FARZANA HASSAN

 

 

Combat Jihad By Destroying Its Conceptual Roots

Osama Bin Laden’s lethal legacy continues into the second decade of the 9/11 attacks. Like a hydra, terrorist cells sprout in various corners of the world, promoting their hate-filled agenda and its deadly consequences for unsuspecting victims. The strategies of the terrorists have changed considerably, but their goal remains the same---to replace pluralism, democracy, and peaceful coexistence -- with intolerance, demagoguery and violence.

Muslim citizens of the West face unique challenges to overcome these invidious trends among a sizable minority of their coreligionists. While the West has formulated policies to fight the ever-present terrorist menace, the Muslim world has yet to produce a unified, thoughtful and sincere response to the threat. The result is an ever-growing cadre of young recruits to the cause of global jihad and its lethal corollary, terror. 

One would have hoped for a clear repudiation of militant jihad from moderate Muslims. Sadly though, Muslim reaction to 9/11 and ensuing terrorist activity has been one of confusion, indifference and in some cases acquiescence, and even collusion. The underlying reasons for this apathy and inconsideration are manifold. One can only mention a few salient trends among the hostile legions of Islamist apologists of jihadism and terrorism.

For one, anti-Western sentiment prevents many from recognizing that the greater threat to Muslim sensibility, civilization and progress is indeed the spread of jihadism and terrorism. Blinded by an inveterate hatred of the West, radical Muslims feel that the jihadists are right in their fight against Western hegemony. Anti-Western sentiment remains highest in countries where Jihadism enjoys great currency. These countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Because of this ongoing resentment, some Muslims silently, and at other times publically, condone jihadist assaults on the West. It was indeed shocking to see jubilation on the streets in some Muslim countries after the 9/11 attacks. The perception among Muslims that they have suffered exploitation, oppression and subjugation at the hands of the West is fairly widespread, and the 9/11 attacks were seen as a long over due victory for the Islamic world and just recompense for the “wrongdoings” of the West.

The festering Middle East conflict — the “black hole” of geopolitics -- also gives Muslims the impression that the West is inherently anti-Muslim and that it is waging a war against Islam in its support for the state of Israel. They also cite the Crusades as proof of the historic animosity between the Christian world and the Islamic world. Islamist Muslims therefore consider jihad imperative for regaining their lost ascendancy, as well as for the preservation of Islamic values, culture and civilization.

Thus jihadis and their apologists believe the political contexts warranting jihad have been recreated in our contemporary world and that Islam is somehow under attack today as it was in its formative years. Seventh century Arabia saw the dawn of Islam amidst great turmoil. The fledgling Muslim community in Mecca was under constant attack from the pagans and Muslims had to fight for their survival. Contemporary Muslims feel threatened in similar fashion. However, they fail to understand that social, historical and political contexts can never be recreated in full. No two contexts are identical therefore no doctrine, including the doctrine of jihad can have identical applicability. 

Many speculate poverty and socioeconomic marginalization as possible reasons for Islamist anger. However, terrorists come from all walks of life. Many known terrorists are professionals such as doctors and engineers. One must hence draw the grim conclusion that extremism, religious violence and terrorism are ideologically based.  This ideology must be challenged at the political and theological level. The theological base and conceptual framework of violent jihad must be shown as invalid for modern times by arguing that the cultural ethos and political landscape of seventh century Arabia was completely different from the religio/political context of today.

Jihadists equate jihad with terror mainly due to the Quran’s retributive law of equality. It was a form of tribal justice demanding eye-for-an-eye revenge. Contemporary jihadists believe that this Quranic provision allows them to kill indiscriminately because according to their view, Muslim blood has also been shed indiscriminately through carpet bombings and drone attacks. Needless to say, the jihadi view is absurd, as the West strives to abide by the Geneva Conventions whereas terrorists flout all provisions therein. A theological challenge to jihadist violence must expose the fallacy of the above jihadist mindset.

Regrettably, one must attempt the above with the full knowledge that jihadists refuse to  engage in alternative discourse on Jihad. Nonetheless, it would prove a worthy cause to provide a competing viewpoint to potential recruits to the jihadist cause.

The matter is both urgent and serious. Effects of tragedies like 9/11 are felt for decades and centuries. The grieving mothers and wives who lost their sons and husbands, the firemen who suffered permanent burn injuries, the children who would grow up without a parent --- all these are no small misfortunes. No doubt there is need for a robust and multipronged approach to combat the threat of international terror inspired by jihadist zeal. This approach must also take into consideration the theological roots of jihad with the purpose of refuting its conceptual foundations.

Farzana Hassan is an author, freelance writer, radio program host, and past president of the Muslim Canadian Congress. This article is entered into The Propagandist's 2nd Annual Essay Contest

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