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The real War against Terror is the war of Ideology & Counter Narrative

“THIS is a war of narratives ... there is a dire need to come up with counter-narratives ... the menace of terrorism cannot be dealt with without countering the extremist, militant ideologies.”

These are some of the statements which have been echoing in our ears for the last several years. In particular, whenever some tragic terrorist incident takes place, such voices become louder in the public discourse. Apparently, the debate on extremism has been stuck somewhere in the fold of narratives.

The list of terms such as ‘narrative’, ‘counter-narrative’, and ‘ideological response’ has become so extensive that at times people wittily demand that the state must establish an authority to control narratives. However, the government has in fact assigned the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) the task of developing counter-narratives. One can imagine how the bureaucracy will deal with the issue.

No doubt the challenge of militancy is a complex one and the state is in a hurry to fix it. The state wants to immediately address terrorism and extremism, but at the same time does not want to disturb the socio-religious and political structures of the state. Basically, the state’s perception of narratives is simplistic and not only the government but also a part of the intelligentsia believe that narratives can be produced ‘to order’. When a set of narratives expires or becomes counterproductive, replace it immediately with another set of narratives. Apparently it is as simple as that.

Pakistan has two major paradigms which nurture narratives. First is strictly religious and the state has not only owned it but also considers itself the custodian of this domain. The second is secular — also tagged as the alternative paradigm — which entails the establishment of a modern and progressive society. The whole paraphernalia of extremism has been built on state-owned narratives.

But now the state wants to clean the troubling narratives and appears accommodative to alternative narratives. It will not mind if the secular intelligentsia provides a remedy to get rid of terrorism. However, this should not be conceived as a paradigm shift.

Interestingly, the secular intelligentsia suggests a long-term solution, which ranges from curriculum reforms to spaces for cultural expression and transformation of state-society relations. Obviously, this is not going to address the immediate issue of terrorism. Perhaps this is why the state falls back on its religious-ideological allies for help in the ‘war of narratives’.
Narratives are neither slogans nor jingles; they reflect the mindset of a nation.

Having become part of the power elite, the clergy offers its services. However, the religious leadership has failed to offer a concrete solution. Mere ‘condemnation’ of acts of terrorism and calling the culprits ‘misguided’ is not going to serve the purpose. Nor is it going to build an effective counter-narrative to reduce the appeal of extremist ideologies.
The real strength of religious extremists is their ideological framework, which has been built on religious arguments and strengthened by political arguments. In this context, this is not merely a war of superficial narratives but is deeply linked to religious arguments or interpretation of Islamic precepts. The religious elite is either not ready or incapable of coming up with counter arguments. A rational framework for countering the militancy challenge is missing.

Are there any alternative solutions to counter terrorism? The answer is yes and the state is already employing some. The military operations are one of the effective responses to address the insurgency part of the problem. The National Action Plan was another solution to address a few immediate issues and to institutionalise the responses.

However, though the military operations weakened terrorist networks, NAP has not effectively backed up the military responses. For one, the security institutions remained confused about banned militant groups, which have become sources of recruitment for international terrorist organisations including the militant Islamic State.

Secondly, the government rightly or wrongly conceived NAP’s point of curbing hate speech as an alternative to counter-extremism measures. However, the mother of all problems remains the lack of trust and coordination within the law-enforcement agencies. Nacta was created to fill this gap, but the authority prefers the job of controlling narratives rather than leading the war on terrorism from the front.

Usually, the lack of cooperation from powerful security and law-enforcement agencies is blamed for the ineffectiveness of Nacta, but the government itself has not provided the proper resources and support which could make the counterterrorism body functional and effective. Interestingly, Nacta chooses the most difficult task for itself erroneously thinking that it will not face any resistance from any institution while creating counter-narratives.

Narratives are neither slogans nor jingles. They reflect the larger consensus as well as the mindset of a nation. They are deep-rooted in culture and the behaviour of individuals and society, but most importantly are based on a rational framework. This framework entails certain values that, when followed, guide and shape behaviour. The state has an important role in such practices but with the consent and consensus of society.
The state can facilitate a process where different segments of society — with diverse shades of opinion and different cultural, social and intellectual backgrounds — can engage in dialogue. The government can establish a national dialogue forum. It can serve as a platform for scholars, academicians, political and religious leaders and policymakers to bring all key challenges to the discussion table to understand each other’s viewpoints.

Only an argument can counter an argument. Thus, sharp and rational arguments will be created and effective counter-narratives nurtured.
However, arguments cannot provide immediate relief from terrorism. Purely from the security perspective, the government needs to sharpen its operational edge as well. The focus should not remain on military operations alone. Instead, provincial counterterrorism bodies must share more responsibilities. For this purpose, counterterrorism departments will require more human resources, funds, training and above all cooperation from other law-enforcement agencies.

But this is the dilemma the state has been facing for the last one-and-a-half decade — believing that narra­­tives can fill the void of operational coordination.

By Muhammad Amir Rana,

The war of narratives:
What we must remember is that the new counterterror narrative, among other things, should focus on helping reduce the present civil-military divide. Any counterterror narrative that targets the military as the sole entity that coined and indoctrinated the extremist narrative into national arteries would only help the cause of terrorists. At the same time, no counterterror narrative can be articulated without recognising the urgent need for restructuring the state of Pakistan on democratic lines. If the present narrative has injected life into those power centres that have disrupted national life, the alternative narrative should avoid reinforcing another set of disruptive stakeholders in the name of democracy. It should rather seek political strength for democratic forces through civil-military reconciliation and restructuring of the state on anti-disruptive lines >>> 

