I was walking around the Grand Palace square in Brussels mere days before a man stabbed a policeman stationed there while shouting ‘Allah Akbar’. This realisation brings about a degree of surreality to me. The ifs and buts follow. The fantasy that toys with time brings me both at the moment of the attack and after it. In either scenario though, I am made to question myself on what I would have done? What could I have done?

Some news outlets now insist that the attacker was not a mere layman gone nuts after a spiritual epiphany. On the contrary, he, this Issam T, had a criminal record before him and was known by the Belgian police for a series of robberies and an attempted man-slaughter. He was mentally unstable and was a threat to society. That said, some witnesses claim that as he stabbed the knife into the police officer, he shouted Allah Akbar. The Belgian authorities are yet to conclude if this was a terrorist plot or not. The mere fact that he uttered the aforementioned words make them wonder if it was in fact one.

Let’s pause this here and go to Netherlands first.

Joas Wagemakers, Associate Professor at Utrecht University and author of two books on radical Islam, wrote an analysis piece in ‘Nederlandsdagblad’ where he tried to understand why Pakistanis was so passionate about murdering a woman, the famous Asia Bibi. Joes, in his very well-written article unfortunately failed to see the complex situation in the depth it deserves. Instead, he cited a verse of the Quran that is metaphorically vague and linked it to the existence and application of the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Hence, Joes established that the root of blasphemy does lie in the theoretical roots of Muslims.

A response opinion piece in the same newspaper written by yours truly iterated, that the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan were actually tools and results of mere political opportunism, employed mostly, and rather ironically, by the most liberal of our political and social creed. That, even now, our State infrastructure continues to flirt with the Laws in order to puppet local discourses, sentiments or political wins. The case of Aasia bibi too is no different. Of the many things Imran Khan took his U-turns in, supporting the fiery right was not one of them. Unfortunately, the jalsa IK played with and incited religious insecurities to pressurise the then government, went on to speak at a conglomerate of fundamentalist parties pre-elections and even now, when there are several more important things that require attention, tries to act as the messiah who would protect global Islam even though it is not in danger. I guess the confused, facile, naïve and highly amenable Prime Minister believes that appeasing the beards will get him political and social support. Obviously he is missing out on the lessons of the last guy who tried doing the same thing: Zulifqar Ali Bhutto.

Now, back to Brussels but before that, Sam Harris.

I greatly admire the man, I do. I have read most of his books and often gym to his podcasts. That said, he has got something wrong, just as Joes did and just as the witnesses and authorities at Brussels did. That, the ideology of Islam alone leads to barbarity. That there is no social, cultural, psychological context. That, automatically, religion Islam implies terrorism.

There are many factors that contribute to why someone agrees and acts towards a violent act such as stabbing or a suicide bombing. Religious scholars who have read the scriptures in much detail understand that. People who want to incite sentiments, get votes or simply intimidate, don’t. But, more so, the western populace tends to do the same. They shy away from getting their hands dirty with the prickly details of what’s wrong. For them, this is being apologetic and this alone impedes their ability to go beyond their biases, intellectual or otherwise.

That said, this is not to say that the religious pursued by such elements don’t gives them excuses to do so either. For example, after ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot alive, they faced much criticism from Islamic scholars across the world who insisted that these actions did not represent Islam. The very next day, ISIS released a paper citing numerous hadiths that did support the immolation.

Hence, to wrap up it up, understanding terrorism or blasphemy or the violent ideology of Islamism goes far beyond the understanding of Islam alone. The societal and cultural contexts must be analysed before we can complain or critique on the agency that either the scripture has or the actor does. Over-simplified answers and associations are wrong conclusions and as has been understood by the same practice in the last two decades, the fruits they bear poison our society even more.

 

The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

 kureshiwrites@gmail.com

@makahsan