Confronting evil
Posted on May 17th, 2019

Saad Hafiz Courtesy Daily Times

The Islamic State (ISIS)’s otherwise disastrous campaign to attain power can claim one indisputable success. ISIS-linked violence has created chaos, destroyed communal harmony, increased hatred, and made life miserable for people of all faiths. The bloody carnage unleashed by suicide bombers, targeting Christians on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka is a recent example. It has resulted in anti-Muslim riots, call to ban the niqab and burqa, monitoring of mosques, and the deportation of suspected radical clerics.

The ruthless attacks by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups, on soft civilian targets like churches and hotels, bolster the negative view of Muslims in the non-Muslim world. It sees the acts of a minority fringe of lunatics, who have carried out bloody acts of terror and violence as part of jihad or ‘holy war’, as the true face of Islam. Blowing up innocents, primarily Christians, in a country like Sri Lanka where Muslims freely practice their faith, meet none of the criteria for legitimate jihad. The senseless violence, carried out by extremists, only contributes to the perception that Islam can’t co-exist with other faiths.

Despite the defeats suffered by jihadi groups since 9/11, the information warfare conducted by the global extremist movement continues to win over new adherents to their cause. In reality, today, ISIS’s murderous talent pool has expanded beyond just the poor, marginalized youth, to include educated and wealthy individuals. Two factors stand out over the rest in the battle against hatred and extremism. One is the failure of mainstream Muslim religious and political leaders to denounce extremism and two, the success of extremists in exploiting the West’s injudicious use of force and rising anti-Muslim sentiment for recruitment and disinformation.

ISIS atrocities include attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against women and children, slavery and trafficking of women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms.

States are reluctant to challenge the street power of the extremist storm troopers. Extremist groups are free to peddle their rigid and literalist version of Islam

In the profound words of anti-Nazi theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” As quick as Muslim leaders are to rebuke western racism, white supremacy, and xenophobia, they must unequivocally condemn ISIS’s pure evil. ISIS actions aren’t protecting Islam against enemies as they claim but they encourage people’s base instincts.

We often hear Islamic leaders refer to violence in which implicates individuals or groups who claim an Islamic association as a debasement of the good and peaceful teachings of Islam. Such defensive reactions refuse to acknowledge that violent extremist groups and intolerance exist and often exercises disproportionate influence within Muslim societies. In fact, extremism is so deeply entrenched that it will not be easy to root it out. Extremists believe they possess the absolute truth and they go on bullying others through threats, slander, and defamation. They claim to be the only true Muslims motivated, inspired, and even commanded to commit horrific acts of violence in God’s name.

Indeed, there is a broad pattern of tyranny, oppression, misogyny, poverty, illiteracy, and lack of religious freedom prevailing in many Muslim societies. A great deal of it is because of an aversion to democracy. The dismal political and economic situation directly results from centuries of centralisation of power in the hands of demagogues and dictators. Few Muslim states encourage pluralism. Islam is synonymous with an unyielding adherence to theology and blind obedience. This is incompatible with modernity embodied in religious tolerance and freedom of thought and expression.

States are reluctant to challenge the street power of the extremist storm troopers. Extremist groups are free to peddle their rigid and literalist version of Islam. This includes the demand for imposing sharia law from the 7th century. Extremists see the criminalisation of spousal abuse, giving women judicial equality, or the outlawing of child marriages as contradicting sharia law.

Radicalism is also impacting a minority of immigrants in western societies, who often led astray by leaders in their own communities, can’t adjust. However, most Muslim immigrants thrive, compared to their countries of origin, because of democracy and freedom of expression on offer.

We can agree that the contemporary global order is not by any stretch of the imagination, a just one. However, many non-Muslim societies are prosperous, despite entrenched social injustices, because they encourage democracy and peaceful co-existence. Blaming injustice and misery, solely on western colonialism and imperialism, doesn’t take into account the obscurantism and fanaticism blighting Islam.

That said, many in the West are feeding of the many critical and fearful writings about Islam and Muslims. They define Islam as intrinsically violent but ignore the fact that bloodletting and slaughter is part of human history. Rather than demonizing faith and people, we collectively mustn’t allow the extremists among us to derail the path of peace and co-existence.

The writer is a freelance contributor

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