From Daily Times (24th May, 2010)
VIEW: The real culprits –Yasser Latif Hamdani
As the second most populous Muslim nation state after Indonesia, our dilemma is no different from the confessional states of Europe that over time became the staunchest defenders of civil liberties and secularism
Rakesh Mani was kind enough to mention my article ‘Faisal Shahzad’s radicalisation’, (Daily Times, May 10, 2010) in his article ‘The University of God’ (Daily Times, May 20, 2010). While I agree with most of his observations about Islamic organisations on American university campuses, I must raise a note of dissent in so far as his treatment of Pakistan and Pakistanis is concerned.
First of all, Pakistan’s fixation with faith has nothing to do with the creation of Pakistan, which was in any event not on the basis of religious ideology. This is a moot point for most objective historians studying the creation of Pakistan. Indeed the champions of religious ideology were entirely opposed to the creation of Pakistan. Jinnah’s references to Islam — few and far between — were to reinforce the idea that a pluralistic constitutional democracy is indeed a cardinal principle of the dominant religio-cultural system to which his constituency belonged.
Mani makes an important point when he speaks of a Bengali being Bengali before he is a Muslim or a Hindu or a Punjabi being a Punjabi before he is a Muslim or a Hindu. I am sure he would be surprised — to say the least — that those were the exact words that the founding father of Pakistan used when explaining to Mountbatten why Bengal and Punjab ought to be kept united as late as mid-May in 1947. The League’s ‘Two Nation Theory’ was a counterpoise to Congress’s ‘One Nation Theory’ and not regional identities. The great irony of the partition of India is that it was the Congress that insisted on dividing Punjab and Bengal on religious lines and not the Muslim League. Indeed Mr. Jinnah endorsed Sarat Chandra Bose’s plan to keep Bengal united as late as June 3 but it was vetoed by Nehru. Unfortunately, this is one of those nuanced realities that nationalist mythologies on both sides cannot grasp or articulate.
This is not to say that through the Objectives Resolution and beyond we have not mixed the state and religion. The crowning glory of the Islamist project is the 1973 Constitution, which restricts freedom more than it protects it (precisely why actions like a blanket ban on Facebook is possible constitutionally in Pakistan). However, it is here that Mani errs again. The most fanatical Muslims are not almost exclusively Pakistani. Indeed Pakistan contributes — proportionally — a far fewer number of fundamentalists, extremists and terrorists than the Arab world for example. Roughly 16-20 percent of the terrorists in recent times planning an attack in western countries have been Pakistanis. Somalia — a much smaller country — contributes a higher number of extremists and terrorists.
On the other hand, it is no doubt a very interesting fact to put out that Indian Muslims, only a few million less than Pakistan’s total population, contribute even fewer terrorists in the West. Indian Muslims in the West come across as much more conservative and religious minded than the Pakistanis and yet hardly any terrorists have come from it. There are — in my opinion — two possible reasons for it. One, if the Muslim diaspora was ever studied, it would show that Pakistanis in the West outnumber Indian Muslims by 20 or 30 to 1. Secondly, Pakistan has inherited the legacy of the Afghan War, not India. This second point is at the heart of the issue.
The important thing that Mani should have noted is not how Pakistanis tend to be more fanatical, which is not true — after all Mani’s friend from Karachi who he mentions in his article as being a clubbing type party girl is also a Pakistani — but how every terrorist plot finds a connection to Pakistan’s northwest. The issue here is not that Pakistanis are terrorists, but Pakistan’s government has tolerated far too long militancy and terrorist organisations on its soil. And then there is a broader issue. A great majority of terrorists are not Pakistani. They are global jihadists informed and indoctrinated by the ideology of Ikhwanul Muslimeen and Hizbut Tahrir, two organisations whose roots are firmly outside of Pakistan. By focusing on Pakistan and forgetting that 15 out of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudis and none of them were Pakistanis, by forgetting that the mastermind of 9/11 was an Egyptian working in an organisation led by the Egyptians and the Saudis, Mani is glossing over the real causes of Islamist terror worldwide. By singling out Pakistan and feeding a misperception about its history, the real cause, i.e. the last hurrah of revivalist Islamism, is obscured. It is the Qutbian-Maududian Islamist ideology that needs to be taken to task and the failure to recognise that will only lead to more heartbreak.
Pakistan as a constitutional democracy with a rising Muslim bourgeoisie is the greatest hope against this riding tide of Islamist revival. Democracy has always ensured that Islamists are kept out of the power equation. The great battle for the soul of Islam is being fought in our streets, our assembly halls and our courts. Pakistan is going through the pangs of rebirth and with it will come a reformation of the Islamic world itself. As the second most populous Muslim nation state after Indonesia, our dilemma is no different from the confessional states of Europe that over time became the staunchest defenders of civil liberties and secularism. Only in our case, the information age has accelerated the speed of this evolution. This also explains the knee-jerk reaction of the pillars of our state to Facebook, but that is a whole different issue.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He can be reached at email@example.com