We cannot counter jihadism until we stop denying its ideological origins

It's insulting to the victims and detrimental to Islam’s prospects of reformation if the obvious influence of religion on religious extremism is snubbed.

It’s insulting to the victims and detrimental to Islam’s prospects of reformation if the obvious influence of religion on religious extremism is snubbed

Rationalising the coldblooded massacre of schoolchildren is impossible. But six militants attempted it on Tuesday, when they launched a monstrous attack on a Peshawar school that left 132 schoolchildren dead and the entire world in shock.

Before we address the things that led to the most monstrous act of violence in Pakistan’s notoriously violent history, it’s important to pull apart some myths about why it happened.

For starters, the children were not attacked for wanting education or ‘simply going to school’ as David Cameron stated, a claim that has been echoed by other international media houses including the CNN.

Similarly the bloodshed can no longer be attributed to the US funding militancy in the AfPak region over a quarter of a century ago, an accusation that sections of the Pakistani intelligentsia and the liberal left in the west are equally fond of.

Even though self-reflection on the part of the west is admirable, three decades is a pretty long time for any state to right its wrongs, should there be sufficient intent to do so.

Not to mention the fact that the advent of the Taliban predates the first US drone strike in Pakistan by a good decade or so.

While these simplistic narratives do highlight important issues like the rise of militant attacks on schools in Pakistan, and the west’s role in initially funding militancy, the ongoing conflict in Pakistan is neither a part of an apparent war on education, nor a corollary of western imperialism.

Saying that there are terrorists on the prowl hunting down children who seek education shrouds the actual intent of these militants, who have indeed been allowed to prowl safely for over a decade.

They’re targeting schools because unfortunately they’re the easiest to target and they leave the most frightening remnants, as showcased by the gut-wrenching scenes from Peshawar.

Similarly, pointing towards US manoeuvres during the Cold War as the reason for the terror crippling Pakistan in 2014, conveniently allows the state to cling on to its decade long suicidal policy of pointing fingers at everyone but itself, while facing the ramifications of the monsters that it has so proudly – and conspicuously – bred.

And the last thing that anyone who has any interest in seeing Pakistan finally stand up on its feet should be doing is propagating a narrative that puts the blame for the Peshawar carnage on anyone but the incompetence of the state, the government, the military, and most crucially on the jihadist ideology that the state has proliferated, or acquiesced to, for decades.

The first reaction to every Islamist terror attack is the now mandatory chant of ‘this has nothing to do with Islam’ with any attempts to debate being dubbed racist, culturally insensitive and Islamophobic.

The Guardian by one of the most renowned Pakistani writers, virtually hours after the Peshawar attack, which claimed that the massacre isn’t about religion because both the attackers and the victims belonged to the same religion.

And this is precisely the sort of ‘head in the sand’ denialism that has aided the spread of the jihadist ideology in Pakistan.

When the chants of ‘Allaho Akbar’ and the obvious lure of a hedonist afterlife don’t suffice in highlighting the influence of religion on suicidal terrorist attacks, one wouldn’t expect any heed to be paid to the TTP spokesman Mohammed Khorasani quoting a hadith in the immediate aftermath of the school attack to justify the violence in Peshawar.

Why would the Taliban endeavour to quote Islamic scriptures – just like the seven-page letter they issued to validate the attack on Malala Yousafzai in 2012 – if their actions are not influenced by religion?

There is a huge difference between the claim that ‘Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam’ and the bigoted stance that ‘Islam propagates terrorism’, and not many seem to be interested in filling the precipitously increasing gap.

The Taliban’s version of Islam is what moderate Muslims would dub a perversion of their religious ideology. But it’s still perilous denialism to tout even the most outrageous misinterpretation of Islam as having absolutely nothing to do with the ideology.

How do you plan on implementing much needed Islamic reform, if you insist that those very ideas that need reformation are unrelated to Islam?

How would you denounce armed jihad, a popular Islamic idea over the past centuries and an integral feature of Islamic history, as no longer being applicable in 21st century Islam, if you’re going to deny its Islamic roots?

The immediate cause of the Peshawar attack, as stated by the Taliban, was the Pakistan Army’s ongoing military operation in the North West of the country, which is believed to have done significant damage to the TTP, an umbrella organisation featuring multiple Islamist militant factions.

Hence, a military-run school was targeted for revenge against an army that the TTP had already excommunicated, again, to justify waging jihad against them.

