By Nadeem F Paracha
There is a constant effort to gloss over the jihadi urge
The most convenient understanding of the phenomenon of Pakistani extremists that one hears being echoed from TV studios suggests that young Pakistanis turning into religious fanatics has something to do with illiteracy and unemployment. Though not entirely incorrect, this notion however is a complacent explanation.
It fails to explain the emergence of young religious extremists such as Omar Shaikh (involved in the murder of American journalist, Daniel Pearl); Shahzad Tanveer and Hasib Hussain (7/7 UK bombers); and recently, Faisal Shahzad (the failed Times Square bomber). Each one of these young men came from educated middle-class families.
Saying they were products of the Western societies that they were raised in or thrown into is a weak retort. This attitude simply refuses to seriously address the issue of educated young Pakistanis falling for an extremely myopic and nihilistic brand of the faith — something that was once explained as a vocation only of the illiterate and the financially desperate. There has been an alarming rise in the number of young, educated middle-class Pakistanis (here and abroad), embracing the most reactionary and anarchic strains of the faith, believing it to be a justified and logical portrayal of ‘true’ Islam.
The state and the Government of Pakistan will have to thoroughly investigate and rectify this alarming trend. While actors like the 7/7 bombers and Faisal Shahzad are an obvious embarrassment to Pakistan and to the Pakistani communities in the West, so are the growing number of rabid, tech-savvy young people floating around various interactive websites to mouth the most obnoxious ideas about Islam and politics. There are websites out there glorifying utter mad men and the most twisted conspiracy theories, and many of these are owned, run and frequented by Pakistanis who work and are comfortably settled in Western countries.
For example, last year columnist Fasi Zaka was being pestered by a young man (through e-mail) who accused him of being an American agent. When Zaka discovered that this person (a Pakistani) lived in the United States, he wrote back, sarcastically offering him help by reporting his dislike of American policies to the notorious US Homeland Security agency. As expected, the e-mails came to a dead stop. The cyber jihadi had chickened out.
Then there is a gentleman who runs a pro-Zaid Hamid website. He lives and works in the US, but has the audacity to call a number of journalists (including me), ‘Zionist/CIA agents.’ He also frequently litters his site with ridiculous conspiracy theories involving the US. He has a fetish for fast cars as well.
Just as the sudden rise of certain crackpots (via TV) in Pakistan was keenly followed and supported by a chunk of young, urban Pakistanis, various cranks are happily catering to the already confused religious and ideological bearings of Muslim Pakistanis living abroad. Much has been written about people like Zaid Hamid, Aamir Liaquat and Zakir Naik — men who cleverly represent (and glorify) the increasingly chauvinistic mindset of the current generation of young, urban Pakistanis. The situation is equally distressing in the West.
A recent book on Farhat Hashmi’s organisation, Al-Huda, (written by a Pakistani woman), accuses her of spreading hatred against Christians, Hindus and Jews among Pakistani women living in Canada. Recently, in the wake of the Faisal Shahzad episode in New York, the Muslim Canadian Congress, a group of liberal Muslims living in Canada, accused American Islamic organisations of refusing to distance themselves from the doctrine of armed jihad, as did the Deobandi ulema’s conference back home only recently.
The MCC goes on to state that many young Pakistanis living in the US and Canada regard Pakistan as a safe haven for their preparation and training for waging wars against the West. Organisations like the MCC have also come down hard on outfits such as Al-Huda, ridiculing their claim that they are on a mission to convert westerners to Islam.
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a reader about a Pakistani living in the US who (on Facebook) accused me of being a ‘Zionist-backed agent of secularism’. When someone asked the gentleman that, if he hated the US so much why was he living there, he conveniently (and without any hint of irony) claimed that his mission was to convert as many Christians and Jews in the US as possible. Imagine what might have happened to a European or an American Christian in Pakistan if his/her ‘mission’ was to convert Muslims to Christianity.
The best was when a friend of mine told me about another such agitated Pakistani’s Facebook page. According to my friend, the following were the Facebook groups the restless young man was a member of: “Proud to be Muslim”; “I Hate Zardari;” “Free Dr Afia”; “Zaid Hamid”; and, hold your breath, “Big Boobs!”
Saying that such young people are wilfully delusional and dangerously hypocritical would be an understatement.
-- The writer is one of the most popular Pakistani columnists.