Islam and the State: A Counter Narrative 
By Javed Ahmed Ghamidi

The situation which has been created today for Islam and Muslims in the whole world by certain extremist organizations is an evil consequence of the ideology taught in our religious seminaries, and also propagated day and night by Islamic movements and religious political parties. The true understanding of Islam, in contrast to this, has been presented by this writer in his treatise Mizan.[1] This understanding actually constitutes a counter narrative. It has been repeatedly pointed out by this writer that when in a Muslim society anarchy is created on the basis of religion, the remedy to this situation is not advocacy of secularism. On the contrary, the solution lies in presenting a counter narrative to the existing narrative on religion. Its details can be looked up in the aforementioned treatise. However, the part of it which relates to Islam and the state is summarized below.
1. The message of Islam is primarily addressed to an individual. It wants to rule the hearts and minds of people. The directives it has given to the society are also addressed to individuals who are fulfilling their responsibilities as the rulers of Muslims. Hence, it is baseless to think that a state also has a religion and there is a need to Islamize it through an Objectives Resolution and that it must be constitutionally bound to not make any law repugnant to the Qur'an and Sunnah. People who presented this view and were successful in having it implemented actually laid the foundations of a permanent division in the nation states of these times: it gave the message to the non-Muslims that they are in fact second rate citizens who at best occupy the status of a protected minority and that if they want to demand anything from the real owners of the state must do this in this capacity of theirs.
2. It can be the dream of every person that countries in which Muslims are in majority should unite under a single rule and we can also strive to achieve this goal but this is no directive of the Islamic shari'ah which today Muslims are guilty of disregarding. Certainly not! Neither is khilafah a religious term nor its establishment at the global level a directive of Islam. After the first century hijrah, when celebrated jurists of the Muslims were among them, two separate Muslim kingdoms, the Abbasid kingdom in Baghdad and the Umayyad kingdom in Spain had been established and remained established for many centuries. However, none of these jurists regarded this state of affairs to be against the Islamic shari'ah. The reason is that there is not a single directive found on this issue in the Qur'an and the Hadith. On the contrary, what everyone, including this writer, does say is that if at any place a state is established, rebelling against it is a heinous crime. Such is the horrific nature of this crime that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that a person who does so dies the death of jahiliyyah.[2]
3. The basis of nationhood in Islam is not Islam itself, as is generally understood. At no place in the Qur'an and Hadith has it been said that Muslims must become one nation. On the contrary, what the Qur'an has said is: (49: 10) اِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُوْنَ اِخْوَةٌ (All Muslims are brothers to one another, (49:10)). Thus the relationship between Muslims is not based on nationhood; it is rather based on brotherhood. While being divided into several nations, countries and states they are brothers in faith. Hence, what can be demanded from them is that they should keep themselves aware of the circumstances of their brothers, help them in their troubles and tribulations, support those who are oppressed among them, give them preference in economic and social ties and in no circumstances close their doors on them. However, what cannot be demanded from them is that they give up their nation states and national identities and become one nation and one state. Just as they can create separate nation states, in the same way if they have the freedom to follow their religion, they can live in the capacity of citizens of non-Muslim states and adopt their nationality. None of this is forbidden by the Qur'an and Sunnah.
4. If some Muslims of the world declare themselves as Muslims and, in fact, insist on this and adopt a belief or deed which is not approved by one or more scholars or the rest of the Muslims, then this deed or belief of theirs can be regarded as incorrect and even a deviation and departure from Islam, yet these people cannot be regarded as non-Muslims or disbelievers (kuffar) because these people adduce their views from the Qur'an and Hadith. For the ruling of God on such beliefs and deeds, we must wait for the Day of Judgement. Their proponents in this world in accordance with their own acknowledgement are Muslims, must be regarded as Muslims and must be dealt with in the same way as a Muslim is dealt with. It is the right of the scholars to point out their mistake, to invite them to accept what is correct, to regard what they find as constituting polytheism and disbelief in their ideology and also inform people about all this. However, no one has the right to declare them as non-Muslims or to ostracize them from the Muslim community because only God can give this right to someone, and everyone who has knowledge of the Qur'an and Hadith knows that God has not given this right to anyone.
5. Polytheism, disbelief and apostasy are indeed grave crimes; however, no human being can punish another human being for these crimes. This is the right of God alone. In the Hereafter too, He will punish them for these crimes and in this world it is He Who does so if He intends. The matter of the Hereafter is not under discussion here. In this world, this punishment takes place in the following manner: when the Almighty decides to reward and punish people in this world on the basis of their deeds, He sends His messenger towards them. This messenger conclusively communicates the truth to these people such that they are left with no excuse before God to deny it. After that the verdict of God is passed and people who even after the conclusive communication of the truth insist on disbelief and polytheism are punished in this world. This is an established practice of God which the Qur'an describes in the following words: وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولٌ فَإِذَا جَاء رَسُولُهُمْ قُضِيَ بَيْنَهُم بِالْقِسْطِ وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ (47:10) (And for each community, there is a messenger. Then when their messenger comes, their fate is decided with full justice and they are not wronged, (10:47)). Its nature is the same as of the sacrifice of Ishmael (sws) and the incident of Khidr. It is not related to us human beings. Just as we cannot drill a hole in the boat of a poor person to help him and cannot kill a disobedient boy nor embark upon slaughtering any of our sons on the basis of a dream as Abraham (sws) did, similarly, we cannot undertake this task except if a revelation comes from God or if He directly gives an order. Everyone knows that the door to this has permanently been closed.
6. No doubt jihad is a directive of Islam. The Qur'an requires of its followers that if they have the strength, they should wage war against oppression and injustice. The primary reason of this directive is to curb persecution which is the use of oppression and coercion to make people give up their religion. Those having insight know that Muslims are not given this directive of jihad in their individual capacity; they are addressed in their collective capacity regarding this directive. They are not individually addressed in the verses of jihad which occur in the Qur'an. Thus in this matter only the collectivity has the right to launch any such armed offensive. No individual or group of Muslims has the right to take this decision on their behalf. It is for this reason that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said: "A Muslim ruler is a shield; war can only waged under him."[3]
7. The directive of jihad given by Islam is war for the cause of God; therefore, it cannot be waged while disregarding moral restrictions. Ethics and morality supersede everything in all circumstances and even in matters of war and armed offensives, the Almighty has not allowed Muslims to deviate from moral principles. Hence, it is absolutely certain that jihad can only be waged against combatants. It is the law of Islam that if a person attacks through his tongue, then this attack shall be countered through the tongue and if he financially supports the warriors, then he will be stopped from this support; however, unless a person picks up arms to wage war, his life cannot be taken. So much so, if right in the battle field an enemy throws down arms and surrenders, he shall be taken a prisoner; he cannot be executed after this. The words of the verse which mention the directive of jihad are:وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ (2: 190) (And fight in the way of God with those who fight against you and do not transgress bounds [in this fighting]. Indeed, God does not like the transgressors, (2:190)). The Prophet (sws) forbade the killing of women and children during war.[4]The reason for this is that if they had embarked upon jihad with the army, it was not in the capacity of combatants. At best, they could boost the morale of the combatants and urge them through the tongue to fight.
