“Those who kill innocent people are doomed to eternal punishment (25:68-69);” “…whosoever slays an innocent person…it is as if he had slain humanity altogether.” (5:32). HOLY QURAN
Terrorism continues to haunt the world with its brutal manifestations in some of the recent tragedies across the globe. The problem is that in the aftermath of 9/11, the detractors of Islam found it easy to contrive stereotypes to malign Islam and to mobilize a climate of antipathy against its adherents by focusing obsessively on the religion of the individuals and organizations involved in terrorist activities. It was conveniently ignored that most of the perpetrators of violence were dissident runaways from their own countries and had a political agenda of their own in their misguided pursuits.
President Obama’s assertion that the battle against terrorism is not a war against Islam should be reassuring not only for the Muslim world at large but also for the American Muslim community which has particularly been worried over the likely Islamophobic backlash in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in California. President Obama couldn’t have been more timely and more forthright in acknowledging that the vast majority of terrorist victims were Muslims themselves. “We cannot turn against one another. That’s what groups like ISIS want,” he said.
Indeed, terrorism as an evil has afflicted humanity for centuries. In recent times, it assumed global dimension as a scourge of the new millennium only after the 9/11 tragedy. Today, it transcends all boundaries deeply impacting the political, economic and security environment of all societies. It is a faceless enemy with no faith or creed which lurks in the shadows of fear and frustration, breeds on despair and disillusionment, and is fed by poverty and ignorance. It is a violent manifestation of growing anger, despair, hatred and frustration over continuing wars, injustice, oppression and denial of fundamental freedoms and rights.
Globally, terrorism occurs most often when a powerful state uses its brute force to occupy a weaker people or country or where it is applied to suppress the legitimate right of a people to self-determination, liberty and freedom including freedom of religion. When there are no legitimate means of addressing the massive political, economic and social injustices, an environment is created in which peaceful solutions often lose out against extreme and violent alternatives. In such situations, terrorism becomes tactical tool of asymmetric warfare by the weak and the desperate.
Unfortunately, for all of us on this planet, the new century did not start well. Ours is a difficult and turbulent world today. Wars of aggression and attrition, invasions in the name of self-defence, military occupations, massacres, human tragedies and humanitarian catastrophes, and an abominable culture of extremism and violence now define the new world order. Recent decades saw tragedies enacted on Muslim soils where conflict and violence remains pervasive. There could not be a more fertile environment for the evil of terrorism to grow into a global scourge which shook the world in some of the most atrocious tragedies across the globe.
The 9/11 tragedy led to a global war on terror — which potentially remains a war without an end. Even with a major troops drawdown thirteen years later, the Afghan peace is nowhere in sight. In effect, it is a major global issue now. The situation in Iraq is no different. The Iraq war is also long over but anarchy and chaos reign supreme in that hapless country. In this environment, two years ago, a militant Sunni insurgency was unleashed with Gulf States’ funding to topple the ‘tyrannical’ Assad regime in Syria. It was meant to bring the ‘Arab Spring’ to its logical conclusion. But that did not work. The heavily-armed insurgents soon changed their mind. They declared a controversial state of their own.
With another monster let loose, President Obama was left with no choice but to wage a new war last year against the so-called Islamic State or Daesh which he said was a threat to “the people of Iraq and Syria and the broader Middle East — as well as American citizens, personnel and facilities”. According to him, the ultimate objective of this war was to “degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” This was a familiar script and a déjà vu scenario. One was reminded of the creation of Taliban in the early 1980s to dismantle the “evil” Soviet empire also motivated by larger global geopolitical objectives.
In both cases, the situation turned into a Frankenstein’s fictional monster challenging its own creator: “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…” But it is not an ‘angel and devil’ story. It is power-driven cold-blooded realpolitik that keeps the world ablaze with almost daily killings in air raids as well as in reprehensible acts of terrorism. Neither the perpetrators of the 9/11 tragedy nor those of the Paris monstrosity or even the brutal rampage at San Bernardino could be related to any religion. No religion condones, much less permit, killing of innocent people.
After the Paris tragedy, French President Francois Hollande was quick to declare: “Nous sommes dans la guerre.” (“We are at war”). A well-known American journalist and prolific author Ethan Casey in his latest piece uses its title to ask a blunt question: ‘who is at war with whom and why?’ In other words, he is asking: “who is the enemy? One needs to have an enemy to fight a war. One doesn’t wage wars against a mindset no matter how perverse and abominable or a method of combat which terrorism is. A perverse mindset with violent expressions is a disease and needs to be treated as such.
There was no Daesh before the 2003 Iraq invasion or even until the Syrian crisis erupted into massive bombings with all its ramifications in terms of human suffering and displacement. Also, there were no Taliban before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It is time now to review militant strategies and to wind down costly wars. Force solves no problems. Grievances, be they in Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq or even in Pakistan must be addressed through political and economic means. What these countries need is good governance, genuine democracy and fundamental freedoms that they lack so much.
In his famous Cairo speech in 2009, President Obama had himself identified several issues of concern to the Muslim world including democracy, economic development and equal opportunity that he conceded were necessary to prevent violent extremism. What needed to be understood is that it is not hatred of democracy and freedom but the desire for them that makes many Muslims look at the West as being responsible for perpetuation of undemocratic polities in their world. In their view, the “unholy” alliance between authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world and the West is the biggest barrier to their access to freedom, democracy, prosperity and self-determination.
But let’s be honest. The Muslim world cannot entirely blame the West for all its ills and weaknesses. Peace is the essence of Islam and yet the Muslim nations have seen very little of it, especially after the Second World War. Some of the Muslim states are home to foreign military bases, while others have been engaged in proxy wars. Representing one-fifth of humanity, possessing 70 percent of the world’s energy resources and nearly 50 percent of world’s natural resources, the Muslim world is rich in everything but weak in all respects. It represents only five percent of world’s GDP.
Muslim states’ main vulnerability lies in their own worldview that is circumscribed by their self-limiting retrogressive notions and their inability to reshape their destiny as independent, tolerant and progressive societies. They alone are responsible for their institutional bankruptcy, political and intellectual aridity, chronic deficiency in knowledge, education and science and technology as well as their pathetic aversion to modernity and modernization. To make things worse, there is no urge or desire anywhere in the Muslim world to come out of its ostrich-like medieval mode.
It’s time the Muslim world changed its global perception to be viewed as a peace-loving, tolerant people capable of living in harmony as an integral part of humanity.