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

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