By Zaigham Abbas
April 10, 2017
THE recent attack on shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar killing more than 80 people sent a shock wave across Pakistan and the world. There were similar suicide attacks in other parts of the country sending a clear message to all of us: Cosmic War is on. The Iranian-American scholar Reza Aslan defines Cosmic War as “a religious war. It is a conflict in which God is believed to be directly engaged on one side over the other”. This war is entirely different from the earthly battle between two armies or religious rivals. Cosmic war is thought to be taking place in heavens whose script is written by God. A cosmic war alters the status of those who should be considered murderers and ruffians into soldiers sanctioned by God.
Cosmic war divides the world into good and evil, us and them. We do not have a middle ground; we have to choose a side. The terrorist groups like TTP, LeJ, LeT, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have clearly chosen their sides. They aligned themselves with the forces of “good” that has been assigned a duty to destroy all those Pakistanis who are allies of “evil” (democracy, music, dance; art, culture and above all America). So the ultimate objective of a cosmic war is not to defeat an army or police force but to annihilate evil itself making this war an unending, eternal and unwinnable conflict. Organisations like TTP, LeJ and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar take the ethnocentric view of religion. Ethnocentrism makes one’s beliefs superior to others and it’s this ethnocentric attitude that justifies sacrifice and sanctifies martyrdom.
So what we can do to win this “crusade” launched by terrorists in Pakistan? How we combat and defeat these butchers who take pleasure in bloodshed? The answer lies in statement given by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he addressed a Holi gathering in Karachi a few days back. He stressed on fighting the malaise of extremist ideology. He vehemently denounced the very idea of takfir (where anyone can designate someone Kafir and ultimately to be punished by death). A cosmic war is won not through artifice or strategy but rather through the power of faith. A faith in our ideology and cultural identity. To defeat a bad ideology, we have to come up with a better ideology that gathers the support of politicians, religious scholars, intelligentsia and civil society. Similarly, Government should do its best to implement National Action Plan (NAP) in its entirety. The basic aim of terrorists is to cast terror and for that the most potent weapon a terrorist has is neither a gun nor a bomb but a television camera. So it is the responsibility of media to give least rather zero coverage to any terrorist outfit or their spokespersons who glorify terrorism.
In Pakistan we have parallel education system where seminaries operate along with other education institutions. Madrassah students stay restless and jobless. They cannot climb the social mobility ladder ending up being socially and economically deprived. In Islamabad alone, the madrassahs outnumber other formal education institutions as reported by Capital Administration. Government should provide them with balanced education to pull them out of squalid poverty.
One thing that is lacking in National Action Plan is the use of economic development to counter extremism. According to economist Hernando De Soto, terrorism can be drastically reduced when a country’s citizens join the formal economy. When the social status of people improves, they become less prone to be recruited by militants. In the end, there are so many good things happening in Pakistan. The recent ECO Summit in Islamabad, the Pakistan Super League Final in Lahore and acknowledgement of reputed international organisations of Pakistan’s economic performance is something we should appreciate. Mother Teresa once said: “What we are trying to do may be a drop in the ocean. But Ocean would be less because of that missing drop”.
Zaigham Abbas is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.