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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 16 May 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Aesthetics of Extremism



By Rafia Zakaria

17 May, 2014   

They look like they don’t care. Each time the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or their various specks and splinters conduct one of their acts of medieval barbarism, they pretend a disregard for appearances.

The straggly hair, the unkempt beards, the dark hued clothes of the general dishevelment is all directed to make the onlooker believe in their opposition to everything else. If the world of other politicians is a polished one, perfectly coiffed and neatly starched, theirs is detached from all of that. This opposition extends to their acts.

If the world of modern justice is of procedure and pleading, of court and crime, argued and proven, theirs is a different one. Here, shock and brutality, force and strength, all harshly and instantly applied, make a case for the medieval instead of the modern. And in Pakistan, where many are ambivalent about the promises of modernity or angered at their exclusion from it, this contrast has begun to make sense.

These aesthetics of extremism are not the realm of the Taliban alone.

For the past several weeks, the world has watched aghast and alarmed as image after image of hundreds of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls has played out over Twitter feeds and televisions screens. The Boko Haram is adherents of the Taliban creed of enacting a visible contrast to modernity. Like the Taliban, theirs is the realm of the performed primitive; they have flogged and amputated. Now, they are forcibly converting, imprisoning, and of course terrorising.

Perhaps taking a page from the Taliban’s expert enactment of the medieval, they too, focus on presenting a vision of the world markedly different from the one that leaves many out. Theirs are the politics of the hinterland, the excluded, the disenfranchised, and the hopeless. If modernity had abandoned you, left you out, taken what was yours, failed to offer you a path, they present a visible way backward, into the realm of the imagined past, untouched by colonialism.

The world’s media has happily swallowed this ploy and does so again and again. From the perspective of those living in a post-modern world, this reversion and the will for it seems inexplicable, and in many ways it is. If modern and progressive projects present ways forward, plans of action, and systems of governance that can alter and improve current problems, this is the opposite. The guerrilla warfare, the diffuse structures, the slaughter of innocents, and the general path backwards present a recipe only of destruction, annihilation, and negativity.

Indeed, distortions of religion attach transcendent promises to bombs strapped to boys and chains tied to women; the idea is not an improvement but a culling. In divesting themselves from a world moving on, theirs is the tactic of destroying all of which they cannot partake.

Last week, while the Tehreek-e-Taliban were squabbling in secret Shuras over which of their leaders deserved to lead, and the Boko Haram were busy carting off young schoolgirls in yet another iteration of their visible performances of regression medievalism, another group of the same ilk conducted their own theatre of thoughtless killing.

The Al-Shabab of Somalia enacted their own tableau of terror. The residents of the town of Bardhere, in the Gedo region of south-western Somalia, received an invitation to an execution. The man, Abdelhamid Sheikh Hussain, who was said to be 29 years of age, was sentenced to death for “spying” by an Al-Shabab judge.

There was no law or lawyer, but the executioners were there, ready with the torrent of bullets that killed the man instantly. The crowd, watched, rapt and some, it was said, even cheered.

Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times, Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.