By Taji M
How do you turn a young man or a woman into a terrorist, particularly a suicide bomber? The answer is a mystery to me as well as a large number of Pakistanis. We thought we had a predictable answer a few years back. The poor underprivileged children studying in hard-line Madarssas could be brainwashed and turned into killing machines. But if that was the real answer we should have had thousands of terrorists running rampant, thankfully this is not the case. More recently we are increasingly coming across educated upper middle class Muslims who have become hardliners to the level of resorting to terrorism. Some of them have in fact been living in conflict-free countries of Europe. So again, what changes a person into a killer?
Unfortunately to be effective and lethal, terrorists do not need a large number of recruits at any given point, they need only few but they do need a steady influx of new blood. We need to understand what factors would facilitate the terrorist agenda. I think one of the very fundamental mindset at play here is the distortion of concepts of Duniya and Aakhrat. Islam in general gives more importance to Hereafter than this world only to discourage the obsession of pursuing worldly gains alone. It was never meant to undermine this world totally. If that was the case, Islam would not have put so much emphasis on Rights of fellow human beings, on the conduct of good Muslims and so on. But take this view to the extreme, and observe how it can get warped. If someone starts to believe that world is a prison and many of the positives it has to offer are in fact fitna, then obviously the best thing one can do is to escape to hereafter as quickly as possible. And then what better way to enter Jannat then as a martyr who are suppose to get the highest echelons of heaven. This chain of thought would appear quite logical to an extremist. At the very extreme even collateral damage can be justified; killing a child of rival sect can be viewed as protecting the child from hell which he would be destined to go if he had lived to adulthood. Combine this logic with a sense of injustice prevailing in the Muslim youth of today on account of war on terror and you have a fertile ground for extremism.
The Bush administration’s war on terror has been a failure. Its biggest failure is that it legitimized the dooms-day scenarios of extremist ideologists. It caused saner more moderate voices in the Muslim world to go on the back foot. It is a fact that American bombings killed innumerable people in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war gave acceptance to the theory that the world is conspiring against Muslims. Outfits like Al-Qaeda got a lot of credibility from the masses due to the continued war. The final failure of this war is that it has not achieved any of the objectives it set out in the beginning. Things are still shaky in Iraq; even if they get better it will take a long time. Afghanistan is still extremely precarious. Talibans are gaining territory every day, and we need to truly dread the day when coalition forces leave Afghanistan because how things look now Talibans will be incharge.
In addition to extremist ideology and botched up war on terror, the Pakistani context also contains pre-existing collective mistrust of politicians, sense of deprivation of masses, and tensions among religious sects. In my opinion this combination is what makes violence so much attractive many. What really bothers me however, is not just the violence prone youth. If there were no support from the Media and the populist politicians, these overzealous young men would have been marginalized and their violent acts limited. The media not just feeds on inherent xenophobia it perpetuates the mindset even further. For example after witnessing so many bombings with loss of innocent lives, one would have expected unequivocal condemnation of extremists’ agenda, and serious rethinking of role of religion in the society. Yet this is not the case. After a bombing we condemn the Talibans, but quickly start to blame the government for one thing or the other, and a few days later it is the same old Blackwater etc who are truly responsible for the deeds. Every time we do that, we give a tacit approval to the next suicide bomber. We don’t question that if the USA War is the cause of violence, then why bombers are attacking shrines, markets and bus stands.
Media is the pastime of our educated class, if the educated Pakistanis are comfortable with its direction what hope there is to modify the behavior of poor and uneducated people. The educated professionals and businessmen want to earn good money doing all kinds of worldly things, but at the same time they give support to causes and ideas which are contradictory to their own pursuits. The best example is bashing of USA. By bashing I do not mean honest critique of US policies, but propagating US as hidden hand in all sorts of things including floods and earthquakes. While the same people would be going crazy in getting access to US markets and a chance to live there.
The politicians are another interesting breed, nearly all lead double lives, even the less corrupt ones. They send their children to best foreign universities, have their primary residences in London or Dubai, and personally live very cosmopolitan lifestyles. But put them on a podium and they will be full of Pakistaniat and Islamic fervor. They project themselves as beacon of national sovereignty and defenders of Islam, but they themselves do not want to sacrifice much for these ideals. There seems to be little hope for any grassroot change in the social mindset, because the elements which can bring change are themselves compromised. Those who try against all odds are driven away from the country or sometime tragically eliminated. With increased frequency of bombings, we may have started hating the Talibans finally, but we continue to spin outlandish theories. We cannot even initiate an open dialogue about critical issues within ourselves, let alone actually achieve some results.