The jihadist violence that made this Ramzan the bloodiest in recent memory had everything to do with Islam. An evil, fanatical version of Islam but religious violence it certainly was. We must acknowledge this to understand what happened in Orlando, Baghdad, Istanbul and Dhaka. In India, with the world’s second largest Muslim population, we need more than any other country to confront this ugly truth. But our reactions have as usual been confused, politically correct or tinged with Hindutva gloating.
After the Dhaka attack last week, important public figures came forward to state that terrorism has no religion and yet again we saw knee-jerk attempts to impose restrictions on certain individuals and organisations. As has now become routine, ardent Muslim voices were heard trying to establish that Muslims are the real victims of jihadist violence. They made the case that the jihad is not a monolith but a disparate network of groups killing for different reasons. So how is it that they all share the same hatred of ‘crusaders’, Jews and us idol-worshipping infidels? How is that wherever jihadist ideology begins to spread, women start wearing veils and men start wearing Muslim beards? The Dhaka killers even wore Arab headgear for their Internet mug shots on ISIS websites.
Those who have studied jihadist violence have noticed that the ideology that motivates Allah’s soldiers is exactly the same. But this is so frightening a thought that powerful world leaders hardly dare articulate it. So we get no closer to accepting that even if ISIS is defeated in the territory it calls its caliphate, the problem of jihadist violence will continue. In India, we comfort ourselves by repeating ad nauseam that very few Indians have left to fight in the ISIS army. The attack in Dhaka appears to have shaken up our security agencies but, as after 26/11, this is likely to be momentary and we will soon lapse back into the complacency that has so far defined our response to jihadist terrorism. It is because of this complacency that Indian cities remain totally vulnerable eight years after the attack on Mumbai.
It is for the same reason that we have come no closer to understanding why so many young Muslims are being drawn to a religious ideology that is filled with hatred, brutality and misogyny. ISIS soldiers sell and buy little girls on the Internet as if they were new cellphones. The handful of Yazidi girls lucky enough to have escaped tell stories which are too terrible to repeat. And Boko Haram now regularly uses little girls as suicide bombers. The ideology of Islamism is directly responsible for creating these monsters who become bereft even of basic humanity.
Moderate Muslims, who have tried to understand what is happening to their religion, try to explain everything away by blaming western interference in Muslim countries. If the Afghan Mujahideen groups had not been armed by America, they say, this would not have happened. If George Bush had not invaded Iraq, this would not have happened. In India, celebrated thinkers and intellectuals publicly state that the problem began with the rise of Hindutva and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Really? So how do we explain that Wahhabism has been around for more than a hundred years?
There are those who believe that Muslims are reverting to a literal interpretation of Islam because of their inability to deal with modernity. I humbly disagree. Whenever I have talked to young Muslim men and women who have suddenly discovered their Islamic roots, I have found that it is a romance with a mythical past that lures them, not an inability to deal with modernity. The very effective way in which jihadists use the Internet and modern weapons to further their cause is proof that they have dealt quite easily with modern technology. If modern ideas do not appeal to them, it is because they seem to prefer the certainties of those that God’s last Prophet expressed in the Quran.
So is there a solution? Possibly. But, it will only come if we first accept the ugly reality that jihadist violence is linked to Islam. This is something that jihadist killers acknowledge every time they use verses from the Quran to justify their deeds. In the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Muslims were spared except two. Faraaz Hossain died because he refused to abandon his non-Muslim friends and Ishtar Akhond because she refused to save her life by reciting Quranic verses. They showed extraordinary courage, and it is only when many, many more Muslims show this kind of courage that the jihadists will be defeated.
This new fight between good and evil is going to be long and bloody. It can only be won when more and more moderate Muslims accept that Islamism is evil but that it is born of Islam.