According to The Guardian, Reuters, and others, a video was released on Friday in which Ayman al-Zawahiri praises the attack on the Benghazi consulate, calls for more protests against US diplomatic facilities, and encourages, “free and distinguished zealots for Islam to continue their opposition to American crusader Zionist aggression against Islam and Muslims”. Similar statements have been made by AQ-affiliates in North Africa and Yemen.
An Al-Qaeda affiliate in Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’, has claimed credit for the assassination attempt on Malala Yousufzai (above), a 14-year old Pakistani girl who has campaigned to protect the right of girls to go to school. The TTP justified its attack saying she was encouraging “Western thinking.” Malala survived but is in critical condition.
It is in the self-interest of AQ, Salafists, and other religious extremists to characterize their struggle as combating an external threat presented by the United States and the West-in-general. Westerners too often unwittingly play along and reinforce the message. It is a false claim and a terrible trap.
The struggle that matters most is internal to Islam.
A teenaged classmate’s of Malala, interviewed on Pakistani television, said, “I am worried about Malala. The whole of Swat is worried about her. But every girl in Swat is Malala. We’ll educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”
In a Sunday column for Dawn, a Pakistani daily, Cyril Almeida is not as confident:
EVERYONE it seems has questions this week.
Some are of the stupid variety. What kind of human being would shoot a 14-year-old? Answer: a monstrous one. And there are a lot of monsters here.
How can anyone call themselves a Muslim and do this? Answer: Because they believe they are the true Muslims, not the weak-kneed moral relativists who pretend to be Muslims. A true Muslim does what needs to be done for the glory of Islam.
What kind of society teaches people to kill little girls trying to get an education? Answer: a sick and troubled society. A society that is in denial of the sickness in its midst.
Other questions are asked with a sly innocence. These are the more malign ones.
Why can’t we condemn all violence, by drones and by guns? Haven’t we had enough of killing? Can’t we now find a more humane way of ending the violence? Why don’t we try and understand this mindset instead of trying to destroy it?
These are malign questions because they are asked with a specific purpose.
The purpose is not to end jihad and violence, but to enable it, to perpetuate it, to make Pakistan the custodian of Islam, to create the perfect Islamist state in an imperfect world.
The trick the men with the malign questions have perfected is to sound reasonable.
See, we’re here on TV, talking things out, making our case, condemning all violence, trying to do our bit to make Pakistan peaceful and calm.
We all live here, we’re all the same. Let’s learn to understand why this is happening to us. It’s the Americans. It’s the Jews. It’s the Indians. Get rid of their influence and the wayward souls here will return to the fold.
They’re right about one thing: we all do live here. But we’re not the same, we don’t want the same things, and the men with the innocently asked but malign questions are not on the side of those asking in fear why this is happening to us.
Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that the difference isn’t as obvious as it should be.
Surely, both sides are well-meaning, people will ask. Surely, we can figure out a way to all live alongside in peace and happiness, people will say.
Yes, we could. But not if the rules are set by the other side.
Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that Pakistanis are not clear there is a continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism. It is not a difference of kind, only of degree.
The religious right creates an enabling environment for violent Islamism to recruit and prosper. And violent Islamism makes state and society cower and in doing so enhances the space for the religious right. One feeds off the other and together they grow in strength.
Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that the continuum from Jamaat-i-Islami to Al Qaeda, from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to the Taliban is barely recognised, let alone understood.
If there is outrage at that statement, at conflating the two, that is a testament to the success and deep-rootedness of the denial, confusion and obfuscation.
The mullah of today is the same as the mullah of yesterday. What’s changed is that the mullah of today has his goal in sight and the means to achieve it. The means is the continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism — one feeding off the other and together edging closer to their goal.
For years now, the problem of Pakistan has been seen as a problem of the state. But perhaps what it really is is a problem of society. A decrepit and broken society whose decrepitude and brokenness the denial, confusion and obfuscation have masked.
There is surely a problem of the state too. A certain poverty of imagination and moral bankruptcy have fashioned a state that can no longer do what is right and necessary.
It’s not always about complicity and sympathy. Often it’s just about fear. In Balochistan, I have wondered why the state doesn’t just take out the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi killers. After all, there can’t be more than a few dozen of them.
I asked and asked until someone finally offered, “They’ll never forget. You take them on and eventually they’ll get you. Maybe while you’re serving, maybe when you’re retired, but they will get you and probably your family too.”
The same question I’ve asked in KP and Fata. Why can’t they wipe this out? This isn’t a foreign army operating; these aren’t alien areas; yes, it was always going to be a slow grind, but why are the results so obviously patchy? Ask and ask and eventually — after theories and philosophies of missing holistic strategies and drivers internal and external — an answer comes. “Because they don’t know. They don’t know if that’s what’s really wanted. And because they don’t know, they’d rather live to see another day, to go back to their families.”
The state is a broken project. The foot soldiers are fearful because the high command is locked in denial and the certainty of old ways.
But perhaps it is society that is broken too. A society that laments its misfortune but can’t see the cause. A society that sees evil in its midst but never its facilitators. A society so manipulated by denial, confusion and obfuscation that the grotesque can masquerade as salvation.
Mercifully, the violent Islamists aren’t very bright. The shoot a little girl, they flog a teenager, they do terrible things that make Pakistanis recoil in horror.
But perhaps they can afford to not be very bright. Because they have the men with the innocently asked but malign questions.
They have the mullah to deny, confuse and obfuscate and lull society into believing the problem is without when it really is within.
It’s not always about us. We are usually no more than an excuse. But too often we respond in a way that reinforces the excuse and encourages our adversaries.