Naming the culprit

Recently, the identity of 'Jihadi John' a British national, who appeared in a number of the Islamic State videos and carried out a number of high profile beheadings, was revealed. His name is Mohammad Emwazi and it appears that he was educated from London University as a computer programmer. He is not a poor disenfranchised person, who had no other options.

The reason I mention him is because I see that the apologia continues. Moderate Muslims disassociate themselves from Islamist extremists, such as the Islamic State, by saying that the group is not Muslims and the western liberals are running around like headless chickens looking for any excuse that would take away the focus from Islamist ideology.

Even at the White House Summit on 'Countering Violent Extremism' President Obama refused to name the ideology that was behind the current spree of extremism. Furthermore, while a number of Imams were invited to share their views, the White House neglected to include Muslims who are pushing for reform.

This in my view is the problem. Unless you pinpoint that actual issue, you can discuss countering extremism all you want; it will not make a difference.

Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim reformer and founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank in the UK, is one of the people that are questioning the doctrine of Islamism and Islamist extremism.  According to him "naming ideologies is a crucial first step in being able to refute them".

This is what we must be focusing on in Pakistan as well. The Taliban and their ilk want to impose one particular theocracy in the country. As such they are Islamist extremists. There is no point in saying that this has nothing to do with Islam, because it does.

Any organization that promotes, endorses or even turns a blind eye to Islamism should be refuted if Pakistan is to become a country of diversity and acceptance. And I mean any organization. Because we need to remember that when ideologies are the same, you are more likely to support those that agree with you (even if they use jihad to do so) than those who oppose you.

This is very clear in Pakistan. The doctrine of jihad is promoted everywhere and all the time. Do we actually think that teaching this to the populace and to school children in seminaries and even schools is going to lead to an inclusive society? It will not.

It is time now to stop giving a free pass to only those who endorse the Islamist agenda and to silence those who want something different. And the way to do this is not just by asking the state to stop extremism.

The way to do it is to actively and openly speak against Islamism and to champion reforms in the ideology, as individuals and citizens. We must remember that the collective voices of those who want to keep us in the 7th century are louder than those of us who want to progress beyond that. So in order to be heard above them we need to be louder.  

There is a simple bottom-line to this. People should be able to practice their religion – whatever it might be – but they must not be allowed to impose that religion or its practices on others.  Once we as a society understand this, only then will we be on the way to getting out of the quagmire we are in right now. It is time to stop being afraid of being called a kafir just because we have a difference of opinion and start controlling the narrative to reshape this country.

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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