Written By: Lt Gen (r) Shafaat Ullah Shah
The recent spate of terrorism in Bacha Khan University Charsadda, Paris, Jakarta, Lebanon and a Russian flight from Egypt to St. Petersburg have further amplified the imminence of terrorism and how it affects our daily lives. These carven acts by ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups show their reach and wherewithal in disturbing the world peace. The prime objectives of these attacks could have been varied. While suicide attacks in Beirut are another instance in the proxy war between Salafis and Shias in Lebanon, the prime intent of multiple terrorist attacks in Paris and Jakarta could have been to internationalize the wrath of ISIS in response to the Russian-led operations in Syria and discouraging tourists, retarding economic growths. The planting of a bomb in Russian aircraft was a requite to Russian force projection in Syria. Barbaric act of terrorism against a soft target in a university in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa against innocent students was the likely result of counter-terrorism campaign against terrorists in Pakistan.
Muslims are fighting a war within Islam against the outlaws of Islam, the Khawarij. Yet, as we have painfully seen, these terrorists and outlaws threaten the entire world. Though, Muslims have been and will continue to be the worst sufferers of these terrorist attacks. From statistics, maximum deaths have been caused by the radical terrorists to the Muslims besides the negative economic outfalls. Only in Pakistan, more than 60,000 lives, including civilians and soldiers, have been lost besides incurring economic losses of more than 107 billion US Dollars. Even worse, consequent to terrorist attacks in the West, there is bound to be a backlash against the Muslim communities in non-Muslim countries in terms of physical assaults, economic deprivation, hate campaign, denial of jobs etc. Thus the primary onus for addressing the issues of terrorism and extremism is both a compulsion and an imperative for the Muslim World.
Islam, in essence and spirit, is a religion of peace which abhors violence. This is a belief shared by majority of Muslims but rejected today by rest of the world due to radical Islam. While there are radical elements present in other societies, their numbers and magnitude of violent acts do not make them much dominant on a global stage. Thus message of a tolerant and peaceful Islam needs to be spread both, within a Muslim society and to promote interfaith harmony.
In every Muslim society, while around 10% extremists and seculars might exist, the majority is the moderates practicing Islam to varying degrees. Yet the minority is holding the majority as hostage to their brand of radicalism. Any outside influence or measures to change perceptions or bring moderation to Islamic practices is viewed with skepticism and is not likely to improve the situation. The change and modernization has to come from within. The redeeming factor is the 'silent majority' that needs to be invoked and make its presence felt rather than being intimidated by the extremists. There is a consensus that the root causes of terrorism are unresolved disputes affecting the Muslim world, social injustices, lack of education, job opportunities and revenge for uses of force against Muslims. While it may be virtually impossible to ingress religious beliefs enshrined over a period of time, the other issues are addressable. Every extremist has a family. Any changes in his/her behaviour pattern or an evidence of radical tendencies is most likely observed and noticed by them. The initial findings of terrorist attacks at Bacha Khan University manifest involvement of facilitators in providing guns, transport and passage. If any one of them, for the sake of humanity, have divulged the intentions of terrorists to the authorities, the impending act could have been aborted. The father of Abdelhamed Abaaoud, suspected ringleader of Paris attack, after the incident, confessed that his son was a psychopath and a devil, a fact if apprised earlier, to the concerned authorities might have prevented his involvement. Similarly, he would have had friends and colleagues with whom he would have shared his views prior to the heinous act.
In the controlling of extremism, madrassa, and mosque play an important role besides parents. Clerics assigned to those institutions cast an everlasting imprint in shaping the personalities of their pupils. Some of them may have radical views which need to be checked. The state has a role in ensuring the projection of balanced views and imparting madrasa education which nurtures a responsible, enlightened individual, capable of shouldering responsibilities in a society. The pupils, their parents and the community at large also have a role to play in case the clerics deviate from the right path and unduly thrust inordinate views. Neighbours and landlords can also play a role in determining suspicious activities and its reporting to the authorities. This system of checks could create an effective deterrent to a would-be terrorist. Respective governments must also facilitate this interaction by publicizing telephone numbers, designating centres and analyse information to corroborate facts and convert it into useable intelligence.
In this age of media galore and prominence of civil society, both have a significant responsibility in providing a counter-narrative against extremism. Any reporting of impending act of terrorism by a member of society needs to be recognized and suitably projected on media instead of glamorizing the terrorist’s acts. Media should boycott messages of terrorists and its over projection as an 'internal policy' and work ethics, as much as possible. Terrorists germinate on financial support, instances of financial aid sustaining terrorists can be somewhat controlled by those working in banks and other financial institutions in identifying suspicious transactions or large volumes to unidentified clients. Individuals and non-state organizations funding extremists’ groups must also realize their responsibilities in putting a stop to these donations, likely to perpetrate extremism.
Terrorism and extremism continue to affect our lives and that of future generations and require an all embracing response from the Muslim society in particular. It is imperative for all segments to realize the seriousness of this, ‘present and real danger’ and be counted in thwarting this menace. This is the right thing to do: to stand up for our values and do everything possible to protect our religion, our people and our nation.