Sunday, January 17, 2010

The curse of Muslim lands

Too much innocent blood has been spilled in the name of Islam. It is time the madness came to an end, writes Aijaz Zaka Syed*

Terrorism, they say, is the weapon of the weak. But in our case it has become the weapon against the weak. The use of suicide is not something invented by Muslims. It's perhaps as old as homicide. Japan's harakiri comes to mind. But perhaps no people have suffered from it, and because of it, as much as Muslims have in recent years.

So what drives a suicide bomber? And what kind of cause, however noble, makes you kill innocent people peacefully going about their day-to-day business -- people who haven't harmed anyone and pose no threat to anyone? And how can these faceless men, whatever their motives, ever think they would be forgiven, let alone rewarded, in the next life for their despicable acts against the defenceless?

Is this what Islam really preaches and stands for? If not -- as we all know it doesn't -- why aren't our religious scholars, leaders and wise men raising a storm and doing more to stop these mad men bent on tarnishing the image of a noble faith and its billion plus followers?

I have struggled with these questions every time innocent people are killed in a terror attack or suicide bombing. And these questions have been troubling me again since the mind- numbing attacks on a Muharram procession in Karachi and a volleyball match in Pakistan's north last week.

The unparalleled scale of the attack on the Ashura procession in Karachi -- Pakistan's financial/commercial capital and political nerve centre -- has shaken a country that has long been used to daily mayhem of this kind. Nearly 50 people were killed and 500 injured in the Karachi attack. But more than the loss of lives, it is the devastation wreaked on the country's biggest city that day that will haunt Pakistan for a long time to come.

Thousands of businesses, shops and commercial establishments were destroyed in no time, incurring losses worth billions of dollars. And the attack on the heavily attended volleyball match in the troubled Northwest killed 75 villagers, and left scores maimed.

None of those watching the match or attending the Muharram procession had anything to do with the Western wars in Afghanistan-Pakistan or Iraq. They had no sympathy or affiliation whatsoever with the United States and the West. Then why have they been targeted? More importantly, what have the planners and perpetrators of these devastating attacks against unsuspecting bystanders achieved?

But whoever said there is any higher purpose or noble objective behind all this madness? There's no method in the madness. This is an all-consuming monster that does not distinguish between friends and foes. In fact, paradoxical as it may sound, more Muslims than non-Muslims have been killed in macabre attacks carried out in the name of Islam.

As regular readers would know, this humble hack has been doing his bit -- for what it's worth -- to question, critique and confront the big powers have been playing in the Middle East and Arab/Muslim world for centuries, and has gone to great lengths to point out repeatedly why US and Western policies are to blame for much of the mess you see in the Muslim world today, from Palestine to Pakistan.

I have also religiously underscored the fact that groups like Al-Qaeda have been birthed and fuelled by Western double standards and unjust, callous policies in the Muslim world. And that even in the face of increasing threats from extremist groups and evidence of a clear link between cause and effect, the West has tenaciously refused to address, review and change its fundamental policies in the greater Middle East region. But that's another story altogether.

Western actions cannot be an excuse for the kind of extremist violence that is being visited on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Why are innocent people -- almost all of them Muslims -- being made to pay for Western policies and sins?

And how does it help the "cause" of these so-called defenders of Islam when they target innocent Muslims, and non-Muslims for that matter? This death cult is the ultimate injustice and calumny against a faith that celebrates peace, reason, moderation and justice in all spheres. Why, Islam literally means peace!

So what kind of Islam do these lunatics think they believe in when they send young, impressionable 13-year-olds who haven't even experienced what life is to die? The Karachi attack and the terror strike on the volleyball match are only the most recent instances of crimes committed in the name of a great faith. Pakistan's recent history, and that of the Middle East, is replete with such vile and craven crimes against humanity.

Tens of thousands of innocent Muslims -- and non-Muslims -- have died in this mindless violence targeting bazaars, mosques, schools, hospitals... you name it. True, the self-styled "coalition of the willing" has visited a great deal of horror on Iraq and Afghanistan. But we are not any less injured by nihilists who kill and murder with impunity in our name.

Let's face it: Some of the worst crimes against Muslims have been committed in the name of Islam by people who claim to be our defenders and champions. In fact, they are worse than the West because they pretend to be our friends and allies before they hunt us from within.

If the invaders of Iraq and Afghanistan are not our friends, the folks who live in our midst to kill us from within like a cancer are not our friends either. This is the reality Muslims have to confront, and confront it now, before it's too late. And this is the message we have to send across Muslim lands and around the world.

I do not know how many people, especially Muslims, paid attention to this year's hajj sermon. Addressing the white sea of three million pilgrims from around the world in Mecca, and by extension the larger Muslim world, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al-Sheikh used unusually strong language to draw attention to the issue that has become the bane of the Islamic world.

While Islamic scholars, including those leading prayers at the most sacred mosque on the planet, have been talking about the growing cult of the suicide bomber and warning against extremism, this is the first time anyone has condemned the menace with such force and in such unequivocal terms.

Warning Muslims around the world against the extremists, the grand mufti termed the spectre of terror and suicide attacks as "the curse of Muslim lands". He singled out the extremism and the death cult of suicide attacks as the "most serious problem" facing the Muslim community today.

This is the message that has to be taken far and wide with the force and conviction with which it was delivered. This is a matter of life and death, literally. Religious scholars, politicians, intellectuals, the media and ordinary Muslims have to come together, deploying all resources and means at their disposal to free ourselves of this stigma distorting the real, pristine image of Islam before the world.

Too much innocent blood has been spilled and too many innocents have died in the name of our faith. It's time to say enough is enough! Please, not in our name! For God's sake, not in our name!

* The writer is opinion editor of Khaleej Times .

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