Anatomy of jihad

The state has the work gloves on again to cut the revolting plantation down to size. The cordless reciprocating saw has all the power and velocity needed to chop down the smaller trees. If you attach a larger blade it can even reach out to cut down branches that are away from the base. But it never touches the roots.

The cross-section of a tree trunk tells you everything you need to know about its origins, nourishment, growth and demise. Dendrochronology is a comprehensive field of study on its own, but the anatomy of a tree trunk can be sufficiently understood through its five main components: bark, cambium, sapwood, growth rings and heartwood.

The bark protects the tree from the outside world; cambium produces new cells; sapwood transports water and minerals; growth rings highlight the age and the heartwood, at the core, defines the very nature of the tree. The concentric circles epitomised by the growth rings, and the various ingredients of the tree, help us study each section distinctly.

A cross-section of ideological violence shows similar concentric circles. There’s apologia shielding the inner structure, propaganda producing new adherents, ideologues propagating and justifying the violence, and the ideology at the core. The number of growth rings determines the extent to which the violent ideology has seeped to the branches.

The anatomy of armed jihad is all about studying these concentric circles: Mullah/madrassa, jihadism, Islamism, Muslim supremacy/takfir and the apologia that shields it all from the outside world. The latter could be anything, from using legitimate criticism of Western policies as smokescreen to claims that devotees at a religious shrine, or place of worship, were indulging in heresy and hence ‘asking for’ trouble from brutal purists.

While the apologia, like any other gamut of excuses, ranges from the shameful to the criminal, it’s the other four parts of the jihadist structure that need to be carefully studied to curb this ideological savagery, which last week alone killed over 100 of our citizens, in all four provinces of Pakistan.

The mullah and the madrassa are the sapwood transporting the jihadist ideology to the various branches. While we lacerate those branches, the madrassa remains rooted. And it doesn’t have to be uprooted – all it needs is a revamp to sift the toxicity out of the ideology being distributed. That, in turn, needs state regulation and auditing for both funding and the curricula.

Even so, none of this is possible without an ideological substitute. For that one needs thorough dissection of jihad and restructuring of its core.

The ideological core of the tree bearing jihadist fruits is made of up three concentric circles, growing from supremacism to Islamism to eventually culminating in jihadism.

The idea that Islam is the most superior religion, and in turn Muslims the supreme people, is the foundation of jihad. While everyone believing in Muslim supremacy wouldn’t necessarily take up arms to establish that superiority, the superstructure of jihad rests on Muslim domination over the rest of the world.

This concept, ubiquitous in the Muslim world, is the seed that grows into a beanstalk, elevating the vilest produce. At worst it lays the groundwork for massacre in the name of Islam, at best it’s anathema to religious tolerance and coexistence.

Unlike racial or ethnic supremacism, the religious superiority complex is often self-mutilating. In the case of Muslims, it doesn’t rest with the establishment – violent or otherwise – of non-Muslim inferiority, it extrapolates into excommunication – also known as takfir. When supremacy is attached to Muslims and Islam, it’s natural to put a ceiling on the identity and narrow down the scriptural interpretations.

This brings us to our second growth ring. Islamism, the idea that Islam should be imposed on a society or state, is the canonical corollary of Islamic supremacy. If an ideology has been divinely, and indubitably, established as superlative, does it not make sense to enforce it?

Of course, if mere preaching doesn’t suffice and the state doesn’t play ball on centralised propaganda, taking up arms to establish Islamic law is the next step. That is known as armed jihad, or jihadism, to separate it from other forms of struggles an individual might take up, without infringing upon the freedom of others.

The growth rings move from believing that Muslims are superior, to executing organised carnage for Islamic supremacy. And unfortunately, the vast majority of Muslims in our neck of the wood lie in one of these three concentric circles. The simple reason for this is the teaching of an unadulterated, literal version of Islam, which fails to incorporate modern thoughts into millennia old canonical texts. What is needed to be taught in madrassas and mosques is a diluted version that endorses pluralism through focus on individuality.

We’re quick to distance ourselves from the jihadists, because most of us might not pick up a gun to murder someone over identity or belief. But we’d involuntarily endorse Muslim or Islamic authority. And we, being the microcosm of the state we live in, are now watching the various institutions replicate the same.

Hundreds of alleged jihadists have been arrested in the aftermath of last week’s terror attacks. Hundreds of others have been killed. While the military action is important to nullify the immediate threat and those already indoctrinated with the genocidal ideology, but the action itself amounts to scratching the surface over and over again.

Deracination of jihad would need the state to eventually undo the privileges granted to its Muslim citizens, which form the raison d’etre for the spread of jihadism. A state that exercises takfir itself, or upholds Islam as the supreme religion through its Constitution, will never be able to muster the decisive victory against jihadism, till it rectifies its persistent howlers.

Instead of going on a chop-fest, the state would need to plant new trees and nourish their roots, if it wants better tasting fruit in the future. Sowing Islamic supremacy only yields jihad. Four decades of poisonous harvest should’ve made that clear.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter