Madness, not salvation

Published July 15, 2005

THE youngsters suspected of carrying out the London bombing attacks are all Muslims of Pakistani origin with names like Shehzad Tanveer, Hasib Hussain, etc. Can it get any darker than this?

Coherent ideology, my foot. The profiles of these suspects as pieced together by UK authorities suggest they would flunk an elementary test in civics, which is not to doubt that if indeed they were behind this outrage, they would have been sustained by the thought they were on the quickest ticket to paradise.

The common denominator distinguishing the Bin Laden-inspired terrorism emanating from within the Muslim world is simplicity of a kind so frightening it verges on the demonic.

But draw a sharp line between Bin Ladenism and events in Iraq. What we see in Iraq is a national resistance (in Iraq even called the “honourable resistance”) bringing together all Iraqi factions and driven by a common hatred of the American occupation. The Iraqis are fighting for their independence, not for Osama bin Laden as the Americans desperately suggest when they demonize Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and invest him with mythic prowess and omnipotence.

Even so, the occupation of Iraq gives Bin Ladenism not just another outrage to denounce but the most potent weapon available to stoke the fires of anti-Americanism. This is another instance of the law of unintended consequences, the misnamed “war on terror” producing its own harvest of terror.

Is the Pakistani Muslim community in the UK bracing itself for a backlash after the London bombings? It has ample reason to do so. Even if, disregarding the racist extreme right, the vast majority of Britons are tolerant people, it can safely be assumed that feelings against Muslims and Pakistanis will harden.

It is no use saying that Islam is a religion of peace or that there is a foul plot afoot to misrepresent Islam and blacken its name when from Bali to Madrid to London it is Muslims who are behind acts of terrorism. To outsiders a religion is known by the fruits it produces and if the present brand of terrorism has a Muslim substance to it, it becomes difficult to sell the ‘true meaning of Islam’.

It is like trying to say that what was practised in the Soviet Union was not true communism. No one has the time or inclination to grapple with such fine theories.

These are the wages of thoughtless terrorism. Misguided zealots bring down the Twin Towers and far from the pillars of capitalism being shaken, it is the Muslim community across the United States which has to bear the brunt of the bitter and often mindless reaction. Likewise in the UK where from now on it will be hard for the ordinary Briton to dissociate the image of a mosque from his ideas of terrorism.

Guilt by association: Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib give all of the United States a bad name; four Muslim suspects in the UK give the entire Muslim community there a bad name. So what precise point were the London bombers, or rather their remote-control handlers, trying to make?

Still, give full marks to British restraint. Although random attacks on mosques have occurred and all South Asians living in the UK feel a bit threatened — and although it is easy to imagine pub-goers, after the first rush of lager, banging their fists on the table and exclaiming “Bloody Pakistanis” — a conscious effort is on to ensure that race relations do not deteriorate and the Muslim community as a whole is not held responsible for the London tragedy.

If something like these bombings had occurred in India, the Indian army by now would have been sitting at the Pakistan border with fresh talk of the subcontinent becoming a ‘nuclear flashpoint’. (The way we bandy about this phrase almost suggests as if we consider it a mark of great distinction, setting us apart from the rest of the world.)

Of course innocent people have been killed at the hands of American and British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. But should that be an excuse to target innocent people elsewhere? As for opposing America and the occupation of Iraq, the anti-war movement in the western world is stronger than anything rustled up by the world of Islam. Any million-person marches against the Iraq war in Cairo, Amman, Riyadh, Islamabad or Jakarta or a single squeak of protest from that most august symbol of Muslim helplessness, the Organization of Islamic Conference? (What a name?)

Because, for the most part our misfortune is to live in mediaeval monarchies and tin pot autocracies, what we in the Muslim world excel in is internalized anger which, far from harming anyone else, turns us, collectively, into victims of impotent despair — despair falling eternally short of meaningful action, despair deriving a kind of masochistic pleasure from its own helplessness, despair now finding expression in mindless terrorism.

