Commitment and resolve required to fight terror
by Muhammad Zamir
One of the unfortunate elements used by terrorists and those wishing to achieve their goals through the invoking of fear is to try and establish a nexus between faith (as they interpret it) and any issue they might be involved in. On the other hand, a common aspect in all religions is promotion of the welfare of others, peace and understanding. It is also denoted that violence needs to be avoided. It is also reiterated that within a community and between different communities, there will be efforts to facilitate dialogue, equal opportunity, transparency, good governance and accountability.
Yes, there is recognition that there might be the aberration of fundamentalism or strict, orthodox interpretation of religious tenets or rituals. There is also however the general realization that in the contemporary world, one without frontiers, thanks to digitalization, there will be efforts made to avoid violence arising out of mixing religion with politics or the socio-economic dimensions. It is believed that if such a course of action is not followed then conditions within the state structure might unravel leading to behaviour that result in bloodshed.
In Islam in particular, compassion and understanding is underlined and believers are asked to respect others in the pursuit of their faith. Tolerance is underlined in Ayat 6 of Sura (109) Al-Kafirun. Unfortunately, sometimes this is forgotten because of mixing religion with politics and because of political ambition. Points are then sought to be scored through violence, intimidation and wanton killing.
We are witnessing today evidence of such transgression in the manner in which activities are being carried out in several parts of the world- in Africa, in the Middle East, in South Asia or in South East Asia.
Potent in character and nature, the juxtaposition of belief (faith) and politics is proving to be a undesirable catalyst that is undermining the potential of the
peaceful path of growth. It is affecting children and the latent possibilities for movement forward that a society is entitled to.
Consequently, it is most unfortunate to note that over the last decade and half, extremists from different religious faiths have resorted to their own selfish agenda at the cost of amity, peace and stability. This has created uncertainty, fear and anger. This in turn has contributed towards instability and prejudice.
Terrorists appear to have hijacked religion as an instrument for justifying acts which are not consistent with existing international legal process or human rights or principles enshrined in different constitutional documents. Misinterpretation of secular measures and quest for political dominance have resulted in killings and maiming of innocent people, mostly civilians of both genders located in soft targets in urban areas far away from armed conflict zones.
Anger transformed to hatred resulted in the most unfortunate attacks on 9/11 in New York and Washington, USA resulting in thousands of death. Then there was the 2004 siege of the Russian school in Beslan by Chechens where more than 300 died. The same year witnessed the Madrid train bombing which killed 191 and wounded more than 1,800. There was also the multiple bombing in the London underground which killed 53 and injured more than 700 innocent civilians. One cannot also forget the serial bombings in Delhi, India in 2008 that left 30 dead and 130 injured. The multiple bombings in Mumbai the same year killed 166 and wounded nearly one hundred,
There has also been the despicable kidnapping of 276 school girls by the Islamic militant Boko Haram group in Nigeria and their forcible conversion to Islam. It is understood that most of these girls have since been forcibly married off to Boko Haram members. This has been followed by the kidnapping of nearly 400 other women and children by the same group.
We have also noticed similar outrages that have been carried out by the ISIL group in the Levant, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
One would have expected Islamic theologians living in the Middle East or in other countries belonging to the OIC coming forward and expressing strong condemnation of such terrorist acts. That unfortunately has not happened.
Their lack of criticism, possibly, according to some analysts, has been due to the rising number of deaths of civilians (termed as collateral damage) caused by drone attacks on alleged terrorist targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
These actions are (as claimed by the perpetrators) supposedly undertaken to ensure security in the context of national interest but some have pointed out that indiscriminate drone attacks may also be described as ‘extra-judicial killing’ where the accused is not given a chance to defend himself.
Mass violence has been particularly evident in Pakistan over the last decade. The earlier nexus between their armed forces and the Taliban (to promote Pakistani interests in Afghanistan) has now taken an inverse turn for the worse and infiltrated into Pakistan through osmotic effect. An attack on a Shia shrine in 2013 resulted in 120 deaths. This was followed in September 2014 by a terrorist attack on a Church that cost nearly 80 lives.
The latest attack on a school in Peshawar on 16 December run by the Pakistani military authorities for their children as well as children from the civilian community was gruesome to say the least. A suicide squad belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the school and this resulted in the death of 136 school children, eight members of the school staff and all the terrorists engaged in this attack. The children were shot dead in cold blood while engaged in the pursuit of education and knowledge, a process that has been strongly supported by no other than our Holy Prophet (pbuh). The attack was carried out on the doorstep of the Army Cantonment.
Analysts have since pointed out that the killing of the children of the army personnel by TTP was meant to convey a clear message to the Pakistan Armed Forces that this was revenge for military campaigns that had been carried out by these Forces against militants in North Waziristan where Islamic fundamentalists are trying to impose forcibly their socio-political version of Islamic tenets on inhabitants living in this region.
The attack on the innocent school children in Peshawar has quite justifiably been seen as an outrage by the world.
Since then, the Pakistan government have also swung into action. Ground assaults and air strikes on Taliban units in areas near the border with Afghanistan have resulted in the death of 77 alleged militants. Such action has been particularly undertaken in the Provinces of the Khyber Agency and North Waziristan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also lifted the six-year moratorium on death penalty in terror cases and this has led to executions of four guilty militant prisoners. Human Rights Watch has termed the executions ‘a craven politicized reaction to the Peshawar killings’ and demanded that no further hangings be carried out. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has however gone on record expressing his determination to push for the
‘final elimination’ of all the militants.
This tragedy in Peshawar took place about the same time as the senseless and unfortunate siege of the Cafe in Sydney, Australia which resulted in the death of two innocent persons and also of the misguided gunman, trying to prove a point that was essentially a misinterpretation of the Islamic faith.
Both these recent incidents have managed to convey a wrong branding of Islam.
In Bangladesh, we have also witnessed coordinated acts of militant terrorism carried out by the banned outfit –Jamat’ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) - in 2005. It may be recalled that almost at the same time; around 500 bomb explosions took place in 63 out of 64 Districts. The presence of ‘Bangla Bhai’ at that time was described by the then government as a ‘figment of the media’s imagination’. Fortunately, more realistic pre-emptive monitoring and coordinated counter-terrorism efforts since 2009, has led to potential for terrorism being brought under somewhat of a control.
One feels that time has come for serious soul searching and introspection. The Islamic communities all over the world have to identify the causes for this persistent growth of militancy in different parts of the world. The western world, the guardians of democratic behaviour and upholder of human rights also need to take a step back and question themselves as to whether their action or inaction in certain areas are contributing to this emerging hatred. For example, they will need to satisfactorily address the unresolved question of Palestinian Statehood and justice for the battered people in Gaza. There cannot be two value systems of justice.
Similarly, there has to be a coordinated effort by the Arab countries as well as countries in North Africa and Afghanistan to seriously address issues related to corruption, violence, sectarianism and problems arising out of elitist governance systems.
If this can be done expeditiously, it will take the wind out of the sails of terrorist organizations like ISIL and
Al-Qaeda. Militancy thrives on perceived inequality of opportunity and partisanship. If that ends, it will be better for all of us.
The writer, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org