By Mosharraf Zaidi
April 05, 2011
The reason it is fruitless to allow ideology to be the primary filter through which you see the world is simple. Ideology is complicated. It obfuscates the obvious, and invests us in the hidden. It is the foundation of conspiracy theories. We seek hidden meaning in things that have obvious implications.
If you’re a neocon who hates Muslims, or better yet, a Muslim who hates Muslims (and Pakistan has more than its fair share of self-loathing latter-day colonists who’ll say anything to seem more Hollywood than Lady Gaga herself) then nothing suits your narrative more than the atrocities and murder that took place in Mazar-e-Sharif last week, in reaction to the burning of a Quran in Florida. Such events help perpetuate the twisted narrative of Muslims as generically rabid fanatics with no compunctions about beheading innocent people.
If you’re an anti-Semitic, Hinduphobic, anti-American right winger who believes Pakistan was made the day Bin Qasim landed at Kemari, and for whom killing people on street corners for purported offenses of speech (and we know with certainty that our living rooms, televisions and streets are overflowing with such vileness), is no big deal, then the burning of the Quran itself is a boon to your trade. Nothing helps sell hatred more than a made-for TV drama like Terry Jones. Too many of the politically irrelevant mullahs in the Muslim world live and die for a chance to stir up reactions to the Terry Jones’ of the world.
Similar ideological brouhaha exists at the local level within Pakistan. As a parade of terrorist attacks on Pakistani shrines continues unabated, if you’re interested in proving that your version of Islam – starring Junoon songs, colourful clothes, and a drag of marijuana is better than the orthodoxy of Pakistan’s post-Wahabbist fundamentalists, then the shrine attacks make sense to you. But if you’re among the minority of Pakistani religious conservatives, or the majority of Pakistani religious centrists, attacks on shrines are likely to stir conspiracy theories in the mind, or at the very least, utter confusion – we’ve heard this question all too many times: “why would supposed Muslims, kill Muslims?”
The point is rather simple. When we try to understand the world from the perspective of a specific set of ideas about why people do things a certain way, then we affix ideas-based agency to other people’s actions. But since we aren’t the other person, we can’t possibly know what really motivates them. We could literally spend decades in this abstract purple haze. Meanwhile, the important work of preventing murder, protecting human rights, and enabling the weak and the dispossessed to live more freely and prosperously gets relegated to oblivion. When we invest all our energy in debating the finer points of the differences between sufis and salafis, or between the sincerity of American liberals and the cynicism of its neocons, we’re really missing the whole point.
You don’t need to be a fan of Bulleh Shah’s poetry to understand that police in Mazar-e-Sharif should have the equipment, training and numbers to overwhelm any and all crowds. Peaceful protest is one thing. But the moment someone burns the first tyre, or raises the first murderous chant, law enforcement has to physically enforce its power. It has to let the entire crowd know that if you step out of line, the fuse of the Afghan government’s monopoly over the exertion of violence will be tripped. Infractions of the public peace must be dealt with so swiftly and decisively that the mere thought of facing the state’s reaction must make one shudder. If this sounds extreme, perhaps we need to consider the context. A mob went and beheaded seven UN staff who had nothing whatsoever to do with the burning of the Holy Quran. A little show of strength by the state here is not a violation of liberal principles. It is in fact a demonstration of those principles.
Similarly, you don’t need to be a salafi traditionalist to understand that without legal sanction of some kind, rating whores like Jones will continue to find fame and fortune in doing things that are designed to exploit the cheap cynicism of liberals and the even cheaper outrage of conservatives. Of course, once we enter legal sanction territory, we need to be clear and indiscriminate. On our scales of moral outrage and in the law and its enforcement, urging on rioters to burn human beings alive has to trump alleged blasphemies. It isn’t just a matter of humanity. It is a matter of urgency for Pakistani Muslims to have unstinting moral clarity about these issues, from a decidedly Islamic perspective. We cannot allow fitna to overtake us. We cannot become hostages to fitna.
Of course, it is not an ordinary Pakistani’s job to fight the madness. It is the state’s job. As we were still smarting from the atrocities committed in Mazar-e-Sharif, the authorities in Dera Ghazi Khan had to begin counting dead bodies from a terrorist attack on Darbar Sakhi Sarwar. We have lost count of how many times shrines have been hit by suicide bombers. The minister of interior claims there is no defence against a suicide bomber. If this isn’t a declaration that Pakistan is essentially at the mercy of violent takrifi extremism, I don’t know what is. The official proof is pretty compelling. Pakistan has no counter-terrorism strategy. It has no counter-radicalisation programmes. It has a lame and pathetic counter-extremist narrative – as it continues to use Bush-era language about its resolve in the ‘war on terror’.
So the problem is rather simple. It isn’t an ideology that enables terrorism in Pakistan. It is the weakness and incapacity of the Pakistani state’s response to terrorism that enables it. The insistence on exploring the sectarian dimensions of different terrorist groups, and the obsession with trotting out hackneyed rhetoric about Pakistan’s sufi traditions are distractions from a real and necessary conversation. That credible and decisive state action is needed, regardless of what inspires this violence.
Fanatics in Pakistan have more and more space everyday. The space for normalcy and sanity shrinks every time evangelical Muslims intimidate hospital patients into reciting the declaration of faith. It shrinks every time reasonable debate about procedural lacunae in the laws is muted by fear, and it shrinks with every terrorist attack.
Credible state action, that asserted itself forcefully, decisively and with no compunctions about its ferocity would have put this jack, back in the box. Of course, this is a fool’s paradise. The only kind of decisive action this state will take is action that sustains and deepens the many structural advantages and comforts enjoyed by the military, political, bureaucratic and industrial elite. In this way, the Pakistani elite have something in common with the violent extremists that torment the people of Pakistan. Both have a death wish. It is the suicide bombers vs the suicidal state. Unfortunately, it is the Pakistani people that lose in this contest. A contest they never, ever chose to be a part of.
Source: The News