Saturday, 21 November 2015
Paris the day after By Ayesha Siddiqa
Published: November 19, 2015
It’s certainly not nice for a Muslim to wake up in Europe, or for that matter, in any part of the non-Muslim world, the day after the Paris attacks. Notwithstanding the fact that violence has no religion, Islamophobes have had a field day finding a Muslim Syrian connection to the attacks. The list of terror attacks involving Muslims is mounting. This still does not make the argument that this is an issue involving Islam per se. Muslims are not the only ones who kill. The violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka by Buddhists; the brutality of the Hindu Shiv Sena and the RSS against Christians, Muslims and Dalits; or the oppression of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis are just few of the numerous examples of non-Muslims indulging in violence. While there can be no comparisons between acts of violence, perhaps terror acts involving Muslims get noticed more due to their global impact and outreach.
What probably adds to the finger-pointing towards Muslims is that many Islamic countries continue to show weak resolve to fight terror in their own countries, leave alone the terror perpetrated in the rest of the world. Let’s take our own example in Pakistan, where the brutal killing of hundreds of innocent children has not convinced the rulers (civilian and military) to wash their hands completely of violent non-state actors. We continue to provide space to many with a history of involvement in terrorism in the flawed hope that they can be brought into the mainstream. I am not advocating the killing of all such individuals, but an accountability of their past is in order.
Furthermore, instead of looking at acts of terror mainly as some foreign conspiracy, there is a need to resolve ideological-political issues that contribute tremendously to the present state of affairs. Surely, the Islamic State (IS) is a by-product of poor policies of world powers, of Western involvement in Iraq and of the meltdown of some Middle Eastern states. However, it is also the result of the increased legitimacy attached to a particular ideology, the power ambition of some Muslim states, and the larger and more critical issue of the illegitimacy of regimes in Muslims states, measured against certain ideological perimeters.
The IS is a third-generation militant movement, which started with al Nusra and al Qaeda in the Middle East. While the latter engaged in the process of creating shock and awe, the IS has moved into the next phase of making territorial gains. Nevertheless, all are focused on establishing a powerful Muslim caliphate that is a military and political expression of their ideology’s dominance over other religions and civilisations. While the identity crisis faced by disempowered Muslim youth, or forces of post-colonialism may work as triggers, the belief system that aims for the supremacy of one ideology over everything else is a critical driver. The use of force in the early days of Islam is cited as the logic for the current illogic of violence. The other dimension of this mindset involves the defining and enforcing of what is perceived as the ‘right’ Islam, which results in internal chaos that we label as sectarianism or sectarian violence.
The entire concept of individual responsibility to wage jihad, which has been deemed necessary by some schools of thought for Islam’s ascendency versus other civilisations, emanates from the issue of legitimacy of the state. Many scholars have invoked individual responsibility towards faith because the states were not seen as performing their duty of enhancing power and it was perceived that the ruling elite had failed to ensure that citizens led their lives on the basis of sharia. The entire concept of offensive and defensive wars or conflict in general, in Islamic history revolves around the issue of legitimacy of the regime and the state.
In this context, the IS is a real threat that has latched on to this ideology and hopes to turn the present conflict and its own terrorism into a holy war — a crusade between the Judeo-Christian civilisations and Islam. Interestingly, the IS is not alone in holding this understanding. Some of the works produced by prominent militants in Pakistan also make similar arguments. While we may think of many of these as catering primarily to the Kashmir cause, their literature argues primarily against other Semitic religions and orders war against followers of these religions since they are viewed as ‘depopulating mosques’.
In the aftermath of every terror attack around the world, be it in Paris or Bangkok, many Muslim clerics issue fatwas condemning violence or such acts of brutality. Some clerics have even engaged in issuing opinions dove-tailed to meet Western needs to curb violence. The reason I draw this distinction is that such opinions, some of which you will find in Pakistan, condemn terrorism but not violence carried out internally in the name of punishing those who have allegedly disobeyed what are seen as religious edicts. In any case, there is an urgent need to develop a new narrative in the Muslim world focused on interpreting and understanding holy texts.
First and foremost, Muslims and Muslim societies must demonstrate responsibility towards themselves. The days ahead are going to be tough. The French and others may not take the risk of putting boots on the ground in the Middle East, but the anger will result in greater instances of individual targeting of Muslims in these societies. There will be more voices raised for the eviction of Muslims, which will certainly amount to racism. No one is arguing for turning the other cheek in the face of such behaviour, but a strategic vision and thinking is in order. This is a time when individual fatwas will not matter. An internal and extensive dialogue to develop a narrative regarding the Muslim community’s view of history and religious texts is needed.
I am reminded of a conversation I once had with some post-graduate students in Islamabad right before the American invasion of Iraq. They were of the view that the US would not intervene in Iraq as that would upset the Muslim world. They were confused to hear that the world may not care about the Muslim world, and that besides economic, political and military power, the Muslim world lacks intellectual prowess and capacity. We should also not forget that it was Europe and not the Muslim world that opened doors for the Syrians after seeing Aylan Kurdi’s picture. The IS cannot be allowed to draw a wedge between peoples and civilisations. This is not just about ensuring peace in Europe, but of the very survival of the Muslim people.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2015.