By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
09 May 2014
The Islamist group Boko Haram currently has around 200 schoolgirls enslaved in Nigeria. Not just kidnapped or abducted (any longer), enslaved – the former terms would imply that they would be returned unharmed if the militants’ demands are met. Reports of multiple rapes have already surfaced and this week Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has revealed that he considers the school girls his slaves who he will “sell off” in marriage. He justifies his plan in a recently released video saying: “I want to reassure my Muslim brothers that Allah says slaves are permitted in Islam.” And here is Shekau’s plan in his own words: “I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine.”
So what was the crime of these schoolgirls which has led to them being enslaved and treated as war captives? Chibok’s Government Girls Secondary School, from the dormitories of which these girls were initially believed to be kidnapped, teaches “Western education”. And the name Boko Haram, which in Hausa translates into “Western education is sinful”, gives us all a comprehensive answer.
Boko Haram believes that Western education is Haram, even more so for girls, who according to their ideology should not be allowed to do much without their male guardians. Attacking girls’ schools has been high on Boko Haram’s Sharia-enforcement agenda, in a bid to prevent these girls from being “westernised”. And for Pakistan, Boko Haram’s antics should ring very familiar alarm bells.
Muslim countries burn themselves with rage owing to cartoons but there is a complete lack of outrage for heinous acts like these
Following the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on Malala Yousafzai in October 2012, girls’ education came into the spotlight. But along with that came superfluous apologia that has resurfaced amidst the latest manifestation of Boko Haram’s bestiality.
When Muslim countries burn themselves with rage owing to protests against cartoons or videos, the lack of one against the most monstrous of acts resoundingly sets up our order of priorities. Most progressive Muslims’ efforts – just like in the case of most Islamist manoeuvres – have been dedicated to cooking up apologia for their religion, and claiming how Boko Haram is blatantly misinterpreting its scriptures. Whereas the fact of the matter is, whether or not Boko Haram’s actions are compatible with Islam, or if Abubakar Shekau’s claim that Allah permits slaves holds any credence or not, is totally and utterly irrelevant.
The then TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan released a seven-page open letter on October 16, 2012, a week after the attack on Malala justifying the attack comprehensively through Sharia, scriptures and Islamic precedents. The content of that letter, which reiterated a point the TTP has made in countless press releases, has been echoed by Abubakar Shekau and Boko Haram. That two terrorist organisations in two different continents are “misinterpreting” the Islamic texts identically – mirroring a millennia-and-a-half of same interpretation – to wreak havoc in their respective regions, connotes that highlighting the “misinterpretation” isn’t quite as important as highlighting the fact that the text can be interpreted to such devastating effect. Because the former might win you some religious (and maybe academic) brownie points, while the latter will showcase a security concern that has engulfed various parts of the world, the most conspicuous of them being our very own neck of the woods.
Stating the obvious fact that the TTP and Boko Haram are driven by their religion – as the militants proclaim themselves – is dubbed “Islamophobia” in unison by both the progressive Muslims and overwhelming parts of the liberal left in the West. It would make all the sense in the world to shield one’s ideology if iterating that it is leading to terrorism precedes the defence. The focus unfortunately however is on how the ideology shouldn’t, or doesn’t (bizarrely), lead to violence. Political correctness continues to trump effective counterterrorism strategy, lest one is dubbed “culturally insensitive”, or an Islamophobe.
All Western reports highlighting Islamist terrorism are brimming with disclaimers, stressing upon various versions of Islam. While a debate on various interpretations of any ideology is an academic necessity, what is the immediate relevance of these disclaimers in a report narrating terrorists’ acts and their own justification for said attacks? Why is there reluctance in using the term “enslaved” in the mainstream media ever since Abubakar Shekau stated that his religion sanctions slavery? If it’s about safeguarding the sensitivities of the Muslim world – 22.74 percent of the global population – why weren’t the ideological sensitivities of the communists – almost an identical percentage of the global population – catered to by the Western mainstream media during the Cold War?
It is ironic that all the endeavour of progressive Muslims is dedicated to shielding their ideology from criticism, when it’s actually this critique that would lead to necessary reform, which at the end of the day is their much touted agenda. By claiming that criticism in unjustified, and denying the rather obvious influence of religion on religious extremism, one contradicts the “progressive” and “reformist” labels. While there is no denying that an irrational phobia of Muslims exists all over the world – considerably less than irrational phobia of people belonging to all other religions in the Muslim world, one might add –the term “Islamophobia”, used to shield the ideology, not the people, from scrutiny – and hence reform –, again, becomes a self-defeating misnomer.
By saying that Islamists are using the “wrong” Islam uses the same logic that Islamists use to claim that the progressives are using the “wrong” Islam. Playing “true and false”, while thousands continue to be under the Islamist gun is a very dangerous game to play. Anyone who claims that the terrorism that is brewing owing to Islamism needs to be countered and condemned should focus on ensuring that no punches are pulled in condemnations for the acts. Whether or not the Islamist ideology is a blatant misinterpretation of “true” Islam is tantamount to needless apologia in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist attack.