If there has to be a single incident that must get us alert, focused, and united to defeat terrorism in Pakistan, it is the deadly act of terror and butchery of 16/12 on APS children in Peshawar. And it is indeed our 9/11. But, unfortunately, there is no end in sight of the deadly “jihad” on Pakistani men and women, religious minorities, and now innocent children unless there is an express agreement on the diagnosis of the problem, its underlying causes and perpetrators, and unless there is a strong resolve to fix it both on individual and state levels. The problem is that we are under siege by our own religious thugs some of whom are allegedly patronized by the state’s military establishment, religious political elites, mullahs and mosques, and the public in general. Our own power-hungry religious psychotics are killing our school children by using unrestrained violence justified through their perverted narrative of religion. We must understand now that this is a war within us, a war within Islam. We must realize that the enemy is not from the outside. Rather it is from within.
But the critical question is that how do we build consensus around this problem? It is extremely challenging to do so, as, at this point, our leaders, state machinery, political parties, media, and people are awfully fragmented on what our problem is and who and what causes it. Pathetically, many still strongly believe that Indians, Israelis, and the Americans are behind the attack on school children in Peshawar. It is an adaptive challenge, which requires deeper thinking and sound understanding. Here is how, I think, we can address such a challenge.
First, we will not get any traction with solving this problem unless we deconstruct our decades or perhaps centuries-old dangerous hate narrative — that this is a war between Islam and infidelity, and that anything that happens to us is caused by the infidels — and reconstruct a more inclusive discussion in which we spot on our own predicaments and educate our fellow citizens about them.
This poisonous narrative, constructed after the wahabi and salafi teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and Syed Wahab and then the schoolings of right wing political Islamist or Islamic fundamentalist thinkers such like Modoudi and Qutub, which is overtaken now by their virulent and violent cousins, the neo-fundamentalists like Taliban, Qaeda, and IS, is a fundamental hindrance in achieving peace and prosperity in the country.
For deconstructing such story, a number of things need to be done. One, the state must give up on sponsoring religious extremism. Two, religion and state must be separated i.e. its role must be either faith blind or faith neutral, as the columnist Faisal Bari rightly asserts. Three, the government needs to reform syllabi both in schools and madrassas, which perpetuate inter-and-intra-religious hate speech. Most importantly, madrassas whose number, according to the most conservative state record and certainly without the mention of unregistered ones, in Pakistan goes pass 24000 now, need serious scrutiny by the state. Each year, about over half a million young people graduate from madrassas, who are taught to obey, not to question anything told in the name of religion. Many of these unskilled young, unemployed men have nothing to do but to be employed in religion and serve the jihad industry.
Four, both the government and the public have to keep a check on sermons from the mosque, which have been promoting this dangerous narrative by spitting venom against religious minorities and non-Muslims in general. I really doubt that the Taliban will be called thugs, criminals, and murderers in the coming Juma sermons.
Second, the Pakistani state relies heavily on conspiracy theories. In fact, these conspiracy theories are deliberately constructed and used as a political tool to confuse the public and manipulate their opinion. It is clear now that this unholy and deadly “jihad”, having been tamed in our land and in the region for over three decades, is not in Pakistan’s national interest. It serves the interests only of a few individuals and institutions they run and their religious proxies. After this tragic episode, it must be clearer to all Pakistanis that their “jihad” is about killing and bleeding our innocent children.
This was made clearer in 1980s by the visionary Pashtun political leader Wali Khan of Awami National Party who warned that the fire that the Pakistani state was setting alight in Afghanistan will one day cross the Attock Bridge and burn us. They did not listen to him then and instead continued sponsoring for longer the so-called “jihad” by making a distinction between the “good” and ‘bad’ Taliban, which they, some say, claim to have abandoned now. Yet, I do not think that they have completely abaondoned such narrative or are willing to invent an alternative national discourse and a robust course of action to put an end to terrorism.
Seemingly, the establishment is still creating confusions for the nation through their stooges in religion, in media, and in politics. In the wake of the recent incident, it seems that TV channels, by inviting Maulana Aziz to guide the nation on how to counter jiahadism and terrorism, propagate and further strengthen the extremist narrative. Similarly, jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Sipha-e-Sahaba enjoy state’s patronage to help it further spread its narrative by terrifying people and teaching jihadi Islam. Madrassas and even public schools and universities serve not as learning centers but as factories of conspiracy theories. Many madrassas, in particular, function as the wheels and machines of jihad industry, ideologically, materially, and logistically.
Most importantly, not only this, but that the state is also controlling opinion through its coercive antennae or secret services, the harsh and inhuman blasphemy laws, and religious proxies which have free license to harm, silence or kill those who try to counter their monopoly on the discourse.
This suffocation and silence has to break down and the state’s conspiracy theories and half truth are to be debunked if Pakistan is resolved to create an agreement that the creeping religious extremism is our problem. And that this contagious disease is breeding among us and killing our people. In this regard, we, both on state and societal levels, need to challenge our overblown fear and paranoia with India and the West which is keeping us from recognizing and accepting the problem. If we still fail to do so, this narrative will further plunge us into darkness. We need to be one and united to defeat the deadly lies and come up with our own clear and true narrative.
Third and most importantly, we have to test our utter and frantic confusions. It is extremely pathetic that the whole nation, even after the deaths of over 50,000 Pakistanis by Taliban in over a decade, is still confused about its main enemy. Taliban still enjoy sympathy among people and religious, political, and military bigwigs. This tragic incident in Peshawar must act as a wake-up call for the people and the government.
It is high time now that we, on individual level, reject conspiracy theories, give up relying on dangerously loaded inherited beliefs, ask the right questions, read and rely on credible sources, and make our own opinion that truly reflects the right use of reason and wisdom. We have to rise up and raise our voices. The Taliban’s and their backers’ narrative is very powerful. Ours is still weak. We have to fight back and have to remember that the Taliban and their version of religion is our problem and a serious threat to our survival. We do not have to wait for the state to do so because we have already wasted much time doing so.