Many years ago, when Swat was still green and free from bushy warlords, I knew a middle-aged man there who was also a tracking guide. His name was Atique Ali Khan and I remember every time I used to ask him about how his two children were doing at school, he was in the habit of constantly quoting a well-known hadith. “Allah be praised”, he used to say. “They are doing well at school. As the Prophet (PBUH) used to say, go as far as China for knowledge.”
Well, I haven’t been to Swat in a long time and I have no idea what became of Atique. But thanks to the rude mushrooming of the rowdy keepers of faith in that part of Pakistan some five years ago, I’m sure his children weren’t even able to walk a kilometre for knowledge, let alone ever visiting China.
Though the 2009 military operation in that area largely cleared the place of the mad men, last year’s shooting of the 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai confirmed the apprehension that these men are still embedded in Swat among its otherwise peaceful populace.
These men were an angry lot. Once upon a time, it is said, they used to let off steam by chopping down trees. That was bad enough, but I guess ever since trees have become somewhat scarce in Swat, the level of their delusions about faith suddenly doubled, rather quadrupled.
As a consequence, they began ranting incoherent loud nothings on clandestine FM radio stations about how extremely angry they were about all the obscenity and injustice in the world and about matters related to the education of little girls. Indeed, a grave danger to faith these young ones certainly are.
Well, the loud FM stations too didn’t seem to satisfy their monstrous appetites for divinely inspired action, so off they went blowing up CD shops and girls’ schools.
Blow ‘em all, became their heartfelt mantra, as they became angrier, louder and, of course, a lot bushier.
Unfortunately, since supposedly their faith was a lot stronger than that of us ‘bad Muslims’, it required more from them. So these angry men started blowing themselves up!
What’s more, for an impressive display and effect, they did this in public places. Off they went with a bang, taking along with them mutilated and severed bodies, dozens of men, women and children. And up they all went to paradise, or so they say, and so they believed.
But what about you and I, the bad Muslims?
What do we have to say about the blowing up of girls’ schools, CD and barber shops in our own backyard? Happenings that are still a reality in various towns, enclaves and cities of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, south Punjab and parts of Karachi?
What do we have to say about men of faith in our very own country who actually believe that suicide and multiple murders in the name of God will land them a cosy little corner in paradise?
The ideological and material clash of two extremes — Bush’s clean-shaven neo-cons and the bushy Islamist terrorists — have left most ‘moderate’ Muslim populations in a scared and awkward state of myopia.
This disposition has helped serve the purpose of the Islamists. Sadly, most ‘moderate Muslims’, instead of forming a third opinion through some sort of a rational consensus, have decided to take sides between the two extremes.
For example, most Pakistanis naturally took an opposing view of Bush’s ‘war on terror’. Fair enough. But since much of this was done without a clear third view, commentaries and opinions against matters like drone attacks, suicide bombings and ‘war on terror’ have regrettably sounded more and more like jerky jingoistic spiels.
Unfortunately, these excitable tirades helped fatten the delusional and self-righteous complexes of the Islamists.
The third view — that is directly linked to the democratic political parties and the self-interest of the military, government and society of Pakistan — was ultimately sacrificed at the altar of hyperbolic political clichés and rants, making the country continue suffering from a scenario in which we went on bad-mouthing one extreme (neo-cons) while uncannily allowing the other extreme to get fatter, bolder and wilder.
As for Atique Ali Khan, I wonder if he’s still alive, or for that matter, if his children are still alive. One thing’s for sure, though. They won’t have many schools left to go to. But what’s a school compared to a place in paradise, aye?