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Pakistan’s Flawed Anti-Terrorism Policy: Madrasas Instilling Reverence For Ibn Taymiyya Can Only Produce Political Backers Of The Forces Of Terror


By Mohammad Ahmad

17 Aug, 2013

The Shiite killings, the attacks on shrines and the most recent attack on the Ismaili Jama’at Khana are material expressions of the mindset that conveniently embraces terrorism due to commonality of objectives

With more than 5,300 casualties, the armed forces of Pakistan have paid a very high price in fighting terror. With around 40,000 fatalities, the price that the civilians of Pakistan have paid in blood is also unmatched. All said, the people of Pakistan have offered unmatched sacrifices in fighting terror.

Unfortunately however, the policy of fighting terror has remained flawed since the outset of this war. When Pakistan started its war on terror, it did not concurrently implement the policy of zero tolerance for extremism that was a prerequisite for a successful campaign against terror. The extremists, though representing a small section of society, sympathised with the activities of the terrorists and provided them political support. This covert political support for terror outfits succeeded in dividing public reaction to acts of terror and has till now not let the government take the bold decisions necessary to eliminate the forces of terror. This leads us to the conclusion that for a successful anti-terror policy, extremism that is the mother of terrorism needs to be proactively tackled within a composite anti-terror policy.

Historically, the roots of unbridled growth of extremism lie in the growth of Saudi influence in Pakistan. In the mid-1970s the country started depending on Saudi Arabia for financial assistance and even involved Saudi Arabia in its political matters. This Saudi aid had a price tag about which the common Pakistani had no idea. The price tag was total freedom to the Salafi doctrine and its allied Deobandi School to set up their religious schools or madrasas without any government oversight over the syllabi. This resulted in the exponential growth of ideas that had a comparatively exclusive character.

 It was conveniently forgotten by those allowing them uncontrolled growth that these later day Salafis had no tolerance for dissent and had all but wiped out any dissenting doctrine from areas under their political dominance. General Ziaul Haq’s active support for this doctrine forced Iran to involve itself in assistance of the Shiites. This made things more complex. Sectarian killing started in his era as a result of operations by militant organisations he let form and the country has since suffered.

Such madrasas where Ibn Taymiyya is revered and the students are brainwashed to use violence against unjust rulers are the political backers of the forces of terror. Students and the alumni of these schools are perhaps never told that Ibn Taymiyya went against the teachings of his own school as enunciated by Imam Hanbal, who prohibits rebellion against unjust authority, as it would result in anarchy and more bloodshed. These poor souls who have been made to believe that the dissident is a heretic and thus deserves death are the material that any terrorist would love.

When terrorist outfits began operating in this part of the world, these sympathisers were banked upon for political support and also provided with recruits that needed little brainwashing. The Shiite killings, the attacks on shrines and the most recent attack on the Ismaili Jama’at Khana are material expressions of the mindset that conveniently embraces terrorism due to commonality of objectives. The recent drama in Islamabad where a timid extremist used his own family as a human shield, held the whole nation hostage and dared to claim inspiration for his dastardly act from the Holy Quran, should be an eye-opener for all who take extremism and terrorism separately.

The acts of terror displayed by the extremists have put on view such barbarism as has never been seen by the people of Pakistan. The common people abhor the acts of violence exhibited by terrorists. However, taking their cue from those in power, they do not go beyond this and do not rally to denounce these horrible acts actively. This behaviour is bound to ultimately lead to more and more space being occupied by the extremists. If this doesn’t change the situation may take a turn that would be beyond correction. An adaptation of the poem, “First they came...” attributed to Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian, appropriately describes what may eventually happen if this continues:

First they came for the Shias and I did not speak out because I was not one

Then they came for the Barelvis and I did not speak out because I was not one

Then they came for the Christians and I did not speak out because I was not one

Then they came for the Ahmadis and I did not speak out because I was not one

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Holding extremist viewpoints is not confined to Muslim clerics alone. The Christian clerics also took their dip in the pool. This started in the 4th century when Justinian (483–565) prescribed the death penalty for apostasy and the penalty became part of Roman law in AD 535. Even as late as the 16th century, the French Protestant theologian John Calvin (1509–64) wished to extend religion by the sword and reserve death as the punishment for apostasy. He is quoted as saying, “Catholics should suffer the same penalties as those who were guilty of sedition, on the grounds that the majesty of God must be as strictly avenged as the throne of the king.” Fortunately modern day Christians have learned their lesson and no more advocate these views. The separation of the Church and state in Europe was the catalyst that put an end to such inhuman and self-annihilating views. When will the people of Pakistan find their catalyst?

It is imperative that a comprehensive anti-terrorism policy is agreed on by all democratic forces of Pakistan and this policy, which includes material steps for total eradication of extremism, is implemented without further delay. Inaction will cost Pakistan heavily. It is no more a matter of Pakistan’s image. The survival of the country is at stake.