Breaking the Cycle of Terrorism
Like many people, I have been deeply reflecting and searching for answers for the inexplicable behaviour we have witnessed that has caused the recent tragedies. Why would a human being do such a thing? How to stop such incidents in future? Is the war of revenge or retaliation the only solution? Has something like that happened in the past? If yes, was the problem resolved at that time? How was it tackled? How successfully was it resolved? What can we learn from history? Can we apply an old solution to the 21st century? What kind of society should we have? What will be a good way of describing an ideal of peace and security? How can we achieve such an ideal?
In trying to understand the unthinkable, it occurred to me that when the powerful segments of a society do not respect law and do not maintain justice, the might becomes right. This rule of the jungle breaks down the law and order in a society, because opposing segments of the society try to become mightier than their opponents by practising more cruelty, bloodshed and wickedness. Consequently, the cycle of violence is intensified rather than broken. In the Global village of the 21st century, the same appears to be happening.
It took me back 1400 years to the Arabian society where that was precisely the situation. The society was tribal. Fighting men, tribal affiliations and alliances were the only means to gather and consolidate power and authority on the land because might was the only criteria of being right. There was no safety or security for a common man. It was unimaginable for a woman to venture out of her neighbourhood without being killed, abducted or enslaved.
In those circumstances, Muhammad the last messenger of God, was entrusted with the mission to establish peace, security and rule of law and justice, instead of law of the jungle. He and those who dared to follow him were savagely persecuted but they did not give up. While in Makkah, they did not respond to violence by violence. They opted for winning hearts by their moral excellence and by their principled stance. Sometimes, however, their human frailty made them wonder why should all this persecution be borne. One day, Khabaab, one of Prophet Muhammad’s followers, who was repeatedly persecuted by Makkans, came to Muhammad and exclaimed to the effect: O Messenger of Allaah, we have been patiently bearing such a severe persecution, when is God going to help us? In response, Muhammad told him to remain patient and steadfast and gave him a vision. He said, “By God, our struggle will succeed in establishing such peace and security that a lonely woman will be able to travel alone from one city to another distant city without having fear of anything or anyone except Allaah.”
I was overwhelmed by the beauty, profundity and comprehensiveness of this vision, stated so simply. Just imagine the condition of peace, security and tranquility when everyone can travel to anywhere without any fear. This is the Islamic vision of peace!
Was that mission accomplished? I looked further and found that such a peaceful society was successfully established in the Arabian Peninsula where a lonely woman did travel without fear as was envisioned.
How did Muhammad accomplish such a task which even now seems impossible? How did he break the cycle of violence and terrorism? Did he bomb and nuke the suspects? Did he do it by inflicting even greater terror? Obviously not, because a cycle is not broken by adding more intensity to it. He, in fact, had a different solution!
He tackled the issue from two sides. On the one hand, he removed the injustices that caused violence and, on the other hand, he reformed the people from inside to practice justice and forgiveness. For example, for day-to-day personal situations, he taught,
“Good and evil are not equal. Respond in a way that is the best so that even your enemy becomes your loving friend”.
When faced with adversaries in arms, he would take pains to avoid war. When war became unavoidable, he taught and trained his people to minimize the casualties and to save the non-combatants. He broke the cycle of terrorism not by revenge but by forgiveness. Whenever in dominating position over his adversaries and persecutors, he amazed them by amnesty and forgiveness. Thus he won their hearts and their loyalty. Finally, he smashed any remaining inklings towards revenge by his historic announcement:
“Today all claims of revenge are abrogated. And the first claim I abrogate is that of my own clan.”
Although Islam, as taught and demonstrated by Muhammad, is not being practised nowadays anywhere in the world, not even Muslim societies, I wish we could repeat his performance. I wish we could all adopt the Islamic vision of peace where people could travel safely and easily as and when they want.
October 23, 2001