Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, renowned nuclear physicist and disarmament activist, who teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, recently visited the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and delivered a talk, the title of which was: Sacred Terror -Theirs and Ours. I was fortunate enough to find out about this and actually attend the lecture. I will attempt to summarize what Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy said, since I thought most of our Pakistaniat readers would like to know what he had to say on the extremely divisive subject of global terrorism, which has become extremely important after 9/11.
Dr. Hoodbhoy started the talk by giving the audience a definition of terrorism.
‘Terrorism is the deliberate targeting of non-combatants with the intention to kill or wound.’
If this, indeed, is the definition of terrorism, then it leads us to re-examine some of the events that took place some time ago, but which have all had an impact on history. While much has been written about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they have not really ever been referred to as acts of terrorism. In 1971, when the West Pakistani Army slaughtered close to 100,000 Bengalis, Dr. Hoodbhoy thinks that sort of brutality can also be seen as terrorism, but of course as we all know, history has not recognized it as such.
We all remember the Munich Olympics of 1972, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian group ‘Black September’, a group which had ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization. By the end of the ordeal, the group had murdered 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer. Of course, the Palestinians thought they were merely taking their revenge from people who were representatives of the country that had deprived them of their homeland. Dr. Hoodbhoy calls this an act of terrorism as well.
There are numerous other similar incidents in history. Dr. Hoodbhoy, very interestingly, talked about former President Ronald Reagan, who on one occasion was quoted as saying, ‘I am a Mujahideen’ while posing for pictures with Afghan Mujahideen including Gulbadin Hikmatyar Apparently, at that time, President Reagan had also said about the Mujahideen that ‘they were the moral equivalent of the founding fathers of America.’
So as you can see, terrorism is a very complex subject, and its definition depends, to some extent, on which side you belong to. Yesterday’s freedom fighters have become today’s terrorists. After 9/11, while the US was engulfed by insurmountable grief, one is ashamed to admit that there was jubilation and actual celebration in most of the Muslim world. Whereas one’s initial reaction is to feel appalled at such apathy at the death of innocent people, it is important to point out that the Muslims are not the only ‘bad guys’ in the world. Recently, Dr. Hoodbhoy saw CNN coverage of the bridge collapse in Minnesota where 13 people died and approximately 100 were injured, and while it was very tragic to hear the stories of the survivors and those of the families who had lost loved ones, Dr. Hoodbhoy says he was reminded of the beginning of the Iraq war, where the very same CNN was simply ecstatic at the collapse of a similar bridge. CNN was going on and on about the precision with which the United States attacks its targets, and there was no sorrow at the loss of innocent lives that accompanied this feat.
Terrorism is born and flourishes when the world gets divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and this is a mind-set that is rampant in today’s world.
The essence of terrorism rests on the psychological detachment from its victims and a contemptuous indifference to their suffering.
Left unchecked, the negative stereotyping of all Muslims as terrorists will have dire consequences. So what can be done to stop the growing confrontation between the U.S and the Muslims? Dr. Hoodbhoy used the very imaginative allegory of a modern day Moses to whom 10 new Commandments are revealed – 5 of the 10 Commandments are for the U.S and the other 5 are for the Muslims. I will summarize them here for the benefit of our readers.
1. The United States must stop behaving as if planet Earth belongs to them and that they are the world’s policemen. There is U.S. military presence all over the world and the U.S. dominates the land, sea, air and space. They spend a staggering half a trillion dollars on defense, which is more than the defense budgets of the next five countries.
2. Live by the law. When international agreements have been signed and agreed to by the U.S., they should be obeyed. U.S. does not live by the NPT (non-proliferation treaty). Currently, they have agreed to supply nuclear material to India (who as we all know, has not signed the NPT). So the U.S. is in clear violation of the NPT. Interestingly enough, Iran’s nuclear program (which is the reason behind the current threat of bombing Iran) was started by the U.S. itself at the time of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s.
3. Do not use rhetoric of democracy unless you mean it. The two main reasons for invading Iraq were, of course, the elusive WMDs and secondly to establish democracy over there. This is very transparent hypocrisy on the past of the U.S., especially since they have supported several dictatorships around the world. All four military dictators in Pakistan have had the full support of the U.S.
4. Ensure that a Palestinian State is created very soon. Despite involving a relatively small land area and number of casualties, especially compared to the genocide in Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia, the Palestinian issue has become a very important one for the Muslim psyche. Muslims feel they are being victimized by the Christian West, and Palestine has become a symbol of the injustice done to Muslims in today’s world.
5. Exercise soft power. The wealth and resources of the U.S. MUST be shared with countries that need them. The U.S. helped very generously at the time of the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 and also they played an important role in the relief efforts when the earthquake hit northern Pakistan two years ago. These kinds of actions promote goodwill and will go a long way in easing tensions between the Muslims and this country.
And now we come to the 5 Commandments addressed to the Muslims.
1. Muslims must STOP blaming the West (or the ‘infidels’) for everything that is wrong with them. Out of the 48 Muslim countries of the world, not one can be called a democracy in the pure sense of the word. Sadly, there has been NO significant scientific achievement in the last 700 years or so, whereas between the 9th and the 13th centuries, during the golden period of Islam, it was only the Muslims who kept the light of knowledge burning. The causes of Muslim decline have all been internal, and NOT the result of conspiracies. If Islam is to become a positive, constructive force in the 21st century, it must change from within, and worldwide opinion will follow.
2. Whenever and wherever there is an act of terrorism, condemn it LOUDLY and fully. The West has taken the majority of the Muslim communities lack of anger at 9/11 as tacit approval of militant Islam. Unfortunately Islam has become synonymous with violence and terror, and many moderate, peaceful Muslims have now become victims as well. The moderate Muslim community must fight against the hijacking of Islam.
3. Stop dreaming of theocracies and the reinstating of the Shariah law. Such ideas belong to the past, and are not compatible with the continuously evolving society and environment to which we belong. Insistence on such ideas can only drag the Muslims further into a medieval abyss.
4. Accept the fact that others do not see morality the way you do. Muslims have been brought up to believe that the only morality worth upholding is sexual morality. Other religions and cultures may not place so much emphasis on sexual morality, but that does not necessarily make them inferior human beings.
5. The last Commandment is for Muslims who have chosen to live in countries other than their homeland. Integrate. Do NOT try and stand out. Do NOT try and be different. And yes, it is possible to do all this AND maintain one’s individual identity, and without compromising principles and values we have grown up with. We must take more of an interest in our surroundings, in politics, and not just national politics but starting at the grassroots level.
To conclude, it is the need of the hour to understand that it was okay to be tribal in the early days, but certainly not so in today’s world. We human beings are similar in a lot of ways and we must strive to become global citizens, and try not to be locked into narrow nationalism. This is a challenge for all of us and we will all have to consciously work at it to survive.
About the Author: Maryam Chaudhry lives in Illinois. She teaches French at a private university.