lahore, of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or any such groups. Muslim nations have to do far more than condemning terrorism. They have to join in the fight now being waged by the Western powers not to gain or reduce the influence of a particular sect promoted by some countries. The US, if necessary, has to put boots on the ground. This is no time to suffer from Vietnam Syndrome nor is it a time for inter-religious conflicts.
Thirty Years War (1618-1648) is history as are those of the Crusades. Even if there is infringement of human rights carpet bombings have to be resorted to eliminate ISIS and their likes. And in South Asia Pakistan has to stop cuddling terrorists infiltrating India the latest being the attack on Pathankot. The world cannot be allowed to slip back to developed and underdeveloped segments simply because some mad people have a passion for the 6th century society. In this war against terror the entire global community has stake.
*The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary in the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh