Friday’s carnage not only killed 49 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch right in the heart of predominantly non-Muslim New Zealand. The attack came as a powerful reminder of how terror can just not be associated with any one religion. The main attacker — an Australian national — and his associates appeared to be driven mainly by their own perceived values of nationalism.
In the past two decades since 9/11, Muslims around the world have borne the brunt of being associated with terrorism. Consequently, many have faced denial of travel visas to western countries, while others who chose to migrate to a western country have faced prejudice in a variety of places. But as country after country chose to build barriers against exposure to Islamic influence, Friday’s carnage has squarely ripped apart such prejudices.
Ultimately, the bottom line surrounding any or all of these situations has just been one. Behaviour ranging from objectionable to outright offensive can simply not be associated with any one religion. Indeed, the history of Islam clearly outlines the salvation that the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) brought to Arabia more than 14 centuries ago.
Ahead of Friday’s carnage in New Zealand came a promising sign of progress in peace talks in Afghanistan. The issue remains framed as a divide between the US, a secular country, as opposed to the Taliban in Afghanistan, a predominantly hardline Islamic movement. Yet a careful analysis will show that the long-running dispute in Afghanistan has been fundamentally fuelled by power politics rather than religion.
Almost two decades after the US invaded Afghanistan when the Taliban government was driven out, Afghanistan remains far from a peaceful victory. For the US, the Afghan war remains the most expensive battle in history with an expenditure so far of more than $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion). Ultimately, the Afghan venture has been nothing short of a clear disaster for US policymakers. Ultimately, a US settlement with the Taliban will ultimately see American troops vacate the central Asian country in return for the Taliban to gain a place in Afghanistan’s future ruling structure.
New approach required
Similarly, other conflict zones have likewise demonstrated that disputes are ultimately settled by the reality of power rather than other considerations such as ideologies or beliefs. In this background following Friday’s carnage in New Zealand, the world needs to urgently consider a new way of thinking for the management of security and conflict related issues across the world. As commentator after commentator pleaded on Friday, associating terrorism with the community of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims is not just unfair. More pertinently, it defies the all too visible reality which is vital to assess the way forward in global affairs.
At the very least, it is vital for the pre-eminent global body, the United Nations, to urgently consider reforms including a greater say for Islamic countries in the General Assembly and the Security Council. Side by side, Islamic countries also need to re-vitalise the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), their main global body to press for concrete reforms geared towards tackling prejudices against Muslims.
On the side, Islamic countries must also intensify their economic ties to increase internal trade and exchange of ideas to collaborate increasingly on education and scientific endeavours. Such ideas however must not work towards isolating the global community of Islamic countries from non-Islamic ones. On the contrary, such deeper engagement must work side by side with deepening relations between Islamic countries working as a bloc and other countries of the world.
Friday’s carnage in New Zealand was not the first of its kind in recent memory where a community or group of Muslims were targeted violently. In the heat of the moment, it would be natural for many Muslims to feel outraged. But as sanity returns as it must eventually, it would be important for members of Muslim communities worldwide to re-engage with non-Muslims with renewed vigour.
In seeking to either solidify existing bridges of friendship or building new ones, community members including mosque leaders must emphasise that violence by a few must not colour the way Muslims view wider communities across countries where they have migrated. Ultimately, it will be important to repeatedly emphasise the message of peace as communicated by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in revealing the message of Islam. Today, more than ever before, it is vital for Muslims to return to that message and use it as their singular point of convergence.
Following Friday’s deeply painful occurrence in Christchurch it is essential for Muslims to move forward with a message of peace to emphasise yet again the true spirit of Islam.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.