By Raza Habib Raja
The attacks on the Sufi Shrine
The horrific details of the attacks on the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajvery (also known as Data Gunj Baksh) are beginning to settle in. Terrorist have now struck in the middle of the monument of a tolerant mystic version of Islam. As expected the condemnation is widespread but as usual accusation is misplaced. While going through various websites, I came to know (without surprise of course) that the Pakistani public was generally pointing fingers at the “usual suspect”: United States of America. In fact Yahoo News had made it one of its main page stories that Pakistanis were blaming USA for the attacks at the holy shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajvery.
An interesting development was that Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was quick to deny that it was behind it. Some of the Pakistanis are actually using that denial as a proof that foreign powers are behind this blast. The irony is that the same public which is ready to believe the current denial of TTP does not believe when the same TTP claims responsibility!!!! Its really ironic that when TTP claims responsibility for every blast, we think it is a grand conspiracy and when it denies involvement, we are ready to believe!!
No matter what kind of evidence is presented , our public’s response always end up being broadly under either of the two categories: outright denial according to which it is a grand conspiracy of the West; and apologetic defense where the attacks are construed as the reaction of USA’s presence in Afghanistan and its other atrocities. While the later response is less absurd but is equally dangerous as it creates a soft corner for the monsters instead of much needed revulsion. And furthermore it makes it even more difficult to understand how literal Wahabi version of Islam is creating havoc with our faith.
Both the responses are slightly variant outcomes of the same mindset. One has to just have a critical approach to bring out the absurdities in both the largely held point of views.
First let’s take conspiracy theories. Muslim world in general and the Pakistan’s educated public in particular, truly excel in the art of coming up with amazingly complex conspiracy theories. According to these conspiracy theories everything in Pakistan, particularly disruptive things, are planned in Washington and with active consultation of Israel and India. The theories display amazing combination of permanence and progressiveness. Permanence is shown in the eventual blame which keeps affixed on USA and progressiveness is in the interpretation of changing facts and ground realities where it is amended in fantastic ways to reach the same conclusion. . Consider this: In 1990s the entire public and media were praising Taliban. When Clinton attacked Osama’s bases through cruise missiles in late 1990s, Nawaz Sharif almost lost his government and had to bring “shariah” laws to survive. At that point Taliban were heroes and robin hoods which had defied the “imperialist” USA. Then 9/11 happened. All the media was busy absolving Osama of terrorism and I remember the title of a lead English weekly magazine” Guilty unless proved Innocent”. Then Osama on video accepted responsibility and suddenly the very same media started branding him an agent of USA. After 9/11 whatever happened whether in Pakistan (multiple suicide attacks and Benazir’s assassination), India (Mumbai bomb blasts and attacks in November 2008) and UK (7/7 attacks), was interpreted as US conspiracy to blame Taliban and Pakistan with the eventual aim to take control of nuclear arsenal. In the past we have just kept on changing spins to be consistent with our preconceived conclusion. Just a chronological arrangement, such as above, is enough to show how absurd these theories are!
But what may be the reason for this? The reasons in my opinion are manifold and some are imbedded in our cognitive framework while rest are the outcome of international events and the actual behaviour of foreign players.
First of all, conspiracy theories appeal to our fundamental and deeply held conviction that a Muslim cannot do anything which would bring a bad name to Islam and lead to adverse consequences to the Muslim community. Moreover, apparently the more fundamentalist you are in your appearance, harder it is for the public to actually believe that you are capable of these actions. This may explain why it was difficult for the public to believe that Taliban were behind anything and all was US propaganda. And it also makes sense as to why they are now interpreted as “agents” or bifurcated between “good” and “bad” Taliban once it has become clear bombers are indeed Muslims. Now according to our media “experts” there are some bad Taliban who have been bought over by Western powers and they are very different from “good” Taliban such as Mullah Omar.
Secondly, we always link consequences with origination. Since terrorism “benefits” West because it defames Islam and gives them a justification to retaliate, therefore in our logic it must have been solely planned by them. In our country, the nuclear issue is extremely sensitive and somehow or the other assumed a central place due to our inherent insecurities and also crisis of identity. Moreover, the nuclear arsenal is perhaps the only thing which actually elevates Pakistan to at least a factor to reckon with at the global stage. It’s no wonder that every terrorist activity is then conveniently linked with the global conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan with the ultimate objective of taking hold of nuclear arsenal. Now there is merit in this thought that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would always be giving the US and the West sleepless nights but to give these amazing spins that al-Qaeda is planted by USA and suicide attacks are planned and carried by USA alone is really mind boggling and moreover self contradictory. Because if Al-Qaeda and Taliban are indeed planted then military action in FATA would actually eliminate these agents and deprive US of the justification to take military action to neutralize the nuclear assets.
Thirdly, the conspiracy theories also owe their existence (though not the extent of their weirdness) to foreign powers’ actual way of dealing which has always been oppressive and suspicious. The flimsy case of war in Iraq has merely strengthened and worst still apparently provided some sellable legitimacy to the conspiracy theorists. Whenever there is any question to authenticity to fantastic theories, the Iraq war and US general way of handling crisis is cited as justification. As a result self contradictory theories which brand militants as US agents and yet resist government crackdown by labelling it as US war, find acceptability in the public.
Now regarding the second and increasingly widely held point of view that terrorism is merely a result of American presence. I will ask simple questions here. If tomorrow USA leaves Afghanistan will this extremism stop? Secondly, if everything is just a reaction, what will explain the Punjabi Taliban? After all we can link Afghan and Tribal area Taliban with this “revenge” approach but what about the variety which has been creating havoc in Lahore. In fact after continuous denial, finally the Punjab Government is partially admitting that they have a local version of the monsters.
Now if you think that if drone attacks kill people in tribal areas and as a reaction some fanatics in Punjab are getting aggrieved and blowing themselves in Holy Shrines, then clearly there is some logical fallacy in your thinking pattern. Moreover, even if one believes this “reaction” theory, is the killing of innocent MUSLIMS justified? Why are we so naïve that we cannot see this obvious truth? Why we are ready to condemn drone attacks which are much more targeted and totally unable to condemn when far more people are killed by monsters like Taliban?
Unless and until we are able to condemn the monsters we will never be able to win this war against extremism. We need to feel revulsion against them and we will only feel it when we start looking more critically at things. Any society has to indulge into an honest intellectual discourse at the time of crisis. Unfortunately, we as a nation not only resist it, but are completely blinded to our own faults. Unless and until we indulge in serious self introspection, we will continue to fall into this mayhem. We need to encourage tolerance and intellectual openness, without which there will be no room for a pluralistic culture and a milder version of our great religion.