Militarization of religion

  • U.S. Special Representative to Muslim communities, Shaarik Zafar, who is of Pakistani descent, was appointed in July 2014 to support Secretary of State John Kerry during his engagement with the Muslim communities across the globe. Recently, while talking to a group of Pakistani journalists in Islamabad, he pointed out several key points about religious tolerance, radicalization and militarization of a religion. Special Rep. Zafar once again dispelled the “west is at war with Islam,” conspiracy theory. He pointed out that one way to combat violent extremism is to highlight those Muslim voices which called for peace and tolerance. He also stated that militarization of a religion is very dangerous for a peaceful society as it takes away from the spiritual aspects of religion and invokes sectarian violence. Do you agree with him?

    Haroon Ahmad

    DET – U.S. Central Command

  • Judging American conduct over decades, one has to admit that it is not specifically at war with Islam. After all, Vietnamese were not Muslims, neither are Chinese against whom America is now warming up. The fact is that under its doctrine of ‘With us or against us’ America is at war with just about everyone who happens to fall outside the American camp.

    However, for the last few decades, Muslims happen to be under US attack, though with the involvement of some Muslim states as well. Now, seeing what happened to Iraq and Iraqis after the removal of strongman Saddam Hussain, it is difficult to accept that Americans and their allies were unaware of how things will shape up in Libya and Syria with the removal/attempts to remove the strongmen ruling these states, who had managed to keep their people in far better conditions than what they are facing now.

    And while US and its allies did not mind sending over half a million soldiers to Vietnam, and a few hundred thousand to Afghanistan and Iraq – and US is still keeping 12,000 soldier in Afghanistan despite earlier announcements of complete evacuation from there - it is reluctant to send ground troop to Syria even when it knows that aerial bombardment alone can not eliminate Daish whose creation has been made possible by the destabilization of the region by US and its allies, including some Muslim states. And it is not even trying to dissuade Turkey – reported to be the bulk buyer of oil from Daish – from financing its terrorist activities.

    As for the militarization of religion being dangerous, I would say that while militarization for self-defence may be justified, it becomes dangerous when attained with aggressive designs whether in religious, regional or other contexts.

    And about the proposition that militarization of religion invokes sectarianism, I would think that it is the other way round. I think it is sectarianism which may start with polite dissent, progressing to harsh exchanges, then escalating to fist fights and ultimately leading to militarization to match the capability of aggression to the level to which the sectarian sentiments have risen, building up through successive stages.

    And as for the assertion “That one way to combat violent extremism is to highlight those Muslim voices which called for peace and tolerance” while it may be useful as a guiding principle, the idea has to be translated into practical measures – literature, speeches, lectures etc – to be widely and effectively propagated as a counter-narrative to the propaganda by the extremists.

    In dealing with intolerance, militancy, extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, the armed forces have done a fair amount of work, and have scored successes. However, the effort needed to be complemented and consolidated through development and propagation of a counter-narrative and institution of other related measures by the civilian government, which has utterly failed in implementing its part of the deal under the National Action Plan.


  • @Hashmi,

    You've raised a few areas of concern in your post, some of which are part of elaborated discourses within the U.S.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on this.

    Haroon Ahmad

    DET - U.S. Central Command

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