The spectre called Daesh

Posted on August 8, 2016

Call it Daesh, IS, ISIS or ISIL, by any name, it is no less lethal. And the trouble is most of us are confusing the symptoms with the malady. So, a true solution then is naturally very elusive. Nor is anyone bothering to comprehend the truly devastating scope of the threat it poses. Without knowing the doctrinal complexities and causational innuendos that brought us to this pass, nothing fruitful can be done. And since in this world of political polarisation, the ideology of IS fits nicely with the commonplace stereotypes on either side of the divide, no one seems to be asking the deeper, more relevant questions.

Let me first point out what is at stake. If you are a Muslim country, you risk losing your borders to the empire-building propaganda campaigns of the IS. If you are a non-Muslim state with a sizable Muslim population, you face the distinct possibility of radicalisation of an otherwise law-abiding and important segment of society. If you are a Muslim believer, you are looking at an elaborate kidnapping of the essence of your faith. If you are a Muslim parent, you must fear estrangement within your own house where slight disagreement with your children may conveniently deliver them in the hands of IS recruiters. And since the process of otherisation of Muslims all over the world continues in reaction to the heinous crimes committed by the IS, the problem is that the human civilisation, which evolved through a dialogue between Islam and other faiths, is confronted by the prospects of a crash as the IS ideology works to bring out the worst in everyone. Unending wars and discord may efface the very identity of societies the world over.

And where symptoms are being confused with the disease, cases are self-evident. For instance, far more lethal than the IS owning a territory or inspiring a maelstrom of terrorist attacks all over the world is the name itself: The Islamic State. Not Islamic states, not Muslim states but the Islamic State. The pretense, in the absolute, of representing an entire faith, its believers and the territory it commands, should worry even those who usually steer clear of the entire subject. As we proceed further in this discussion, the roots and sociology of this claim will become clearer. Right now suffice it to say that owing to a lack of coherent interpretation or Ijtihad in Islam, the followers of the faith have no religious template to work with the idea of nation-states. The last known political model when four imams interpreted religion over a millennium ago was that of empires. Had the process of interpretation continued, the Westphalian model of states would have easily been absorbed by the believers and clergy alike. Sadly that was not to be and consequently from the IS, al Qaeda to Hizbut Tahrir all struggle to bring into existence an outdated imperial apparatus confusing it with the derived concept of the caliphate. So, today, all religious elements essentially align with this concept and end up undermining Muslim states and safety of Muslims in non-Muslim countries.

But the story doesn’t end here. The way the narrative of post-9/11 wars was framed by the then rulers of the West played right into the hands of radical groups in the Muslim world. I have highlighted the issue of endism or eschatology in this space more than once. In the resulting charged environment, groups like al Qaeda kept telling the Muslim world that this was the end of time war and the ones who join the enemies would never be forgiven. Now take a bunch of societies ill-performing in economics, knowledge and freedoms, excite them with such ideas, leave them at the mercy of a clergy ghettoised for decades and you get unmitigated disasters like the IS. Then let the radicals of the non-Muslim countries to further frame a narrative where Muslims are the only enemy and Armageddon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Already a radical takeover of two countries, namely Israel and India, threatens to sacrifice genuine inquiry at the altar of political expediency.

The Muslim world needs to come together to revive the institution of Ijtihad and shun voices of confusion. Non-Muslim countries, meanwhile, also need to work with Muslims to find long-term solutions. And the time for this is running out quickly.

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