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June 16, 2016

Is it about Muslims?


June 16, 2016

There can only be one reaction to the diabolical act of the Orlando killer – unqualified condemnation and sheer disgust. The Orlando killings have yet again intensified the continuing debate about Islam and terrorism.

Beyond the nonsensical, even if widespread, sentiment that Muslims must unequivocally and in huge numbers quickly condemn the Orlando killer or else be viewed as indirect accomplices to the reprehensible crime lies the complex and uncomfortable truth about an increasingly dysfunctional world.

Orlando killer Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old wife-beating guard who had a job as a security guard for over six years, was born and raised in the US. Latest reports confirm he was a regular at the gay club where he shot dead 50 people.

Omar was an American, and so Americans must stop pointing fingers abroad. But that’s only half the truth. The killer, a practising Muslim who went twice for pilgrimage to Mecca, was reportedly discriminated against for being a Muslim. The killer had also boasted of having links with Daesh and Al-Qaeda for which he was interrogated but the links were found to be imagined. Clearly battling within, Omar ostensibly drew his primary identity from his ancestral land and from what he understood of his faith.

Moving from the individual to the broader phenomenon that the Orlando killer represents, several interconnected global, technological and civilisational points are discernible. Five are noteworthy.

One, the digital world has redrawn the routes to rootedness. To be physically located in a country to embrace the emotional ethos and social sensitivity of its society is no longer required. In addition to the Afghan community within his American homeland, where the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ divide especially between the Muslims and the rest gets sharper, there is social media that must have connected the American killer to the trauma and turmoil of the people of Afghanistan. Hence in the digital era the emotional contestation within an individual flowing from the clashing tension between his physical location and of the digitally connected ancestral ‘other’ world is destabilising with potential for turning violent.

Two, which are the more destabilised parts of the globe and why? Mainly the Muslim world has been affected largely by US actions abroad. Infatuated by the illusion of absolute power, the US attacked and intervened in Muslim countries with the stated intent of midwifing the birth of democratic states. Instead, these states were left ruptured and societies plagued with disorder resulting in fragmentation and bloodshed.

And with the US, the fallout of American policies and the reckless tendency in the post- 9/11 era of framing conflict-triggered terrorism primarily within a religious context is leading to growing intolerance. Rights activists are warning against growing Islamophobia.

The third factor is that the fast expanding canvass of human consciousness increasingly does not accept half-truths. The world of social media has nearly smashed the previously available luxury of thinking in silos and preaching morality through doctored and partial truths. Remember the deliberate killing of 200, 000 at Hiroshima, the planned tutoring of the Afghan militant through the Kansas University syllabus to kill the ‘infidel’ in the name of Islam, the support of the lethal Al-Nusra group to fight Assad, the decades-long nearly unquestioned support of the state of Israel.

Four, the Orlando killer must also be framed within the broader framework of an unstable people and a dysfunctional law and order system that the US is also now witnessing. The American society has been exposed to an unprecedented number of horrific campus deaths. And the irony is that lethal weapons are easily available in an environment of rising emotional dysfunctionality. The American gun lobby appears undefeatable. Because of the influence of the National Rifle Association, Obama says he can’t prohibit American citizens who visit Daesh websites from buying guns – even though he can put them on the ‘no-fly list.’

Finally, a fact often overlooked is that the post-Afghan resistance world will never be the same. The Afghan resistance prompted by the Soviet invasion has deeply influenced the toolkit of the subjugated and the resentful. The Washington-Rawalpindi led project of ‘Islamisation’, militarisation and subsequent brutalisation of the Afghan resistance acquired a global appeal, almost into timelessness. Just as Washington believed it could bomb states and societies into democratisation, it believed it could use this specious Islamic-jihad to settle scores with the Soviets over the Vietnam defeat.

Since then the ‘jihad’ became a currency for settling scores with the ‘other’ – first as the mujahideen and later after morphing into the Taliban, TTP, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, Daesh etc. Far beyond the proxy play by Pakistan, these groups have abiding global traction.

From the weapon of the collective, this specious ‘Islamic-jihad’ has become the weapon of the resentful individual. In an increasingly turbulent world, made dysfunctional by reactive politics, there is a platform available to every individual sitting at his/her keyboard. Hence, the paradox of the digital era is the concurrent bonding and the atomisation of society. In both cases, the specious Islamic-jihad becomes the weapon of the resentful.

From the unstable killer in Orlando to the Boko Haram, from the man who reached out to kill the German photographer to those who planned 9/11 to the ones who attacked Pakistanis at a funeral procession to those who butchered the little children at APS Peshawar – shorn of all the symbolism of religion, this spurious jihad seeks to destroy and disrupt the ‘other’. The destabilised and the resentful, irrespective of their racial or religious denomination, may dig into the tool-kit of the spurious jihad to respond in dangerous and deadly ways.

Broadly, the twenty-first century is the century of the disruption, decadence and destruction of society and state within the Muslim world by Western states and degenerate Muslim rulers. Little surprise that the deadliest responses come from those who have been tormented the most by their own regimes and by global players.

It is the paradox of our times that, while technology appears to be increasingly hijacking space previously available to peoples’ interaction, the processing of human feelings, the ability to embrace human sensitivity, the slighted human spirit stills dominates the arena. Even if hungry and snubbed, the spirit remains irrepressible and uses dark technology to pay back society. Undefeated but distorted, the spirit hits back in blood and blades.

Note the paradox of the suicide bomber. In using death as his primary weapon, he neutralises the force of weapons that give to the adversary the message: we’ll kill you if you don’t listen. The bombers, though mercifully tiny in number, seem to have stood the conventional security paradigm on its head. New ways of understanding and exercising and acquiring authority and legitimacy are now needed. Are we up to this task?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nasimzehra



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