Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2 last year should have put an end to the threat of al Qaeda and the spectre of global terror. But, as the past year has shown us, it has not. Instead, it has changed us in the most profound way possible. Pakistani citizens and soldiers die every day at the hands of terrorism. And yet, in this momentous struggle, Pakistan’s concern has changed from ridding itself of terrorists to the US border incursions and drone strikes. Privately, both allies in the war agree that this day had to come but they don’t have the faintest clue as to why.
As both nations quarrel over territorial issues, something broader has been neglected. There is a reason why al Qaeda and similar outfits exist and we all have learned to ignore it though it is in plain sight. The answer to this question has to be found in the Islamic eschatology.
Saleem Shahzad, in the prologue of his book Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban, notes: “In the ideological perspective of al Qaeda, this was to be a preparation for the ‘end of time’ battles … These pointed to parts of modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia as ancient Khorasan. Khorasan was to be the first battleground for the end of time battles”. It is prudent to note here that dajjal, the Muslim version of the Antichrist, as per prophecies, was to emerge from this very Khorasan. Islam, like any other faith, has its own version of endism. From Hulagu Khan’s sacking of Baghdad to the present-day suffering of the Muslim community, whenever the going gets tough these eschatological prophecies become the proverbial sand in which our ostrich buries its head again and again. Unfortunately, for us the problem lies as much in the geographical construct of Khorasan as it does in a particular religious worldview.
On our side of the civilisational divide, such stories have been told inexhaustibly. However, the West also has to take some blame for the deep mess we are in. In 1981, a documentary titled, “The man who saw tomorrow” was released. In this movie, Nostradamus’s prophecies were interpreted to show that in the late 1990s a blue turbaned king of terror would rise from Arabia and spread the influence of Islamic fundamentalism leading to World War III. This idea, of course, would later add fuel to the fire of fertile imaginations of many among us.
Two years prior to 9/11, I received an audiotape from a friend titled, ‘Shadows’. The man is now well-placed in the twin city circles and seemed quite convinced of the content of the tape which should make matters easy for us. The audio documentary was later made into a video documentary called “Shadows in Motion” and is now available on YouTube for your consumption. Of course, the documentary is based on the most madcap conspiracy theories you can imagine. But trust me when I say that back in those days, it had quite an impact.
Of course, immediately after the September 11 attacks the language used by the Bush administration gave many Muslims the idea that the war with dajjal was upon them and since then, many Muslims have been silently radicalised. If we want to put an end to the spectre of terror in the Muslim world we will have to start by dismantling this narrative. Unfortunately, the war on terror that we know of has, thus far, not taken these matters into cognisance.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.
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