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The War Within Islam ( 26 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Council of Islamic Ideology: Beyond Hope?



By Najam Sethi

September 27, 2013-09-27

There was a glimmer of hope last week that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) might finally be persuaded to accept DNA evidence as conclusive proof in rape cases, a universally accepted practice. But Maulana Sheerani, the CCI chairman from the JUI, is still insisting that four male witnesses are required to prove guilt in rape cases - verily, an impossible condition. Worse, a majority of CII members still refuse to punish those who deliberately lie to settle scores in blasphemy cases. The travails of Maulana Tahir ul Ashrafi, the sole dissenter, to talk some sense into his 19 fellow-CII colleagues are all in vain.

The CII is no more than a body to advise and guide parliament to bring all laws into conformity with the provisions of Islam. It was supposed to have been wound up in 1996 when its "final report" on how and what to "Islamise" in the Pakistan constitution was submitted to parliament. Indeed, in the presence of the Federal Shariat Court and the Islamic Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court, the CII has outlived its original mission statement. Why, then, is the CII still alive and kicking?

Syed Afzal Haider, an ex-judge, minister, eminent lawyer and CII member, is a mine of information on the CII. He has explained how the blasphemy law came to be drafted and notified during the Zia ul Haq era by a leading Saudi cleric. Since then, with the possible exception of the Musharraf years of "enlightened moderation" when the CII was led by Dr Khalid Masood, the CII has traded in fundamentalist ideas without let or hindrance. Maulana Fazal ur Rahman's JUI is particularly keen on retaining the top slot in the CII and has bargained vigorously with every government for the privilege of having the last word on the subject. Unfortunately, both the PPP and PMLN have taken an opportunist position on the issue.

Both parties think that the CII is an ineffectual talking-shop of no consequence. This same foolish attitude is manifest in the perennial committees tasked with curriculum development in which "Islamic ideology, jihad, Kufr, etc", figure prominently. Either enlightened Muslims don't have the courage of their conviction. Or it doesn't occur to them that at least three generations since the Zia era have grown up to believe in a particular version and vision of Islam that is wholly responsible for the anarchy and violence in Pakistan today which is making law and order and governance so difficult for them. The current debate in the country over good and bad Taliban (good and bad Muslims?) is a direct offshoot of this long-drawn exercise in brainwashing. Consider.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is waging a ferocious war on the country. It rejects everything Pakistani and wants to impose a violent, reactionary Emirate upon us that will throw us back centuries. Yet we still hanker for peace talks with its leading elements even after the latest attack on Christians in Peshawar that has been proudly owned by a group within the TTP. Indeed, some of our misguided apologists are at pains to paint this attack as a "conspiracy" against the TTP! Some sections of the media aside, Maulana Fazal and Imran Khan are both guilty of this cruel ingenuity. The former is probably too scared to oppose the Taliban openly. The JUI has lost many voters to militant outfits and the Maulana is a soft target for his angry detractors for cosying up to mainstream regimes for personal goodies. Imran Khan is simply too stubborn and self-righteous to dispassionately weigh the evidence against the TTP. Both have entered into Faustian bargains with the terrorists in Waziristan no less than the Sharifs have done with sectarian murderers in the Punjab.

It is time to take the bull by the horns before it ravages state and society beyond repair and beyond hope. The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has finally admitted that the existential threat to Pakistan comes not from India but from practitioners of radical, extremist notions of political Islam. That is the good news. The bad news is that he hasn't taken any concrete steps to purge the military accordingly. So we're out of luck, just as we were when General Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" foundered on the rock of jihadists in his secret agencies and administration. Can Nawaz Sharif succeed where liberal politicians like Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari, no less than moderate generals like Musharraf and Kayani, have succumbed to cowardice or opportunism, or both?

Nawaz Sharif's education and cultural upbringing make him religiously conservative. Therefore the odds that he will try to separate religion from politics, in the textbooks or the CII, are daunting. But we can hope that his other identity, as a businessman who knows that Pakistan cannot survive without doing business with the world, will tilt him in favour of live and let live policies based on tolerance and moderation in a free world in which there is no space for the TTP and their ilk