EXTREMISM is one thing as a debatable philosophy, and quite another in its barbaric, physical manifestation. Two examples of the latter, as the world exited 2012, were particularly blood-curdling. The Pakistani Taliban killed the 22 Levies they had abducted, and in Nigeria, Boko Haram marauders slit the throats of a number of men, women and children. The Taliban and Boko Haram both claim to be fighting for causes they deem Islamic, yet farthest from their philosophy is that spirit of compassion which for so many Muslims across the world is fundamental to Islamic teachings.

There is a warped logic at play here. Even if the Taliban considered the Muslim Levies ‘infidels’, and thus deserving of death in their eyes, which Islamic law, especially in early examples, justifies the murder of non-Muslim prisoners of war? They have not stopped there. The Taliban have displayed the remains of their victims as trophies and videotaped executions as a chilling message. Even their arch enemies, no angels when it comes to the rights of prisoners of war (e.g. America in Guantanamo), prefer to hide their excesses.

In the subcontinent, none of the leading Islamic scholars — including Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, Maulana Maudoodi and the entire Deoband group — ever advocated mass slaughter to establish Sharia rule. The examples of PoWs’ murder came to Pakistan in the wake of the Afghan war when some foreign militants killed Soviet prisoners. But that was rare and no mainstream militant group declared this its official policy. The Taliban’s record shows there is nothing sacred for them — schools, mosques, shrines, hospitals, religious processions, peace jirgas or funerals. Their aim is to sow terror as they are averse to employing peaceful means to gain power. In Nigeria, the Boko Haram is opposed to ‘Western’ education, but the methods it employs to resist it, take a leaf out of the barbarism prevalent in mediaeval times. In Pakistan it’s a matter of deep shame that civil society has maintained silence on these depredations, while the mainstream ulema have chosen to look the other way, some because they approve of this barbarism, others out of fear.

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