Rule number one of jihad is that it can only be waged against the ‘nonbeliever’. So either you make the ‘nonbeliever’ your enemy, or your enemy a ‘nonbeliever’ before vindicating jihad. The offspring of the ‘nonbeliever’ thence is automatically apostatised, with Islamic narrations used to call anyone who has reached puberty an adult, and to unleash the massacre on schoolboys who were aged between 10 and 18.

With religion being so flagrantly used to justify every single one of those heinous acts, it’s insulting to the victims and detrimental to Islam’s prospects of reformation if the obvious influence of religion on religious extremism is snubbed. This is done to cater to the sensitivities of the non-violent Muslims who would be the first to benefit from a clampdown on jihadist terrorism and Islamic reformation.

Pakistan has been breeding jihadist organisations as ‘strategic assets’ to wage proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The militants are now using the same ideology they had been taught as ideological arsenal war against Russian and Indian ‘infidels’, to launch jihad against Pakistan after excommunicating the state’s constitution, government and armed forces.

The only way Pakistan, and the rest of the Muslim world, can counter jihadism, is by accepting its ideological origins and then moderating the mosques, madrassas and other religious institutions that nourish jihad.

Armed jihad cannot be curtailed through killing jihadists. It can only be countered by chopping off its ideological roots, which is impossible if you choose to ignore the role of the ideology every time it is used to vindicate butchery.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Friday Times journalist. Follow him on Twitter

65 Responses to “We cannot counter jihadism until we stop denying its ideological origins”

  1. Just Visiting

    Gosh, you make so many huge generalisations, in just one post.

    I don’t think it is possible to have a sensible debate with you, unless you choose to limit yourself to one point at a time, and provide supporting evidence.

    Just look at your wild claims.
    I named four atheistic sources of mass death in the 20th C.
    Your reply is:

    > ‘Those examples are communism and fascism… atheism has nothing to do with … communism, or fascism

    > communism and fascism … have a lot in common with religion

    > Nazism was heavily supported by, and heavily supported, both Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

    > Christianity… opposed and still opposes democracy

    > Christianity opposed and still opposes science

    For this one you did give details: But the examples you give disprove your own point!

    Your examples show your intended meaning was “some Christians have been opposed to some new science”.

    Which is as true as: “Some scientists have opposed some new science”.

    If you’re really up to critically reassess your view of this supposed ‘opposition’: you may want to start by reading read this analysis by Christian thinkers of the Galileo history

    > Here we’re discussing Islam.

    No, you and I are discussing your sweeping claim that:

    > The reason that “the west” is less violent and more tolerant is that nobody follows the dogma of Christianity any more.

    So far, you’ve thrown in loads of new wild statements: but nothing specific to support your claim.

  2. Guest

    We’re a christian culture, like it or not.

    That you see that as an issue…

  3. Guest

    Nope, I don’t have your views, I just read his post.

  4. Guest

    Keep spewing hate at people you see inferior because they’re not of your exact faith.

    You don’t even see them as Human, right.

  5. Seathanaich

    I make no generalisations. I have refuted your claims with examples. That’s how an intelligent debate operates.

    Those examples are fascism or communism. You’re not the first person to do this; lots of theists erroneously or dishonestly pretend that atheism somehow equals communism. It’s a smear tactic based on either ignorance of dishonesty (probably both). Only someone who has no idea what atheism actually is conflates those -isms with atheism. Learn what atheism actually is if you are going to discuss it.

    Communism and fascism do have a lot in common with religion, from the leader cults, to the hatred for those outside the group, to the curtaling of individual freedoms, to the censorship. I get that you don’t want to be associated with fascism or communism; but there’s a reason that modern Muslim theocracies are compared to fascism or outright labelled as Islamofascism; and there are numerous things that religious dogmas have in common with these evil social/economic dogmas. The fact that both are dogmas is a large clue here.

    My examples of issues that religion has opposed do not disprove my point, they are the evidence behind the opinion in the first place. It’s irrefutable that religion opposes stem cell research, gay equality, tolerance for those of other religions (as your post demonstrates), and science both generally and specifically. Religion is still causing albinos in Africa to be murdered. I get that you either don’t know these things or want to rationalise them; but they’re irrefutable.

    I have made several points and backed them with examples. I get that you don’t want to accept evidence; if you did, you wouldn’t be arguing with me on these points.

  6. Seathanaich

    So, you cannot actually refute any of the points I have made or examples I have given, so you console yourself with a “na nanna boo-boo”. If you want to pretend that “we” are a Christian culture, that’s an extension of wishful thinking, which is a central part of all religion and all religious thinking.

