Members of the muslim community demonstrate at Plaza de Catalunya in Barcelona on August 21, 2017 to protest against terrorism four days after the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks that killed 15 people. AFP
The teen terror that shook Barcelona on August 17 is yet another horrendous act that calls for effective and urgent measures to deal with the issue of radicalization of the Muslim youth. The international community’s failure to wipe out this menace is largely due to political games big powers play. As long as terrorism has its political usefulness for certain powers, any effort to destroy this canker will only be a sham.
Elimination of terrorism requires a concerted international effort as it affects humanity as a whole. Terrorism has no religion, yet the type of terrorism that makes news these days has a name, perhaps a misnomer -- Islamic terrorism. Terrorists are just a small minority among the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims. Islam does not promote terrorism and in fact it reminds its followers that killing one person is as grave a sin as killing the entire human race, and saving one person from death is as meritorious as saving the entire humanity from death.
In spite of such warnings, if misguided Muslim youths take to terrorism, it means that there is something radically wrong with the way Islam is taught or preached. Youths usually get their religious education from elders. But how many of these preachers are enlightened and how many of them are themselves deluded? The Barcelona terrorists had sadly been taught by a terror imam, the likes of whom have given rise to the question ‘Why is Islam violent?’. With imams like these, no wonder that Islam remains the most abused religion.
One reason for this is that the Islamic teachings, apart from matters spiritual, also focus on the political life of the people. Statecraft, diplomacy, war and peace are part of Islam. The word Jihad which, in the spiritual sense, means the continuous struggle to achieve righteousness also refers to the fight against those who fight Muslims. Islam is not the first or the only religion to talk about holy war. The Hindu epic Mahabharath describes the Kurushketra war, where the Pandavars who were wronged fought for justice against the Kauravas, as a Dharam Yudh or a just war.
In the Old Testament, the Israelis waged war against the Philistines, Amalekites, Canaanites and Midianites. Biblical scholars say passages on warfare should be understood in the right context, for God exhorts mercy and justice.
Similarly, the Muslim holy book Quran commands the faithful to fight those who fight them. Chapter 2, Verses 190-193 and Chapter 22 verse 29, for instance, urge Muslims to fight in the cause of Allah those who fight them, but warn them that they should not transgress limits. Nowhere in the Quran, have the Muslims been told to launch an offensive war and kill non-Muslims. However, subsequent misinterpretations of these verses by political mullahs during the reigns of corrupt caliphs saw the emergence of a dangerous doctrine that divided the world into two – Darul salam or the House of peace referring to the Muslim land and Darul harb or the land of war, referring to the land of the infidels. This doctrine which was not found in the Quran or in the sayings of the Prophet became the driving force of many conquests then -- and today the bigotry founded on it drives the misguided Muslim youths to terrorism. Giving legitimacy to the divisive doctrine were fatwas of scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah (13th century) and Syed Qutb (20th century). Their fatwar, especially Ibn Taymiyyah’s against Mongol colonialism have become the text book for terrorists to kill non-Muslims and Muslims alike. The terrorists cherry pick the fatwas to suit their deadly agenda and to brainwash the youth, while deliberately ignoring the historical context.
Turning upside down Islam’s teachings, terror groups such as ISIS even teach children as young as seven to shoot and slash the throats of captives.
How do we deal with them? Should the world follow US President Donald Trump’s pig blood formula? Hours after the Barcelona terror attack, Trump tweeted: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years.” He was referring to a discredited story alleged to have taken place in the Philippines during the Muslim rebellion against the American occupation in the early 20th century. He related the false story in several of his rallies to display his machismo and convince the Americans that he was the right man to deal with terrorism. “They were having terrorism problems just like we do. And he (Gen. Pershing) caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists and he dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood (considered unclean by Muslims). He had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And to the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people and tell them what happened’,” Trump told the rallies.
Trump this week put Pakistan on notice. “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror… We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations,” he warned. But those who follow the present wars in West Asia know that the US has been in collusion with terrorists, who are euphemistically called the ‘moderates’ due to political exigencies.
Trump’s rhetoric does not offer solutions. In fact, what the US has done since 9/11 to eliminate terrorism has only created more terrorists.
But since the perpetrators are largely Muslims, the responsibility to de-radicalise the Muslim youth should lie more with the Muslims themselves. Sadly, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is lacking the clout or a plan to combat terrorism, though it is quick to issue statements condemning terror attacks no sooner an attack occurs.
Issuing statements is taking the easy way out. To solve the issue, what is required is action, not simply words. Already, the OIC has been blamed for stymieing the progress of the United Nations efforts to work out a comprehensive anti-terrorism treaty. This is largely because the OIC’s insistence that freedom fighters cannot be categorised as terrorists. Though the OIC’s argument is valid, especially in the light of what is happening in Palestine, the organisation has a duty to work out a global programme to veer the Muslim youth away from terrorism. The OIC adopted a convention against terrorism in 1999, but human rights activists have criticized it saying the convention lacks commitment and is aimed at protecting the interests of the rulers rather than address the terrorism issue.
The criticism is augmented by allegations that most Muslim countries, while taking cover behind loopholes in the definition of who a terrorist is, are sponsors of terrorism or use terrorism to achieve political ends in other countries. In fact, most nations, including the United States, play this dangerous game of sleeping with terrorists and later struggling to cope with the consequences. Perhaps, a solution lies in Muslim civil society activism. They must act sternly and use proper Islamic education as a tool to protect the Muslim youth, perhaps in coordination with the UN.