By Nadeem F. Paracha
Sunday, 01 Nov, 2009 (Dawn)
Some five years ago when rising cases of religious extremism and suicide bombings started to spell a serious problem for the state and society, the easiest position taken by those condemning such barbarism was to point to the need to promote ‘moderate Islam.’
It seemed the logical thing to do in a country that took its religion very seriously; but exactly how has the promoting of ‘moderate Islam’ by the state and the electronic media in the last few years helped contain the nuisance of faith-driven terrorism? It hasn’t.
This is because we forgot that ‘moderate Islam’ comes attached with a pragmatism that, during a crisis of religious identity, can be as harmful as the uncouth babbling of an extremist or the sheepish convolutions of his ever-willing apologists.
The biggest problem thus with so-called ‘moderate Muslims’ is that they fail to hold any solid convictions, and would largely remain quiet, even in the face of their more extremist counterparts’ irrational take on faith, and their reliance on coercion and violence. Why on earth did it take the moderate majority of Pakistan so long to realise that the Taliban always had the potential to unleash a blood-splattered havoc?
If being ‘moderate’ in matters of faith really means banking more on one’s commonsense and the faculties of logic, then exactly what logic determined the moderates’ silence in the midst of widespread bloodshed and the loud spiels unloaded by so many crackpots who are still in search of ‘hidden hands’ when the enemy breathes and breeds right underneath their Pinocchio noses? In the kind of unprecedented turmoil we are in today, the whole idea about the silent moderate majority needs to be confronted and shaken out of its comfort zones of navel-gazing.
I say this because the so-called moderate Muslims are now perhaps the only ones who could allow themselves the advantage of being persuaded by a rational debate against extremism; because no amount of reason, commonsense and appeal to humanity can ever dent the stone-cold wickedness of the blood-thirsty extremists, or the shameful epileptic populist rhetoric of their apologists who appear in front of us in the guise of ‘journalists,’ ‘experts’ ‘leaders’ and whatnot.
They also include some conventional political-religious parties. They have done all they could to keep upsetting the government’s and the army’s attempts to build a wider consensus for the state’s war against terrorism. We would actually be doing democracy a great service by taking away from these drawing room and TV-friendly fitnas the privilege of spouting nonsense and naked hatred in the name of freedom of speech.
One should not even bother trying to have a rational debate with the many apologists of the barbarians who are found across TV screens and in internet forums; as far as commonsense, intellectual decency and even the Quranic concept of aqal are concerned, they’re a spent force, gasping loudly like a fish out of water.
But what about the so-called moderates? As more and more Pakistanis are finally coming around to nodding in approval beyond the matters of sect, political party and ethnicity to continue consolidating an all-round consensus against religious extremism, many ‘moderate Muslims’ can still be caught navel-gazing.
Politically speaking, the attitude of the PML(N) and its leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, in this context is a vivid example. The party can be described as what political scientists call a ‘Muslim Democracy’ party, or a centre-right political entity which, like the European Christian Democrats, are moderate, faith-based parties minus any theocratic or fundamentalist pretensions, and which have a healthy relationship with modern democratic notions and a liking for market economics.
So, never mind the many delusions Mian Saheb held in the past, wanting to be crowned as the Amirul Momineen, today he is a ‘moderate Muslim.’ But in spite of making all the right noises about democracy, constitutionalism and a free judiciary, the man has only rarely been heard castigating extremism. This is ironic from a man whose party’s bastion of support is Punjab, a province that has recently experienced some of the most harrowing acts of terrorism perpetrated by the Taliban, and yet, Mian Sahib remains mum about them.
What is he waiting for? Is he still expecting some large sections of his mostly petty-bourgeois constituency in Punjab to hold sympathy for extremists? Does he still believe that if he openly talks against the Taliban, he will lose his votes? It is true that in the past religious extremists of all shades did find sympathy with certain sections of Punjab’s petty-bourgeoisie, but one doubts such is the case anymore.