    There’s little or nothing of our society that’s Christian. It’s a veneer that some people still sprinkle on their lives. Economy, education system, legal system, legislative system, media, physical activity, social organisations, jobs – a person can live their entire life in our society with little or no contact with anything that is specifically Christian. I get that you want to equate your religion with the entire culture, but that’s wishful thinking, and a reaction to change around you which you fear or dislike, not an honest or accurate observation.

  7. Overleaf

    Lol – I am a Muslim and know Islam inside out.

    And you are a left-fascist asshole.

  8. Just Visiting

    I’m out.
    You made many sweeping statements: I responded to them in detail: you then choose to move on without any support or denial of what you’d earlier said.
    That’s not dialogue.

  9. Just Visiting

    > I make no generalisations.

    Oh dear. You habit of making sweeping generalisations has caused you to contradict yourself: your own sentence there is a generalisation!

    And then you blatantly respond to claims I never made:

    > You’re not the first person to do this; lots of theists erroneously or dishonestly pretend that atheism somehow equals communism.

    Then you sneakily rephrase your claims:

    From “christianity opposes xyz…” to “religion opposes xyz…”.

    And the final straw, you misrepresent what I’d written in plain english, suggesting it supports the opposite of what I’d said!:
    > religion opposes… as your post demonstrates

    So I’m out, unless you’re willing to do what I said at the start:
    “Limit yourself to one point at a time, and provide supporting evidence.”

  10. Guest

    Nope, but thanks for highlighting your core argument, as you deny the basis of British culture – one I don’t share, ironically.

    That you’re unaware of the influence Christian thinking has had on the UK just highlights your poverty of education. My religion, Judaism, is not well reflected in British culture.

    I’m sure you do thus hate and fear me, right.

  11. Guest

    Ah, so I’m a myth which you make up, to justify your Jihad.

    Keep trying to demand that moderates share your values, as you deny the basis of your beliefs. I don’t sniff around asses like you either.

  12. Overleaf

    Unbelievably daft you are, for someone so prolific.

    I am a Muslim, but not a Believer. Muslim means someone who grew up under Islam. You leftists paint all Muslims with the same brush and think that we are all Believers. Lol. I hate Islam like my neighbour does. But to you leftards, we are all worshippers of charlatan Mohammad. The level of political illiteracy is astounding. Why do you leftards asslick a mass murderer pedophile so-called prophet Mohammad?

    And it was no myth. The Nazi Party before 1936 was a left-fascist party ran by trade unions and socialists. National socialists. It was called the Socialist Workers Party of Germany. Learn something for god’s sake.

  13. guest-2

    agree with most of what Seathanaich said in the above comment (though was disappointed the name-calling insults in other comments), but want to correct or expand two points:

    “Islam is the problem” – no, more specifically, the/a problem are beliefs in many very negative aspects of the quran and Muhammad, and belief in very negative interpretations and preachings of many fundamentalist and/or extremist imams etc, as the truth to be followed. “Islam” can evolve past this, it be reformed just like other religions and ideologies that somehow tend to stick around in some form or other (e.g. christianity, judaism, buddhism, hinduism, “even” democracy (americans have a great constitution, which also allows for evolution via amendments etc), “even” communism, “even” atheism, etc etc) have been and continue to evolve and be reformed via the “more ideas to pick and choose from, allowing us to improve over time, if we choose to do so”. Some individuals or groups reform it mostly for better and some mostly for worse.

    “Get of rid of ancient religious teachings” – no, let people stay aware of their past (and present) existence, it’s okay to let them stay around as optional readings etc for whoever want to e.g. (a) to learn from historical knowledge, (b) as teachings with ideas to pick and choose within context of religion or non-religion, but in any case choosing to follow only those ideas that are within the limits and context of a global society with sub-societies that all provide an acceptable form of an open, expansive, and “enlightened” education provided by schools, in context of human-rights, animal-rights, planet-earth rights etc, including the right to open media and free access to most knowledge etc (short of personal and/or security based confidential info), and (c) etc.

  14. guest-2

    KUNWAR SHAHID ‘s article should be sent to Obama and all presidents and prime ministers. And the UN should invite Mr. Shahid to speak at the next general assembly or special assembly on how to deal with ISIS, Taliban, etc.

  15. Just Visiting

    > “Islam” can evolve past this

    How can Islam evolve when it has a unique view of its holy book – that it is 100% literally spoken by God – dictated word by Arabic word by God through Mohammed?

    This does not allow for new interpretations in Islam.

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