Don’t Let Them Die in Vain – Aijaz Zaka Syed

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DYING YOUNG...The feet of a victim of a Taliban attack in a school are tied together at a local hospital in Peshawar. AP photo
DYING YOUNG…The feet of a victim of a Taliban attack in a school are tied together at a local hospital in Peshawar. AP photo

It would be an affront to the memory of all those who fell to the terrorists’ bullets in Peshawar if, after the initial shock wears off, it is business as usual in Pakistan. Those young boys and girls, those children with shiny, smiling faces, they were too young to die. Their sacrifices mustn’t go in vain

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]xplaining the decline and decay of the Islamic world in his interesting book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, Robert Reilly writes: “The fatal disconnect between the Creator and the mind of his creatures is the source of Sunni Islam’s most profound woes.”

I do not entirely agree with the arguments and conclusions of the author.  And I have serious issues with this whole simplistic, sectarian approach to the understanding of Muslim societies. However, Reilly’s prognosis suggesting the “fatal disconnect between the Creator and the mind of His creatures” appears increasingly relevant to explaining the state of Islamic world today.

Islamic men of learning and wisdom have preached from the pulpit ad infinitum insisting there is no place for force or violence in religion.

Yet those who attacked a school full of children in Peshawar this week as if it was a military outpost of the enemy and methodically went about killing young students and their teachers – 142 of them — with casual, spine-chilling viciousness seemed to sincerely believe in the righteousness of their ‘cause.’ A divine license to kill, if you will.

The Taliban spokesperson who claimed responsibility for the worst terror attack in Pakistan’s history said their intent was to target the Army and the school being run by the military had been a legitimate target.  If the school children happened to be in the way, well, they couldn’t help it.

Indeed, the children were not ‘in the way’ but had been the primary target of the killers.

In their gray, primitive world of tribal notions of revenge and right and wrong, the Taliban have somehow convinced themselves of the justness of their path. Even if it means killing their own kind; even if it means targeting innocent children, in order to avenge their loved ones who died at the hands of the Pakistani Army.

The Quran famously warns that taking one innocent life is akin to targeting the whole of humanity. Yet those believing in God see nothing wrong and no irony whatsoever in targeting His creation.  Islam preaches that all humanity is Allah’s family.  And yet it is targeted again and again, with impunity in His name.

This is perhaps the ‘fatal disconnect’ that Reilly talks about. And it appears to be not just deepening by the day, it has acquired apocalyptic proportions.

Where are we headed? What is the future of Muslim societies? How and when in God’s name would we be able to cure ourselves of this sickness — this all-consuming malaise that has crippled the Ummah?

A rally in Karachi for the victims of the Peshawar massacre, 10 Dec Candles and roses are held at a rally in Karachi for the victims of the Peshawar massacre. Reuters
Candles and roses are held at a rally in Karachi for the victims of the Peshawar massacre. Reuters

All the pious sermons and righteous condemnations from the pulpit in the world haven’t been able to save innocent lives.  Neither have government crackdowns like the Operation Zarb-e-Azb that has killed hundreds along Pakistan’s restive Northwest frontier and the global war on terror made any difference to the lunatic fringe.

But something has got to give. As an anguished Kashmiri friend put it, if the Peshawar attack does not change Pakistan, nothing will.  The country has no right to call itself the Islamic Republic, he added as an afterthought.  I wouldn’t go that far.

However, I will say this. Pakistan would do itself immense harm and disservice if it doesn’t draw the right lessons from this tragedy and charts a new course for itself.

It would be an epic tragedy and an affront to the memory of all those who fell to the terrorists’ bullets if, after the initial shock wears off, it is business as usual. Those young boys and girls, those children with shiny, smiling faces were too young to die. Their sacrifice mustn’t go in vain.

Peshawar should be the wake-up call that Pakistan has apparently failed to respond to all these years.

The day after the attack, there is already a repeat farce on – a terror sitcom, in the words of security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa — with questions being raised about the culpability of the government in preventing the attack, the lax security in a high security zone, and missing intelligence etc.

These questions are of course relevant but they are at best secondary to the debate. The larger question that needs to be confronted by Pakistan and the larger Muslim world is the genesis of this problem and how to fix it.

Some analysts have chosen to describe the Peshawar attack as Pakistan’s 9/11. That may be so, it being the worst of its kind carnage by the extremists. But let’s not forget, unlike those who targeted New York and Washington, the perpetrators of the Peshawar outrage did not come from distant lands.  They were home-bred and truly indigenous. That’s what makes this all the more abominable and disturbing.

That said, if the 9/11 analogy is aimed at invoking the kind of indiscriminate and overwhelming response that the United States visited on the Muslim world in the wake of September 11 attacks without giving a damn about the motives and causes behind the attacks, Pakistan would do well to heed the terrible consequences and costs of America’s disproportionate, misdirected war.

More important, the Global War on Terror and the methods employed to fight it–as the fascinating, ‘redacted’ and severely watered down version of CIA’s shenanigans last week revealed–has not put an end to terror; it has only fueled and helped it grow into a terrifying Frankenstein of global proportions.

 

As Glenn Greenwald wrote recently: “The very policies of militarization and civil liberties erosion justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.”

The Taliban terror, utterly shameful, disgraceful and despicable as it is, it is only a footnote to the larger terror unleashed on the region and continues in some form or the other.

Just as violence provokes violence, terror begets terror. Injustice breeds extremism.  So Pakistan’s new ‘national plan to get the region rid of terror,’ as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif put it, cannot be in isolation of the larger terror on which lunatics like Taliban and Al-Qaeda feed. The continuing Western wars, drone strikes and targeting of civilians only play into the hands of extremists.  It’s a vicious cycle.

In his recent New York Times piece, Prof Tomis Kapitan asked, “if what is insidious about terrorism is its callous disregard for civilian lives in pursuit of political goals, why is there not an uproar about state terrorism? Why do so many reserve their venom for people whose destructive capacity pales in comparison with those who command tanks, artillery and warplanes?”

After all, more innocent civilians have died as a result of state terror than those at the hands of the terrorists.

That said though, we have clearly reached a point where such explanations are considered odious and no longer of any use. The increasingly vicious and barbaric nature of the Taliban terror and their kind has proved beyond a doubt, if the proof was ever needed, that benign methods like dialogue and engagement are of little use against these savages. 

And it is not just Pakistan; extremism has emerged as an existential threat to Muslim societies everywhere.  

However, force alone cannot tackle terror.  Pakistan and the Muslim world need to fight this war on several fronts – ideological, political and societal.  If overwhelming force was all that was needed to overwhelm an enemy, the ‘coalition of the willing’ wouldn’t still be stuck in Afghanistan and the Middle East, 13 years after 9/11. 

The Muslim world needs to evolve a more nuanced, thinking approach to this fitna. And it starts with urgent recognition of the magnitude of the challenge we face in violent extremism and obscurantism in the name of religion.  PM Sharif spoke for many of us when he insisted, this is OUR own war and we must approach it as such.

But extreme crises call for extreme measures. Is the Muslim world ready to walk the talk? How about expelling all those targeting innocents in the name of faith from the fold of Islam 

The annual Global Terrorism Index recently suggested that more than 80 percent of terror victims in 2013, as has been the case in the past few years, happened to be Muslims and they died in Muslim lands at the hands of the so-called believers.  

If Muslim societies do not wake up and act now and act fast to deal with these forces of obscurantism, this enemy within, the consequences could be unimaginable for everyone concerned. This is no time to hide or dither and deflect for the faithful.

 

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