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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Terrorism in the name of religion

Ziauddin Choudhury

TERRORISTS struck again, this time in Paris, France, killing ten journalists and three policemen.  (The two suspected terrorists were killed two days later by French Police in an armed resistance). Ostensibly, this latest terror attack was to take revenge against the editor and publishers of a cartoon magazine who allegedly spoofed Prophet Mohammad.  In their own words, the two perpetrators snuffed out the lives of eleven people because they were enraged by what they considered to be an insult to the Prophet of Islam.
Protests by Muslims against any purported ridicule of their religion or prophet have been staged before in Europe and elsewhere.  People have been outraged and some demonstrations had taken violent forms as in Denmark, Netherlands, and a few other places against satiric comments, offensive videos or cartoons making fun of Islam. Such demonstrations are understandable because they hurt people's religious feelings. As is understandable the rights of free speech and expression of those who publish these items.
There is a lot to be said about freedom of speech and journalistic freedom, on one hand, and for respect for all religions and people's feelings, on the other. But there is nothing to be said about barbaric response to rights of expression in the name of defending religion. This type of response befits only medieval societies where honour killing is a badge of honour.  But no true Muslim can in any way identify with the Paris killing whether it is to defend the Prophet or his/her religion. It is the act of demented people who take shelter of religion to justify their violence.  
The most regrettable part of such tragic events is Muslim reaction to these occurrences.  In the last twenty years, out of ten terrorist attacks in Europe, eight were perpetrated by Muslims. In all cases, as in this most recent case, indignation has been expressed by Muslim leaders in Europe and elsewhere denouncing such brazen attacks and the taking of innocent lives. In all cases attempts have been made to distance so-called mainstream Muslims from such heinous acts. Their message has been that such heinous conduct and taking of lives is not condoned by their religion. Islam is a religion of peace and its practitioners, by and large, are peaceful people.
Unfortunately, this message does not bear any credibility any more, not only to people who follow different faiths, but also to people who do not believe in any religion. Even many Muslims who watch somewhat helplessly these wanton acts of terror ask themselves why people of their faith are turning to violence. Is it really carried out by only people who have been marginalised in a predominantly non-Muslim society?  Does it really grow from a sense of alienation in a society or country that a minority cannot adapt to? Is it a sense of deprivation of the privileges that are accorded to the majority in the country of their adoption?
Unfortunately none of these can properly explain the mindset of a people who continually resort to violence in the name of religion. The minority psyche and marginalisation syndrome can partly explain the behaviour of these people in a non-Muslim society. But how do you explain the mayhems that are daily conducted in many Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Iraq or Syria?  Targets in foreign countries are usually non-Muslims, but the targets in Muslim countries are fellow Muslims. If the so-called radicals are conducting their violent acts to defend their purported insult to religion, who are they taking revenge against when they kill innocent children in schools or bomb mosques in their own countries? Surely these are not acts of a few misguided people. These are acts of a determined group of people who have their own interpretation of religion and they are committed to implement it by any means, terror, horror, or dread.
The hour of examination for Muslim countries and Muslim leaders globally is now. They cannot sidestep the issue by attributing these acts to aberrant behaviour of marginalised youth. They have to see what it is that draws these elements to their religion and propel them to undertake such heinous acts. Why are thousands of youth attracted to militancy and suicide squads and embark on missions that any rational mind would shirk from?    
An answer may lie in the preaching and training that many of them receive from religious institutions and their so-called religious trainers in mosques and madrassas.  In Pakistan and some other Muslim countries such training is imparted by religious institutions that survive any monitoring, and may even receive state patronage. In other communities, particularly non-Muslim countries, it is benign negligence.
It is time that Muslim communities all over wake up to stem this tide of hate and violence and spreading of terror strikes from their own people.  The first place to start is their homes and tutoring their children in human values of respect for life, tolerance, and love—the values their religion teaches. Next, one should engage in the broader community, participating in all the community does instead of confining oneself to one's own. Last but not the least, one should stand up against the threat of the zealots who are poised to hijack their religion through their own brand of Islam.

The writer is a political analyst and commentator.

Source:  The Daily Star, 14 January 2015

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