By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi
November 27, 2013
FROM Pakistan to the Levant, the Muslim world is burning in a self-lit fire, the ‘confrontation without’ having given way to ‘a confrontation within’.
Beyond the Levant, as in North Africa, Maghreb and Muslim sub-Sahara, instability, violence and uncertainty reign. Political movements have turned religious, and the religious ones have degenerated into sectarian bloodbaths.
Hoisted by its own petard, Pakistan has a story to tell. Decades ago, nobody believed the militants tasked by America with defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan would one day become Pakistan’s most implacable foes, turn into sectarian hounds, demoralise the armed forces, and eat into its vitals.
In the Arab world, the fragrance of the Spring has turned into an overpowering stench enveloping the Fertile Crescent and its neighbourhood. As the phoney stability imposed by the dictators gave way to anarchy, the character of the Arab Spring changed.
Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Muammar Qadhafi fell — until the Spring attempted a blossoming in Syria. Suddenly, as Bashar al-Assad fought back to preserve the 40 years of dynastic rule, madness descended — and not only on the Syrians.
Within months, a power line-up had come into being, with nearly a dozen states and sanctimonious cults baying for Muslim blood.
These included Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Hezbollah, a bewildering variety of Al Qaeda factions, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (into which Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra merged), the newly formed Islamic Front, and last not but not least battle-hardened Pakistani Taliban — a reincarnation of Changez Khan’s bloodthirsty hordes, who gloried in tossing babies on lances.
Over 115,000 are dead, a vast majority of them Muslim. Watching in tension on the sidelines are Jordan and Turkey, both hosting Syrian refugees whose overall number has crossed two million.
This sectarian fire — this confrontation within — has replaced what until Anwar Saadat’s assassination was a confrontation without. Until that fateful October day, the eighth anniversary of the 1973 Ramazan war, when Nasser’s successor was gunned down, the Arab world appeared one monolithic unit.
It had no religion and no sect. Ruling the hearts and minds of the Arab people was the fervent nationalism unleashed by Gamal Abdel Nasser. The gradual erosion of this spirit of ‘confrontation without’ was a phenomenon not confined to the Arab world; it affected the landmass from Pakistan to Morocco. There were reasons why.
Giants Nasser, Faisal, Ben Bella, Boumediene and Bhutto were followed by midgets who considered the expedient American commitment to their tyranny an alternative to popular mandate.
Jerusalem, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gujarat, Sabra-Shatila, Bosnia, 9/11: the very dimensions of these challenges and humiliations were beyond their comprehension.
Afghanistan turned out to be a tragedy: it became the source of religious militancy for the Muslim world. Pakistan, of course, gets the blame, perhaps rightly, but let us note that the US-led West just walked off after the Soviet defeat, saddling Pakistan and the region with well-armed, uncontrollable jihadis euphoric over their triumph.
With the Left demoralised as the Soviet camp collapsed, it was the religious parties which filled the vacuum when the strongmen fell. The religious right had not been idle during these decades of dictatorship: it utilised this rights-less era by expanding community networks and earning the people’s gratitude.
In this category fell the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates in Egypt and the Maghreb; and the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan. No wonder, the religious parties today occupy centre stage in this intra-Muslim conflagration that shows no signs of dying out.
The jihadis have now virtually abandoned the cause of Muslims under foreign occupation, except as catchy shibboleths. Their principal enemies now are fellow Muslims and the minorities. This fixation on a self-invented enemy within the Muslim milieu reflects an inquisitionist credo of basically sick minds.
In Pakistan, the Taliban are massacring Shias; in the Levant, non-Syrian Sunni militias and Hezbollah have turned the anti-Baathist struggle for democratic rights into a sectarian strife; in Bahrain, Saudi troops are helping the Sunni monarchy crush the Shia rebellion; Iraq is witnessing a throwback to the 2006 sectarian conflict with fatalities this year close to 6,000, and Riyadh is as much concerned over Iran’s nuclear quest as Tel Aviv.
Here we can see two incompatible phenomena: Muslim governments’ anxiety to safeguard their national interests and the international Jihadi fraternity’s cold-blooded indifference to Muslim states’ geopolitical concerns.
This disregard for state interests stems from the militants’ quizzical contention that Islam doesn’t believe in nation-states. The absurdity of the practical implications of this theory was acknowledged by Maulana Maudoodi when he gave up this ‘Trotskyite’ belief and headed for Pakistan to set up an Islamic state.
No wonder, extraterritorial loyalties are ingrained in Pakistani Islamists’ theory and practice, as reflected in Syed Munawwar Hassan’s conferment of Shahadat on a man who was supreme commander of a rebel army which was, and is, at war with the state of Pakistan. Notice that Chinese have been a major target for the Taliban and Lal Masjid rebels.
Rawalpindi on Ashura was symptomatic of what ails the Muslim world. Worldwide, the Islamists could have advanced their cause by democratic means. They had the means to influence people. That — unknown to Imran Khan — they should massacre their own people is a tragedy for the Muslim world.
They are destroying what potentially could have been the bastion of their power. The anarchy now reigning in the Muslim heartland has made the suffering people develop nostalgia for the ousted tyrants.
With Syria’s chemical weapons confiscated, the UN has no interest in peace in the Levant. So, brother Muslims are welcome to keep fighting till hell freezes over.
Muhammad Ali Siddiqi is a member of Dawn staff.
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