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The jihad industry

Published Feb 07, 2012 08:03am


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This is the fourth and final part of a series on the Muslim identity crisis. Find part one here, part two here and part three here.

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.

Thus, Afghanistan became the first state to be ruled by the Sunni clergy. As the events that followed showed, the Taliban were not fit to rule. Power corrupted them. For a group, which traditionally depended on alms from affluent Muslims, even a little power was too much. So they went berserk. Nothing else explains their strange behavior, such as the restrictions they imposed on women or their determination to take on the entire world.

And so the inevitable happened.

Their so-called honored guest, Osama bin Laden, orchestrated the 9/11 attacks which brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and damaged the Pentagon. The Americans reacted as expected and in two months, the Taliban had to leave Kabul. But, as a US military report released last week said, are still “a determined enemy” that can overrun Kabul if US and Nato troops leave. The Taliban were not created out of void.

The madrassas serve an important purpose: providing food and some education to those who were denied both — children of landless peasants. Since they cannot feed them, they send their children to the madrassas where they are given two meals a day, two pairs of clothes and some education which can provide low-level jobs in thousands of mosques across the country.

For the families they come from, even this is a major social accomplishment as it brings both food and some prestige. Some of these madrassas received money from Arab governments eager to fight increasing Iranian influence in non-Arab Muslim countries after Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution. Others received money from affluent Muslims who prefer to give their alms to mosques rather than governments.

Since Sept. 11, the Pakistani government has, at least apparently, made some efforts to curb the influence of the madrassas but they continue to function and still have a lot of influence in their catchments area.

The appeal of Islam as a remedy to the Muslim world’s social and economic ills is not confined to the Taliban. It is also not just a reaction to Western domination or the hold of the Westernised elite over the administrative set up. And it is not confined to the unemployed youths either. For many Muslims, their religion has always had this special appeal.

The distinction between religion and politics is not as obvious in Islam as it is in the West today. Even Muslim poets and thinkers, like Allama Iqbal, have opposed the separation of religion from politics saying, “A political system without religious influence becomes a tyranny.” For this Muslims draw inspiration from their history which is full of religious figures opposing despotic secular rulers, often at the risk of their lives.

But the majority, at least in Pakistan, does not agree with this over-emphasis on religion. This religious-political identity clashes with other identities that many Muslims adhere to. Most Pakistanis are well aware of their Islamic identity but their group interests as Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtun or Baloch are also dear to them. The same goes for Arabs, Iranians, Afghans, Tajiks, Uzbeks or Turks.

Thus being born as Muslims is like being born with many faces. Who are you? A Muslim, a Pakistani, an Indian, a Bangladeshi, a Punjabi, a Sindhi or a Baloch?

The first identity that of a Muslim, transcends all national and geographical boundaries. Ideally, it may be correct, practically, it is not. A Muslim is also a Pakistani, an Indian, an Afghan or an Arab. Being a Muslim does not automatically grant him the nationality of all the 56 countries that claim allegiance to Islam.

The moment he wants to travel, even from one Muslim country to another, he or she ceases to be a Muslim and becomes an Egyptian or an Iranian. No Islamic country allows a Muslim to enter its territory on the basis of his or her faith only. And this is where the national identity, which provides the traveler with a passport and a visa, becomes more important than the religious identity.

But, as internal conflicts in many Muslim countries show, even a national identity is not enough. You need to identify yourself with a particular group or place as well, in the case of Pakistan with one of the four provinces. Then there are identities based on a language or race. Sometimes one identity takes precedence over the other. Thus some Muslims living in the West, where they now confront a gradually increasing hostility after 9/11, often get more comfort from their Islamic identity than from their nationality, acquired or native.

Others, particularly Pakistanis, re-discover their regional affiliation too. The first people Pakistanis living in the West often befriend are Indians.

But a Pakistani living in the Gulf finds it more useful to be a Pakistani before a Muslim. Here his Pakistani identity comes before his religious identity. It also comes before his regional identities as a Punjabi or a Pashtun because it provides him strength in dealing with the Arabs who often look down upon him as a Pakistani, whichever province of Pakistan he is from.

