Special Report

Pakistan’s Radical Islamist Genie

Only educating the people about Islamic teachings of peace, justice, and equality can put it back in the bottle.

By 12.9.07

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Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder sixty years ago, foresaw a modern, secular, progressive country based on Islamic values of equality, human rights and freedom. Were he here today he would be appalled by what has happened to his dream. It is neither modern, secular nor progressive. Instead of Islamic values it is, more and more, becoming home to outdated tribal and feudal systems and a sanctuary for Taliban and al Qaeda.

The recent declaration of emergency in Pakistan is an acknowledgment of the government's failure to curb Islamist militancy and radicalism. The genie of religious radicalism was actually let out back in 1952. Various governments since then have sought to mollify it, pushing a solution down the road. Unless it is brought under control this time, the unrest it causes may bring chaos.

The "genie" back then was a series of riots in Punjab by the provincial government to challenge the federal government. These were generated by radical clergy who had been discredited following the partition from India. They used a scapegoat, the peaceful Ahmadi Muslim sect (whose members believed that their founder was a modern day Prophet).

Pakistan's Supreme Court chief justice had the matter investigated. Its result was the Munir Report, issued in 1954. Among its findings: "The Ahrar (religious political clergy)...debased a religious cause by pressing it into service for a temporal purpose and exploited religious susceptibilities and sentiments of the people for their personal ends."

This report is "must" reading for researchers interested in identifying the root causes of Islamist radicalization in Pakistan and the Muslim world. It documents how a provincial government used politicized clergy against the central government in order to further its political aims. Now, misrepresentation of Islam, intolerance and jihadi culture are routinely promoted by radicals who confront Pakistan by means of Taliban and Al-Qaida doctrine.

The partitioning of the Indian subcontinent was a defeat for the politicized clergy. They opposed M. A. Jinnah's policies, terming him an infidel. The Munir Report documents they decision to disband their defeated political parties and move to Pakistan in disguise. To reestablish themselves and their bona fides in Pakistan, these clergy becoming the self-appointed champions of Islam. Acting as cat's paws for the provincial government in a dispute with the central government, they demanded that the central government declare the Ahmadi Muslim Sect as non-Muslim. The rioting they caused resorted in the killing of innocent Ahmadis and destruction of their property.

The convoluted nature of their beliefs was exposed during testimony to the Munir Commission. Among other things, they were unable to defend their position that violent jihad is justified.

Foreshadowing the modern rift between radical Islam and the majority's desire for stability and democratic government, the commission's report was prescient when it wrote, "Unless, in case of conflict between two ideologies, our leaders have the desire and the ability to elect, uncertainty must continue. And as long as we rely on the hammer when a file is needed and press Islam into service to solve situations it was never intended to solve, frustration and disappointment must dog our steps."

Under cross-examination, the radical clergymen could not defend their attempt to justify their violent behavior. Unashamedly, they ceded that the Quranic verses prohibiting violence have been abrogated and superseded by later commandments. The fifteen so-called scholars could not even agree on a common definition of a Muslim.

The radical strain among the clergy continued through successive governments. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, prime minister in the late 1960s and early 1970s, finally accepted the clergy's demand for a constitutional amendment declaring the Ahmadi Muslims as a non-Muslim minority. General Zia-ul-Haq, who succeeded him, went further and through an ordinance imposed restrictions on the practice of religion by Ahmadis. Subsequent prime ministers were either neutral or supported the clergy as it served their political purposes.

All the while, propagation of radical Islamism and the notion of violent jihad were being taught in the growing number of madrassas, funded by Saudi sources. These madrassas became the training ground for the Taliban that came to rule Afghanistan.

In spite of the Musharraf government's stated policy of "enlightened moderation" nothing was done to eradicate the root cause of radicalization that was so well documented in 1954. The prerequisite for defeating violence in Islam is to undo the draconian legislation that enshrined intolerance and to educate the people about Islamic teachings of peace, justice, and equality

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