By Zainab Usman
In February, terrorist attacks targeted Ankara in Turkey, and Grand Bassam resort in the Ivory Coast. The Brussels Attacks, last month, claimed 35 innocent lives with over 300 people injured. There are countless attacks in Northeast Nigeria often targeting people who are already poor at the very bottom of the income ladder, in Mali, increasingly in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, etc., and many Western capitals.
“It is not the violence that makes them dangerous. It is the idea that what was normal 1400 years ago should still be relevant today. That we should throw away all the progress humanity has made in the past couple of centuries in favor of the norms of the 7th century.
That is why they still think it is OK to have slaves… And to fight and kill “non-believers”, which includes Muslims who disagree with their interpretation.
What is at stake is not just lives or peace. It is the way of life we have grown to take for granted. It is freedom, democracy and free enterprise. It is the international order that is now dominated by trade and cooperation.
If you love your freedom, then you must be ready to defend it… It can so easily be taken away from us because we always take it for granted. BH [Boko Haram] came close to achieving its aim just like ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They were just a few tens of thousands, yet millions ran away from them and they [almost] brought down an entire country.
There is something that is worse than death; it is a life in which all choice is taken from you. A life in which you are forced to re-enact the lifestyle of 7th century people like an actor. A life that leaves no room for experiment, innovation, growth and development.
Muslims are the most at risk from this danger. And we must be at the forefront of this fight…”
I completely agree.
Please note, that I am not trying to present a decontextualized, ahistorical and apolitical version of today’s violent extremism, terrorism and the war on terror. I know all about the Iraq War, the drone strikes, the nurturing of Al Qaeda as an anti-Soviet Union containment strategy in the 1970s, the Sykes-Picot balkanization of the Ottoman Empire etc.
Despite all the messiness and hypocrisy of global politics, the core of violent extremism is a nihilist, pseudo-puritanical ideology, which seeks to take Muslims back to what fundamentalists define as “pure” Islam, stripped of all “innovation”, a view most Muslims do not share. They certainly have no right to define what is “right” or “wrong” for the whole world to adhere to based on a faux-authority on hermeneutics they unilaterally arrogated to themselves.
This is not to say that there isn’t a lot of injustice, inequality and limited opportunities for economic empowerment and political participation around the world. Yet, nothing justifies killing innocent people, in the name of billions of people, whose mandate you do not possess and who certainly do not agree with you.
This is not at all to blame Muslims, who constitute the bulk of terror attack victims. This is not to say that there aren’t thousands of Muslims working hard to prevent radicalization and speaking out against violent extremism in their communities and globally, often at great personal risk.
However, we all need to realize that we have a cancer we cannot ignore or wish away, and these people are using our name to commit heinous crimes.
Zainab Usman is a PhD candidate and co-coordinator of the Oxford Uni China-Africa Network