Masjid Not The Only Threat
By M B Naqvi
11 July, 2007
Lal Masjid drama goes on after six months. One regrets the loss of valuable
lives irrespective of the exact numbers; numbers vary and a possible
final impends. There is little that the state will prevail because of
its obvious military superiority. How long this will go on looks suspiciously
uncertain. But the event has to be seen in perspective.
What do the Islamic extremists
inside Lal Masjid stand for? They stand for enforcing an Islamic shariah
of their own conception immediately. It is literalist Deobandi interpretation
of Islamic tenets. It rejects modernist interpretations of Islam. They
are bereft of modern education, indeed they reject the knowledge of
pure and applied sciences and modern thought on social subjects. They
want to take Pakistan back to early years of Islam. For that reason
they are a big and growing challenge to most Muslim countries.
They are not concerned with
people's day-to-day social and economic problems; they happily accept
today's economy being conservatives and thrive on the social, economic
and political backwardness of Muslim masses. These Islamists have no
programme of ameliorating the poor people's living conditions but want
power in the unreconstructed societies -- power for its own sake. They
are not committed to any enlightened and egalitarian social reconstruction.
That makes them generic fascists.
Then, there are Lal Masjid
leaders' links with the Pakistan Army. A wide swathe of intelligent
opinion believes that they have served Pakistan's intelligence services
well during the 1980s jihad in Afghanistan. As for America's covert
war against the Soviets carried on by paid Mujahideen, it and its friends
pumped in something like $ 40 to $50 billion in a decade in a socially
backward and economically poor area. Plus some European agents taught
the natives the art of heroin-making and marketing. The Americans, British,
Germans and of course Saudis and other conservative Arab regimes actively
favoured the reactionary Islamic extremism of largely, but not exclusively,
This kind of Islam was reinforced
in the 1990s by introducing a new group of Islamic extremists (Taliban)
who quickly acquired the state of Afghanistan minus its ethnically-different
northern region that was ruled by equally intolerant and conservative
Islamic leaders, supported by India, Iran and successors of the Soviets.
Lal Masjid is commonly believed to have played a role in both the Afghan
jihad and later the Kashmir one. No outsider can know the precise limits
of that collaboration by the Lal Masjid leadership with the army and
possibly other agencies.
Then, there is the question
of the state's behaviour towards it. Contrast the army's behaviour towards
Baloch nationalists or other (Al-Qaeda) Islamic extremists in FATA and
NWFP. A sharp distinction would emerge. Is this drama so long-drawn-out
because of the army's surviving affection for old collaborators? Or
does it hope to utilize this standoff for terrifying the Americans and
also for diverting public attention from various domestic Crises, particularly
the judicial one?
While one opposes Islamic
extremism or militancy because of its social conservatism and its pre-medieval
outlook, one's condemnation has to be tempered with the understanding
of what motivates their uncontrolled anger and, in part, extremism.
After centuries of western domination over the Islamic world, Muslims
are now becoming dimly conscious of how and why they could be colonized,
exploited, kept poor and backward. This nascent awareness, albeit hazy,
has some validity. This is a partially positive fact.
Don't forget these militant
schools and groups have no rational and workable social, political or
economic reforms. They want to go back to the seventh century AD and
replicate what was the political structure of the state of Medina and
the subsequent four Islamic caliphates. They do not want to replicate
the latter periods. The gaze is fixed only on the four right-guided
caliphs and their moral and religious ideas. That makes their thinking
Pakistanis have to decide
whether they want to live in the modern world or go back to the medieval
ages accepting its structures and mores or whether they must industrialise
their economies and reform politics to ensure economic progress while
enjoying fundamental human rights. Social, political and intellectual
stasis of a bygone age cannot serve today's needs. Scientific knowledge,
wherever found, must be acquired. Societies must be scientifically studied.
Those who have excelled in
modern sciences must be honoured and those who bring to bear new scientific
and technological knowledge on domestic political and economic spheres
must be encouraged. The greatest threat to any society's progress is
the closed mind. So long as minds are open, and people are ready to
argue rationally, new ideas about reforms, about the rights of the people,
about how to maximize wealth and how distribute it better will be factors
The people must decide the
purpose of public policy to be the maximization of good for the maximum
number of people while also giving them maximum freedoms. The inequality
in society has to be reduced and equally promoted. This is what Islamic
extremists deliberately ignore. They push for an ambiguous (current)
social and economic system superimposed by an extra austere sexual morality
alone. They accept the unequal quasi-feudal system that concedes few
human rights to the common people.
The dictatorship of General
Ziaul Haq had promoted a fake religiosity to be superimposed on a highly
unequal economic system with no political rights under his martial law.
An equally fake Islamic extremism is now flourishing that has to be
eschewed. The country is threatened by extremism over large areas in
NWFP, FATA and PATA areas. Indeed, it is now seeping into Pakistan's
other settled areas. An idea of what to do about it is to let all people
speak their truths honestly with equal access to the media. The media
must project the ideas of the largest number of groups. Let ideas contend
with ideas rationally and freely. Let the people freely choose. That
is the way out.
Lal Masjid's history is relevant.
Its leaders appear to have become too big for their boots and have started
out on a course of trying to acquire power by imposing a medieval morality
that is threatened by music, dance, video cassettes, CDs, DVDs etc.
People and the media must ensure that the Lal Masjid affair does not
divert public attention from other and major crises.
Tail piece: Now that the
SC has taken a suo moto notice of the Lal Masjid standoff, there should
be hope that many hitherto unanswered questions would now find answers,
especially those about the links between the masjid's administration
and the government's undercover agencies. The SC is sure to ask the
secret agencies what they were doing while Maulana Aziz's men were amassing
so many guns and so much ammo.
(The article was written
before the events of July 10)
The writer is a veteran journalist
and freelance columnist.
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