However, back in Pakistan his Pakistani identity becomes less important. Now he is more cautious of being a Pashtun, a Punjabi, a Mohajir, a Baloch or a Sindhi. And when he goes to his ancestral district, he has to further divide his identity on ethnic and tribal lines thus becoming a Seraiki speaking Sindhi or a Sindhi speaking Sindhi, a Pashto speaking Baloch or a Balochi speaking Baloch.

The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.


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Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (30) Closed

Naved Feb 07, 2012 03:00pm
I would like to appreciate the writer for encompassing the religious terrorism issue, so realistcally & brilliantly. In fact the Dawn news paper has the courage to print such bold articles, which are in the national interest. Unfortunately, our urdu print media particularly and urdu electronic media to some extent either advocate the so called jihadis or prefer not to discuss this matter in detail.
Mansoor Danish Feb 07, 2012 04:53pm
A person living in USA definitely showing that his words shouldn't be such that could annoy someone there. Putting 9/11's all the blame without any proof on muslims is just non-sense, even many in western societies do accept that 9/11's version given by US authorities has doubt in truth.
raika45 Feb 07, 2012 06:05pm
Good article Anwar sahib, but you forgot one vital ingredient for the betterment of your umah.Take the case of the rich middle east countries making billions from oil. How much cash or international investments do they have compared to their income?Take China.No oil but trillions in cash.Take Malaysia,Singapore or Thailand.Small countries with large amounts of foreign cash.They have more clout in the business world compared to your muslin nations.It all resides in good proper and effective education.You need technocrats,economists,bankers,IT specialists and so on and so forth.Do your muslim countries produce them?I am talking of world class graduates not run of the mill.How much money does your country spend on PROPER education?The trouble creators take opportunity of this void and viola up come the madarasars and the resultant mayhem.If you cannot produce the right generation that is well trained and to a large extent educated well in every field of daily living I regret to say that most muslim countries will keep on having problems. No offence meant.
Not believing you Feb 07, 2012 06:19pm
"The moment he wants to travel, even from one Muslim country to another, he or she ceases to be a Muslim and becomes an Egyptian or an Iranian. " May be true for the Egyptians or Iranians, but our passport contains a place for writing the religion :)
AHA Feb 07, 2012 06:20pm
Thank you Dawn for these thought-provoking articles.
faiky Feb 07, 2012 07:39pm
right brother
HOPEFUL Feb 07, 2012 07:43pm
Thanks for writing a great article GOD BLESS YOU
Rao Feb 07, 2012 08:07pm
excellentr column.
Arshad Feb 07, 2012 08:30pm
Seriously! There are still people aound believing this?
chawla Feb 07, 2012 09:09pm
I very much agree with you. The true assets of any society are it's human capital. And quality of this asset depends upon education, a proper and relevant educational system.
jaria raja Feb 07, 2012 11:27pm
Brilliant articles. Islam has been hijacked by vested interests who have no intertrest in Islam per se but only in incresing their hold on its followers getting power and monetary hold. As long as this is achieved they are not othered about its followers.
Warren Feb 08, 2012 05:02am
Way to go.
abc Feb 08, 2012 09:02am
Thanks Raika in you continued interest in all things pakistan. we are flattered.
Prof Rahim Singh Mus Feb 08, 2012 04:10pm
Excellent article. I recall my Professor of Islamic Studies many years ago telling us to always separate the various identities which make us. In particular he insisted religion was such a personal matter of choice that it should not be discussed in public. I remember my class on Islam was full of curious non-Muslims who simply wanted to learn about Islam. But we all got along because we simply never discussed our religions. We just stuck to matters thought by our lecturer. Maybe if Pakistanis could start dealing with the non-Muslim by first putting aside their religion we may actually see some peace come to South Asia.
shakir Feb 08, 2012 05:04pm
U said that Taliban organised ( osama Bin Laden ) attacked on twin towers. Kindly give the authentic reports about it. Becuase their own engineers and scientists believe that it is internal job. They had around 80 pages of report that clearly said that it is internally job as well. Our politicians media all are playing with the people. There is no such programs that i saw which give good features. Only rubbish politicians are always coming into talk shows and media as well exploiting them. Arab countries are same but they are 100 times better than asian countries. They are giving basic needs of life.
