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Wednesday 18th May 2022

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

The following article was written in response to the killing of 145 people including 132 children at the Army Public School in Peshawar on 16 December 2014. Since then there have been numerous suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. These include: a terrorist attack in Ankara that killed 90 people in November 2015, suicide bombers killing over 30 people in Cameroon and Nigeria in July 2015, suicide attacks in Beirut in November 2015 that killed 43, a suicide bombing at an Iraqi football stadium in March 2016 killing 29, a series of car bomb attacks that killed 63 people in Iraq in October 2015, a bomb attack at a park in Lahore that killed 72. Paris and Brussels have also both recently witnessed major terrorist attacks. Here in the UK, a few weeks ago Asad Shah in Glasgow was killed by a taxi driver who drove up from Bradford to kill him because, in his words, Asad Shah had claimed prophecy and had therefore to be killed. Before this murder, Qari Jalal udDin was killed in February in Rochdale and many people thought that this was an anti-Muslim attack, but Mohammed Hussain Syeedy of Rochdale has been charged with his murder. There is too much violence around, and there is too much talk of violence. Too much machismo.

The following was written after the Peshawar massacre.

Another day, another massacre. This one is worse than the ones that came before. More people killed, children this time – locked inside a school, chased by men with automatic machine guns. Blood on the classroom floor, bullet holes in the walls. What else happens? Who else will die? Police stations, market places – there is no longer a dividing line between the battle field and elsewhere. Everywhere is a battlefield, including the classroom. All are combatants, children included. This massacre will pass from our eyes, the memories will fade. And then there will be another massacre. This one grabs us, because of the number of people killed and their ages. Twenty three might be killed in a marketplace somewhere else next month or the month after, it will pass as a low-level headline – just momentarily calling for our attention. How has it come to this?

The jihad movement has never been one movement. It is an idea which itself is subject to proliferation and disintegration. It is taken up by groups and sub-groups, new admirers, new leaders. Religious authority in the Muslim world has declined in its influence, the state is losing power, and in this moment there is a space in which new leaders can emerge with new ideas, who have no sense of recourse to anybody. They are their own kings, their own heroes, fighting their own battles. They make their rules of war, and in so doing all murder and mayhem is unleashed.

Leaders of the mainstream – whether they be political or religious – must stand up. This is an argument that has to be had from the inside. It seems that we no longer know how to disagree, instead we can only make our point through violence. The civilisation that built itself on the strength and the power of the word now can only resort to using guns and bombs. Young men, angry and without clear purpose, are easily convinced to join new groups whether they be the Boko Haram, ISIL or the Pakistani Taliban. They are sold dreams and methods. They believe because they are desperate to believe to find a way out.

It is time for the leaders to stand up. The normal – the normative – must be reasserted. The Muslim world is going to go through a series of major changes as the nation-states that were formed in the early ninety twenties across the Middle East and North Africa unravel. The artificial boundaries that were forced upon nations will shrivel away and new countries and formations will arise. In this period, normative Islam – the Islam of the Sunni consensus – that lasted for more than a thousand years needs to be reasserted. The rules of association including the rules of war need to be reasserted. We have a massive youth population as well as a massive religious revival at hand. This needs religious leadership, to assert balance and stability through a period of instability and change.

The chaos is spreading, it is getting worse and not better – though at the moment it is confined to pockets of the Muslim world. We need to see that the path of violence in our current situation – without mass religious learning and during a time of political instability – will not resolve our situation or make it better. Those who are in positions of religious and political leadership need to take this message to the young men who are vulnerable to the preachers of violence.

I remember a slogan from the posters of the Islamic activist scene in nineties London: ‘Muslim blood is cheap’. Instead we are taught that life, all life, is Sacred. But, we are far, far away from this. This is a call to the ulama, direct this message to those who are ready to kill in the name of our religion. Teach people to make their case through the power of the pen, this is the way of our civilisation.

Too many today talk of violence. We need the peacemakers.

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Atif has been involved in Muslim community life since the late eighties. He is a student of social psychology, his...
read more about Atif Imtiaz