Crying for the Victims of the Paris Attacks

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris perpetrated by a bunch of conscienceless husks of humanity is a proof that radical Islamic fundamentalism has become the scourge of our age. Every week we are fed with this bitter staple of violence, hatred, and destruction by ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabad, Al-Qaida and many other nameless and faceless monster groups. They have declared an asymmetrical war not only on the free world but also on fellow Muslims and men and women of goodwill throughout the world. We not only cry for the hundreds of innocent lives lost in these terrible terrorist attacks, but I cry for the loss of the true sense of what it means to be human among people who perpetrate these dastardly acts, their sponsors, and sympathizers. Humanity is dying in our very eyes. This death is occurring at a time in human history when we supposedly have advanced in our knowledge and understanding of one another. The lessons of history is clear: in every age, the decline of civilization always manifests itself first in the loss and distortion of the true ideals and values of such great institutions as religion, family, and the educational system. The response by the West to radical Islamism in recent times has often been reactionary, and retaliatory. This often results in more violence, more toughening of homeland security, greater vigilance and in most cases retributive and punitive actions. These Western reactions guarantee short term results and confidence without any enduring effects. In the face of the horrors in Paris and the rivers of blood spewed in the name of God, nationalism and national defense in the Middle East this year, we will must likely see in the coming weeks a scaled up operation against ISIS with greater violence and high human costs and other collateral damages. But the world needs a more comprehensive approach to meeting the challenges of the times.

I am not a pacifist. I believe that war can sometimes be legitimized by the principle of self-defense. I believe, however, that there should be a measure of proportionality, prudence, and clearly thought out multi-pronged approach to meeting this challenge. We cannot fold our hands and watch our civilizations being destroyed, our common life on earth being undermined and our collective freedom and rights being imperiled by groups and organizations or states whose sole raison d'être is the extermination of everything which we hold dear and true. We must remove the garment of sanctity from those who will kill in the name of God. The radical Islamist betray a lack of authentic human fulfillment, a distorted scale of values, and a loss of genuine humanity. These radical zealots who stew in the blood of others in the name of God imbibe a sub-value which reveals the absence of true religion, love of God and neighbor and any sentiments of positive spirituality and fellow-feeling. Radical Islamism is a false religious ideology which should not be associated with the religion of Islam or the name of God.

However, one truth is clear, one act of violence whether legitimized through an act of parliament or by the warped distortion of reality by an Islamic group does not nullify another act of violence. Violence begets more violence and there is greater violence in the world today because there are many people even in the West who are benefiting from it. In addition, the deeper causes of violence in the world today especially its incarnations in modern day terrorism goes deeper beyond the immediate events, conflicts and contestations of our modern times. We must not lose a sense of history in confronting this evil. ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida will not be bombed out of existence. In addition, they would not also be negotiated out of existence because their convictions and worldviews are in dialectical opposition to other peaceful notions of history within Islam and outside Islam. We are dealing with Islamic movements whose traces are embedded in a certain interpretation of Islam and who have sympathizers all over the world. We are dealing with an intractable network which is so permeable and diffuse and whose prehensile tentacles are like unseen dots in a new global cartography of terror. ISIS might have its headquarters in Iraq and Syria, but the worldview that gave birth to ISIS has permeated the minds of many young Muslims in many parts of Western society. It is this worldview which should be combated as a first step in sanitizing the mindset of many young Muslims who idealize the rationality of the Paris Massacre and idolize those demented Muslims who carried out these attacks. How did these attackers enter into France? If some of them grew up in Europe, how come they did not embrace Western ideals of freedom, tolerance, and rule of law? Why were they filled with such hatred of their own lives and the lives of others to carry out these terrible attacks?

One of the victims of the post-Enlightenment secularizing momentum was religion which was relinquished to the sphere of personal and private life. Stripped of its sacred aura and validating canons, the status of limitations with regard to religious claims gradually faded away. Gone too were any generally accepted quality control with regard to the claims and actions which people promote in the name of any religion and also what people do in opposition to people of faith. While the idea of state regulated religion seems passé for the times, there is need to rethink the idea that the state has no right to determine the kind of religious ideals and ideologies which are being fed into the minds of many young people. The idea in many Western countries that the state should not play an important role in religious education is very wrong-headed for many reasons.

The first is that if religion is decisive to the meaning-making and value preferences of a substantial portion of the population, it should matter to the government of the day. Second, the quality of religious education which young people receive in religious schools has serious implications in shaping the worldview of the future generation who will take over the reins of the state in the future. Third, is that it is better to begin the process of introducing young people into various world religious traditions early in life. This will enable them to cultivate a civic culture that is tolerant. Such religious education should be open and resistant to prejudices which are often found in most religious enclaves in many Western cities like Toronto, NY, Chicago, Paris, London etc. The need for government to integrate religious education into civic education is even more urgent in our times in the light of growing religious fundamentalism which is destroying the minds of many young Western Muslims. Governments in the West should care about the kind of unregulated Islamic education which young Muslims are receiving in Western Islamic academies. When the state washes its hands off religious education whether for Muslims, Jews, Christians or any religious group for that matter, the government is actually creating a big vacuum in the holistic education required to integrate people beyond their own cultural or religious silos. This leaves the door open to exploitation of the gullible minds of young people by terrorist networks and bigoted local Islamic teachers. The West must seek a broader answer to how to respond to homegrown Islamic fundamentalists. It is unfortunate that the only narrative of social construction and belonging for some young Islamic Westerners can only be achieved as Malise Ruthven observed by wrapping themselves in explosives, arming themselves with guns and fusing martyrdom with murder. This attitude, he argues, is not helped by the fact that many Islamic academies have existed in marginal scholarly ghettoes. These Islamic schools continue to spread the uncritical claim that Islam is opposed to the West or that the West is against Islam. Given its rich intellectual history and diverse traditions of interpretations one is forced to wonder whether the only answer which Islam could muster to these acts of senseless terrorism and barbarism being committed in the name of Islam will be only sentiments of condemnation and veiled justification of these acts as the result of provocation or Western political and economic practices in the Middle East or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. There is one important question which we all should reflect on: Why are there no serious and sustained protests on the streets of major Islamic cities against the irreverent appeal to the name of the founder of Islam and Islam's creed, and texts in these unspeakable atrocities? This is symptomatic of the wider unanswered questions raised by radical Islamic terrorism, the scourge of our age.

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