8. Centuries before the thinkers of the present age, the Qur'an had declared: اَمْرُهُم شُوْرٰی بَينَهُمْ (42: 38) (the affairs of the Muslims are run on the basis of their mutual consultation, (42:38)).This clearly meant that an Islamic government would be established through their consultation, everyone would have equal rights in this consultation, whatever done through consultation could only be undone through consultation and every individual would become part of the consultative process. Moreover, if a decision could be reached through a consensus or total agreement, then the opinion of the majority would be accepted as the decision.
This is precisely what democracy is. Thus dictatorship is not acceptable in any case whether it is of a dynasty or a of a group or of a national institution and not even of religious scholars in the interpretation of issues related to religion and shari'ah. These scholars indeed have the right to present their views and express their opinions; however, their view can only become a law for the people to follow when the majority of the elected representatives accept it. In modern states, the institution of the parliament has been constituted for this very purpose. It holds and should hold the final authority in the system of a state. People do have a right to criticize the decisions of the parliament and point out their mistakes;however, no one has the right to disobey them or rebel against them. Neither scholars nor the judiciary is above the parliament. The principle of اَمْرُهُم شُوْرٰی بَينَهُمْ (42: 38) binds every individual and every institution to practically submit to the decisions of the parliament even though they may differ with them.
It is only this way which is justifiable in setting up the rule of Islam and running it. If any other way is adopted to set up this rule, then it will be illegal even though the forehead of its ruler may glisten with the signs of prostration or even if he is bestowed the title of amir al-mu'minin.
9. If at some place a Muslim government exists, it is generally asked to implement the shari'ah. This expression is misleading because it gives the impression that Islam has given the right to a government to forcibly implement all the directives of the shari'ah on people. The fact is that the Qur'an and Hadith do not give this authority to any government. The Islamic shari'ah contains two categories of directives. The first category comprises directives which are given to individuals and the second category comprises directives which are given to a Muslim society. The first category relates to directives which are between an individual and God. In these directives, a person is not responsible to any government; on the contrary, he is responsible to God. Hence, no government, for example, can force a person to fast or go for hajj or 'umrah or to circumcise himself or to keep his moustaches trimmed or in the case of a woman to cover her chest, refrain from displaying her ornaments or to wear a scarf when going out. In such matters, a government has no authority beyond urging and educating people except if there is a chance of rights being usurped or excesses being committed against the life, wealth and honour of people. The Qur'an has explicitly said that among the positive directives of religion, a state can only forcibly demand from them to offer the prayer and pay zakah. The Qur'an (9:5) says that after this, it is incumbent upon the state to leave them alone and not try to enforce anything on them. As for the second category of directives, they are only given to a government because it is a government which represents a society in collective affairs. If religious scholars demand from those in authority to obey them, then they certainly will be justified. In fact, it is their duty in their capacity as scholars to make such a demand. It should be clear that this demand is the demand to follow the shari'ah. Implementation of the shari'ah is not the right name for this demand. This second category comprises the following directives:
i. Muslims will not be subjects of their rulers but equal citizens. No discrimination shall be made between them in the state system and the laws of the state. Their life, wealth and honour shall hold sanctity – so much so that without their consent the state shall not impose any tax on them other than zakah. If a dispute arises in their personal affairs like marriage, divorce, distribution of inheritance and other similar matters, then it shall be decided in accordance with the Islamic shari'ah. They shall be provided with all the essential facilities for their daily prayers, the fasts of Ramadan and hajj and 'umrah. They will not be forced by the law to submit to any directive which reflects a positive injunction of Islam except the prayer and the zakah. They will be governed with justice and fairness on the principle of اَمْرُهُم شُوْرٰی بَينَهُمْ (42: 38) (the affairs of the Muslims are run on the basis of their mutual consultation, (42:38)). Their public wealth and assets shall be reserved for the collective needs of the society and shall not be given in private ownership; in fact, they shall be developed and looked after in such a way that the needs of people who are not able to financially support themselves are fulfilled from their income. If they pass away, they shall be enshrouded and prepared for burial according to Muslim rites; their funeral prayer shall be offered and they shall be buried in the graveyard of the Muslims the way Muslims are buried.
ii. It shall be the responsibility of the government to organize the Friday and the 'id prayers. These prayers shall be held only at places which are specified by the state. Their pulpits shall be reserved for the rulers. They themselves will lead and deliver the sermon of these prayers or some representative of theirs will fulfill this responsibility on their behalf. Within the confines of the state, no one will have the authority to organize these prayers independently.
iii. Law enforcing departments shall be primarily reserved for amar bi al-ma'ruf and nahi 'an al-munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). Thus the most pious of people will be selected as workers of these departments. They will urge people to do good and forbid them all what mankind has always regarded as evil. However, they will only use the force of law when a person is guilty of usurping rights or goes after the life, wealth and honour of people.
iv. The state shall always adhere to justice (qa'im bi al-qist) with regard to its enemies as well. It will speak the truth, bear witness to it and will not take any step contrary to justice and fairness.
v. If the state enters into agreement with someone within its jurisdiction or with some foreign entity, then as long as the agreement exists it shall be honoured both in letter and in spirit with full honesty and sincerity.
vi. The death penalty will be given in two cases only: murder and spreading anarchy in the land. If a Muslim is guilty of murder, theft, fornication, falsely accusing someone of fornication (qadhf) or spreading anarchy and disorder in the land and a court is fully satisfied that he does not deserve any leniency arising from his personal, familial and social circumstances, then those punishments shall be meted out to him which the Almighty has prescribed in His Book for those who have whole-heartedly accepted the call of Islam.
vii. Dissemination of Islam to all parts of this world shall be organized at the state level. If any power of the world tries to hinder this effort or persecutes Muslims, then the state, according to its capacity, will try to remove this hindrance and stop this persecution even if it has to use force for it.[5]
10. These are the directives of the shari'ah which relate to the state and have been given with the warning that those who do not accept the verdict of the Book of God after acknowledging it will be regarded as wrongdoers (zalim), defiant (fasiq) and disbelievers (kafir) on the Day of Judgement.[6] However, if the rulers of the Muslims, in spite of this warning are guilty of some error in this regard or become rebellious, then the only responsibility of religious scholars is to warn them of its consequences in this world and the Hereafter. With wisdom and kindly exhortation, they should call them to mend their ways, face their questions, dispel their doubts and logically reason with them as to why God has given them His shari'ah. They should explain to them its relevance in the collective sphere of life. They should also elucidate to them the basis of its directives and the difficulty which a person of the modern era faces in understanding it. They should adopt styles and ways to explain and clarify it so that its underlying wisdom and objective becomes evident to them and their hearts and minds are able to adopt it with full satisfaction and they become prepared to follow it. The Qur'an has stated that the real status of religious scholars is to invite people to the truth and warn them about any deviation from it. God does not want them to force people to follow Islam or to organize their followers in groups that ask people at gun point to follow the shari'ah. (Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)
Also read: Religious Extremism
[1]. English title: Islam: A Comprehensive Introduction. , [2]. Bukhari, nos. 7053-7054. [3].Bukhari, no. 2957. [4]. Bukhari, no. 3015; Muslim, no. 1744. [5]. In order to see the details of these seven requirements in the sources of Islam, my book Mizan can be consulted. [6]. Qur'an, 5:44-47.

