By Murtaza Haider
From Aleppo in Syria to Quetta in Balochistan, Muslims are engaged in the slaughter of other Muslims. The numbers are enormous: over 93,000 killed in the Syrian civil war and over 48,000 dead in Pakistan. Millions have perished in similar intra-Muslim conflicts in the past four decades. Many wonder if the belief in Islam was sufficient to bind Muslims in peace with each other.
Since the end of the Second World War, the world has moved in two distinct directions. The West, mostly Christian, has tried to minimise the intra-European conflict and has largely been successful with some exceptions. The Muslim world, on the other hand, has fallen into one violent conflict after another, involving mostly Muslims. Several intra-Muslim conflicts continue to simmer as proxy wars. In the 80s, the Iran-Iraq war alone left millions dead. More recently, a car bomb in Iraq on Sunday killed another 39 in the sectarian warfare between the Shias and Sunnis that killed at least 1,045 in May 2013.
As the violence amongst Muslims increases, most Muslims prefer denial or look for scapegoats. Those in denial believe no such violence exists and the entire issue is made up by the western-controlled media. Others blame it on scapegoats – Indians and Americans are the most frequently blamed. The overwhelming evidence, however, suggests that the sectarian and tribal divisions amongst Muslims and justifying violence in the name of religion are the primary causes of why Islam is at war with itself.
In Pakistan, confessions and appalling claims of responsibility by the spokespersons for the Tehreek-i-Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi should leave no doubt about where the guilt resides. At the same time, the Pakistani Intelligence agencies have put together incriminating evidence running into hundreds of thousands of pages against the extremist sectarian outfits, al Qaeda affiliates, the nationalist militias in Balochistan, and others who have perpetrated indiscriminate violence against civilians and the State resulting in over 48,000 deaths since 2004.
The hate-fuelled gulfs that divide Muslims are so wide that not only unarmed civilians, but doctors and others who try to save victims of violence, are also targeted by the extremists. The attack on the Bolan Medical Complex on Saturday, which left scores dead including four nurses, was not the first of its kind. A sectarian attack in Karachi in February 2010 was followed by a bomb attack on the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre Hospital where victims were rushed for treatment. More than 25 Shia Muslims perished in the two attacks.
And while the Muslim on Muslim violence is claiming victims all over Pakistan, the violence against non-Muslims, including Hindus and Christians, often brings together Muslims of different stripes, who would otherwise be fighting each other, in attacking religious minorities.
The targeted killings of university professors in Karachi and Quetta, the murder of Shia doctors and professionals, and the attacks on the shrines of patron saints are all evidence of the fact that Muslims have been killing other Muslims while being motivated by hate and using Islam to justify violence.
Why is that the belief in Islam is not sufficient to prevent violence amongst Muslims? From the very first day Muslims are taught that their belief in Islam trumps all other identities that they may hold. Their skin colour, tribe, caste or creed, none matters once they enter the fold of Islam. Why then, have millions of Muslims died at the hands of their fellow believers?
Political, religious, and other leaders in the Muslim world have kept the dialogue focused on the conflicts where Muslims have been the victims. The Bosnian conflict, the communal violence in India, which has caused the death of thousands of Muslims, and the Arab-Israeli conflict have been the focus of Muslim leaders. Seldom has the dialogue focused on why Muslims kill other Muslims. And even if the topic ever comes up, it ends up being an exercise in mass scapegoating.
Muslim societies have thus evolved into places where revenge is confused with justice, forgiveness with weakness, and peace with cowardice. These are the places where unholy men wage holy wars against unarmed civilians, pitching Muslims against other Muslims.
Back to Quetta
Imagine the state of mind of the person who wore a suicide vest and boarded the bus carrying young women whose bright faces were lit with the pride of being educated. There was no reason to attack these innocent women who were unarmed and unrelated to any conflict. But that did not deter the suicide bomber who proceeded to kill them and herself in a suicide attack.
Moments before the blast, the young women were ignorant of the pain that would soon be inflicted on them. They must be smiling and talking to their friends, planning for the rest of the day and for what lay ahead in their lives. The suicide bomber looked at the faces of the women who, if given the opportunity, would most certainly have improved the plight of their impoverished nation.
And then the blast. Some died instantaneously. Others must have suffered the agonising pain of the wounds and the resulting fire that engulfed the bus and consumed its riders. Those who survived the blast must have heard the cries for help emerging from deep inside the bus. The rescuers must have rushed to the bus, but could not assist the victims since the leaping flames kept everyone at bay.
Somewhere in or near Quetta a group of men chanted with pride, Allah-u-Akbar (God is great), eulogising the female suicide bomber for killing the very women who held the most promise for Pakistan. Their spokesperson called the news outlets to claim responsibility for the attack on unarmed women. Later, at the Bolan Medical Complex in Quetta, another group of men, armed with AK-47 and wearing suicide vests, engaged the security personnel in a standoff that left several more dead, including four nurses who were attending to the wounded from the earlier blast.
This was all done in the name of Islam. This will be repeated sooner than later. Some would argue this is not the “real” Islam. Does it really matter what real Islam is when its true followers cannot stand against those who use religion to commit genocide?
(The author is Ph.D, Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.)