By Hasan Naser Khan
Recent terrorists attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California have re-launched a debate on the role of political Islam in relation to the West. Since 9/11, the subject of Islamism has been brought to the light amply by the Western media and the scholars. Yet there is confusion and little understanding of Islam in the West.
In the wake of terrorists’ attacks, two narratives have emerged and dominated the discourse on political Islam: First narrative outlines the alleged inherent contradictions within Islam. The Westerners see the religion of Islam intrinsically violent as manifested in its injunctions of militant jihad. Inspired by the jihadi text of the Quran the Islamists seek to dominate and rule the world. Therefore, Islam needs a serious introspection and radial reforms to modernize it; Second narrative is of victimhood emerging out of perceived injustices in the Muslim World as the root cause of the terrorism. It has the political underlining and a sense of grievance against the foreign policies of the Western powers vis-à-vis the Muslim world. Therefore, it is the religious obligation of the Islamists to revenge from the West.
The reality in the Muslim World is far from these dominating narratives in the West or within the Islam. In the Muslim world, radicals seem to have lost the support of masses due to inconsistent and brutal tactics against their own people. They alienated the local population by making them a soft target. More importantly, Islamists have been exposed wherever given a chance to rule, as they lack any blueprint to rule unlike their ambitious claims. From Afghan Taliban to Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Islamists have a proven track record of disastrous rule.
Even the conservative Islam that is ascendant in some countries of Muslim world does not approve of the ideology of violence propagated by al-Qaeda or Islamic State. Turkey is the best example of moderates in power who are sharply different from the extremists in terms of their ideology and approach.
The acts of a few extremists do not reflect the message of Islam. In fact, Islam allows freedom of choice of religion. It categorically states in the Quran, “there shall be no compulsion or coercion in (acceptance of) the religion”.
Militant group Islamic State, however, has resorted to the most brutal tactics in the name of Islam. It has presented the most distorted and twisted face of Islam to the West.
The ability of the ISIL to recruit young Muslims in the West has raised concerns and suspicions of the immigrant Muslims, who are the first ones to speak against such despicable acts of terror. Yet they suffer the most in the face of backlash from the natives whose understanding of the Islam is superficial at best.
The Westerners’ perception of Islam is greatly influenced by the terror attacks. As they seem to have come to associate the acts of terrorists with Islam. They blame the religion as the motivating factor behind the terrorists’ acts. They fear the rise of Islam by force.
Contrary to the fears among the Western society, a noted American scholar on Islam Vali Nasar writes in his book Forces of Fortune, “Islam did not become the world religion claiming the following of one out every five human beings because of extremists who wage violence in its name but by embracing cultural diversity and intellectual curiosity”.
At this defining moment of war on terror, Muslims need to get their own house in order and recognize there is something wrong with the prevailing religious dogma that is inspiring and instigating young minds to resort to violence. The denial mode response, whenever there is terror attack, will not work for long. Alternative religious narrative could be the best answer to salvage the situation. Second, the West can reach out to the Muslim World and the disenchanted Muslim youth in Europe instead of overreacting to the events that are designed to create a gulf between the two civilizations.
Military response is a must to deter Paris or San Bernardino style attacks but long-term battle is going to be on the ideological front. It is all about winning the hearts and minds of the majority of Muslims who feel the West’s sorrows over the loss of innocent lives.
The war declared against ISIL by the West should not any way be seen a war with Islam or Muslims.
The writer is a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland and a journalist from Pakistan. He tweets @Hasanqau