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Celebrating death not life

Fascination with death demands rigorous study by our intelligentsia

Celebrating death not life

“IS celebrates death, not life” was a statement from a young Jordanian colleague who works on Middle Eastern politics. Despite being visibly distressed and shaken over the gruesome killing of the Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, who was burnt to death by IS, she still did not agree with the reciprocal killing of the female al-Qaeda operative, Sajida al-Rishawi, held by Jordan since 2005. Along with her, another al-Qaeda operative, Ziyad Karboli who had also been sentenced to death, was also executed on February 4, 2015.

Despite the gargantuan magnitude of their crime, she asserted, human life should not be treated so frivolously — a civilised state should not kill in the name of preventing killing. Sajida al-Rishawi was an inept suicide bomber who had a role in an attack that killed 60 people. Karboli had been convicted in 2008 for killing a Jordanian. Both of them were executed in Swaqa prison, a large facility 70 kilometres south of Amman.

Kasasbeh’s burning has ignited considerable anger and indignation among the Jordanian public. King Abdullah has not only called IS a deviant group but also vowed to attack it with vengeance. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, while calling the act brutal, has refused to designate Kasasbeh as a martyr — a response similar to that of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Who can have a better realisation of how expendable human life has become than a Pakistani? Jihadi ideology has engulfed with disastrous effects what was once a very peaceful country. The massacre of innocent children in Peshawar was still sinking in when the Shikarpur (Sindh) tragedy opened up sores which were not even close to healing. This happened despite the execution of several people. Thus, both the aggressor and the aggrieved have committed the same act. Both are swept away in the call for more deaths in revenge.

The cliché that harsh penalties are the only way to set things right is so deep-seated in our collective subconscious that any alternative suggestion is casually thrown out the window. I vividly remember my conversation, as a Masters student, with my Islamic history teacher in the 1980s. The teacher was quite adamant in his claim that Saudi Arabia was the country with the lowest crime rate, and that this was all because of the ‘Islamic penal code’. My counter claim that the Scandinavian states, along with Japan, had the lowest crime rates was dismissed in a stark manner.

After every Friday prayer, the public spectacle of the beheading of a criminal acts as a bulwark, and no one can dare commit any crime, retorted my teacher. But Saudi Arabia, in spite of the harsh penalties it metes out, has a soaring crime rate, a problem that has become a social malaise. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have started raising concerns over the punishments handed down to convicts.

Conversely, lowest crime rates are found in countries where capital punishment has been proscribed, and where crime is treated as a result of social ailments which can be rectified by adopting appropriate measures. One may suggest, in the wake of the Shikarpur incident, that religious radicalisation should be introduced as a separate discipline in educational institutions and that this problem must be taken seriously as a psychological problem.

A study carried out at Queen Mary College London suggests that acute depression, psycho-social adversity and limited social assets are extremely important factors in pushing youngsters to violent radicalisation. I wish such studies could be carried out in Pakistan in a serious manner. The reasons why our citizens so often take such a fancy to death is a pressing issue which demands rigorous study by our intelligentsia.

In Iran, during the early days of ‘Islamic’ revolution under Khomeini, the execution of dissidents was an everyday practice. In Pakistan, too, many people, irrespective of their religious denomination, wished that such a person might descend on Pakistan as well. That the killing of a few thousand people would resolve many of the key problems plaguing Pakistan was a common refrain. Such a mindset proved to be quite persuasive for those pleading the cause of jihad which later on was waged at various levels.

Among Muslims, the Shia minority was the prime target of jihadists. On another level, jihad against India was put forth as a national as well as religious duty. At the international level, the ‘West’, including America and other kafirs (particularly Jews), was the target. According to this belief, these peoples (kuffar) had conspired to suppress Islam, and therefore even excessively brutal acts of violence were justified to defend ‘Muslim lands’ and to liberate the ‘community of believers’.

Because the advocates of this ideology belonged to Salafi Islam, which demonstrates enough flexibility to make a common cause with Deobandis in the subcontinent, Hezbollah is excluded from their fold because of its Shia creed.

According to one report, The New Jihadism: A Global Snapshot produced by The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, at Kings College London, out of 16 jihadist groups responsible for deaths, four (TTP, Jamaatul-Ahrar, Haqqani Network and Lashkar-i-Taiba) belong to Pakistan. The report also reveals that in the month of November 2014 alone, jihadists killed 5,042 people, an alarmingly high figure.

For those who value human life, these figures and the fascination with death present a dismal scenario. One thing is sure: these issues can be addressed only from a national standpoint. Howsoever clichéd it may seem, Pakistan must come first and the problems of the Umma later.

To conclude, human life is precious. It should be celebrated and not squandered in the name of any creed or ideology.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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