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Seema Mustafa | 2 FEBRUARY, 2015

The Trap of Religion in Dealing With Terror

The politics of terror


NEW DELHI: Islam is a violent religion, insist those campaigning for hate. No, no, Islam is not a violent religion really, it is just more violent than the others, say those who want to appear more tolerant and liberal. Islam is all about peace and tolerance, shout the believers, unable to distinguish themselves from the terrorists in the public domain. A difficult task given the fact that the terrorist---be it the Taliban or the Islamic State---feeds so beautifully into the Islamophobic stereotype of the bearded, wild eyed Muslim reciting verses from the Quran he claims to believe in, and pledging his allegiance to ‘Allah’ in tones resonating gunfire that the common Muslim can never hope to compete with.

The Paris killings have been used to divide, and polarise European society as never before. The xenophobics, Islamophobics, right wing majority on the one side and the immigrants, the minorities, the rational and the sane on the other. The one that has used the terrible attack on the Charlie Hebdo office and journalists to paint all Muslims with the same brush, the other that seeks to distinguish the majority of Muslims from the loony fringe that has the commitment and the motivation, unfortunately, to make a violent impact.

In the space of propaganda and perceptions the ordinary Muslim seeking to assert his non-violent identity cannot make a difference by joining the debate from the side of theology. It’s a battle lost even before it is begun. This is not to say that is not a platform that should be used to set the perceptions right, it is to say that informed, educated, progressive theologians are required to really expose---Quranic verse by verse---the truth from the fiction. Unfortunately ‘progressive’ and ‘theology’ are an oxymoron with the interpretation of every religion having passed long since into the hands of those who can only be defined as conservative---with this then showing up in forms of extremism, that in turn feeds into terrorism.

The counter to terrorism thus has to be political. But before going into this it is essential to point out that terrorism today is not confined to one religion. Or to non state actors alone. Zionism sanctions state terror by Israel used to butcher Palestinians at will. Christianity drives the evangelists in Europe and the United States even today, with former President George W. Bush legitimising this with his war on Iraq that plunged West Asia into ceaseless violence, with the one feeding into the other.Hinduism is used by zealots to create communal violence and target the minorities in India. Buddhism, a supposedly peaceful religion, has taken a violent turn in the world of today. In the chicken and story, to put it very simply, the Taliban and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were the creation of the US---a story gone wrong---that led to 9/11, that led to the war on Afghanistan, that led to a surge in terrorism, that led to the war in Iraq, that led to more terrorism, that led to military attacks on Libya and Syria, that led to the ruthless Islamic State, that led to Hebdo, that led to polarisation in Europe, that will lead to……?

Closer to home Pakistan terrorism is being used as a justification for anti-minority propaganda in India. Hinduism is the cover used by the communal organisations for their ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar wapsi’ campaigns that are being used to terrorise and divide the people of India. Majoritarianism has become the order of the day with government advertisements even dropping the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ from the Preamble of the Constitution of India with not a word from the legislators of the ruling NDA government who took their oath on the Constitution itself. Dissent and opposition is countered right wing groups with religiosity and all possible symbols to spread divisiveness across the country.

The point is that all fanatical ideologies, promoted by the state or by non-state actors, seek to find their legitimacy through different religions that are used as the fig leaf for hate and violence. These cannot be fought through religion by the common person for the simple reason that he or she does not have the weapon of theological information to build an effective counter, and thereby has to restrict the intervention to a meaningless ‘(this or that) religion is not like that, it is compassionate, merciful, tolerant etc etc”. Really? And how do you know that? And the ignorant gets into an argument with the ignorant with neither really able to satisfy the other with the strength of his or her information/facts.

The fight against terrorism, state or non-state, has to be political. Through the political paradigm, with political arguments deriving legitimacy from the political discourse of freedom, rights, justice, liberalism, secularism. From political action based on poverty alleviation in countries like India, equality, justice, rights. These are political words. Theology speaks of compassion, mercy, tolerance. Politics speaks of justice, rights, secularism and builds in a program of action for the common person to realise---or at least try to realise---these goals. It counters terrorism---state or non-state---with political arguments and political action.

The Zionist state of Israel, for instance, has sought to justify its violence against the Palestinians by projecting the Palestinians as terrorists.The birth of Hamas, for a variety of reasons, that moved away from the highly secular progressive position taken by the Palestinians in their well defined struggle fuelled this argument and convinced the world of its validity until last year’s military attack on Gaza. The ferocity of this raised questions that the global community had blinded itself to with Hamas appearing more reasonable and less extremist than the state of Israel. Hamas has been moving away to some extent, in recent months from the religious discourse it had sought legitimacy from initially, towards a political justification of its cause. This has helped blur the lines between its supporters and other Palestinians, with unity on secular, progressive lines driving all Palestinians again.

After all the goal of the terrorist is political. He might camouflage it with religion, and his supposed desire to spread the word as it were but the intent and the goal is totally political. The Zionists do it to expand their territory; the Hindu right resorts to it to create a Hindu state with all the trappings; the Taliban uses it to gain control of political power as does the Islamist state. They all share a common goal: to become rich and powerful while riding on the back of respective religiosity.

The Muslims instead of countering terrorism by upholding what they believe to be the tenets of Islam need to move away from this unequal discourse to hit the terrorists with hard politics. The distancing right now is based on the “this is not Islam” argument which pitches the Muslim versus the terrorist in an absurd battle of religiosity. The argument has to be, strong and well pitched, that those who tie religion with terrorism are actually following the terrorist in legitimising this violence. And in the process allowing the men of violence to monopolise religion. That the terrorist ---be it state or non state---has no religion; that the terrorist uses his religion of terror to terrify and thereby gain political concessions on the ground; that the terrorist has to be defeated at his own game.

And the process of defeat can only come from :1) recognition of terror and terrorism in its varied forms;
2) disassociation of terrorism from religion, any religion;
3) targeting terrorism through political dissent, protests, resistance
4) unity in the resistance of all religions, sects, classes, race, gender
5) a strong political agenda of justice, rights, social equity, built into the resistance.

This is imperative, it is essential to defeat those---and this includes not just terrorists but governments with an agenda---seeking to give a religious face to terrorism. It is imperative to allow the common person the space to fight terrorism without having to apologise for it as is happening now. Two or three men attack a magazine office in Paris and Muslims across the world are being pushed to “stand up” and condemn the attack. Wny? For what? How are they responsible? But this will continue so long as the Muslims seek to counter terrorism with arguments based in religiosity.

The resistance has to find common ground with the peoples of the world with peace and non-violence providing the backdrop for political assertion and action. Military might might contain terrorism up to a point, but as the gradations between the Taliban and the Islamic State demonstrate, violence will continue to beget violence in a vicious circle that feeds on religiosity in a destructive search for power.

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