A blast ... dense smoke ... the smell of charred flesh — no matter how hard we try to avoid this reality, we know that bomb blasts and suicide attacks have become an everyday occurrence in most parts of the Muslim World. And although ‘terrorism’ is not a new phenomenon, it has almost become synonymous with the events of 9/11.
Wars, Insurgencies and Terrorist Attacks: A Psychosocial Perspective from the Muslim World, written by Unaiza Niaz, looks at the history of terrorism in the said region along with an in-depth analysis of its psychological aspect. The book begins with Ahmed Okasha, a guest professor, claiming that Islam stands for anti-terrorism. He disregards terrorism as being the actions of disturbed individuals and says the prime objective of such an act is to bring about political change in the targeted area.
Niaz proficiently tackles this sensitive issue, managing to explore and debunk many modern day misconceptions surrounding the phenomenon. She rightfully claims that it is not possible to come up with a single theory to explain such a complex concept. To proceed, she explores the ascendency of the United States — how modern terrorism has been a consequence of globalisation and the shift in power dynamics. The author also claims that if the reaction of the West to acts of terrorism is to wage a war against all Muslims, then fundamentalists in Muslims countries will correspondingly wage a jihad.
The book is admittedly expresses many anti-West sentiments — the plight of the Muslim world is in some way attributed to the actions of the West. Using theological references she claims that Islam is a religion of peace only to contest the idea by presenting an opposing viewpoint, accusing some of distorting their religion to validate acts of violence.
To defend herself she later highlights a very pertinent point: “Even if the terrorists have Muslim identities, the terror they perpetrated cannot be labelled ‘Islamic terror,’ just as it would not be called ‘Jewish terror’ if the perpetrators were Jews or ‘Christian terror’ if they were Christians.”
Difficult issues, like why some people resort to terror and why the Muslim world has been involved in acts of terror are meticulously answered, with ‘unfair treatment’ listed as the primary reason for discontent. A classic, though now hopelessly clichéd, example cited is the pullout of US forces from Afghanistan immediately after the defeat of the Soviet Union.
To leave her readers with pragmatic solutions the author highlights the need for health professionals to step forward and help victims deal with the aftermath of war and urges religious scholars, enlightened with the true spirit of Islam, to spread their knowledge so as to discourage the ongoing practice of indoctrination of manipulated Islamic ideology amongst vulnerable youths. The book also claims that the media should act responsibly; that is, assist in curbing the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ attitude that is so pervasive in Muslims countries, and refrain from sensationalising news and misleading the masses.
Overall, the book is a good read for those wanting to gain a deeper insight into the phenomenon of terrorism — but it is not exactly what I would call unbiased.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 31st, 2011.