The closer you want to get to eradicating the menace of terrorism, the bigger this menace seems to get. After two attacks in Peshawar, on school and university children, the leadership have thoroughly deliberated. However this article is about the sociology of the mindset that either justifies or rationalises terrorism, or impedes tangible action against it.
It is about the failure of the state and the society to come up with a narrative that can defeat the terrorists.
Terrorists of all hues — Al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its countless affiliates, Afghan Taliban and its affiliates like the Haqqani network, India-focused terror groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and sectarian terror groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — use two weapons: incredible hatred towards their victims and a narrative to convince and recruit new supporters to the cause.
This narrative of victimhood, denial and conspiracy theories can easily be deconstructed and dismantled. But what with the rising anger in the country, fracturing of the society and the general iffiness of the times we live in, no one has done anything substantial about the issue despite harping on about it at great length.

It is time we change that.

After 9/11, the United States knew whom to blame and the nation’s anger was projected outwards. After 7/7, the United Kingdom knew whom to blame, and the country was able to vent its anger. After Mumbai attack, India too, vented its anger on Pakistan and somehow managed to cool off.
In Pakistan, though, where the state had pandered to extremist inclinations for long, at the time of 9/11 there was a dictator in place, whose rise to fame and then power owed a lot to the Kargil debacle. When General Musharraf decided to take a U-turn in his Afghan/Taliban policy, he gave his people the wrong reasons for doing so.

Instead of telling them that extremism of all kinds is bad for the country; that it can easily turn against the country's own people and that nation states are held accountable if found guilty of exporting destabilising ideologies beyond their borders; he told the nation that had Pakistan not taken the step, it would have been bombed back to the stone age.
That was an admission not of flawed policies but merely of foreign pressure.
At the time, there was neither any parliament nor the free media we see today. Lack of proper debate turned the country’s anger inwards. Later, conspiracy theories of sorts would emerge, people living in denial would scavenge western media sources for whatever half-truths would fit into their narrative.
Today, we have a developed popular narrative which says that Islam is in danger, that Pakistan is about to break; all of this is linked to belief in the end of time.

All faiths have eschatological predictions. Since each brand of 'endism' focuses on end of the universe, the predictions are found to be dire and can easily be exploited at any time of adversity. Our local religious extremists and televangelists have very effectively inserted these prophecies into the reactionary narrative. By raising doubts about some of the most well-documented historical developments and mixing it with this narrative, the terrorists have managed to win over a host of fence-sitters.

Just textbooks or more?

A oft-made point is the ideological indoctrination in school textbooks. It is said that our books preach hate and a distorted version of history which unhinges a young impressionable mind from the very beginning.

Be that as it may, such a thought is predicated on the assumption that all Pakistanis go to school and imbibe every word written in the textbooks. While there is no justification of hatred finding way into the school books, these books barely play even a secondary role.

Even if the textbook is saying a certain thing, what the teacher thinks and what the best friend thinks matters much more to the pupil than what is written in the book. A young child spends more time with friends, family and in front of television.

So while it is important that the curriculum must be reformed, let us not lose sight of the fact that the problem is of understated heart-to-heart oral tradition which transmits through culture.

