For how long can we fool ourselves, insisting the terrorists were foreign nationals? That based on their physical (genital) exam, they were all non-Muslims? Some disagreement notwithstanding, most of us I hope will recognise the perpetrators of the Peshawar massacre as Pakistanis. Their picture says it all: sitting relaxed in a row with their guns held out, there are seven of them, all Pashtun looking, all young and all ready to die in the name of God.
Peering through the snapshot trying to read their minds, I am not bothered by their appearance, their beards or their turbans nor their ethnicity, culture or nationality; instead, what bothers me is their mindset, their education (or lack thereof), their training and maybe their religion, all of which may have coalesced in the last three decades to transform an obedient son into a cold blooded murderer, a caring brother into a ruthless suicide bomber and a compassionate friend into a fierce enemy. So brutal was their action in the Army Public School that I wonder if, inside their chests, they carry the same heart as ours, pumping the same human blood we all share. What have we done in our tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Have we failed as a nation to nurture compassion and promote humanity in our youth? Or is it Islam, since the jihadi groups from Algeria to Pakistan show similar tendencies?
Whether one likes it or not, the terrorists seek inspiration through the same religion we share with each other. We just cannot deny that simple fact. Like them, we proclaim the greatness of the same God before waging a war, offer the same prayers under distress and recite the same verses when we get sick. And just like us they too consult the same Quran and hadith for guidance, follow the same daily rituals of a Muslim and refer to the same fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that we abide by, which explains the reason for their demand that the children in Peshawar recite the shahada (testimony that God is the creator and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His prophet) before the terrorists pumped bullets into their heads.
The question therefore is not how similar we are but rather, how we can dissociate ourselves from the terrorists on religious grounds. Is it even possible? Muslims across the world have faced this dilemma since 2001, and what a terrible job we have done in addressing the problem, let alone denouncing it. No doubt, a large number of Muslims do not support terrorism, not as an ideology, not as a nation and definitely not as a matter of faith. But is carrying a personal faith against violence enough? I do not think so.
After 9/11, Muslim clerics had the foremost responsibility to decry terrorism as a political philosophy. They had to unequivocally pronounce the perpetrators of such attacks as non-Muslims irrespective of their personal beliefs. Like their unanimous stand on the consumption of pork in Muslim countries, they should have recommended that states take strict action against the miscreants, requesting common people to stop funding suspicious organisations and forbidding ordinary folks to sympathise with the jihadists. Islam provides them ample evidence to proscribe radicalism. Sure, it can be twisted to justify it but, throughout history, Muslim societies — from the organised insurgency of the Kharjiites to the assassins trained by Hassan Ibne Saba –have fought against such a violent and extreme vision. They still can do that today without compromising their faith. They just need to take the narrative back from the jihadists and guard its original message of peace like they would protect their own personal property.
Nonetheless, except for a few of the ulema (scholars) who took a clear stance on the issue, most clerics did not step up to the task. Their condemnation, if there was any, lacked clarity, their message spewed controversy and their tone emitted apathy as if the people who died in the suicide attack were not humans at all. Because of their meek and contentious response, the 5.8 billion non-Muslim population, almost 83 percent people around the world, believe that somehow Islam condones terrorism if not openly promotes it, an allegation we still cannot defend on religious grounds. It is an example of failure of insight on the part of our clerics.
The ruling elite in Muslim countries should have acted as our second line of defence. However, they manipulated the situation to gain personal objectives. Playing double games, they supported the US stance at the table but under it they continued to empower the rebels. What did they want to achieve through duplicity? As always, their first goal was to extend their undemocratic rule or stabilise it by maintaining the status quo. And their second aim: squeeze the maximum amount of money from the richest country in the world.
Not only religious scholars or state officials, Muslim communities too got their hands dirty by mostly staying indifferent to terrorism. Out of sheer hatred, some of them even celebrated the attack on US soil. They did not realise that the same sword that cuts the throat of their adversaries will one day be swiped at their own children, which it did a few years down the road, killing 40,000 to 50,000 people in Pakistan since 2007. Blinded by our xenophobia, even then we could not challenge the real enemy who continued to build its strength under our very noses until December16, 2014. The question now arises if we will put up a fight this time or let this opportunity slip out of our hands again by calling it an Indian conspiracy.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org