Rafiq A. Tschannen Feb 08, 2012 05:07pm
One 'side-effect' of the article shows one of the biggest problems today: Unemployment and especially also 'graduate'-Unemployment. This challenge is so huge, not only, but especially in the Muslim world, that we should concentrate much more efforts in solving this problem. Everything else is secondary...
Azim Feb 09, 2012 01:27am
As a muslim I think it's time that people leave their obsession with Muslims/Non-Muslims, race, nationality, religion or whatever! Instead focus on your ownself and on other constructive issues. We need to get over this habbit of debating just for the heck of debating. may Allah(swt) guide us and make our lives easy for us. Aameen!
ayesha Feb 09, 2012 05:59am
Your passport may have a place for wriiting religion. What the author means however is that UAE will not grant you automatic entry let alone citizenship based on your religion. You will first need a visa to the UAE. To determine whom to give visa to, they will definitely take into consideration the nationality (Pakistani) indicated by your passport.
Petrus Feb 09, 2012 06:01am
It appears to many in the west that Islam is a political, social & cultural ideology, not a religion.
R S JOHAR Feb 09, 2012 02:46pm
Undoubtedly the author has done an excellent job in bringing out the factors behind the rise of this serious problem. However, it is more important to find ways and means to unwind this industry which has reached a dangerous proportion since the same is not only a cause of major concern to Pakistan but also to its neighbours.
osman narejo May 02, 2012 07:46am
...........the writer has done a very good job in presenting the issue objectively without either personalizing or sentimentalizing it! the question is the nature of our interaction with the west; if we believe in coeistence and do not have any agenda, then there is no other way then making the above coexistence peaceful and nonviolent - this becomes even more necessary if we want to believe that our idealogy is superior, and others should accept it. the violence conveys another message and damages our cause instead of promoting it; if we know that modern world believes in wilfull consent and no force in such matters!
S.Murthy May 01, 2012 03:32pm
Quite a nice article. If you have difficulty in keeping religion a purely private affair, there is a problem. There are plenty of other things in life to worry about than one's religion. And what has it taught the majority who offer prayers in Mosques regularly--peace? Happiness? Serenity? All that is required is 'good education', which means education other than what is offered in Madarasas. Give education to children to promote independent thinking. which will help them and society.
ashes22 May 22, 2012 08:26am
you should have been more thankfull to the writer for discussing more core issues openly rather than living in fool's paradise .. do you know why western countries are far ahead of we asians , because they have never cared about their religion... I am an indian HINDU .. i believe that both india and pakistan have the same basic issues when you compare both countries to western countries ... but we both keep comparing with each other ... Only North Korea is giving basic needs of life to its citizen , my frnd and they have banned religion .... open your eyes and look at serious issues which your countrymen are facing in day to day life ... all these problems are not due to America , india or any other religion .... its because of people like you .. Religion is not going to feed you daily , for that you have to work hard and your country needs to be self dependent ... asking for american help is not the only solution for that .. for once and all let me clarify that I am not a hater of pakistan or Islam .. but a common practical man like you find in your day to day life ..who is more concerned about his family and its well being ... Who works hard in offices , fields and after he returns to his house , he is more worried about the next day which he has to face
imi786 May 24, 2012 09:10am
very right Mansoor Danish
Mubeen Alum May 25, 2012 06:58am
well said, Very much agreed sir! :)
Naseema Perveen Jun 10, 2012 11:17am
very well written...i like the title of the post very much its truly appreciable!
Naseema Perveen Jun 10, 2012 11:16am
agreed! because of the way it is presented by the others
Shaikh Mohommad May 29, 2012 10:04am
"The Jihad Industry" - an excellent article. Will someone write an article on War on Terror-21st century US plan to deceive the world.
Pakistani85 May 30, 2012 05:54pm
"Osama bin Laden, orchestrated the 9/11 attacks which brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center" This line alone is sufficient to prove what little sense this author has
anonymous Jul 18, 2012 12:42am
well said...