The challenge of narrative

December 28, 2014

Until we win over the militant narrative, just boasting victories on the ground only speaks of a battle half lost

The challenge of narrative

What the Peshawar school carnage underscores is the fact that stemming the rising tide of militant violence requires more than just eliminating the perpetrators of violence. Since the militant narrative brings to their fold fresh recruits or sympathizers, it is more about whose story wins than whose soldiers triumph.

The Islamists of all ages have cherished their own version of the end of time. By quoting various Muslim authorities, the Islamists envisaged that with its origin Islam was supposed to reach its peak, then steep decline then peak again. The benchmarks were ever expanding territorial acquisitions, power, influence and glory.

All Islamists from militant to political are convinced that both Islam and the Muslims are going through the hardest of times. They tell their complacent audience as how out of 56 Muslim majority countries none is run through Islamic Shariah. Making a reference to modernist Muslims who call for Ijtihad--solution to new problems within the confine of the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Prophet--the Islamists would say there is no such need because "Islam is a complete code of life".

The Islamist narrative moves ahead. For them, Muslims from Palestine to Kashmir to Iraq and Afghanistan are all suffering because of the West or their stooges, Muslim rulers. For political Islamists, those who believe in electoral process, Muslim miseries are local and need local solutions through electoral wins. To them time is still not ripe for armed effort. Their militant counterparts are unconvinced. For them Muslim issues are global in nature and need no less than a global struggle to rectify them.

From al Qaeda to Taliban to the ISIL, all militant Islamists firmly believe that the revival of legendary Islamic grandeur owes to armed struggle. From across all sects, militant Islamists are almost unanimous that Islam will regain its lost glory only through jihad.

Like their Christian and Jew counterparts, radical Islamists envision a powerful eschatological strain. They quote how the Prophet of Islam predicted the dawn of Hindustan and Khurasan wars as symptoms of the beginning of Muslim revival and the nearing of end of the world. The Sunni radicals, the ISIL and Taliban being the flag bearers, believe that the world is at its critical juncture now. They are convinced that before the end of this world the bloodiest war will be fought between Muslims and their non-Muslim enemies.

There will be two theatres of war. One will engulf areas in and around the present day Middle East including Syria, Jerusalem and Iraq. India will be the other theatre. The Muslims will have black flag as standard barrier.

Majority of Muslims does not approve the militants’ modus operandi yet many have sympathy for slogan of Islamic Shariah. 

To the cheers of Islamists, the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and the relocation of al Qaeda to the country in the latter half of 1990s were the beginning shots of Khurasan war in the making. The 9/11 attacks and the ensuing US led revenge assault of Taliban Afghanistan were seen as the expansion of sprawling war. The launch of armed struggle in Kashmir back in 1989 and its subsequent religious colour were the harbinger of Hindustan war.

The rise of self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and its expansion to Syria, the Taliban movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Muslim militants in Indian Kashmir all fall under the militant rubric of either Khurasan or Hindustan war. As the militant narrative goes, the last fight will take place between the returning Jesus and al Masih ad-Dajjal--the "false Messiah" or Anti Christ--only to result in the former’s victory. The whole world will be converted to Islam with the naysayers being killed. Jesus will implement the Islamic Shariah. The revival of the Golden Age of Islam will ensue. This would be the end point of human ideological evolution resulting in the prevalence of Islam over the entire world.

By some counts, Mahdi--"the guided one" -- will foreshadow the Second Coming of Jesus. He will unite all the sects of Islam, a reflection of Islamic solidarity. As prophesied, there will be the rise of Dajjal and by the heavenly descent of Jesus.

For the radical Islamists, before the ascension of Christ and the appearance of anti Christ, their representatives will fight. For Taliban and the ISIL, they are the representatives of the former while their enemies that of the latter.

More dangerous than al Qaeda, the ISIL is recruiting people from around the globe. What we see is the preparation for the arrival of the promised Mahdi. The race for martyrdom through jihad, as being the shortest path to Paradise, is in high gear. Legions of young Muslim fighters are laying their lives for a mission they firmly believe in. The al Qaeda’s announcement of its South Asian militant arm and the allegiance of several Pakistani Taliban commanders to ISIL, the Wahga border killing spree and the daubing of walls with pro-ISIL slogans are omens for more, greater conflicts.

The militant narrative has dual functions. It is aimed at gaining new recruits and at least sympathisers. Majority of Muslims does not approve the militants’ modus operandi yet many have sympathy for radicals’ slogan of Islamic Shariah. In order to counter the radical Islamist narrative, it is imperative to enlist the support of moderate clergy to portray to Muslims the more tolerant aspect of Islam. More, the role of media especially its electronic wing is instrumental in airing programmes that depict how Islam is against disruption in the society.

The omen for good is that a big majority of Pakistanis are moderate in their religious views with support for militant violence almost negligible. The need is to harness the support of this silent majority into an impregnable fortress of defense against the militant narrative. Since the Wahabi ideology is a friend of none, defeating or at least containing it requires the closing of ranks among the moderate clergy. Until we win over the militant narrative, just boasting victories on the ground only speaks of a battle half lost.

The challenge of narrative