The tragedy of television

The quality of our television news product is quite important here. In the 24/7 live news cycle where a talk show host and a news director are forced to operate at breakneck speed and take decisions on the fly, very little thought is given to quality or for that matter, narrative.

Then there is the matter of the presence of Taliban and terrorist apologists amongst our midst, which creates a problem because while the moderate majority is too divided and disorganised, the sympathisers of terrorists are very well organised and persistent. So, the resultant end product invariably confuses viewers instead of clearing their minds.

But that is not all. The reason why viewers watch our news channels a lot is because our entertainment industry has been underperforming for a decade. The power of a drama serial should not be underestimated. A playwright can say things which are difficult or impossible to say on news channels.

Sadly, however, while a debate is underway to curtail the appearance of sympathisers of terrorism on live news networks, the storytelling in the entertainment industry still remains with the same forces who played a critical role in indoctrination.

As a result, the teleplays on political matters are often found to be highly reactionary, irrational and riddled with conspiracy theories.

Hostage crisis at the pulpits

Prayer leaders don’t usually go to regular schools or watch television; their tradition is essentially oral. There is no doubt that religious seminaries (some of which are genuinely committed to spreading hate) play a crucial role in forming their worldview. But it is daily interaction with other religious-minded people and groups (Tableeghi Jamaat for instance), the availability of vast amounts literature and personal assumptions which consolidate their distorted perceptions.

The threads which feed their mindsets, some of which is reproduced below, are of such a nature that every maulvi gets ensnared in the enemy’s propaganda with very little resistance. The message from the pulpit, may it be in the shape of the Friday sermon or the after-prayer dua, is essentially highly reactionary and counter-productive, to say the least.
What we need right now is a supply of religious scholars of integrity who can answer these questions with comfort and authority to reclaim the narrative in the mosques from the terrorists.

The terrorist's narrative:

Here are some assumptions that play a crucial role in the terrorist and his sympathiser’s narrative:

Muslims are scattered all over the world. Given their recent turbulent history it is claimed that Islam as a faith is on the brink of extinction and only violent jihad can save it.

One look at the 1400 years of their history and you realise that the faith can take care of itself and needs no saviors.

Islamic eschatology predicts the arrival of an Antichrist called Dajjal, and it is said that whoever chooses to side with him will never be forgiven. Now, years of propaganda has projected the West as that Antichrist. Ergo the fear that is easily exploited by terrorists.

Muslims all over the world, owing to the absence of timely 'ijtehad' or interpretation, have found it difficult to integrate with local cultures. After every two or three centuries, they are confronted with challenging times and start thinking this is the end of time.
A careful survey of Islamic literature shows no timeframe is originally given about the end. In expert hands, this element of doubt should be enough to debunk the terrorist’s propaganda.
The current schools of thought in Islam took their final shape almost a millennium ago. As further debate could generate controversy, no one showed interest in challenging these dated interpretations. That era was the time of empires and nation states did not emerge until much later, till the treaty of Westphalia.
Hence, the last political model known to the Islamic thought is a theocratic Muslim empire called the khilafah
Itself an interpretation, this model is highly outdated and inefficient. The Ottoman Empire was a big example of the inefficiency. However, terrorists and a long list of intellectual movements (like Hizbut Tahrir) that serve as bedrock for them, use this thought to recruit new volunteers.
If, however, you study the formative phase of Islam, you will notice that Islam as a faith is not averse to the idea of a nation state. That is another thought which can be expanded to counter the terrorist’s narrative.

Terrorists exploit the all-pervasive feeling of Muslim victimhood to their advantage

It is stunning to see that this perception has lingered on in our country for this long.
Pakistan has accumulated over 50,000 dead bodies as gifts given to it by these 'saviours' of Muslims. How hard can it be to expose these people for who they really are?
I have explained this point at length at the start. The state must own this war and explicitly state that it is being waged for the nation's good, not under international pressure. It's a promising sign that the government is finally doing that. It will also be helpful if foreign countries didn’t appear to be pressuring the country to do more. Any concerns can be conveyed through the diplomatic channel; negotiating through the media should stop.
This, too, is an ugly propaganda tool.

Democracy as the cultural 'other' is used to lure people in to the extremist side.

A bit more sensitisation about democracy and exploration of political thought in Islam would make it plain that democracy is not antithetical to the original teachings of Islam. What we lack is religious interpretation on the matter. It is tragic that no coherent work has been done in this regard during the past 13 years of fighting terrorism.

Somewhere in their heads is this deep seated regimentation that at the end of the day, the terrorist's demand — imposition of Shariah — is a legitimate one, and so it's wrong to fight them.

This is one of the terrorist’s biggest weapons. Again, the havoc these terrorists have wreaked should speak for itself. But since, for a large number of people, it appears to have not done so, we need organised campaigns to educate the public of the real context and designs of the terrorist movement. It would help if religious figures of authority came forward shattered the myth of 'good terrorists'.

The proscribed terrorist organisations take responsibility and post videos as proof. All the apologists contributing to an alternative explanation can be and should be confronted in this regard. This can bear fruits.

You will find this argument widely available in the society. But given that terrorists are essentially against Pakistani state, the state will also have to end its ambivalence on the issue and come up with an identity of the state which is not entirely dependent on religion. It is not that difficult to find such an interpretation.

These are some of the assumptions that the terrorists play with. The state’s reluctance to address them has led to the current proliferation of terrorist outfits. It has played a crucial role in the birth and growth of such organisations. Now, it cannot shut its eyes to their mutating ideology and pretend that the problem will go away. It knows their language, it can speak to them. I understand that it is not easy to control every Friday sermon and talk in every mosque and madrassah. But if the state comes up with a coherent narrative and sells it to the opinion makers, the terrorists’ narrative can easily be undone.

