By Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi
November 16, 2015
Global conferences on terrorism in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar and the US in recent months have focused on identifying the root causes of terrorism and the rescuing of youth from its growing influence. Undoubtedly, the extremist threat being felt across the globe and by some superpowers in particular, is grounded in reality, not ‘paranoia’ and its adverse impacts are being felt by both the West and by Muslim countries. The mounting influence of extremism has resulted in the youth from both Muslim and non-Muslim countries to start associating with terror groups and pursuing the path of violence. This raises question marks over the effectiveness of various organisations and governments attempting to end global terrorist activity.
While attending a peace convention in the US recently, I sensed that the extremist mindset was harboured not only by Muslim youth but by people of other faiths as well. Violent incidents targeting Muslims have been recorded in recent times. Prayer leaders of different mosques in the US as well as religious leaders of other faiths are trying to play a constructive role in their attempts to stem the menace of extremism, pointing out that no religion preaches prejudice and hostility. The elements that pursue violence and extremism have their own vested interests. To counter these elements, a cohesive and systematic struggle is urgently needed. In the search for the root causes of the extremist mindset, we encounter the truth that the majority of Muslim countries across the world have been embroiled in conflict of some form for the past 35 years. And in the last 14 years, from Libya to Pakistan, a ‘war on terror’ was waged with no attempts being made to seek a permanent solution to issues faced by the Muslim world, whether it be Palestine or Kashmir.
After the 9/11 attacks, the US, European countries and some Muslim states targeted sections of the Muslim youth unfairly and often in a harsh manner, creating a sense of deprivation within Muslims. Instead of addressing the deprivations and frustrations of the Muslim world, endeavours to address issues often centred around the use of torture and violence, further complicating the situation. Global think tanks and the intelligentsia were of the view that with demise of al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, the world would be cleansed of terrorism. Not only did this assumption prove to be incorrect, it created conditions in which there are now far greater threats to world peace. Fourteen years after the war on terror began, the Taliban are once again taking charge in Afghanistan, dictating their terms of negotiation. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his recent visit to the US, had to make it clear to the Americans that the Afghan Taliban are not subservient to Pakistan. Bringing them back to the negotiating table has proved to be an uphill task because of this and also because of the nefarious elements within Afghan intelligence bent on sabotaging talks.
Al Qaeda has long been divided into numerous autonomous factions from Africa to Afghanistan. There is no central authority that has control over the activities of all the various factions. The situation has been further complicated by the emergence of the Islamic State (IS). Its increasing popularity among disaffected Muslim youth is due to the fact that they saw in the ISIS an outlet for their pent-up anger and perceived injustices perpetrated by Western powers. Segments of the Muslim youth see in the terrorist group a ray of hope. In this regard, the role of Muslim intelligentsia, clerics, religious scholars and governments has been woeful as they have done little to guide their younger populations regarding the true teachings of Islam that abhor extremism and terrorism.
There is a need to take practical steps to address issues and challenges of the Muslim world and to initiate measures that could end the deprivations of Muslims. It is the need of the hour that the Muslim and non-Muslim religious leadership step up to the task of guiding the youth — intellectually and psychologically. The political leadership should seriously consider issues of Kashmir, Palestine, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. If timely action is not taken, the situation may spiral even further out of control.
Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi is chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council