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December 8, 2015

Pakistan, Daesh and the Western Muslim

Opinion

December 8, 2015

The writer is an analyst and commentator.
In the space of less than a month, the terrorist non-state known as Daesh has done more to alter the dynamics of political discourse in the West than all the ‘peace-loving’, ‘moderate’ Muslims ever did in over half a century of post-colonial economic symbiosis and cultural coexistence.
Waves upon waves of migrants from post-colonial states have settled in Europe and North America for the economic opportunity that those societies present. One of the most significant beneficiary groups have been Muslims from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Algeria and Somalia. Notwithstanding ‘the white man’s burden’, and the ghettoisation of some Muslim communities in the West, on the whole, Muslims from these countries have found more money, more freedom, and more hope in their new homes. Since they do not represent one whole, but rather slivers within a mosaic of the wider Muslim consciousness in the West, it has always been quite difficult to definitively articulate a portrait of the Western Muslim.
This presents an utterly vexing challenge to organisations and networks like Al-Qaeda and Daesh. So, Al-Qaeda, Daesh and others sharing their values have sought to solve this privilege of abstraction, and this by-product of legitimate diversity. Al-Qaeda and Daesh both love Samuel Huntington for dummies, because the idea of a ‘clash of civilisations’ is their entry pass into relevance.
Since the Western Muslim is one of the great manifestations of the potency of the Western liberal doctrine, and since the Western Muslim is one of the greatest manifestations of the universality of Islam, the Western Muslim is a bulwark against this clash of civilisations. The success, freedom and faith of the Western Muslim is among most potent existential threats to the world view of Samuel Huntington’s terrorist fans such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Attacks like the November 13 carnage in Paris are

designed to serve as pivots in the journey of the Western Muslim. Apart from the obvious objectives of terrorising ordinary people, of acquiring valuable newspaper real estate, and of capturing parts of both national discourses and the global discourse, the ‘civilisational’ terrorist of Daesh thrives on the hope of divisiveness as a principal externality of his or her actions. In the epic words of President George W Bush, “you’re either with us, or against us”.
The Western Muslim, by definition, doesn’t have to choose, will not choose, and cannot choose. Attacks by Al-Qaeda and Daesh, and perhaps more importantly their rhetoric is meant to eat away at the institutional resilience of the Western Muslim – not at the individual level of course, but at the level of institutions and the Western liberal institutional design that, like it or not, protects, nurtures and empowers the individual, largely with little regard to the individual’s personal faith.
Of course, Al-Qaeda, Daesh or similar groups are not stupid. The game isn’t one-sided, or asymmetric. Attacks on Western targets obviously seek to force Western Muslims, in the case of the Paris attacks, Parisians and French Muslims, into uncomfortable positions, but in doing so they bank on Huntington’s construct of ‘culture’. Put another way, notwithstanding the institutional resilience that Western societies empower their citizens with (Muslim or not), the existential terrorists of Al-Qaeda and Daesh are betting on racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and Fox News.
They are terrified of the Obamas, the Merkels and the Trudeaus – leaders that instead of appealing to the lowest common denominators of people’s fears, actually rise above fear and proactively engage in the construct and building up of ‘the Western Muslim’.
What Al-Qaeda and Daesh hope for is the slow and steady rise of the other half of Samuel Huntington’s equation: the assertion of a narrative of ‘Western’ that is exclusive, and ideally, aggressively anti-Muslim.
They hope to squeeze the space for Western Muslims to be Western Muslims, by provoking a frontal assault on their freedom and security. Racism and xenophobia have always been part of the ugly underbelly of the highly industrialised, knowledge economies of western Europe and North America. One of the key policy objectives of Daesh today, and Al-Qaeda before it, has been to help mainstream this ugly underbelly by making the word ‘Muslim’ and the word ‘Islam’ pejorative terms, not merely inside the underbelly of Western liberal democratic discourse, but all over the glorious, excess-loving, opportunity-giving, face of it.
Over the weekend in France, the haters scored a small victory. After all the politically correct social media memes après the #ParisAttacks, the haters showed why their cynicism is more potent than the hopes of sappy romantics. Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic National Front in France had its best ever showing in the regional elections in France, setting up an absorbing run-off contest and putting France closer than it has ever been to electing outright racists in a major election.
In the United States, meanwhile, where religious freedom is taken far more seriously than in France, a generation of American politicians are learning how to speak about Muslims in a manner so divisive, that many Muslims have begun to reminisce about the good old days, under crusading George W Bush. After the San Bernardino attacks in California, the American Muslim faces a genuine problem, at both the level of the broad national discourse in the United States, and the level of the specific manner in which her (or his) Muslim identity is expressed, at the personal level. Beyond the direct victims of the attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, the Western Muslim is the most enduring victim of the ideology and methodology of groups like Daesh.
This dynamic in the West is deeply relevant for a country like Pakistan because of a number of factors. The Pakistani diaspora is but one of these factors. Along with India and Bangladesh, Pakistan is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of the Western Muslim. This Western Muslim has family, business and cultural links to the mother ship: and the Tashfeen Maliks of the world will not stop being ‘Pakistani’ even if they have questionable identity cards, or spent the majority of their lives in Saudi Arabia.
Pakistani authorities can keep handing Reuters and the Washington Post easy stories about their ham-fisted attempts to curtail reporting, but that will not change what we already know in Pakistan. We have a big national, cross-ethnic, cross-class, full-on, red-blooded radicalisation problem, especially in our cities, especially among educated youth, that won’t go away because of Operation Zarb-e-Azb (and that probably grows when we keep pretending that it will).
That radicalisation problem will sometimes metastasize into a Faisal Shahzad, or a Tashfeen Malik. It will sometimes metastasize into Hizbut Tahrir. Most times it will straddle along the legal and the illegal, investing in hatred and exclusion, steeped in anger and dissatisfaction. Sometimes it will blow up. Public policy is meant to insure societies from the sub-1% chance of something blowing up. It is not meant to try to play the numbers and pretend that risks or threats to the greater good do not exist.
As a victim of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and as one country that has done more to fight Al-Qaeda than any other, it is perplexing that Pakistani leaders should allow incompetent officials to inadvertently paint Pakistan as being defensive. Pakistan should instead be on the full-on offensive. No country has as much to lose from the growth of the cancerous hatred that propels groups like Daesh.
Of course, this kind of clarity would be possible if Pakistan had some kind of a plan to deal with these kinds of threats. Some kind of credible document that laid out the actions that Pakistan needed to take. Maybe something like a National Action Plan, which could be the blueprint for the way forward for Pakistan. It would not only lay out immediate kinetic actions, but also the broader impetus for reform that the situation demands.
What a tragedy that Pakistan has had exactly that kind of plan on the books for almost a whole year, and yet the country’s response to global events like Paris and San Bernardino is so convoluted, self-conscious, and self-defeating. What a tragedy and what a farce.

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