Operation Silence and Religious Extremism in Pakistan

I only recently returned from a two week trip to Jordan, Spain and Morocco. In all three countries I saw some of the most incredible wonders that were either built by Muslim rulers in their heyday, or now belong to them. For example, I could not recommend more to everyone that they should visit the Al-Hambra Palace in Granda, Spain if they can. Built in the Nasirid times in the 12th-14th century, it is not just beautiful – it is mesmerizing. I stood in the courts and patios, admiring the wonderful architecture and the tile-work, the towers and the garrisons, the beautiful water fountains and the water channels, and the gardens of Generalife – pondering upon where the Muslims had one been in the arts, crafts and sciences, and where they had (generally) degenerated to as a global community.

I returned to Boston only to learn of the military operation that had finally been initiated (it is now complete) in the Lal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. I had written earlier, a long time ago it seems now, that the idiots of the mosque had to be controlled or else it would erupt into a disastrous situion. Well, that is exactly what happened. They provoked the government, and more importantly, the society in which they lived until it just could not be tolerated any more. The government acted upon it after showing more restraint than they should have – for they could have cleared house without as much bloodshed that eventually occurred – and now more than 75 people are dead. One brother of the crazy leadership was caught trying to snek out dresse din a woman’s veil, while the other was killed in the army operation.

One can google to read tons of analysis (and some paralysis) that has been done on this matter in the aftermath of the military assault on the mosque to terminate the extremist militants holed up inside. The politicians are spinning it the way they think public may respond better and the analysts are torn if this was an act in final recourse, or an inability to negotiate properly with hostage-takers. All said and done, the entire episode presents that ugly face of religious extremism that has pervaded the Pakistani society in various ways. Yes, they are still a minority in a population of 140+ million, but they are both vocal and growing in number. Their influence increases as our moderate politicians and reform leaders fail to provide honest, dependable, and trust-worthy leadership. As I wrote to my family recently, we are in desperate need of a Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who can show and lead Muslims towards more education, science, technology, and cultural advancement, than retrogressing into the lifestyle of the muslims in past centuries.

Pakistani society is undergoing a lot of duress right now. They have seen protests, clashes, marches, and bloody riots over a sacked Chief Justice, rains and storms have hit the poor hardest, there is tremendous shortage of electricity in major cities, the heat has been unbearable, and now the political environment is super-charged and tense in the aftermath of this incident, the killing of the Baloch leader Bugti, the rumors of a deal between President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, the court case against Altaf Hussain in London by Imran Khan, and the somewhat ambiguous political of all the current and ex-PML politicians vis-a-vis the Presidential election and general elections. This is not to mention that other madrassahs, especially those few engaged in inciting violence, are now struggling with their strategies on how to position themselves against or with the government in light of this operation. The liberal and the moderate in the society face a similar dilemma, as they suddenly find themselves on the same side as a military dictator – only because they find the mullah-ism to be a bigger danger to society than an autocratic military ruler. But we are all watching, and hoping for things to not get any worse. It really is all that I hear ordinary people asking for. Only then, maybe once the summer is over, will we start figuring out how to make things better.

Here is a nice article by Hussain Haqqani on the religious extremism crisis that has reared its ugly face in Pakistan, but also in almost every other country:

Jihadi’s world

By Husain Haqqani
Posted online: Wednesday, July 11, 2007 at 0000 hrs

The siege that was at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid and the recent thwarted terrorist attacks in London involving an Iraqi-born doctor are the latest symptoms of what ails the Muslim world.

Unwilling to take stock of the causes of its decline, the global Muslim community is trapped between the rhetoric of thoughtless radical clerics, the hate and anger of their violence-prone followers and the opportunistic behaviour of governments lacking legitimacy.

The clerics of Lal Masjid encouraged their students to impose their brand of Islam through vigilante actions. They used their pulpit to imbue their disciples with violent rage against rival sects, other religions, the US, the trappings of a westernised life, the regime of Musharraf and those individuals they considered indulging in un-Islamic behaviour.

Over the last several months, young students of institutions attached to Lal Masjid, Jamia Fareedia and Jamia Hafsa (including women) forcibly took over a public library and kidnapped women they accused of prostitution. They forced video shops to close down their businesses and dispensed instant justice at an unofficial court. Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi constantly exhorted their flock to Taliban-like vigilantism and terrorism, which they described as jihad.

The oratory of the two Lal Masjid clerics is similar to the hate-filled preaching of other self-styled jihadist Islamists around the globe. Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad and Abu Hamza al-Masri of London and Abubakar Basheer of Indonesia are other examples of radical clergy that urges Muslims to wage war against the west and use terrorism to somehow restore the past glory of Muslims.

At the heart of these clerics’ world view is an incorrect diagnosis of contemporary Muslim humiliation and weakness. The current state of the ummah — the Muslim community of believers — is the result of a failure to keep up with knowledge, science and technology, modern means of wealth generation and evolved systems of political and social organisation. But the rhetoric of the radicals attributes the Muslims’ decline to the power of the West and recommends random violence as a means of leveling the global playing field.

Their argument seems to be that since Muslims cannot beat the west on the terms of modernity, they should seek to eliminate modernity and revert to their glorious past by emulating the lifestyle of Islam’s pioneers. Instead of recognising the need to modernise the Muslim world, jihadists claim they can Islamise the modern world through furious speeches and violence.

Many ordinary Muslims, such as the Lal Masjid students and the Iraqi-born British doctor and his partners who plotted the recent foiled attacks in London, accept the flawed logic of the radical clerics and adopt terrorism as their line of attack in what they believe is a millennial struggle between Islam and un-Islam. But some of the radical clerics do not practice what they preach, like Maulana Abdul Aziz who opted to escape his besieged mosque in a burqa notwithstanding his exhortations to martyrdom. Others lead their followers to death and injury, with little to show as the positive outcome of their grandstanding.

The opportunism of rulers lacking in legitimacy further aggravates the tragedy caused for the Muslim world by radical clerics and their ill-motivated followers.

Musharraf’s government is not alone in allowing this radical menace to lurk as part of a grand design to convince the international community that the authoritarian ruler alone can keep the lid on a perilous pressure cooker. Other governments in the Muslim world have engaged in similar patterns of behaviour, alternately nourishing and fighting extremism with little regard for the long-term consequences. The crisis of the Muslim world continues to deepen.

Radical Islamists claim that “Islam is in danger”. But this danger comes primarily from terrorism, economic and knowledge poverty of Muslims and lack of progress that prevents Muslims from being equal partners in the contemporary world.

The writer is director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations

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3 Responses to Operation Silence and Religious Extremism in Pakistan

  1. cubano says:

    Hi,

    Will you be posting pics of Al-Hambra? I was recently in Madrid but unfortunately didn’t have time to visit Al-Hambra. I have been meaning to go for a while. Did you fly to the Granada airport to get there?

    I have been reading your blog for a while. It’s great.

  2. […] last days of a bloody year for Pakistan This year has been a bloody one for Pakistan (link, link, link, link, link, link) . The society has received one shock after another. But this one perhaps […]

  3. Wow, youre so much more technologically inclined than I am. But I do so appreciate this website and the info it has provided me… and hope to take some time this week to read more. Love your blog!

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