Countering extremism – Syed Mansoor Hussain
If the coalition in the Punjab can survive then perhaps there is hope that these two parties will develop some sort of an understanding at the centre to mobilise Pakistanis against the real and immediate threat of religious extremism
I am a secular liberal and a Muslim. Many of my readers will think of this statement as an oxymoron. Similarly, if I say that the Jama’at-e Islami is a liberal party, most of my liberal and secular readers will probably go into a terminal state of ‘shock and awe’.
But then the JI does believes in the rule of law, in individual rights, free enterprise, democracy (as demonstrated by its being the only political party in Pakistan that elects its leadership in transparent elections every so often), and, above all, the equality of all under law.
Yes, there might be a quibble about what law we are talking about, but such quibbles are common even between avowed liberals and democrats of all sorts and can be solved through democratic means; the 17th Amendment and the reinstatement of the deposed chief justice being appropriate examples.
If we in Pakistan want to resist the rising tide of Muslim extremism, then we better realise that conservative Muslims like those of the JI for instance have a lot more in common with liberal Muslims than they have with the extremists that are blowing up girls’ schools, burning CD shops and forcing men to grow beards.
I have often griped about officialdom and the elite, and for good reason. But I have always gotten along rather well with ordinary people and, most surprisingly for me, with the devout and conservative Muslims that I have come across. I respect them and they respect me!
Indeed it has to be such mutual respect that forms the basis of collaboration between liberals and conservatives in the fight against religious extremism. After all, religious extremism attacks and undermines all of our beliefs and practices and will continue to undermine the rule of law and our ability to function as a free and a democratic society.
Confronting religious extremism is however complicated by the fact that there are two distinct forces that are using religion at this time. It is important in my opinion to separate them and tackle them differently. The first type of terrorism and violence we see in Pakistan these days is politically motivated. The second type is motivated by a desire to implement an extremist Islamic system within Pakistan.
As far as the politically motivated movement is concerned, it is primarily concerned with the US and NATO ‘occupation’ of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s support for this operation. At this point in time, there is little Pakistan can do to about this except keep trying to prevent the western border areas from becoming safe havens for those that are fighting US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In time, the US will leave Afghanistan and things will return to whatever counts as normalcy for that unfortunate country. Once that happens, hopefully much of the politically motivated violence we confront in Pakistan will subside. Unfortunately religious extremism will still be around and will continue to be a problem for Pakistan as a country and for us as a people. And only we as Pakistanis will be responsible for either restraining this impulse or giving into it.
My primary interest is therefore in the rise of religious extremism within Pakistan as manifested by the situation in Swat and the recent ‘anti-culture’ bombings in Lahore. Here I would like to make a simple point. I believe that most Pakistanis are not beholden to the extreme version of Islam that is being pushed by those that bomb girls’ schools in Swat or terrorise theatres in Lahore.
The problem, of course, is how to mobilise all those that oppose religious extremism. In the general elections last year, the parties elected are all opposed to extremism. Some might be more conservative than others but then that is the way politics plays out. Interestingly enough, the four major political parties in the country are sitting in coalition with each other either at the centre or in the provinces.
Immediately after the general elections, when the PPP and the PMLN decided to join hands at the centre and in the Punjab, people like me thought that this combination would indeed offer Pakistan an opportunity to have a ‘united’ front against extremism, both of the left and the right. And having these two parties together would also allow the country to face its financial and external problems more effectively. Sadly, over the last year these two parties have drifted apart.
Even though the ‘grand’ coalition at the centre is gone, the PPP and the PMLN still are coalition partners in the Punjab. If the coalition in the Punjab can survive then perhaps there is hope that these two parties will develop some sort of an understanding at the centre to mobilise Pakistanis against the real and immediate threat of religious extremism.
Extremism is not only a religious problem but also a law and order problem and if religious extremists destabilise the Punjab, it will undermine the PMLN government as well. The supremacy of the rule of law is then the one thing that can unite these two parties and others against the increase of religious extremism and its consequent violence.
Finally, I would like to quote Imam Abu Hanifa from his reply to a letter by Uthman Batti:
“I assert that all people of the Qibla are mu’mins and that none of them becomes an infidel by omission of works. He who has faith and also performs his duties is without doubt a mu’min and destined for Paradise. He who is devoid of both faith and works is an infidel and destined for Hell. He who has faith, but omits to act is certainly a Muslim, but a sinful one. It is up to God to punish or forgive him.”
Good advice and something to build on when it comes to accepting each other as Muslims. And yes, I want my Basant back! (Daily Times)
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at email@example.com