The range of how Muslims respond to jihadi terror thriving in our midst is both curious and varied. One reaction is just an expression of disgust and dismay and nothing more. Another is recourse to apologia of ‘this-is-not-Islam’ kind, even as the killers themselves claim to be motivated by a dogmatic Islam.
A third reaction is one of complete and cynical denial and the conjuring of conspiracy theories (‘all Jews were on leave on 9/11’ and ‘Osama had died in Tora Bora long before the Abbottabad raid’). What seems oddly absent is any sense of outrage, even serious reflection.
The rest of us Muslims remain smug and ignorant of the gravity of the threat that religious extremists pose to Muslims all over the world. What is more, every new incident of terror somehow reinforces our self-deceit that all is well as long as it is far away.
We remain smug also because we expect the American voter to reject the belligerent hyperbole of Donald Trump. But the very fact that one leading contender for the Oval Office believes that a ban on Muslims will get him more votes should be a reality check for us. From fringe blogs, the idea has all of a sudden become the subject of mainstream debate. As a prelude, the US Senate has already suggested unprecedented restrictions on US visas. This is a dangerously high water mark of the West’s desperation in not finding any policy tool to protect its people from Muslim ‘sleeper cells’ within their societies.
A few more incidents of mass murders like those in Paris and California and Trump and his crazy idea may no longer look all that crazy. And American blanket exclusion of Muslims may be followed by other Western states.
As walls of suspicion come up around the Muslim world, there is a scary prospect of it becoming a vast hermetically sealed ‘Gaza Strip’ stretching from Morocco to Bangladesh. In an increasingly interdependent world this could be most debilitating.
But sadly most Muslims remain ignorant of, or indifferent to, the armies of discord storming our own battlements. There is no general sense of outrage at the growth and presence among us of such killer gangs as Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh who seek to rid the world of ‘infidels’ and to take us back to the times of slave girls and beheadings. This is all the more perplexing as the vast majority of those innocent civilians killed in the name of jihad are not ‘infidels’ but Muslims. And when we Muslims ourselves fail to understand why we tolerate (even promote) the spread of such a criminal ideology, how can the West develop a correct understanding of the problem?
The fact is that for the last several decades, most Muslim societies have either looked away or even promoted the spread of this cancer. When Al-Qaeda leaders are arrested from the homes of members of mainstream religious parties, or a ruling political party strikes political alliances with known jihadi outfits, or when Daesh-produced oil finds markets in Muslim countries, the world is forced to ponder. Our mobs burn to death petty thieves and alleged blasphemers, even as terrorists openly dwell in our capital cities. And when questioned, we rationalise our behavior.
The preferred argument is: ‘it is a natural consequence of the mal-intent of the West,’ and that ‘it asked for it’. But how can a flawed foreign policy of a non-Muslim America morally entitle these soldiers of Islam to murder 50,000 Pakistanis, and a greater number of Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Turks, Kurds, Iranians, Shias, Sunnis, all Muslims?
So while we rightly lament American hypocrisy in originally training, arming, facilitating and financing jihadi groups, including Osama bin Laden, we must accept our own responsibility, if not on the basis of principle then at least because of our self-interest.
How long will we continue condemning mass murders by Muslim groups in the name of Islam and remind the West that not all Muslims are bad even as we lengthen the lines of visa seekers outside its embassies? And how long do we expect the West to keep buying this because this line of thinking is not working for it as a viable policy tool to protect its people. Ordinary, educated and law-abiding Muslims are now known, all of a sudden, to turn into zombies who go on killing sprees. What is this virus?
Unless we share with the West a workable method to identify Muslim sleeper cells and to differentiate between murderers and harmless Muslims, we should expect it to keep using increasingly blunt tools to protect its people. And we should have no doubt now that one of the blunt tools being considered in the West is an outright ban on entry of all Muslims. It is still not too late for us to ourselves close down all social and intellectual space for the ideology of hate in the name of Islam.
Another is the issue of Muslim refugees. Muslim countries must share the burden with Europe by providing resources or shelter. Using the platform of the OIC they must decide among themselves on how to share and accommodate them. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran may not be destinations preferred by these refugees, but these countries have the resources to provide for them. Even cash-strapped Pakistan has housed three million displaced persons for the last three decades. The taking in of refugees by Islamic countries will ease the social fear that is being stoked by increasingly popular anti-Muslim, anti-immigration European right-wing parties
The Shia-Sunni rift has, through Islam’s history, wantonly shed too much blood. This breach motivates or lies at the bottom of most of the violence today in the name of Islam. It is time now to repair the breach. There is no other option. Today, only the leaderships of Iran and Saudi Arabia can take any decisive steps in this behalf. With so much history behind their discord, this is difficult but not impossible. Dogma must give way to enlightened self-interest. Fighting Daesh is more important than fighting Bashar al-Assad. Assads have been there for half a century now.
Today’s leadership of these two countries will either make a tryst with history or be devoured by it, taking the whole Muslim world down with them. Moderate leaders of Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan should immediately take to uninterruptable and untiring shuttle diplomacy to persuade Saudi and Iranian leaderships to come together in the face of the existential challenge facing them and all Muslims. The road to ending the humiliation of Muslims, and peace and prosperity passes through Tehran and Riyadh, not Paris and Washington.
If these two countries join hands to face internal threats like Daesh, there is no reason why peace cannot be restored in the world, including that of Islam.
And only after putting their own house in order will Muslim leaders be able to ask the West to address occupations of Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya, and to ensure that Muslims living in its countries do not face discrimination, persecution or continuous monitoring and surveillance.
For too long, Muslims, both as individuals and as governments, have ignored or even conspired with the rising cancer of hate ideologies around us. Now, at least in our own interest, each one of us must finally open our eyes to reality, come off the fence and start closing down all space for the hate ideologies thriving in our midst and to take practical steps to permanently decommission these thugs committing crimes in the name of Islam.
Aitzaz Ahsan is the Senate leader of the opposition and Nadeem Ahmed is a Karachi-based lawyer.