Political and democratic ownership is essential because in the past lack of it has ruined the effort. The state knows how to highlight the narrative and sell it in the media and elsewhere despite resistance from the apologists.

Source: The real war is the war of narrative, by Zahir Shah Sherazi,,

Mastering the Narrative: Counterterrorism Strategic Communication and the United Nations

February 2013
Description: Terrorism has always been a battle of ideas, reflecting a desire for violent and immediate political transformation. The technologies available in a globalized world today, however, have expanded the theater of conflict into a broader swath of spaces—governed, less governed, virtual—than ever. Groups such as al-Qaida have articulated a clear mission statement and excelled at strategic communication, crafting messages based on audience perceptions and including actions as well as words.
Yet, extremists do not constitute a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas. States and international organizations provide their own narratives that shape identities, relationships, and interactions among peoples and states, but they have often struggled to challenge extremist messages and draw on their own compelling stories. This should not be the case. The United Nations is the only international organization to boast universal membership and has spent more than six decades promoting sustainable development, promoting human rights and the rule of law, strengthening governance, and supporting representative government. Member states have worked together to mitigate violent conflict, support humanitarian assistance, and address threats to human security. The organization has a good story to tell, a powerful counternarrative to that proclaimed by extremist groups. Yet, does the story get out and reach key audiences outside and inside the United Nations?
This report presents a qualitative analysis of how strategic communication principles can strengthen international efforts to address terrorism and violent extremism. The report examines the evolution of the challenge and draws on discussions with officials, diplomats, and experts to offer a series of recommendations for enhancing strategic communications on counterterrorism. While this study focuses on the United Nations, the key principles and recommendations may also be applicable to governments and international organizations confronting this complex transnational threat.
Mastering the Narrative: Counterterrorism Strategic Communication and the United Nations
Executive Summary 
Terrorism has always been a battle of ideas, reflecting a desire for violent and immediate political transformation. The technologies available in a globalized world today, however, have expanded the theater of conflict into a broader swath of spaces—governed, less governed, virtual—than ever. Groups such as al-Qaida understand that they can now wield influence as effectively with a video camera and an Internet connection as with an improvised explosive device. Such groups also invest heavily in their marketing capabilities. They have articulated a clear mission statement and excelled at this form of strategic communication, crafting messages based on audience perceptions and including actions as well as words. 

Al-Qaida’s [ISIS, Daesh, Bobko Haram, Pakistani Taliban] call to arms, for example, is a globally resonant expression of its outlook, grievances, agenda, and demands and has a proven ability to turn passive observers into active participants in violent extremism. Yet, extremists do not constitute a monopoly in the marketplace of ideas. States and international organizations provide their own narratives that shape identities, relationships, and interactions among peoples and states, but they have often struggled to challenge extremist messages and draw on their own compelling stories. This should not be the case. The United Nations is the only international organization to boast universal membership and has spent more than six decades promoting sustainable development, promoting human rights and the rule of law, strengthening governance, and supporting representative government. Member states have worked together to mitigate violent conflict, support humanitarian assistance, and address threats to human security. The organization has a good story to tell, a powerful counternarrative to that proclaimed by extremist groups. Yet, does the story get out and reach key audiences outside and inside the United Nations? 

This report is the result of a study, undertaken as part of a broader effort on the part of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation to enhance multilateral capacities to prevent terrorism and violent extremism, that aims to examine how this message has been perceived and received by three key stakeholder communities around the United Nations: its own staff (at headquarters, in specialized agencies, and in the field); member states; and the broader public, collectively considered the “UN community.” Three main objectives underpin this project. 

1. To identify the core message of the United Nations on countering terrorism and violent extremism and how this message shapes counterterrorism policy and practice 
2. To examine whether and how this message informs and impacts three key audiences: 

(a) the UN system, including field missions and specialized agencies; 

(b) UN member states; and 

(c) the broader public 

3. To explore how strategic communication can be used to enhance UN efforts to prevent terrorism and violent extremism and contribute to national and regional efforts to address terrorism and diminish radicalization and recruitment that bolster extremist groups This report presents a qualitative analysis of how strategic communication tools can amplify and enhance UN efforts to prevent terrorism and violent extremism, through the United Nations’ own initiatives as well as by supporting member states. 

The first two sections offer an overview of counterterrorism practice and the shift toward prevention, as well as the parallel shift at the United Nations, where the focus on preventive diplomacy, mediation, and conflict prevention has increased over the past decade. Section three examines the evaluation of iv Mastering the Narrative: Counterterrorism Strategic Communication and the United Nations strategic communication in practice and how it has been adopted by governments, civil society, and extremist groups. 

Sections four and five offer an analysis of UN counterterrorism communication and how it is perceived by internal and external audiences. Section six sets out some key lessons learned regarding the practice of strategic communication; although this study focuses on the United Nations, these principles may also be applicable to national and civil society actors. The last section offers a set of practical recommendations for consideration by UN actors, ranging from the macro to the micro level, in many instances considering how these ideas may be initiated within the existing counterterrorism architecture at the United Nations. These are listed below in brief. 

1. Get the message right. Developing and refining a “master narrative” on terrorism, one that resonates globally but can be applied locally, is essential for the United Nations. This can be based on the UN Charter and the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which reiterate that terrorism, in using violence to resolve disputes, especially against noncombatants, is an assault on core UN principles and values. 

2. Know the audience. The research suggests that the United Nations did not undertake much systematic audience analysis to maintain awareness of what people thought about the world body itself in the online space or in communities where its agencies are operating. The United Nations should develop and use a simple system of audience analytics that allow it to monitor changing attitudes toward the United Nations and its activities. 

