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December 10, 2015

Bridging the gap


December 10, 2015

The recent carnage in California, where a Pakistani couple left 14 people dead in a shootout at a social services centre, has once again triggered heated debates in social and political circles around the world.

Twenty-nine year old Tashfeen Malik moved to Saudi Arabia in 1989 with her parents; she came back to Pakistan in 2007 only to pursue a degree in pharmacology at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan. Tashfeen wanted to be a scientist in pharmacognosy, an interdisciplinary science that covers medicinal drugs from plants or other natural resources.

Belonging to a well-educated family, what made a polite, soft-spoken young lady (this is how her relatives and teachers describe her) with much of her dreams yet to come true gun down 14 people?

At the Leytonstone Underground tube station in East London a man used a knife on another man, all the while portedly screaming: “this is for Syria”. A witness quoted by British newspapers said that the attacker seemed to be claiming that his attack was in retaliation of western air strikes on militants in Syria.

The London incident took place the day after British warplanes joined the air strikes after British Prime Minister David Cameron won parliamentary approval to bomb Isis in Syria. Britain is on the highest security alert due to the potential threat posed by Isis. Their security agencies have already foiled seven such plots over the past year.

On November 13, Paris saw deadly that left some 129 people dead and over 300 injured. Isis, taking credit for the multiple explosions and shootings at six different places, warned France and its allies in Syria that it was the start of the storm. France and Britain continued air strikes on isis fighters in Syria. But the message was well received by Italy whose prime minister, Matteo Renzi, while ruling out Italy’s joining air strikes warned that the air campaign would only add to chaos in the region.

Comparing bombing Syria to Nato’s 2011 assault against Libya, he said the bombing helped rebellions to topple Gaddafi. He said four years of war in Libya show this was not a good decision and that his country was pushed into the war by the then French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The one thing we cannot allow ourselves is a repeat of Libya, he added.

Premier Renzi is right. A number of terrorists were killed in the air strikes but terrorism is still on the rise. And surprisingly, the perpetrators are not coming from madressahs but from the great seats of learning across Europe and America. From 9/11 to the July 7/7 bombing in London, from the Madrid bombing to the Paris episode and now the recent shooting of 14 people in California, the planners and perpetrators were all highly qualified, technically sound and economically well-off people.

In a latest move the counter terrorism department (CTD) of our country arrested a professor for his alleged links with the banned Hizbut Tahrir . Last month, the CTD arrested the chief of the Karachi chapter of HuT.

Arial strikes may target a handful of terrorists but can hardly address the real problem. Deprivation and frustration translate into anti-American and anti-West feelings, and provide the disgruntled elements of societies around the world a strong banner to use for furthering their extremist agenda. This then widens the gap between the Muslim world – between the East and the West. This is not about an individual who has gone wrong but a mindset.

The flames that originated in Afghanistan with the Russian invasion of 1979 have now made their way to all the corners of the world. No one can fight this war alone. It needs will and commitment on the part of all the global actors from the East and the West. On its part, the West has to adhere to a universal standard of justice and give up its dual standards while leading world politics.

There are almost one billion Muslims around the world, and extremists account for a tiny fraction of them. A major section of the Muslim community is convinced that these extremists are not the real representatives of Islam. The Muslim community has to dissociate itself from extremists and terrorists by presenting a moderate picture of Islam – a religion that speaks for peace, mutual respect and human dignity.

There is growing realisation in the West that terrorism can hardly be defeated without the active support of Muslims around the world. The obvious manifestation is President Obama’s recent address to the American nation, delivered four days after the California carnage. Obama said that ‘we cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam’. He added that if we are to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than pushing them away through suspicion and hate.

Obama urged Muslim leaders across the world to speak out not just against violence but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity. A mutual understanding between the East and the West can put an end to the rising tide of violent extremism around the world.

The writer is the executive director of Zcomms in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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