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Lal Masjid Not The Only Threat

By M B Naqvi

11 July, 2007
The News

The 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, Pukhtoon jihadists.

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 antediluvian.

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 of progress.

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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