3. Get strategic about strategic communication. In developing a more strategic approach to communication, the United Nations would benefit from an audit of existing communication activities by UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) entities in order to establish what is working well, what is not, and what might be more effective if adjustments were made. Although a strategic communication audit could be performed internally, many large organizations, particularly in the commercial sector, use external auditors who are expected to provide greater objectivity in their assessments. Having surveyed and evaluated existing strategic communication efforts, the CTITF could develop a strategic communication tool kit for its members.

4. Keep it local, keep it relevant. As some of the case studies presented in this report show, the most successful strategic communication campaigns are often those that consider local conditions with respect to the message and its delivery. The United Nations should ensure it engages local audiences more closely in the development of context-specific materials. Part of this “localization” strategy should include greater use of local credible voices as conduits for strategic messaging. 

5. Integrate communication at the outset of program design and policy development. All project proposals going through the CTITF, as well as the UN Centre for Counter-Terrorism within it, should include a communication component that outlines how this initiative will be portrayed, what needs it serves, and how it contributes to broader UN goals and a plan to disseminate the outcome products and measure their effectiveness. Regular meetings of a Communication Group on Counterterrorism that includes representatives of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), the CTITF, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, and, for example, public information officers or counterterrorism focal points in the peacekeeping and political affairs departments could help in the development of consistent system-wide messaging. v 

6. Close the “say-do” gap. UN credibility suffers from a “say-do” gap, whereby some audiences feel that UN rhetoric is not supported by action. The best communication will be compromised by actions or words that are contrary to the values it upholds or encourages others to follow. Actions and policies must be closely aligned with objectives and communicated as such. Also, drawing attention to the say-do gap of one’s adversaries can be a powerful strategy for challenging their purported legitimacy and their ability to sustain support for their cause. 

7. Improve message dissemination. 

The CTITF should make greater use of new technologies in disseminating information about its work. Following its member state briefings and other events, the CTITF should circulate a brief summary electronically and consider providing a complementary webcast of the briefing, so that diplomats unable to attend the events can nonetheless benefit from the discussions. 

8. Increase training and sensitization for UN staff at headquarters and in the field. The DPI, in cooperation with the CTITF, could run a series of training workshops with media and strategic communication professionals to acquaint UN personnel more broadly with the Strategy and could adapt the workshops for web-based distribution. Training materials might also be provided for UN staff through a series of webinars that would make the information and tools available to a broader range of personnel across New York, Vienna, and Geneva headquarters, as well as field offices. Senior officials and professionals working on regions or themes relating to terrorism should be given access to a media training workshop to make them communication ready. 

9. Provide communication guidelines for staff to use at headquarters and in the field. The United Nations and its counterterrorism apparatus should build on existing work to provide more assistance to senior headquarters officials and field missions on communicating the UN message on terrorism and counterterrorism more effectively. At the very least, officials should be provided with an information package that provides the UN master narrative on terrorism and counterterrorism, along with other basic talking points concerning counterterrorism programs and initiatives conducted by UN bodies. 

10. Develop existing communication. Greater investments should be made in making existing communication tools, such as The Beam, which is used at the UN, responsive to the needs of the audience. This requires a better understanding of target demographics. More-nuanced analytical content and improved dissemination can assist in this effort. Strategic communication involves taking a more proactive role in shaping perceptions and effecting behavioral change. For the United Nations, communication is a powerful tool in shaping perceptions regarding the value and capacities of the world body. These in turn affect the political space in which it can operate and the resources it can generate for its work. The United Nations benefits unquestionably from global recognition of its brand. It should not hesitate to employ all available tools to ensure that it provides a powerful message to counter the rhetoric and recruiting power of extremists and mobilize support among its own officers, its member states, and the broader global audience.
US Anti-Terrorism Strategy

Nothing is as persuasive as a story. There is no form of argument, no logical process that can move us the way a story does, because stories encourage us to identify. Who one sees oneself as, and the story one sees oneself as a part of, both compel action consistent with the self story. And if the narrative form privileges “unity” and “wholeness” then identity and the actions that result from it will be consistent with this form. What is the problem with that? One problem
is that identity, whether personal or group, will be made up of consistent experience. Only the experience that fits into a whole and unified form is included in the narrative. The form doesn’t admit anomalous experience or action. There is no room for exceptions to the dominant story line. And as philosopher/novelist Rebecca Goldstein (1989) warns “the aesthetic preference for wholeness will often lead us to actions we would not otherwise undertake” (p. 57).

 Narrative Identity Theory doesn’t just conceptualize identity as consistent with plot; it conceptualizes identity as consistent with plot structure – the Aristotelian one - that admits only a particular type of assimilation. I think this is an overstatement. Hilde Nelson has argued that narrative identity is a social construction that is tied to power, and an expression of moral agency, or the lack thereof, and the fluidity of this would mean that identity can evolve even within the same plot structure, depending on the alterations in the construction of the person, by self and others. Hegel argued against Aristitle’s centralization of the plot, arguing that it was the characterization of the person that is core to narrative, and it is conflict in that characterization that is the heart of the matter. However, Narrative Identity Theory can still retain its strength without relying on a model that bases identity on consistency over time. This is important because the over-emphasis on self-consistency is incongruent with change brought by changes in external circumstances, or changes occurring as a result of time passing, or changes brought about by critical reflection, or from gaining new information. 
The problem with understanding a self as that being who narrates a whole and unified story, a story with one dominant authorial voice and consciousness, linearly over time, is that potentially meaningful experience will be left out of a unified and whole plot structure if it is anomalous or if it cannot be synthesized. Experience will be dichotomized as meaningful/trivial, anomaly/pattern, and will be included or repressed depending upon which category it falls into.

