Islam is a religion that attaches great importance to peace and all its principles are based on peace, patience, justice and perseverance. All that Islam aims at — spiritual progress, intellectual development, character building, social reform, educational activities and above all missionary preaching — can be achieved only in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Nowhere in the faith is it allowed to resort to violence, hate and massacre against the innocent population, rather it has taught tolerance and peace. As it is stated in Quran, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error” (Al-Quran 2:256). This and many other instances reveal the peace-loving principle of our religion which abhors violence and merciless killings. But, unfortunately, violence in the name of religious extremism and jihad has gotten too far in many parts of the world, including Pakistan.
We, as Pakistanis, have been fighting this Hydra-headed monster of extremism for decades now and have suffered huge losses during the course of war against terrorism. Still we are being targeted by these extremists time and again, despite successful military operations. The root cause lies somewhere else, because while physically targeting the extremists, we are neglecting to crush the breeding grounds of zealots and the hate ideology that is mushrooming within us. Now we are challenged by a new breed of zealots who justify their brutal acts as a duty bestowed by faith. These brutes have distorted the principles of jihad only to suit their own twisted version of the faith. They have targeted mausoleums and shrines for years, among other soft targets.
Our armed forces with the support of civilian governments and the nation have been vehemently fighting this menace and have been very successful to eliminate extremists in various operations. Recently, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad was initiated in the wake of a recent wave of terrorism that hit all four provinces, leaving over 100 people dead and countless others injured. The indiscriminate elimination of residual terrorist threats, the consolidation of gains made during counter-terrorism operations so far and tightening security on the borders are the main objectives of the new operation, which is joined by all wings of the armed forces, paramilitary organisations and civilian law-enforcement agencies. Most importantly, pursuance of NAP is the hallmark of this operation. Though during Zarb-e-Azb, the civilian government had to supplement the operation that was targeting terrorists in northern Pakistan by taking action against hardline madrassas, cracking down on terrorist cells in urban areas and initiating reforms in the criminal justice system. The centre and provinces were also supposed to draft a counter-narrative to push back against the venomous ideology that has fuelled extremism in our country. But sadly this has not been done with great dedication.
While NAP should be followed and implemented with full force to counter the extremist ideology, the Ulema and religious scholars have also a greater role to play. The Ulema, with their true interpretation and knowledge of Islam, should come forward and free the religion of hate and violence. The religious scholars should play a proactive role in building a counter narrative of Islam that promotes peace and harmony. The religious seminaries should produce peaceful and faithful believers instead of producing flag-bearers of various sects. They should abstain from causing divisions in the nation and society in the name of religion.
In order to root out this menace permanently from our society, we need to target the minds which are infiltrated by hate and poison. In an effort to spread the message of tolerance, moderate clerics should mount a nationwide campaign involving respected religious figures and organise state-sponsored religious seminars. Then, the laws of the land need to be more stringent and strong because one of the main causes of the rise of hate and savagery is that the laws are not an active deterrent against crime. Other main factors of the rising extremist mindset are primitive and flawed investigation, inefficient prosecution and the privilege of the rich and influential to beat the law.
The truth is that a military force can only carry out kinetic operations on the ground, whereas it cannot alter the mindset that is widely prevalent. Extremism and the distorted belief in the faith is a mindset that has been prevailing in Pakistan for decades now. The military and other security forces are doing their job well, but the government and other segments of the society, especially Ulema, should highlight this brutal ideology as a distorted vision of Islam. With a steely resolve, the government should counter this mindset using all its resources. Only then will we be able to save our future generations from going into the depths and darkness of extremist mindsets. It is time that we realised where the roots of this savagery lie.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2017.
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