The Terror Attack
The Nation’ September 25, 2001
The long arm of terror struck deep in America’s heart. Its reach and extent was astounding, unprecedented and worse than Pearl Harbour. The two mightiest symbols of global US economic and military might were savaged. President Bush described the ghastly tragedy as the first war of the 21st century.
The terror attacks were a crime against humanity. Most Muslims mourned with the USA as it grieved for the innocent dead and missing. Muslim countries condemned the terrorism.
The finger of suspicion pointed at Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi dissident sheltered by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He, and those who harbour him, are in the dock. This makes it a matter of concern and introspection for the entire Islamic World.
It is wrong to suspect the entire Islamic World of being complicit in the crime of a few. Of nearly 1.2 billion Muslims on this planet, most condemned the attack. Only a small fraction of Muslims can be called militant. But Islamic states share a collective responsibility to keep their societies free from the stigma of militancy.
With few exceptions, Muslim countries oppose the use of terror to redress even what are perceived as legitimate grievances in the Middle East or elsewhere. They too are victims of international terrorists bent on destabilising the world order. The terrorist crime of epic proportions on US soil hurt Muslims individually and it hurt the image of Islam. Muslims will mostly pay the price of the colossal political fallout as the crescendo rises to exact revenge for this brazen strike at the heart of America. The expected Western backlash could be devastating.
It is doubtful that the conspirators predicted the swift and robust reaction of the Bush Administration in support of freedom. Nato, spanning the western world, threw its weight behind the US. Even Russia rapidly came on board.
A formidable alliance was quickly formed. The sheer scale of it is staggering, bringing together the US, Nato and Russia. The rallying point was the ‘menace’ of ‘militant Islam’. Battle lines were quickly drawn to prepare for a real showdown with Islamic militants.
The Muslim world, in contrast, was in disarray, demonstrating an absence of direction in its camp. The inability of the Muslim world to deal with challenges arising out of it showed its disunity. It was unable to stop two devastating fratricidal wars in the last two decades. The first was the Iran-Iraq War and the second the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq. The tussle for supremacy between the Taliban and their opponents was another debilitating bloodletting. The bottom line, as the terror acts in America showed, was an Islamic world that is unable to safeguard its own interests and image.
Militancy in the ranks of Muslims is as much a threat to Islamic societies in the world as it is to western values. Sadly, there is little concern in the Islamic countries to address the problem. We are yet to come to grips with what prompts a Muslim to become a radical, embrace violence and give up his life. We are yet to come together in guiding young, aggrieved Muslims on the responses possible as meaningful and acceptable forms of protest. The act of terror, of suicide bombing, is abhorrent. It is also an act of desperation, pessimism and of surrender.
The unipolar world has thrown up its own power parameters. The bi polar world allowed militarily and politically weaker countries to exploit the rivalry to their benefit. Now they can no longer do so, they appear to have gone into a shell shock. The vacuum created is being filled with the suicide bombers and the practitioners of terror.
After the human cost of the suicide bombings for humanity, comes the political cost for the Islamic world. The first casualty is the Palestinian. The second is the Kashmiri freedom struggle. India will use the terror attacks to bolster its own political position. The third casualty will surely be the Taliban although few tears will be shed for them. The fourth casualty is the image of Islam and the effect on Muslims living in the western world.
Perhaps the terror attacks in America are a wake up call to the Muslim community to build a consensus on basic issues. This includes promoting the image of Islam as one of peace disassociated with acts of terrorism. Second, that Islam emphasis sanctity to right to life. Third, that Muslims respect fundamental rights and are tolerant to those of other faiths and sects.
Living in the United Arab Emirates, it gives me great joy as a Believer to see the tolerance allowed religious worship. People of different faiths built places of worship even though they are not citizens. This is true of other Muslim countries too. Here people worship without fear. Sadly, this is no longer true in Pakistan.
Even as I write, Muslims of the Shia faith are gunned down in the streets of Karachi in the name of militancy. Those of minority faiths, as the Christians, worship in fear. The schools which teach Pakistani Muslims to hate grow, when, for me, the message of Islam is of peace, love and tolerance.
Those of us who believe in peace, love and tolerance find it hard to reconcile to the Taliban message. This is a movement where cultural heritage is destroyed and the way a woman or a man dresses is dictated. This is a movement that cares little for its children starving in refugee camps. It is a movement that can risk its soil, endanger its friend Pakistan and destabilise the region in the name of giving sanctuary to one man who is not even an Afghan.
America reacted quickly when confronted with a threat to its citizens. Now it is time for Pakistan, to react to the threat to its society from armed groups and their supporters instilling fear in society.