February issue 2016

By | News & Politics | Published 4 years ago

In its first co-branded edition with The New York Times in February 2015, shortly after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in which 12 people were killed, Newsline posed two questions: would the widening chasm between Islam and the West lead to a clash of civilisations? And, was Islamophobia a fringe obsession, or was it rapidly gaining adherents across the globe, post-Hebdo?

A lot more blood has flown down the bridge since: 130 people lost their lives in a series of coordinated attacks by IS in central Paris on November 13, and 14 people were killed in a shooting incident involving a Muslim couple in San Bernardino on December 3 last year. The world seems more divided than ever before. And as fear and paranoia grip the West, the space for Muslims appears to be shrinking and hate crimes against them register a rise.

This is a very critical juncture for the Muslim world, which is in a state of turmoil.

Riven by political/religious dissent, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt continue to bleed, while non-state actors like IS have a field day. The Arab Spring has all but dissipated, reduced to a distant dream. Hapless refugees from these countries make desperate attempts to cross the borders into Europe, lock, stock, and barrel. One of the first images of the body of a young Syrian boy washed ashore in Turkey melted many hearts, but feelings have hardened since, and Europe has taken many steps backwards. There is talk of more border controls, barbed wires and tougher immigration rules.

The recent news that the Danes will be confiscating valuables above $1,500 in value from all refugees to pay for their upkeep is disturbing (incidentally, Pakistan continues to host 1.5 million Afghan refugees — down from 3 million — for the past three decades).

But more disturbing are the views of one of the leading contenders for the top job in a country that professes to be the leader of the world. Republican candidate Donald Trump proposes a ban on all Muslims from entering the US, encouraging other candidates to voice somewhat similar views in order to garner electoral support. And chances are that he may just win the race if he continues to play on the paranoia of the West.

Ironically, it was that West, led by the US, that was specifically responsible for creating the refugee crisis in the first place. The American adventure did not end in Afghanistan. It extended beyond — to Iraq, Libya and Syria. Its obsession with dismantling regimes it viewed as being inimical to its own interests created a leadership vacuum, thus paving the way for deadly groups like IS to step in and indulge in murder and mayhem, which in turn led to hundreds of families leaving their homes to escape the violence and the bombings.

The fact that the Muslim world itself is so divided — with the Shiites led by Iran on one side and the Sunnis headed by Saudi Arabia on the other — exacerbates the situation further. Countries like Pakistan are being pressured to pick sides.

Pakistan has serious problems of its own, with neighbouring India and Afghanistan. Moreover, its internal war on terrorism is far from over. Nearly 50,000 lives have been lost and the violence continues unabated. In a recent incident that was reminiscent of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar last year, in which 140 students and teachers lost their lives, the country lost 20 more students and faculty members in yet another attack on a school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The extremists, it seems, are winning for now.

The question is, will a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the West, or raining bombs on entire populations and firing drones to take out the extremists, causing collateral damage in the process, extinguish the raging fires of extremism? Or conversely, will such acts win more adherents to the cause of IS and Al Qaeda?

In a world that is globally connected, tackling an enemy that is transnational needs a counter-terrorism narrative plus a well-coordinated, more nuanced and compassionate approach. Further, it needs to address the root cause of the problem — injustice, economic deprivation, racial/religious prejudices, whatever.

Bans, barriers and bombs are not the answer.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s February 2016 issue.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.

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