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Debating terror.

Byline: Salman Tarik Kureshi

MANY years back, this author visited the Tarnab Agricultural Research Institute. Located in a green and pleasant place just outside Peshawar, this institute was a scholarly retreat in what used to be the most hospitable and friendly region of this country. Presently reincarnated as the Agricultural Training Institute, the students and faculty last month suffered a visitation by the demons of death: a terrorist attack in which nine people were killed. Add this attack to those on the Army Public School and Bacha Khan University as assaults on educational institutions in KP.

More immediately, it raises questions about the effectiveness of operations Zarb-i-Azb and Raddul Fasaad, as well as about the CT capabilities of the law-enforcement agencies of the province and federation. But it would be at least naive to think that Pakistan's war against the terror we ourselves had unleashed is over. There is still a long, painful struggle ahead. We need, therefore, to probe these crimes for crimes they are, exceptionally heinous crimes, which must not be glorified by calling them anything else.

The point about these crimes is that they are completely cold-blooded. They are crimes without a motive, in the sense that there is nothing personal between the murderer and his victims. Nor are they committed for any kind of material gain other than an ego-pumping thrill.

One can be a religious person without embracing violence.

Other kinds of motiveless killings include a couple of examples from the country that believes itself to be the main target of terrorism. Charles Manson, a convicted serial killer, died recently at the age of 83. In the late 1960s, he founded a cult group known as 'The Manson Family', whom he manipulated into brutally killing others on his behalf. Manson's followers committed a series of murders in July and August 1969, including the slaughter of actress Sharon Tate.

Another example: in October, a gunman opened fire into a crowd of concertgoers at a music festival in Las Vegas. Stephen Paddock injured 546 people and killed 58. He then killed himself. One can speculate that this murderous spree was yet another example of nihilistic killing for the sake of killing.

What is the difference between these apparently senseless murders and the mass killings perpetrated by so-called jihadi militants? Only that the former lack any political or ideological rationale, while the jihadists claim to be driven by religious zeal. Now, traditional terrorists, such as the earlier pseudo-Marxist or anti-colonial waves, could be seen as storm crows riding on the winds of wider revolutionary movements. But the Fourth Wave terrorists of today the Taliban, IS, and the various Lashkars and Jaishes propose no liberating ideologies. Their violence is unique in three ways: its cold-blooded lack of discrimination, the extraordinary scale of killings, and the rapidity of its spread across continents from its two points of origin in the Pak-Afghan borderlands and the Horn of Africa.

Since this violence is a feature of the times we live in, there has been considerable scholarly debate (not in this country, even though Pakistan is one of the worst affected countries) as to the ideological and sociological roots from which this terrorist behaviour has sprung.

Frequently, the Islamic religion and/or Muslim communities have been characterised as being inherently prone to violent doctrinal interpretations. Renowned scholar Prof Giles Kepel holds that the long-term goal of 'radical Islam' (a term also used by President Trump) is to destroy Europe through civil war and then build an Islamic society from the ashes. He claims that this strategy is similar to the expansion of IS, which used the chaos of civil war to build its forces, grow in power, and rapidly seize territory. (The Taliban in AfghanisA!tan, of course, did something similar in the 1990s.)

Another French scholar, Olivier Roy, contradicts Kepel by pointing out that the biographies of many terrorists in fact show them to have been violent nihilists who adopted the Muslim faith as a rationale, rather than religious believers who turned to violence. Roy refers to the 'Islamisation of radicalism', contending that these young men were already prone to nihilistic radicalism, and that funds, weapons, and ideological indoctrination from extremist organisations and vested interests in South and Southwest Asia gave them a spurious and terrifying 'cause'. Thus, Roy suggests, it has little to do with religion and everything to do with politics.

Roy's hypothesis certainly seems to ring true in in our own context. It is easy to blame religion but let it be clear that one can be a religious person, even an extremist or fundamentalist in one's views, without embracing criminal mass violence.

These killers are in fact closer to criminals like Charles Manson or Stephen Paddock than to any kind of 'holy warrior' and their proclaimed embrace of religion is an outrageously blasphemous sacrilege. It is not possible to negotiate with them.

The writer is an author and a poet.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 24, 2017
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