My Say: When will the cycle of violence stop?

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This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 23 - 29, 2015.


THE series of terrorist attacks in the streets of Paris on Nov 13 is undoubtedly another act of cowardice and barbarity. It is by far the deadliest violence witnessed in the French capital since World War II.

Horrified by the seemingly endless orgy of unbridled violence, the whole world, perhaps without exemption, stood united to unequivocally condemn the murder of innocent lives.

That was just one of the atrocities perpetrated by Isis this month alone. Lebanon was left reeling as a double suicide bombing in Beirut left at least 43 dead and 200 injured. Earlier, in Baghdad, an Isis militant blew himself up at the funeral of a pro-government Shia fighter, killing 18 people and wounding 41.

Will it be déjà vu, with Muslims  again struggling to defend their faith? Worse still,  Muslim minorities will now become recurring targets of Islamophobia and live in fear of a backlash by Islamophobes.

Little wonder that Muslims the world over — intellectuals and lay people alike —  especially those living as minorities in the West, spontaneously responded to denounce the hatred and warped ideology of these fanatics and terrorists and stressed that it had little to do with Islam.

Masquerading as sincere love for Islam, the yearning for a revival of Islamic leadership and the struggle to reinstate the glory of the long-lost Islamic Caliphate could influence Muslims, but the more gullible ones.

In the name of Islam, they continue to justify their horrendous acts — murder, kidnap and the storming of schools, hospitals and mosques — and vilify those who go against their beliefs as hypocrites, infidels and apostates.

When questioned about their crimes, they will rebut it by bringing up the crimes committed against them and fellow Muslims. If you condemn them for the killings of innocents, they will quickly retort by pointing to drone attacks, which have killed a lot more.

Nonetheless, let it be emphatically and unequivocally stated for the umpteenth time that the heinous acts by these violent fanatics, extremists and terrorists are, in the final analysis, totally against the precepts of Islam — anathema to Islam.

When one examines the tenets of their ideology, it is truly a perverted and flawed teaching of Islam. It is at loggerheads with and runs contrary to the higher objectives of shariah  — its maqasid — to achieve total well-being and the blessing of all of humanity, or rahmatan lil ‘alamin.

Briefly put, there are sayings and traditions of the Prophet Mohammad that have in fact alluded to these phenomena almost 1,400 years ago. Permit me to share some of the thoughts of great jurists and contemporary Islamist thinkers.

Ali — the fourth caliph after the passing of Prophet Mohammad — narrated that he heard the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying: “There will emerge some people from my Ummah who will recite the Quran, your recitation would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your prayer would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs, and your fasting would seem insignificant in comparison to theirs.” (Muslim 1066)

The Prophet said: “They will recite the Quran but it will not go any further than their throats (Muslim 1066).” The Prophet too said: “There will be people who will speak well but act badly (Sahih Abu Dawud, Albani 4765).”

It is deplorable to see those who vouch to love Islam and claim to fight for its noble cause carry out these cascading attacks. Invariably and ironically, at the end of the day, they are killing more Muslims than those of other faiths.

I would like to highlight another side of the coin. While Muslims proffer immediate apologies every time there is a terrorist attack, discerning Muslims and public intellectuals, such as  Tariq Ramadzan, professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, would similarly like to take on the West, namely the US.

Difficult though it may seem to take on the world’s most powerful nation, we don’t really have much choice. Paraphrasing Tariq, it is evident that the aftermath of this Paris carnage tells us that the world hasn’t learned much from the recent history of the “war on terror” and former US president George Bush’s “crazy policy”. Tariq ostensibly opined that Francois Hollande is the French version of Bush.

It was the American government, he points out,  that was responsible for nurturing the cycle of violence, extremism and, by extension, terrorism. This was evident in the case of Afghanistan, where the West, after successfully training freedom fighters to push the Russians out, failed to invest further in peace and a stable Afghan government. 

And while willing to accept that it is the Arabs and Muslims who are responsible for the disaster in the Middle East, Tariq places it squarely on the Western legacy that “spread death, disorder and control of these countries”.

More seriously, his reflection of the failure of Western governments hinges on the provision of “social justice”, or rather the lack thereof, rather than the failure to simply encourage the integration of nascent Muslim migrants into society.

Highlighting a callous practice implemented by the US, Tariq criticises President Barack Obama for the unjust policy of keeping innocent victims of the FBI languishing in prisons for years. The FBI deploys informants who later conduct sting operations against Muslims.

Behind nearly every “foiled terror plot” lurks a government informant sent to entrap hapless young Muslim men. Tariq lashes out at Obama for piously preaching “values” which he does embody, while France and other European countries have no international policy but just follow the US.

Marginalisation and the lack of empowerment, particularly of the young, might be appropriately blamed. This is further fuelled by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — now entering its 67th year — and the continuous siege and occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Every child and woman killed in this sorrowful conflict —  which can be resolved if there is strong political will in the West — worsens the resentment among Muslims.

This may very well predispose the “misguided and frustrated” few to the emotive call of martyrdom, freedom and the fight for justice.  And this could very well be one of the causative factors fuelling the continuing terrorism of our times.

We may choose to ignore it but we do so at our own peril.

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is strategy director of Parti Amanah Negara