Culturally varied and contextually specific ways of being are at odds with a consciousness directed toward discovering, or creating, unity between diverse phenomena and its attendant orientation toward inner integration and consistency. That sort of orientation can cause acute problems in situations of narrative conflict. Because cultural and ideological conflict is inevitable it is strategically pragmatic to negotiate a narrative framework that is not threatened by change.
I would like to refer back to the claim made in the title of this paper. The title asserts that calls to terrorism are weak narratives. What is a weak narrative? A weak narrative is a fundamentalist narrative: a narrative with one theme that silences information that is consistent or contrary to the theme. What makes a fundamentalist narrative structure tactically weak? There are several things:

1. temporal order (because simply switching the order of events will alter moral

2. unity or coherence (because this type of narrative leaves no room for anomalies or
exceptions or change),

3. linearity (because all current events fit into the middle which is the conflict stage. 
The end is only projected and there will be endless disagreement about when the “beginning” was, for example, did the war on terror begin after Sept 11 or years before?)
Dissemination of the counter-terror message within the U.S. doesn’t involve the difficulty of dissemination in many other countries. Note that I am specifically focused on potential targets of terrorist recruitment within the United States. And when I refer to terrorism and the danger of domestic recruitment, I refer to the threat posed by the likes of Al Qaeda, as well as to the equal if not greater threat to national security posed by separatist groups within the United States.
In the U.S., dissemination involves conceptualizing and advertising an American
narrative that encompasses difference, even conflict, without being threatened by it. Our narrative should welcome conflict. If we are not conflicted we are not thinking. And if we are not mindful of conflicting narratives then we are not doing what we should be doing: creating a national narrative that locates its identity not in one narrative or another but in the glue that holds multiple narratives together.
 The Bush era slogan “war on terrorism” forces one to take sides without any inherent persuasive power to pull an individual or group in one direction or another. The slogan relies on identification as a victim for its persuasive power. But it is a weak narrative; it leaves identification open and vulnerable. Both, or all, sides will identify themselves with the victim and view their actions as consistent with fighting the war on terror. This war relies on an unvoiced assumption that the narrative begins with this current victimization, as the narrative structure is linear rather than cyclical. But in the mind of the “other” this event was not the beginning and if everyone jumps on the linear narrative bandwagon with its attendant need to stabilize a beginning, there will be endless disagreement about when the beginning was. If, on the other hand, the “other” does not share the same structural assumptions, the “other” can exploit this assumption with counter-examples of “beginnings”. When we invoke a weak narrative like this one it is immediately countered in the mind of the “other” and the speaker not only loses credibility but also opens himself up to a litany of counter-examples. 
The “war on terror” is a terrorist metaphor. Both sides have used it. It is the war Al Qaeda thinks of itself as fighting. It is the war white separatists in the U.S. are prepared for. An essential narrative strategy of terrorist recruitment is to dichotomize “us” and “them” and then to align “us” with good and “them” with evil, “us” with victim and “them” with the aggressor, “us” as on the side of God and “them” as heathens. Given these dichotomies who wouldn’t align themselves
with the “us” category? Most people, members of Al Qaeda as well as members of the U.S.

Department of Defense will align themselves with the “us” category. Under the “us” category (on both sides of a conflict) will come a long list of historical wrongs inflicted upon “us”. This dichotomy is a conceptual trap leaving participants, combatants, if you will, endlessly in conflict about who is “us” and who is “them”. No one is going to win that conflict. Both sides of a conflict will always justify violence by reference to a conflict narrative – a war. A counterterrorism strategy must be a counter-fundamentalist strategy. And the commitment to, and even the unconscious assumption of, linear unified narrative is a brand of fundamentalism. 
While the current administration has been careful to refine communication referring to the scope of the conflict and the nature of the threat (away from the “boundless global war on terror” language toward descriptions of “targeted efforts” and “partnerships with other countries”) (Obama, 2013) our national narrative still needs to be developed. A “war of ideas” is a more nuanced description of the situation than a “war on terror” but a “war of ideas” is still a weak metaphor. It is ineffectual. An idea cannot be killed or imprisoned or expelled from the mind or from society. Bad ideas have to be bettered, and in the case of counter-terrorist strategy, they need to be more attractive than the alternative.
I am not simply suggesting replacement of the conflict metaphor with another. Nor am I suggesting that we develop a competing metaphor, even a non-conflict metaphor. I am not suggesting this because it is not necessary. Rather than replacing the conflict metaphor we need to get outside it and encompass it. We, the United States, are already in possession of a metaphor that encompasses conflict. The U.S. already has the advantage here; we are the alternative metaphor. 
 We are an experiment in democracy, an experiment in religious tolerance, an experiment in preserving the dignity of the individual while considering the greatest good for the greatest number. And, as in many experiments, we sometimes make mistakes and we sometimes get results we don’t want and didn’t expect and then we modify our procedures and try again. As a young culture the U.S. doesn’t have the rigid fixed national identity that some other nations do. 
We are not so philosophically entrenched that we cannot re-think our intended results and recalibrate. And we are inclusive. We invite others to come along, to jump on-board. If we posit our narrative as an imperfect and on-going attempt, we encourage good will (if even grudging).
If we posit ourselves as morally or culturally superior, or as victims, we encourage the resuscitation of contrary evidence and we are back in conflict. We have an advantage over fundamentalist narratives and our advantage didn’t come as the result of moral superiority and the advantage does not belong to any particular political party. 

Our advantage is that long before the events of  9/11 an American narrative has been one of inclusion. An American narrative must carefully avoid mirroring fundamentalist rhetoric by not forcing individuals to make a choice between religious beliefs and nationality. An American narrative enables one to be a Sikh, a Muslim, a Jew, and not be in conflict with those who have other beliefs. Forgetting that makes us weak. We play right into the hands of terrorist recruiters
when we burn the Koran, when we attempt to silence dissent, and when we adhere to a fundamentalist national narrative.
 The United States has taken a few steps back in terms of international credibility but we don’t have to come up with a new narrative. We should invoke the metaphor of a worthy experiment in tolernce, dignity and inclusion.


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