Moazzam Begg on Peshawar massacre: All have lost moral high ground

CAGE outreach director Moazzam Begg says that after the Peshawar school massacre all those who claimed the moral high ground have lost it – the ones who kill children in the name of democracy and the ones who retaliate in the name of Islam.

It’s not often that you’ll hear the Islamic Emirate (or the Afghan Taliban) condemning their Pakistani namesakes but that is precisely what happened on Tuesday when the horrific attack was carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the city of Peshawar, writes .

Family blood feuds were fairly common when I lived in Peshawar many years ago but would only extend to individuals within clans and tribes. Children may have been abducted for ransoms but killing was rare. Today, it’s all out, unrelenting war with no rules.

The lives of all our children are precious: children of ruthless politicians, children of torture victims, children of terror suspects, children of anti terror SWAT officers, children of drone operators, children of soldiers, children of judges, children of farmers and children of the homeless and hopeless.

The children of our friend and the children of our enemy are still innocent. That is why the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) explicitly forbade targeting them, especially in times of war. Every law based on any aspect of human decency since concurs with this view.

The product of terror, torture and violence is more of the same. To end it we must we must stop regarding understanding and explanations as “justification.” Every crime has a motive, a mens rea behind it, even the most despicable ones.

“Sick and twisted act”

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The deliberate killing of children in Peshawar was a twisted and sick act. But this sickness has developed as a direct result of indiscriminate killing of faceless terrorist suspects and their families.

Recent reports have shown how 26 children were killed as collateral damage in trying to unsuccessfully kill one man, namely Aymanal-Zawahiri. Countless other attacks have caused “collateral damage” in Pakistani’s war in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and beyond have lead to deaths of thousands. Statistics and testimonies are hard to come by because of fear of further targeting and woeful under-reporting.

I understand there is a difference between deliberately targeting children, which is the most abhorrent of acts I can think of (how can a man point a gun at a child and pull the trigger?) and the targeting of suspects knowing and accepting that children may be killed in pursuit of the latter. However, in both cases it is accepted by the perpetrators that children will (or are likely to) be killed.

The Pakistani Taliban killers
The Pakistani Taliban killers

When I was evacuating from Afghanistan in 2001 with my own children under heavy US bombardment thousands of innocent civilians, many of them children, were shredded to pieces by 15,000lb “daisy-cutter” bombs, vacuum bombs, smart bombs, cluster bombs, tomahawk cruise and “hellfire” missiles. The victims were often identifiable only by the clothes their family members recognized or by body parts. Exact numbers of casualties are still unknown. There was never an outcry for their children.

It is time to stop this cycle of uncontrolled rage and internecine violence that will only drive us to the pits of hell. Incessant calls for revenge each time need to be tempered with reflections on the consequences of what that means. There are no winners in this.

Instead, let the killers of these children look upon the faces of their victims and then ask themselves why they truly did it. Religion has nothing to do with it. If it had would the killers risk the eternal damnation Allah has promised for those who kill unjustly? For that is His solemn promise.

He may forgive those who repent if He wishes but how can the families of these child victims be expected to do such a thing? After all the killers couldn’t forgive, so why should they expect anything but retribution? So the vicious circle continues like the Pashtun code of badal (revenge – like for like) only in a more vicious, unremitting way.

Perhaps it cannot be stopped; its been going on for 13 years, but someone has to try. Let drone operators and pilots who drop bombs from thousands of feet on their victims see the carnage on the ground: indistinguishable body pieces in rural villages where poverty and illiteracy is still the greatest unacknowledged enemy.

Let them see what their hands have caused and how the circle of violence they began with the press of a button ended with the lives of mangled bodies of men, women and innocent children. Let the murderers of children look at the corpses of the young lives they snuffed out and remember how they killed innocence and destroyed their own hereafter in the process. Before they embark on the same road to disaster let those considering this path look closely at the faces of children in their own family.

War on terror

Before the “war on terror” Pakistan had a reputation for world-class corruption – from the government all the way to the cricket pitch and everything in between. After the war on terror this was followed by enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, drone strikes and full scale military operations which led to unprecedented levels of extremism, terrorism, sectarianism and ultimately the targeting of schools and children.

It has descended to depths few could have envisaged before the war on terror started.

It was Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence(ISI) agents who, along with the CIA stormed into my house in Islamabad in the middle of the night and carried me away, hooded and shackled in front of my children and handed me over without any judicial process to the US military in 2002. The same was done to hundreds of others, for bounty money.

US Predator drones are responsible for killing hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen
US Predator drones are responsible for killing hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen

In Bagram CIA agents waived pictures of my children in front of my face as they beat me and threatened to send me to Syria or Egypt while a woman who I thought was my wife screamed in agony in the next cell. I would have done anything to stop them. At that moment my family and children were more precious to me than theirs’ were to them.

And they must’ve thought likewise. I sometimes overheard them talking to their kids, how they’d missed their birthdays because they were here in this Afghan hellhole [Bagram] interrogating scumbag terrorists like us.

The truth is that we all love our children and they (mostly) love us right back, the best of us and the worst of us. It is their innocence that reminds us often of our flaws, our guilt even. Tuesday’s killings were a stark reminder of that.

All who claimed the moral high ground have lost it, the ones who kill children in the name of democracy and the ones who retaliate in the name of Islam. The ideology doesn’t matter – not when the sacred is de-sanctified like this.

It is actions to end the cycle of violence, at least on the children, which are needed now more than anything. Otherwise words mean nothing.

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