By Khaled Ahmed
Oct 09 2013
The modern Islamic state continues to be a besieged idea.
After the Taliban killed a major-general and blew up 80 Christians in Peshawar, Pakistan is busy rationalising the situation in favour of "peace talks" with them. As if wheedling himself into their good books, a judge in Peshawar questioned: "Why is modern banking still allowed in Pakistan?" He was within his rights because the Shariat Appellate Bench of Pakistan's Supreme Court has indeed banned it. Banking, as we know it today, is banned in Islam, so is insurance and state lottery, but Pakistan is still carrying on with them. Al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri condemns Pakistan for not banning modern banking.
The religious parties, not able to win elections, draw their strength, not from the elected assemblies, but from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as the latter kill in the name of Islam. (The exceptions among religious groups are the Shi'ites and Barelvi Sunnis, who are routinely butchered by the Taliban as deviants from the faith.) In unison, they are defending dialogue with the killers, who don't want to be distracted from terrorism as they prepare for talks with the Nawaz Sharif government, fortified by an all-party consensus on peace talks instead of "war against terrorism". The National University of Science and Technology (NUST) at Islamabad has prophylactically started fining girl students who wear jeans on campus.
The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), constitutionally mandated to "guide" the legislature, has refused to award death to those who make wrongful accusations under the blasphemy law, which gives death as minimum punishment to those who insult the Holy Prophet. It has also piously deemed DNA evidence as secondary, not primary, proof in cases of rape, where the perpetrator simply cannot be punished because of the conditionality of four eyewitnesses to the forcible sexual assault. It recommends that earlier legislation under "hudood" (Quranic punishments), correcting this legal irrationality, be rolled back.
Muslims produce their best men when they are not ruling the state they live in. The most gifted intellectuals, like Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Abduh, survived only under the British Empire because their works were too "groundbreaking". When Muslims acquire a state they go into a kind of recidivist trance: give us utopia or nothing. They make noises about the "modern Islamic" state but the moment such a state is created, they start squabbling over it. Despite their denial of "theology", this is all they have when thinking of the state. They deny the presence of a clergy in Islam but their society is crawling with it, and despite avowals to the contrary, they slavishly follow their frozen-in-time medieval doctrines, savagely discriminatory to women and non-Muslims.
The other thing that has Muslims in a tizzy is education. If you want to educate yourself, never ask a Muslim what to do. He will accept modern education, saying the Quran is for all times, including modern times, and therefore allows modern education. But the moment you say "secular" education, he baulks. The age of reason, which gave us modern education, is not his cup of tea because what he understands by "reason" is "deductive logic". He accepts the discipline of economics while ideologically rejecting the concepts of banking and savings. He is "literalist", therefore he can be a banker without accepting the institution he serves.
In physics too, Pakistan's most gifted, UK-educated nuclear scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, enriched uranium till it became good for a bomb while believing in the existence of djinns. He actually read a paper to General Zia, which said he could produce electricity for all of Pakistan from one "tamed" Djinn. The most abominated nuclear physicist in Pakistan, Pervez Hoodbhoy, says Muslims avoid soiling their faith by staying away from the theory of science and learn it as mere "technology". They "steal" science to make nuclear weapons in Pakistan and Iran. When Hoodbhoy condemned a Muslim "scientist" running his car on water as a crook, no one really believed him.
The world thinks Muslims are poor and crazy because their states have abysmal records in education. If you think you can improve a Muslim through education, then take a look at the curricula in Pakistan. Any attempt to tone down references to war as a way of life by the provincial authority is attacked by the clergy, after which the media starts growling, sending the education minister scurrying back to texts mandating jihad for all Muslims. This is a state that has defamed itself through proxy wars it used to call jihad.
Any change in the ideological content of textbooks is criticised, amid naked threats, till the removed lessons are reinstated, as happened in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, as if in preparation for the rule of the Taliban. The Muslim youth are not iconoclastic because they are born in modern times; their aggression is regressive because they are iconoclastic of modern times. "Radical" in Islam is the act of going back; the same goes for "revolution". In Arabic, "modern" ("Jadeed") is derived from "Jadd" meaning "grandfather". The more educated a Muslim is, the more dangerous he is for his country and the rest of the world.
My favourite Western writer on Islam is France's Olivier Roy, because he is less dismissive of Muslims as they come to grips with the modern state and its current system of governance, democracy. He says Islamists are no longer able to brush aside the democratic process simply because it is not a caliphate as they envisage it. Looking at the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, he says they have to accept the premier institution of democracy, the elections, to retain support among the people. He mentions the Ikhwan in Egypt, the Ennahda in Tunisia and the Islah in Yemen. He thinks the acceptance of democracy by Islamists is a new phenomenon which should inspire hope.
But the Egyptians got scared of the elected Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi, and his Sharia and, as Marxist scholar Aijaz Ahmed has written, staged the biggest rally in human history against him to force the army to intervene. In Turkey, the modern Kemalist state is being rolled back because Prime Minister Erdogan is keener than even Fethullah Gulen, the expat genius whose shadow presides over Turkey's retrogression, to enforce Sharia. Iran has democracy if elections denote democracy; and it is now 30 years since the clerical rule started making the people think they are hardly living under a democracy. And Sharia keeps getting more stringent: Pakistan's sharia may soon be beefed up by the Taliban.
For now, in Olivier Roy's words, Muslims are busy creating chaos. Presumably, after this chaos ends, there will be an order that gives the Muslim common man a life that he can live. What we have now is described by Abu Bakr Naji, the founding philosopher of the al-Qaeda-linked group, al-Shabab, in the title of his book, The Management of Savagery. Pakistan is in the grip of this "management of savagery", pulling the "modern" state down through the killing of innocent people — with the Muslim population indoctrinated in favour of savagery by the "defective" (in the eyes of the Taliban) Sharia currently in force.
Bangladesh was created "secular" in reaction to Pakistan, but soon enough the military decided to listen to the "genius" of Bengali Muslims and make it Islamic. Shockingly for Muslims of the world, not long ago, the supreme court of Bangladesh rejected the Islamic amendments and reverted the constitution to its secular shape. But the government of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, with its three-fourths majority in parliament, might not like to legislate accordingly for fear of polarising the state and inviting Mujahideen from all over the Islamic world to "set things right".
Khaled Ahmed is a consulting editor with 'Newsweek Pakistan'