If only terrorists were savages
The terrorists the world is familiar with—Al Qaeda, ISIS, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, etc—are not savages roaming around in some African or Brazilian forest. Osama bin Laden was no ignoramus. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is no illiterate spouting nonsense he does not understand. The fathers of Takfiri ideology were or are highly educated men.
Ideology of any kind—Zionism, communism, jihadi thinking, Hindu extremism—is a function not of ignorance but of mental sophistication. You may disagree with one or the other ideology. You may find aspects of it, or the whole of it, abhorrent. But you cannot dismiss this or that ideology on the grounds of ignorance or savagery.
Those who preach or carry out systematic terrorism—terrorism as a reflection of belief—are for the most part mental sophisticates. And that is the dangerous part because savagery is easy to eliminate, with nerve gas or rifle fire. An ideology is harder to eradicate in this fashion.
The mass terrorism of the Stalin years was the work of no idiots. The leading Bolsheviks, most of them, were all outstanding intellectuals and theoreticians. Stalin himself was an intellectual. He used to have books with him all the time.
Maoist terror was no less horrific than the terrorism of Stalin. And Mao as we all know was a writer and a philosopher. He used to sleep in his library where was placed a large-sized bed on which were strewn books all the time. (On the same bed he used to entertain his mistresses.) But there was no one more ruthless or single-minded than him. For those he considered his enemies he showed not the slightest mercy. Liu Shaoqi was president of China but the way he and his wife were tortured during the Cultural Revolution can still send shivers down your spine.
The leaders of the Khmer Rouge again were all intellectuals. If you read accounts of what they did to Cambodia, the mass terror they instituted, it’s almost hard to believe. But it was all too real for those who suffered through those awful years.
The Zionists who used mass terror against the Palestinian people were all highly educated men—at least the leaders were. They wanted to drive the Palestinians from their ancestral land and set up their own homeland there, and with single-minded drive they achieved that purpose…never mind the suffering and deprivation of the Palestinian people. Zionism itself as a philosophy was the product of highly intelligent and dedicated men.
Who can forget Hitler and Nazism? Germany is among the most civilized of nations. In the world of music, to name only this, what hasn’t Germany achieved? Hitler himself was a widely-read man. He was an artist, a minor artist but he knew how to draw and paint. He loved opera, especially the operas of Wagner and he knew his history. (Incidentally, he was also an admirer of Kemal Ataturk.) If he hadn’t started the Second World War he would have been the greatest German in history, greater than Frederick the Great and Bismarck. But he took Germany down the road to war and he was the father of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of Jews.
The Americans went into South Vietnam and started secret wars in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. They dropped more bombs on tiny Laos than all the bombs expended in the Second World War. And if Vietnam is dated history we have the recent example of Iraq, the destruction of an entire society and the displacement of millions of people. This was a war based on lies and it was carried out by a country which likes to think of itself as the leading light of the international liberal order.
This same liberal order went about the destruction of Libya. It wanted to do the same to Syria and would have succeeded if Iran, Hezbollah and Russia had not come to the aid of the Syrian regime, and if Bashar al-Assad had not stood his ground. Assad may have practiced repression against his own people but he has also shown himself to be a man of courage…which the world liberal order of course does not like.
In short, liberal, enlightened Europe had a hand in the destabilization of Libya. It has fanned the flames of civil war in Syria. Out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria has emerged ISIS or Daesh. Civilized Europe is not peopled by savages. Daesh for its own part is led by people trained in the arcane points of Islamic theology. This is what comes from playing with fire. When the Americans on false premises invaded Iraq did they have an idea of the forces they were unleashing? Did the British and French have any idea of the consequences of ousting Muammar Gaddhafi? Did the 9/11 bombers have an inkling of the forces they were setting in motion? Or perhaps that was their aim, igniting chaos.
Donald Trump is being vilified for not being presidential enough. He is being crucified for his syntax. But at least he has started no wars, at least not yet. And in unambiguous terms he has denounced the Iraq war. No one would have ever caught Hillary Clinton doing this. And let’s not forget, it was the ultra-sophisticated and very well read Barack Obama who was at the helm when Libya was being destroyed. What is worse, irresponsible and loose rhetoric or an actual trail of death and destruction?
So we in Pakistan are wrong when we say religion has nothing to do with terrorism. People don’t blow themselves up for nothing. It is a certain set of beliefs which sets them on this path. We may not agree with those beliefs. We may label them false and warped and twisted, a mockery of the true faith. But only when we accept that those carrying out these acts are fuelled by a set ideology, however wrong we may think it is, do we put ourselves in a position where we can not only fight that ideology but triumph over it.
To win this fight the ideology of the state, what the state stands for, has to be more powerful and compelling than the ideology of the suicide bomber and the terrorist. The state has to stand for something superior to the beliefs of the misguided jihadist. The state’s narrative has to hold a greater appeal for the poor, the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the sectors without power and privilege, than the simple, perverted nostrums of the bomb-thrower.
The state must stand for justice, a measure of equality, a fairer distribution of resources, and for science and the power of reason if it hopes to eradicate the scourge of faith-based terrorism from its soil.