Lacking the power to correct our own weaknesses, we tend to blame outsiders for our misfortunes. Thus, even as Muslim rulers turn to the US for support and protection, at the popular level frustration boils over into strident anti-Americanism. Sure, there is much that America can be blamed for, not least its blind support of Israel. But we should not lose sight of the fact that America has not invented Muslim weakness; it merely exploits it, turning it to its advantage.

America has a vested interest in Muslim dictatorships because dictatorships are easier to handle. But then again, Muslim dictatorship is not an American invention; merely an American convenience.

True, the CIA helped topple Mossadegh and reinstall Reza Shah Pahlevi as Iranian ruler. But with no little help from powerful sections of Iranian society. The CIA helped trigger a bloodbath in Indonesia after the fall of Soekarno. But with no little help from the Indonesian army. The Americans have always found it easy to use Pakistan but never without a great deal of readiness on Pakistan’s part to be used.

Indeed, Pakistan’s generals, babus and politicos get upset, to the point of accusing America of betrayal, when America, because of other priorities, shows a lack of interest in using Pakistan. We are happiest with the American connection when being exploited to the full.

America has detractors and critics at the popular level in the Muslim world. At the upper levels of the Muslim ummah (the great brotherhood of Islam) it has never suffered for lack of collaborators.

Bin Ladenism, which is a peculiar distillation of Wahabi Islam, and the terrorism which has come to be its favourite tool, are no answers to American domination or Muslim weakness. In fact, Bin Ladenism, with its narrow interpretation of Islam, is itself a reflection of Muslim weakness because it shows a preoccupation with the very elements which constitute the core of Muslim backwardness: a romantic attachment to a glorified past, an emphasis on literalism, and a comprehensive failure to understand what makes the modern world tick.

The answer to Muslim decadence lies in a political renaissance: a replacement of autocracy with democracy. Of course this is easier said than done but if we can’t achieve it — there being nothing on the horizon to suggest that we easily can — we should at least understand that terrorism such as that in London is no answer to anything. In fact, far from liberating anything, it only makes the Muslim predicament worse by lending strength to the false doctrine of a ‘clash of civilizations’.

The only clash the world of Islam faces is with itself and the myriad aspects of its own backwardness.

In this context, Bin Ladenism is a distraction. Far from hastening the demise of Muslim autocracy, or getting America to loosen its stranglehold over the riches of the Middle East, it is in danger of becoming a convenient alibi for assorted Muslim kings and dictators. Instead of having to focus on political reform, the need of the hour for Muslim societies, they take the easier road by becoming preachers of “enlightened” Islam. Islam stands in no need of certificates from anyone, least of all from the cardboard figures masquerading as rulers. But the world of Islam could do with less lies and more honesty, less dictatorship and more democracy. Only then will the battle for ‘enlightenment’ be joined.

TAILPIECE ONE: The Election Commission has warned candidates in the local elections not to use photographs and images of Gen Musharraf in order to gain political mileage. What gives the Election Commission the idea that using the president’s photographs would give anyone political advantage?

TAILPIECE TWO: As many readers have pointed out, the famous qawwali “Aahen na bhareen, shikwey na kiyey” is from the film ‘Zeenat’ and not ‘Lahore’. Sorry.


A velvet glove

A velvet glove

The general didn’t have an easy task when he took over, but in retrospect, he managed it rather well.


Updated 24 May, 2022

Marching in May

MORE unrest. That is the forecast for the weeks ahead as the PTI formally proceeds with its planned march on...
24 May, 2022

Policy rate hike

THE State Bank has raised its policy rate by 150bps to 13.75pc, hoping that its latest monetary-tightening action...
24 May, 2022

Questionable campaign

OVER the past couple of days, a number of cases have been registered in different parts of the country against...
23 May, 2022

Defection rulings

By setting aside the existing law to prescribe their own solutions, the institutions haven't really solved the crisis at hand.
23 May, 2022

Spirit of the law

WOMEN’S right to inheritance is often galling for their male relatives in our patriarchal society. However, with...
23 May, 2022

Blaming others

BLAMING the nebulous ‘foreign hand’ for creating trouble within our borders is an age-old method used by the...