Dr Khalid Sohail’s book, From Holy War to Global Peace published by Multiline Publications Lahore, is a timely and effective addressal of much of the politics of the world today. It includes an incisive commentary on the various militant movements of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, while offering pragmatic solutions to the ideological belligerence that plagues contemporary international politics. The first chapter also includes a candid account of the author’s journey from being a religious devotee ready to wage a jihad, to becoming a citizen of the world in every true sense of the word. In other words, the author presents a heartfelt rationale as to why a narrow and myopic view of the world engendered by religious zeal must be abandoned in favour of a more humanistic and universalistic relationship to one’s fellow human beings.
We are painfully aware of the dramatic turn of events in countries like Syria and Iraq, where the most pernicious Islamist forces are waging a jihad against states, governments and even ordinary citizens. They are pursuing an apocalyptic agenda that desires a global caliphate shaped in its entirety by the most obscurantist and vicious brand of sharia law. Such a worldview engenders hostility toward all who profess a different understanding of the world, and works to annihilate everything that stands in its way. Even Muslims who are seen as deviating from God’s chosen path have suffered the brutality that has become commonplace in ISIS controlled areas. These political developments are exceedingly dangerous, as ISIS militants wish to fulfil an apocalyptic vision. They will not give up their jihad until they see their end-time scenarios realized, as they believe in the absolute moral validity of their movement. It is an ideology inspired by an understanding of Islam that is supported by both religious texts and historical precedent, therefore its proponents function with a degree of religious authority that is perhaps missing from other expressions of Islam as a lived faith.
Dr Sohail has done well to provide readers with an analysis of the roots of this modern day jihadism. He delves into the writings of ideologues like Syed Qutb in the chapter entitled “Syed Qutb, a Leader of Muslim fundamentalists”. He discusses Qutb’s fundamentalist approach to matters of faith, coupled with his abhorrence of Western culture, institutions and politics. The author also points out that Qutb despised communism as well. It is Qutb’s book, the Milestones, that has inspired a whole new generation of Muslim jihadists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. He shows how Qutb assumed the mantle of Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the radical and militant Muslim Brotherhood established in Egypt. It is the philosophies of Islamist writers like Qutb and Al-Banna that have shaped the tenets of modern Islamism and jihadism. It includes the following characteristics that the author identifies from a social, political and most importantly, psychological standpoint.
Islamists of today have developed an acute sense of Muslim identity that transcends the bounds of region, race, nationality, linguistic or cultural differences. Islamists believe in a pan Islamist worldview where the entire world will have to be subjugated, so that Islam is established, at least politically, all across the world. They are willing to fight toward this end, obliterating anything and everything that stands in their way. For this, they may employ all the tactics of guerilla warfare, that in the contemporary religio-political climate has acquired a more lethal character in the form of terrorism. Dr Sohail also professes the view that the Muslim world is irate due to what it perceives as Western expansionism. There is also the unresolved conflict in the Middle East that continues to take lives and wreak destruction on innocent populations. Dr Sohail also notes that this sense of a primary identity is common to all guerilla fighters.
He narrates the biographies of many such “freedom fighters” and guerilla warriors in the second half of the book. In this section he includes the biographies of Manachem Begin, Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara and Mao Zedung, all individuals who played a pivotal role in the makings of twentieth century politics. He tries to find a common thread in these movements, suggesting that all of these individuals were cause-driven people, passionate enough to even pay the ultimate price for their cause. However, in providing a panoramic view of these various twentieth century guerilla movements, Dr Sohail has also provided for us an opportunity to examine the stark contrast they represent against contemporary Islamist movements.
Whereas the struggles of Nelson Mandela and Mao Zedung were directed towards certain political ends, their armed struggles also came to a halt once those ends were achieved. The Islamists on the other hand believe in jihad as an integral part of Islam that must be pursued on an ongoing basis. They also believe in end time scenarios and therefore pursue their objectives with an apocalyptic zeal that represents a fundamental difference between jihadism and the politically inspired movements of the twentieth century. These can be easily seen as self-limiting struggles that ended with the objective being reached. Islamists see their struggle as far more protracted. Furthermore, any movement that embodies within itself the authority of religion, always tends to be far more virile in how it formulates and executes its agenda. Islamists believe they are fighting for God, to establish God’s rule. They feel that their efforts have been provided validation by the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Religious fighters are also far less amenable to entertaining counter arguments against their cause, once again, because they feel they must take their guidance from religious texts they consider divinely inspired and irrefutable.
The most important part of the book in my humble view is the one that deals with peacemaking efforts. The bio-fictional essay shared by the author must be disseminated far and wide. It speaks volumes about the efforts some individuals have made throughout the course of history, especially in the twentieth century. What peace-making requires is an acute sense of justice, an unflinching commitment to peacemaking, a sharp capability to forestall any impediments to the process, and an overall universalistic and humanistic worldview that recognizes no distinctions of race, creed or colour.
Dr Sohail points out that peace must be built within all strata of society. Peace must be economic, political, social and religious. Individuals who hold divergent views in a particular community must still be able to uphold such opinions without fear of retribution. In pointing out the various types of peace, Dr Sohail has highlighted a very important building block toward a wholesome society. Dr Sohail says that some peacemakers like Kofi Annan were at times able to achieve political peace, but fell short of eliminating the tensions that often fester in a society at the social and economic level.
As a psychiatrist, Dr Sohail also lists some important facts about modern day jihadists. He states that they belong mostly to the Wahabi and Salafi sects of Islam. Many are followers of Syed Qutb and Maududi, and have been brainwashed by contemporary cult leaders. He also points out that militants belong to all faiths and can be Hindu, Christian or Buddhist. He says that in his clinical study he discovered that these militants not only subscribed to a fundamentalist ideology, they also had fundamentalist personalities, in that they only regarded their own philosophy as the ultimate truth. In developing these personalities, they were frequently influenced by family and community. These are all valuable insights that must be included in any program to prevent radicalization.
The following practical steps can also be taken to de-radicalize militants according to the author. These include, isolating the militant from his group to prevent continued negative influences, introducing better religious discourse, getting radicals to “meet the enemy” so they know the enemy is just as human, helping them to come to terms with their own grief, educating them about political conflicts, developing a strong peace consciousness, developing critical thinking and developing creativity.
These are all practical suggestions that can used by therapists across the world in attempting to create a more peaceful society. The book is a must-read for all who wish to understand the mechanics of modern warfare, which tends to be asymmetrical due to terrorism and guerrilla warefare. The solutions in the book must also be widely shared, as they provide hope for peace to prevail in a much troubled world.