The Muslim crisis of identity is linked to their inability to redefine themselves in today’s world. Most Muslim nations lack both political and economic stability. Oil-rich Arab nations have economic stability — thanks to oil revenues — but are autocracies. Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, however, are steadily moving towards both economic and political stability but have not yet reached the stage where they could serve as role models for others.
In the 20th century, Muslim nationalists tried to create Western nation states in countries that have not one but many nations with distinct ethnic, linguistic and cultural features. The socialists — in trying to create model social states — clashed with religious groups that hurt both.
Muslim radicals based their dreams of a pure and just Islamic society on people’s attachment to religion. But instead of delivering any of the goods they had promised, they led their followers to a path that pitched Islam against the rest of the world.
Reforms, introduced by liberal Muslim rulers, helped improve the situation in some places but only for some.
Education was supposed to bring knowledge and prosperity to all. It did not. For most, it only increased their dreams without equipping them with the tools to make them come true.
Divided between the English (or French) schools of the elite and the ordinary schools for the rest of the country, the education system has created a large number of educated unemployed or under-employed.
The madrassas too met the same fate and ended up adding more people to an already swelling army of the unemployed youths, although the mosque-madrassa network did provide some jobs. But it was soon taken over by the jihad industry as the main employment provider for madrassas-trained youths. Other unemployed and ideologically disenchanted teenagers also joined this vicious industry which, at least in Pakistan and Afghanistan, has had disastrous consequences. It seems that the monsters created by this industry — the Taliban, al Qaeda, Sipah-e-Sahaba et al — will continue to haunt both nations for quite some time.
Those employed by the jihad industry also want a change, any change and at any cost. They do get it, a permanent change as martyrs of a faulty cause and soldiers of radical leaders who have little sympathy for them, or the ones they leave behind when they die.
The cities are growing, slowly but steadily. In Pakistan, officially between 30-40 per cent people live in the cities but unofficial estimates claim that it’s higher than 50 per cent. This change, however, does not reflect in electoral rolls. So the rural ruling elite — the zameendars — remain the dominant political group in the country.
City dwellers, deprived of their true representations, have little stake in this system. Perhaps that’s why even when a popular government is toppled, there’s little protest in the cities. In fact, the urban middle class starts opposing an elected government as soon as it is in power.
This also explains the media’s hostility towards the PPP government, which often has to face unfair criticism.
Another manifestation of this urban desire for change was seen in the strong support the Pakistanis cities gave to the movement for the restoration of the Chief Justice, as it was supported mainly by the urban middle classes both in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The Pakistani Army, once dominated by the feudal families of Punjab and the KP, has also undergone a change in the 1980s when urban middle class youths — including those from Urdu medium schools — began to join the military as officers in larger numbers than before. Thus, now the army has many junior and middle rank officers who come from the cities.
Like those in the media, many of them were associated with religious groups like Islami Jaimiat-e-Tulaba when students at least had a religious bent of mind.
But officers with religious backgrounds have been weakened greatly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US when the Musharraf regime allied itself with Washington and attempted to root out religious extremism from the military.
This led to a clash between the armed forces and the jihad industry, which hitherto, looked at the army as its chief patron. Now they turned their guns on the army and the clash has already caused tens of thousands of deaths, on both sides, if the civilians killed in these fights are also included.
In 1994, the madrassas extremists, who believe that only one of them is fit to lead an Islamic state, got lucky.
The situation in Afghanistan, allowed half-educated madrassas students, known as the Taliban, to takeover the country, with support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and others. Initially, the West did not resist this change and even tried to reach out to the Taliban.