Following the barbaric attack against 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai, Taliban apologists have been working extra hard to split hairs and convince people that we should not unite against the jihadi elements that continue to carry out such attacks against innocents. The Taliban’s most vocal defender is Imran Khan, who likes to condemn specific acts, while at the same time defending the groups who perpetuate these attacks by pretending that there are no jihadis, there are only jaahils who are misunderstood. But two events this week prove him wrong.
1. A tribal jirga traded girls to settle blood feud. This represents the jihaalat mindset and must be addressed.
2. A young man stopped a bus and asked for someone to identify Malala Yousufzai. He then proceeded to shoot Malala to stop her political work. This represents the jihadi mindset and must be stopped before the jihaalat mindset can be addressed.
Imran Khan likes to say that liberals are mistakenly equating the Taliban and the tribal mindset. This is not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Liberals who call for a strong defence against the Taliban by shutting down jihadi militant groups are not equating the Taliban’s political violence with outdated tribal customs, Imran Khan is.
Tribal customs do not include bombing Sufi shrines, murdering Shia pilgrims, killing schoolgirls, and attacking military and police posts. Suicide bombing is not a tribal custom. These are the legacy of a twisted interpretation of religion that goes as far back as the medieval era when Ibn Taymiyyah introduced the takfiri ideology as a justification for carrying out jihad against Mongols even though they had converted to Islam. To get around this problem, Ibn Taymiyyah appointed himself as God and pronounced his enemies as fake Muslims, arguing that they can’t be real Muslims, ironically, because they have a jihaalat mindset. This jihadi ideology was reintroduced in Egypt by Sayyid Qutb in the early 20th century when he began preaching violent jihad against Muslim governments that he believed were too subservient to Western powers, and has been propagated by later writers like Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Mawdudi and al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri. These men do not preach any tribal customs – actually they are against tribal customs and the jihaalat mindset. Imran Khan thinks they are the same because both have roots in medieval thinking. But there is a big difference.
Taliban and other jihadi militants hide behind the language of religion, but their real interest is politics and power. They want to be unquestioned rulers, not saints. Like their ideological ancestor Ibn Taymiyyah, they are simply twisting religion to justify violence as means of consolidating their power. Actually, the tribal jirga is a perfect example of how the tribal leaders and the Taliban are fundamentally different. A jirga is based in reason and compromise. The tribal elders who sit on the jirga might have jihaalat mindset, but they are at least willing to sit and discuss the situation and try to work out a solution that fits all parties. With jihadis, on the other hand, there is no room for discussion. You either accept their rule, or you are declared as wajib-ul-qatl.
People with a jihaalat mindset can be reasoned with. They can be educated. And, over time, tribal customs and thinking can be brought into the modern era of reason. This does not mean that they will lose their way of life or religion. It just means that certain customs – like trading girls to resolve blood feuds – will be replaced with more humane ways of resolving conflicts.
People with a jihadi mindset cannot be reasoned with. Ironically, many of them are already very educated. Certainly the jihadi mindset is spread through some madrassas, but these are mostly educating the poor who accept these lessons in exchange for food and shelter. But what is the excuse of people like Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh – an Aitchisonian with links to militant groups including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Taliban? What is the excuse of Osama bin Laden who had everything handed to him, only to turn into a mass murdering maniac? Or our own young who attend English medium schools, travel the world, live urban, Western lifestyles…and support militant jihadi groups?
Imran Khan thinks that, to change the jihaalat mindset, we should first let the jihadis take power over the tribal areas. This makes no sense. If jaahils are living under the threat of jihadi violence, there will be no room for cultural evolution. The tribal areas will not just be frozen in time, under the jihadi regime, they will be transported backwards even further. This was demonstrated by the Afghan Taliban who, far from being a force reacting to the US invasion in 2001, had controlled Afghanistan in a reign of terror since 1996. When the Soviets left Afghanistan, the Taliban didn’t go back to being simple tribal villagers, they carried out a murderous reign of terror against their own people.
This time, as the Americans are preparing to leave, the Taliban see an opportunity to not only re-take Afghanistan, but to expand their control over Pakistan also. Will we defend ourselves or continue to hide our heads in the sand? Only time will tell who is the real jaahil.