The politics of terrorism
The time now couldn't be any darker for Muslims, undeniably due to the stigma of worldwide killings of innocent civilians by some Muslims. This commentary attempts to understand this ominous phenomenon in a contextual and clinical manner to motivate unconventional remedial steps.
First, the killing of innocent civilians for any cause, including religious reasons, should be unequivocally renounced and pro-actively neutralised by the governing authorities. In practice, however, we only observe selective outrage and nullification efforts. The powerful actors conveniently downplay certain killings while escalating others, thus creating an undesirable grey space for what is terrorism. This space needs to shrink with a global treaty on a broader but clearer declaration of terrorism, wreaked by an individual, group or state.
Second, while the civilian victims span across multitude of denominations, arguably there is a disproportionately high incidence of Muslim victims in regions with large Muslim populations. It is thus quite unproductive, if not outright disrespectful to the vast majority of victims, to use the phrase "Islamic terrorism". To facilitate a broad-based alliance against terrorism, outrage should be directed against the act of terrorism, free of any denominational adjective or qualifier. Imparting collective guilt for the acts of a few and blemishing an entire religion cannot possibly help.
Third, as the principal driver of terrorism, the finger is often pointed to the West and Israel, jointly acting in the business interests of the global bankers, arms manufacturers and energy powerhouses, with the Middle-Eastern nations for exporting intolerant interpretations of Islam. This view is often joined by conspiracy theories that the 9/11 attack in the US and the mass murder incidents in the West (those committed by Muslim attackers) thereafter are sponsored by the respective governments against their own citizens. Instead of unproductive blame games and unsolvable conspiracy theories, countries like Bangladesh need to do what is doable, namely, stop making allegations of foreign conspiracies that end up inculcating hatred against people of other religions and nations.
Fourth, granted that there is no honourable excuse for violent redress, it is necessary, albeit awkward, to pro-actively recognise but not necessarily accept the grievances perceived by the Muslim attackers. The dominant grievance is that Muslims around the globe are being subjected to illegal occupation, discrimination, and laws that hinder complete observance. Defamation of the Prophet and mockery of the Islamic codes and history add fuel to the fire of their anguish.
Again, this seems to be part of the broader problem of selective outrage. As an example, the secular world seems to be quite okay with Israel being a Jewish state, Vatican being a Catholic territory, India's current regime being propelled by religious extremists, American Constitution declaring one nation under God, Saudi Arabia and Iran being sharia-driven states albeit of competing bents, etc. Excuses of democracy in some cases and geopolitical stability in other cases are feeble at best and feats of hypocrisy at worst.
The practice of not recognising the grievances voiced by the Muslim attackers in the name of not giving in to their terrorism while being hypocritical about selected states will keep entrenching the sense of an unjust secular world on Muslim streets.
Lastly, a puzzling problem is that most Muslim attackers are pre-committed to die in course of the attacks. The conventional tactics of war are inadequate by themselves to address such suicidal attacks. Recognising the dynamics of semi-observant Muslim youths transforming into suicidal recruits is the crucial missing link here. Blaming Wahabism, the Mullahs, the Shia-Sunni rift, religious schools and the like has done little in this regard as justified the allegations may be. Such blame games keep hiding the collective failure of the progressive forces in offering a morally clean and socially and economically just society in much of the world, especially in the Muslim-prevalent states including Bangladesh. Corruption, political cronyism, income inequality, trend of increasing sexuality, cultural affairs and entertainment, culture of impunity for crimes against ordinary citizens, and the epidemic of lies and deceptions across the society are all reprehensible according to most religions, including Islam.
In such a context of broken values, the call to the promised land of religious puritanism can be perceived as the sole means of emancipation for many youths who, for one reason or another, have become disillusioned with and resent the world devoid of religiosity around them. Intriguingly, some of the vulnerable youth see salvation in exactly the opposite manner, seeking refuse in atheism, away from religion, believing that religions are at the source of failed societies. The critical difference, however, is in the second stage of transformation. The new atheist youths take up the means of pens and keyboards to express their disapproval of religions, sometimes quite offensively though. On the other hand, a portion of the newly religious Muslim youths become fatally attracted to fixing the broken societies through suicidal attacks on people perceived to be deviant, while believing in the reward of a blissful hereafter. Lacking conventional war machinery, these suicide missions are unfortunately often perpetrated on unarmed civilians.
The world is currently abuzz with identification of the vulnerable Muslim youths ahead of time as a key remedial measure. This clearly should help, but it is only a transient remedy until the next cohort of disgruntled youths among billion plus Muslims undergo the fatal transformation. What is needed on a steady and permanent basis is to recognise the collective nature of responsibility for the hitherto failure to offer a secular and progressive society with social and economic justice and high morality that is largely consistent with the spirit of most divine codes including Islam.
To conclude, the physical war against the terror networks must be fought with utmost force. It is, however, time that the progressive forces worldwide stop shifting the responsibility to the religious conservative alone. As long as the promised world remains an empty political trick by the seculars, the psychological war of winning the minds of the religiously motivated attackers is unlikely to be won in a meaningful way.
The writer is Professor of Practice, Finance Department at McGill University, Canada.
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