In the last edition, we presented the thoughts of Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, on the vexed issue of religion and violence in Nigeria. For this writer, two crucial points stand out in the Sultan's piece.
One, that so-called interreligious conflicts witnessed in Nigeria have in fact had their roots in local politics. In these conflicts, the gladiators have found it easy to misappropriate religion to give credibility to their crass self-interests. Sadly, the proliferation of places of worship has not translated to mutual compassion; ostentatious piety does not seem to reinforce our value systems, and so it is easy for anybody to accept the lie that religion (or more frankly, Islaam) profits from needless violence.
The second point in that thesis holds that the national leadership, particularly the Muslim leadership needs to do much more, relying on the traditional structures that have been sustained over the centuries, to act as a force for the empowerment and integration of the large body of angry and disillusioned youth. Both points are tied together somewhat, for, if you have a well educated populace led by a sincere leadership, then you have less hands for the devils in cassocks and turbans to use.
As a sort of sequel to that piece, we shall take the discussion further to the international stage where we find that the same kinds of misconceptions that the Sultan so deftly deflated are also present.
If we examine the issue in the light (or darkness, more appropriately) of the ongoing war on terror, Muslims are said to be the main threat to the continued existence of civilisation as we now know it. The "war" has thrived so much on the exploitation of stereotypes, the repetition of lies and scare mongering. In several previous editions, this column has attempted to confront some of these lies. Muslims in general, being the targets as well as the victims of the "war on terror" are very well familiar with the tricks being perpetrated to take over their lives, overturn their beliefs and steal their resources in exchange for "security", "democracy" or other what-not.
It turns out though, that several others, particularly non-Muslims westerners who have some respect for truth, are also bravely challenging their governments in the public domain whilst are offering new perspectives.
Two recent publications on the subject are worthy of note. In Leaderless Jihad, Marc Sageman challenges the popular myths about the "Islamic terrorist" who is he? How is he made?
What motivates him? How can he be curbed? Sageman is a professor of psychiatry and ethnic/political conflict. He also happens to be a former secret service officer who worked for the United States government on the side of the "freedom fighters" when they were fighting the Soviet occupation forces (in the new world, the freedom fighters have changed sides, so they are now "terrorists").
Using the tools of professional analysis, Sageman concludes that the "official" song that the "war on terror" is meant to promote democracy and freedom in Muslim lands does in fact alienate the people whose "hearts and minds" these slogans were meant to capture. He cites the examples of the FIS in Algeria and lately Hamas in Palestine, two organisations who won fair and square in highly transparent elections but were denied the opportunity to govern as evidence that the Muslim world does not believe that the democracy they are promised is meant to allow them choose leaders and ways of life that they desire. To this, we might add that one of the most peaceful countries in the world today is Saudi Arabia.
But that country is at the brunt of ceaseless attacks to "democratise", hold western style elections and allow western-style "freedoms" to thrive. Why is that so? Is it not a mark of freedom that a people should insist on being left alone to stick with what works for them?
Other points worth noting in the book include the motivation for people turning to terrorist organisations (this is not the result of recruitment at mosques and madrasahs as we've always been made to know, but occurs mainly due to peer influence). In the final analysis, the author concludes, in the words of his reviewer, that "Islamic terrorism is not an existential threat to the existence of the United States.
No amount of ominous predictions of al-Qaeda acquiring chemical, biological or nuclear weapons will change that". We would go one step further to challenge the very idea of "Islamic terrorism". The fact that an uprising is led, or fomented by professed Muslim does not make that cause an "Islamic" cause. If that were so, we might as well call the crises in Nigeria's Niger Delta as an "Islamist rebellion" since Mujaheed Asari Dokubo, one of the most prominent figures in that crisis, professes Islaam.
In other words, we should be honest enough to examine the root causes of a problem, the motivations of its dramatis personae, and especially the tactics they use vis-a-vis the true teachings of the Islamic faith before we impose the title "religious" "islamist" etc on them.
In another review which a kind reader brought to our attention ( "A World without Islam" by Prof. Graham Fuller - coincidentally also ex-CIA), the author challenges the notion that Muslims are to be blamed for all of the violence in today's world. The author's interesting argument is that even if Iraqis (for instance) were not Muslims, they would still have violently resisted the invasion of their lands by Americans more keen on expropriating their mineral resources than any other consideration.
In the same vein, with or without Islaam in Palestine, the Palestinians would still have resisted any attempt to foist Jewish settlements on their soil, just as the Africans resisted British colonial domination, and separatist movements continue to resist Europe's artificial boundaries. The author also points out that most of the terrorist attacks so far recorded have come, not from Muslims, but from others, championing other causes. He cites as example, the fact that "according to Europol, 498 terrorist attacks took place in the European Union in 2006. Of these, 424 were perpetrated by separatist groups, 55 by left-wing extremists, and 18 by various other terrorists. Only I was carried out by Islamists."
As a conclusion, we must again state for emphasis, that terrorist tactics cannot find justification in Islaam, however much the perpetrators of those acts claim to be fighting for Islaam, and regardless of whatever spurious lies their antagonists tell. We will continue to say that yes, Muslims are getting the short shrift in contemporary ties, but the solutions will come only when we begin to revert to the true teachings of our faith, taking actions in our public and private lives only when they wholly conform to those teachings. We would demand the right to be left alone, to be treated with equity and justice, knowing that that is the only path to peace.
This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited