This is the way Muslims have been stereotyped by the mainstream media in the West, and this is the perception of Muslims some U.S. citizens have.
In the United States, everyone is free to express his or her opinion, but talking about a cultural group or religious group without having knowledge of the cultural or religious beliefs of that group usually has disastrous consequences. Let us analyze the present scenario in a historical perspective:
The story of “Islamic extremism” does not start — nor does it end — with ISIS. In order to completely understand the issue, we will have to look at the roots of the present wave of extremism.
I am from Pakistan. The country was once considered liberal and moderate. However, our social fabric was destroyed during the 1980s when we sided with the United States in the Cold War era. It was a time when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia used Pakistan as a training camp to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The school curriculum was radicalized in my country, misinterpreting the verses from the Quran. Pakistani scholars say that textbooks for Pakistani schools were developed with the technical assistance of Nebraska University during that era. The CIA wanted radicalized Muslims who could defeat communism in Pakistan. They created “Islamic extremists,” and then financially and politically supported them.
The extremists were glorified by the White House as “freedom fighters.” It was the first time in the history of Pakistan when religion was politicized. The U.S. managed to defeat the U.S.S.R. with the help of the Islamic militants, but it did not have a Plan B. Our governments failed to make these militants a part of their respective societies once the Russians were defeated.
The U.S. and other countries’ intelligence agencies made them fight in the name of religion. It was U.S. and Saudi Arabia who invented and promoted a particular “brand of Islam” that was alien to the rest of the Muslims. People were indoctrinated in the name of Sharia. What the U.S., Saudi and other intelligence agencies failed to realize was the fact that the monsters they created would be so powerful one day that with the latest war techniques and equipment, they would not only kill Muslims but would also challenge Western authority. The U.S. and other intelligence agencies ignored them until the unfortunate 9/11 incident.
After 9/11, the Western mainstream media demonized Muslims as a source of “terrorism.” The word “terrorism” was used for all incidents involving Muslims. The Western mainstream media constructed the identities of Muslims as “terrorists” without realizing that the majority of Muslims opposed the militants and were opposed to their ideologies. They did not even acknowledge the fact that all the Muslim states were fighting against those extremists and paying the price.
In Pakistan, the “extremists” created by Western intelligence agencies have killed 80,000 Muslims. Last December, al-Qaeda and IS-linked militants killed 143 school kids in Pakistan. Those kids were Muslims.
Now let us analyze the situation in the Middle East. The U.S. attacked Iraq based on the false allegations that the country had weapons of mass destruction. Now, the country is ruled by Islamic militants (both Shia and Sunni). In Syria, the U.S. troops helped the al-Qaeda- and ISIS-linked militants to topple the government of Bashar al Asad, as was the case in Afghanistan.
Once the militants got power, they refused to toe the lines drawn by the Western powers. They started killing Muslims who opposed their version of Sharia in the areas they captured from al Asad’s regime. Muslims rejected their version of Islam, and as a reaction they killed thousands of Muslims. The ultimate losers of the war, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq, are common Muslims who lost their lives, who lost their homes and their families. Still, Muslims are labeled as terrorists.
As a Muslim who knows Islamic theology, I have issues with the way the term jihad has been conceptualized by ISIS and the West. They portray “jihad” as a war against non-Muslims, which is incorrect.
Jihad in the Islamic theology actually means a defensive war against foreign aggressors when your independence is threatened and you are physically attacked by the enemy. In light of this definition, I think Muslims are performing jihad against extremists who are ridiculing their religion and who are killing them. In Pakistan, our army is fighting these extremists.
Let us not oversimplify issues and look at them in the political and historical perspectives. Muslims cannot be the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time. Those fighting in the name of Islam in Pakistan or the Middle East are not Muslims. They want to implement the version of Sharia taught to them by Western powers. Their Sharia allows killings of Muslims, non-Muslims, children and women.
A majority of the Muslims do not accept their version of Sharia. Islam does not allow the killing of even a single human being. The prophet Muhammad once told his followers, “killing of one human being is like destroying Kaaba,” (the holiest building in the world for Muslims) located in Saudi Arabia. The fact that Muslims are killing the monsters that Western powers created to fight the U.S.S.R. needs to be recognized. We are the victims of “terrorism.”
Personally, I don’t see religion as a source of human identity. At the same time, I don’t like being blamed for what I am from a cultural perspective. Cultural identities are integral constituents of the human psyche. When such a sweeping statement is made, it is aimed at the very civilization we are part of. We might not be a willing part of it, but we can’t take ourselves out of the fabric that we are made of.
It would be the same as if we try to gauge the modern Western civilization through the history of the Crusades. I would rather live in a world with collective responsibility, with each of us taking responsibility for what goes wrong — and at the same time credit for what gets better.
Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @mianfawadshah.