Where false binaries come to die - Terror’s ideologues and the complex they weave

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Terror we have been told is sectarian in nature, exclusionist by definition and bloody in its practice. Terror so far has defined our era, locking nations in a state of permanent belligerence and hatred. But those are false binaries ...

For all our outrage and confessed disgust before the violence displayed by Terror’s militants - whichever acronyms they have hidden under or rebranded themselves with to offer a resemblance of legitimacy, we have collectively failed to see the complex behind the murders, and the system behind the manipulations.

Maybe more than the instability generated by Terror, it is fear Terror’s ideologues ambition to institutionalise. A fear so entrenched in our socio-political make up that Society would turn altogether subservient to whichever authority would hold to the reins of power. To anchor that fear dynamics had to be manifested, and a new rationale risen. Here, sectarianism came a convenient flag bearer of this modern form of totalitarianism.

In the face of so much violence and bloodshed: Afghanistan, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria., Pakistan one cannot help but recoil in horror … and yet, little has been done in terms of countering the ideology calling for communities to be bled dry. Maybe now would be a good time to change that!

Increasingly, policy-makers, leaders and research scholars around the globe are recognizing the need to attend to the potential threat that faith-based radicalization and extremism pose to individuals, communities and societies, even if in some instances the threat is not clearly identifiable.

Pakistan here could serve as an interesting case-study.

The world’s sixth most populous country with more than 192 million inhabitants Pakistan has a diverse population in terms of faith, sect, ethnicity and other forms of identity. In recent years, systematic faith-based violence there has reached unprecedented levels in terms of death and destruction for Sunni Barelvis, Sufis, Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and other communities. Addressing this issue is of global importance.

In almost all incidents of faith-based violence and suicide bombings, militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban (known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan [TTP]), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ, Army of Jhangvi), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP, also operating as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat or ASWJ) and affiliated militant outfits, with overlapping, shared memberships and blurred boundaries, are involved.

Almost without exception, these militants belong to the Deobandi subsect of Sunni Islam and are involved in attacks on fellow Sunni Muslims, in addition to attacks on non-Sunni and non-Muslim communities. There is also evidence of attacks on relatively moderate Deobandi scholars and other incidents of intra-Deobandi violence.

On a global level there is also reasons to believe that Deobandi-type militancy in other regions, including in the West and the Middle East in support of Al-Qaeda, and the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] or Daesh) has established itself a rule of thumb - the normative expression of Sunni Islam.

It is important here to realise that while radicals may claim to hold to the true interpretation of Islam, it does not make it so! Sunni Muslims, very much like the intended targets of Terror’s ideology have been held hostage to such warped and insidious dogma.

Back in June an interesting conversation took place in between US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and distinguished scholars where it was established that Deobandi militant outfits are not isolated offshoots but enjoy the support of a wider network of Deobandi theo-political parties, clerics, madrassas (religious schools or seminaries), and at least some sections of the populace and security establishment in Pakistan.

Such conversation is indeed significant as it addresses the root of Terror, rather than its manifestation.

Faith-based violence aka fanaticism is no longer just an ideology but an actual complex powered by very geopolitical ambitions. Such observation sits true not only in Pakistan but wherever Terror has been manifested - whichever ‘brand’ it has operated under: Wahhabism/Salafism or Deobandism.

Given the Pakistani state’s emphasis on assimilative national identity, incidents of sectarian attacks are either ignored or under-reported, with little mention of the common denominational identity of the perpetrators. In view of the historical support given to Deobandi and Salafi jihadist groups by the Pakistani security establishment, there is also some evidence of a lack of will on the state’s part to bring the perpetrators to justice. Similar neglect is also evident in the Pakistani media.

Interestingly Deobandis, despite their allegiance to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, are heavily influenced by the ultra-orthodox Takfiri (a fanatic Muslim who considers other Muslim sects or groups in dels due to religious or political differences and justi es violence against them) and jihadist ideologies of Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328) and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). Such influences pre-date the origins of the Darul Uloom Deoband in 1867. Therefore, Deobandis are closer to Salafis/Wahhabis in their inclination to takfiri sectarian and jihadist militancy.

Owing to the Deobandis’ better organization and resources (in contrast to those of Sunni Sufis and Barelvis), their ideology remains influential in Pakistan, with little room or tolerance for other sects and faiths.

And there lies the main issue: power and ideological influence.

A recent report by the European Parliament (EP) reveals how Salafi/Wahhabi groups based in the Middle East are involved in the support of, and supply of arms to, militant groups around the world. The work, commissioned by the EP’s Directorate-General for External Policies, warns about these organizations and claims that “no country in the Muslim world is safe from their operations ... as they always aim to terrorise their opponents and arouse the admiration of their supporters” (EP 2013).

Until we hold debates and develop solid academic research on the complex that powers and sustains Terror’s ideology as a socio-political reality no amount of military muscle, such as that proposed by US President Donald Trump in Afghanistan for example will offer solace.