Meaning Massacred | Dawn

7th July 2015
by Javed Jabbar

Recent slaughters of tourists in Tunisia and Shia worshippers in Kuwait represent only the latest killings by those claiming to be Muslims even as their actions prove they have no right to be in the fold of Islam . By being entrapped into using the same words that perpetrators of violence use to disguise themselves, we , and media , become parties to the massacre of what words mean.

Is the term " Islamic State " worthy of use merely because a well-organized group of terrorists has named itself so ? De facto ,the usage is equivalent to calling this violence-based entity the " Peace State " for peace is the ultimate value espoused by Islam .The least we can do is refuse to spell out the mis-named entity because it deserves no more than the abbreviation of "IS ". This would deprive the sponsors of daily, direct association with a faith that enjoins fraternity, mercy, compassion and love , exactly the values anti-thetical to "IS ".

In 2015 , about five and a half billion out of seven billion people on this planet are of faiths other than Islam . For them to hear and read on a daily basis that the name of a major religion is also the first name of a devilish league of callous individuals is to further distort perceptions about Islam , already mis-represented and misunderstood in the non-Muslim parts of humanity.

For the overwhelming majority of Muslims , it is painful to every day hear the name of their beloved faith linked with a group that revels in murder . Not of non-Muslims alone , which is bad enough . But also of fellow Muslims , if they happen to be Shia or of any non-Sunni mainstream sect .

In their new book : " ISIS : The State of Terror " , Jessica Stern and J.M.Berger informatively and comprehensively record the emergence of this entity but inadvertently reinforce the use of the inappropriate nomenclature . Among the various sources cited , one is a principal text that shaped the eventual formation of IS : " The management of savagery : the most critical stage through which the Ummah will pass ". This is the English title of the original 113 -page compilation in Arabic put together for Al-Qaeda under the pseudonym of Abu Bakr Naji in 2004 , translated in 2006 and propagated through various Internet fora . Purporting to learn from past experiences of violent jihad and defining future directions , this text vigorously advocates visible ultraviolence . So that both enemies and allies get the point : willful, wanton cruelty conducted regularly , and widely publicized is the critical instrument for " victory " . The title says it all .

To dignify such a group by using the same appellation which it uses is to inadvertently help it move closer to its aims : optimal name-recognition and the right to be perceptually linked with all adherents of Islam .

IS is somewhat like old non-State networks of drug traffickers , human smugglers , illegal weapons traders , currency manipulators which have long possessed capacity for co-ordination across State and geographical barriers . Notwithstanding the subsequent attacks in the Sinai, or catalyzing lone wolf acts by others elsewhere , given the advantages that IS has curiously been able to sustain , the spread of its destructive mission may impress , but should not surprise . Incidentally : who buys the oil , and how , from the supplies that IS controls ? The book referred to earlier , otherwise a detailed study of the use of digital media by IS, omits examining its financing .

As regards the second word of the hijacked name, occupation of territory by force and even its continued administration for some time, does not make an organization eligible to be called a "State". There are numerous examples of armed insurgencies , in South and Central America, in Africa, in Asia, in East Asia, some of them still on-going , that have occupied territory for several years, have proclaimed rulership, have enforced their own writ over people and land but have either not called themselves" states " nor have been bestowed the privilege of being called " states " by formal States , or by the media . So the semantic surrender to IS by parroting the full tag it has chosen is virtually unprecedented and untenable .

Massacres of human beings and massacres of the meanings of words have occurred throughout history . Most recently , the nobility of jihad--- whose preferred application should be to the conquest of self --- has been twisted into a synonym for bloodshed. Often, the take-over of words has come before the take-down of lives.

Race, tribe, clan, honour, loyalty, faith, nation and God : they are made to mean precisely what the wielders of violence want them to mean as they spew hate and kill. Without detracting from the supreme sanctity of life, words too are as invaluable because humanity is subject to both the tyranny and the beauty of language. So let the letters "IS " stand for , say, " Implausible Scheme" and certainly not for the realms which word-thieves covet.

The normally solo azaan here became a unique duet. Each line of the call to prayer was rendered with a sacred euphony by the muezzin of one mosque. Then, a split-second later, repeated, with no over-lap, by the muezzin of the other mosque. Each voice rippled with resonance across the open space. Never before had one heard this perfectly partnered homage to Allah : all the cadences, the tenderness, the power of the call ---- touched, soothed , stimulated the heart, and every corpuscle.

As published on the Op.ed page of Dawn , Pakistan on 7th July 2015