Good & bad Muslims

Published July 24, 2021
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

THE gruesome murder of a young, well-to-do woman in Islamabad over the Eid holidays has generated widespread shock. The suspected murderer was a close acquaintance, and the alleged attempts by his influential family to get him off scot-free and flee the country are familiar elements in a sordid story of both class privilege and horrific violence. Perhaps most jarring is the fact that the corpse was beheaded after the murder.

I suspect I am not the only person to have heard of this gory episode and be reminded of the spectacular manner in which the Taliban undertook such violent acts at will some years ago. The latter are once again rampaging thr­ou­gh the Afghan countryside, with predictable spillover effects in the ex Fata region.

Pakistani officialdom has articulated a far from unambiguous position on the future of Afghanistan, and Talibanisation more generally. Not to be left far behind, mainstream journalistic circles and a vocal segment on social media actually appears to be welcoming the Taliban’s impending accession to power.

Pakistan’s small progressive political community has unequivocally spoken out about what is unfolding both across the border and in border districts like Waziristan and Kurram. But those privy to such circles will testify to the alarmism that is pervading drawing room conversations of the liberal chattering classes. So how does this square with grisly murders perpetrated by members of these same classes?

It is essential to interrogate the wider epidemic of violence.

I am not trying to trivialise a truly horrific instance of patriarchal violence. Being rich and relatively powerful in this society does not grant women and girls protection from sexual and other forms of abuse. Which is precisely why it is essential to interrogate the wider epidemic of violence that this country’s liberal elite has helped spawn, no matter what its self-perception.

Alongside ‘terrorists’, the Taliban and other militant right-wing forces are routinely depicted as ‘mediaeval’. In the post 9/11 world, educated and urbane social segments have propagated such notions uninhibitedly. The latter clearly consider themselves ‘modern’ and ‘civilised’, and have supported the state — and here I mean both the US and Pakistan — against those who ostensibly want to take society back to the stone ages.

Read: New, civilised Afghan Taliban may prefer talks to guns, says interior minister

This narrative rings hollow now with the Americans, Pakistanis and pretty much all regional powers once again negotiating a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan with the ‘mediaeval’ Taliban. But this narrative and its associated elitist structure of power has far deeper societal roots.

It has been said before but is worth reiterating now that the Taliban are direct descendants of the mujahideen that the ‘civilised’ world supported in the 1980s. Pop culture in both Western and Muslim societies romanticised ‘holy warriors’, textbooks were rewritten in their names and Rambo movies made to highlight their down-to-earth values.

Read: 'No smoking, no shaving' — Taliban restore old rules in newly seized Afghan territory

Even farther back in time, educated and propertied Indian Muslims negotiated with the British for quotas and representation while the uneducated and propertyless masses were at best subjected to social control measures and at worst labelled ‘dangerous classes’ or even ‘mad mullahs’.

It is thus that one can trace a clear genealogy of the ideological binary that the Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani has suggestively described as ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim’. This binary is propagated by the contemporary state in the guise of ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’, but the problem extends well beyond establishment games. This is a social phenomenon embodied not only by the most recent wanton act of violence by an entitled young man, but also by the quite shameless manner in which his family and friends are jostling at the highest echelons of state power for him to be allowed to leave the country.

Read: Noor Mukadam murder — Islamabad IGP instructs probe team to seek ECL placement for suspect

These are the ‘good Muslims’ who wine and dine with both the domestic and global ‘one per cent’. They remain ‘good Muslims’ despite associating with Western governments who fan the flames of Islamo­phobia in their own countries. Meanwhile, the rest of the local ‘1pc’, including but not limited to influential clergymen, real estate tycoons and uniformed state personnel, commit crimes against the meek at will, while enforcing religious dictates for the rest of us.

Even when they get caught, like Rao Anwar did, they are rarely put away. In fact, in the next iteration of ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim’, they are restored to their perch while the ideological binary that sustains this anti-people system is stuffed down our collective throats.

An elite-led ‘consensus’ is once again in the offing to transform the Taliban and those of their ilk into ‘good Muslims’ whilst rendering those of us who resist patriarchy, militarism, ethnic-national oppression and brazen class privilege as ‘bad Muslims’. We have been down this road before. It ends badly, leaving even relatively well-to-do women at the whims of vicious, wealthy and unaccountable men.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2021

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