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Sectarian divide: Does Mr Sword speak for us?

Updated August 18, 2012


In individuals, insanity is rare; in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche.

Mr Victorious Sword or Zafar Shamsheer is a conservative, a Muslim conservative. He believes the entire world is busy conspiring against the Muslims.

The 9/11 never happened. And even if it did, it was a big Jewish conspiracy against Muslims. “Why were all Jewish employees in those buildings on leave that day?” he asks. Although he has seen pictures of Jewish people killed in the terrorist attacks, he refuses to believe them.

He also believes that Osama bin Laden was not killed in Pakistan. The US operation was a fake because OBL had already died in 2002.

All those Taliban who attack mosques, Muslim worshippers, Pakistani troops and military installations are not really Taliban. They are Indian and American infiltrators.

Shias are not Muslims, yes, Mr. Sword agrees with that.  But he refuses to believe that Sunni militants are killing Shias. “Those who do such things are also Indian and American agents,” he claims.

He believes the Arab Spring is a conspiracy to weaken Muslims. And those fighting Syrian government troops are not Syrian Muslims, they are non-Muslim foreigners.

There is no limit to Mr. Sword’s fantasies. He has a fertile brain and can churn out a hundred conspiracy theories a day. His theories often contradict each other but that does not bother him. Nothing does.

Who is Mr. Sword? Is he real? Yes, there is one particular Mr. Sword that I know but there are many others who fit this description too. They all live in their small, make-believe worlds and refuse to look outside.

I did a brief Google search with words ‘Shia kafir’ and it showed me 141,000 results in 0.23 seconds. Most of these posts were by Sunni extremists but there were some by Shias too, calling Sunnis kafir.

So, it is not just Mr. Sword who is diseased. We all are. This jinni is sitting inside all of us and whenever it gets a chance, it comes out with full ferociousness, ready to destroy anyone and anything that it does not like.

Trying engaging a Muslim, liberal or religious, on a subject he disagrees with and see how he reacts. Note how ferocious he becomes, how cruel, how offensive.

Educated liberals do not call each other kafirs, true. But see how they change when using a sectarian or ethnic card to promote their interests. A person blocking a job they covet is signalled out as a Shia, Ahmadi, Christian or whatever sect or faith he or she may belong to.

Where the religious card does not work, ethnic differences do and are used blatantly, without feeling any shame. Racism is bad if the Whites use it against us, but not if Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baloch and Mohajirs use it against each other.

At annual meetings of the Islamic Society of North America, I twice tried discussing the racial discrimination that South and Southeast Asian workers face in the Gulf. I did not succeed.

But let us get back to Mr Sword. We went to the same school, in Islamabad. He somehow passed the matriculation and intermediate examinations, both in third divisions, learned typing and joined a government office in Islamabad. He still lives in a poor neighbourhood in Rawalpindi.

For most liberals, he is a failure, a low-life semi-mullah who is neither here nor there. They are wrong. He is the key link between the extremists sitting on the mountains and the people who quietly slip in a hundred-rupee note into the donation box after Friday prayers in the name of jihad. He encourages them to do so.

People like Mr Sword are also important because, unlike liberals, they retain the ability to speak, write, compose poems and make speeches in their own languages.

The Mr Sword that I know speaks chaste Punjabi and fluent Urdu. He quotes versus from the Holy Quran and couplets from Sufi poetry in his speeches. Most liberals cannot. So when he speaks, he has an impact. The English-mixed, Urdu, Punjabi or Sindhi the liberals speak, does not have an impact.

This Mr Sword is also a poet. He can write melodious poems, in Urdu and Punjabi, glorifying Islam and Muslims. So he is popular.

During the Afghan war, Mr Sword joined a religious leader as his personal bard. He would travel from town to town, reciting his poems that also included at least one poem about this scholar.

Those were the days when the free world – mainly Americans, Pakistanis and Saudis – was busy fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. They were recruiting jihadis from all over the world, particularly from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr Sword came in handy. His poems encouraged teenagers to join the Afghan jihad. Mr Sword was rewarded for his efforts with a small piece of land in the neighbourhood where he lives now. With support from his “maulana saheb,” he built a small house there and is happy with that. He does not want more.

So he did not migrate to Europe or America, like most liberals do. Some like him do go to the Middle East as unskilled labour and return home with a new zeal for promoting their beliefs. For instance, some of these Dubai-returned Mr Swords are more eager than the local ones in branding others as kafirs.

But this is not just Mr Sword’s story. This is my story too. And it starts at a news conference in Rawalpindi, addressed by a scholar, now dead, who often claimed that “every Moharram, I cause the death of two or three Shias.”

The maulana, as expected, demanded new restrictions on religious minorities or “their men will be enslaved and women distributed among the believers.”

Mr Sword got up and chanted slogans, for at least five minutes, backing the maulana’s demand. A small crowd of maulana’s supporters joined him.

I disagreed. But I was quiet, even when a journalist was locked in a room for criticising the maulana. Other liberal journalists were also silent. We did not have the courage to challenge the maulana.

We went back to our newspapers and wrote little stories, in English, criticising the maulana. Our stories did not have much of an impact.

There was another maulana, who lived in Islamabad and was equally anti-Shia. Mr Sword and I met again at this maulana’s meeting where he made a fiery speech, cursing Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities.

Again, the crowd got up and chanted slogans and again Mr Sword led the chanting. And once again, we the so-called liberals were silent.

Is it just fear that keeps us mum? Not really. A little prodding will unveil the ugly faces of our fake liberalism.

“It is true that the state has no business calling anybody a kafir but Ahmadis are not really Muslim, are they?” you may hear a liberal saying if you engage him in a debate over this issue.

“Shias are not really kafir but they are not exactly Muslims, are they?” another will ask. Perhaps we all believe in what Mr Sword does but hide our feelings under the cloak of liberalism. Perhaps, we are genuinely secular but hesitate to express our views publicly.

Mr Sword never hesitates. He is sharp, like a sword, and always to the point. So he is very effective. All his poems, all his speeches are right on the target.

Someone like Mr Sword came to Washington three years ago and stunned a think-tank audience. “There can never be peace between the Islamic and Western worlds,” he said. “I know you have the power to nuke us now. So do it. When we get a chance, we will do it too.”

Those who were there still remember him. And this is the strategy that people like Mr Sword use, say outrageous things that cause people to notice you and then come back later to pick on those who can be won over.

Where do they get their inspiration from? From Friday sermons that are repeated every week in millions of mosques across the world. True, not all mosques allow such sermons but many do.

And this provides an effective forum for people like Mr Sword to draw their inspiration from and to influence unsuspecting worshippers, who come for saying their prayers but return home with seeds of hatred in their minds.

Liberals have no such platform. They do not have an effective organisation. At best, they can print their views in elite newspapers and magazines that only the liberals read.

So what they say or write does not hurt Mr Sword. Nothing does. The liberals are too weak to challenge him.

Perhaps, they do not even want to challenge Mr Sword. How many times have we seen a liberal Sunni interrupting an imam when he calls Shias kafir? Perhaps never.

When we do not try to stop them from making such outrageous claims, are we not condoning their views? We are.

Perhaps, we also believe in this Muslim-kafir business but are too shy to admit. So we are happy to let Mr Sword speak for us. Does Mr Sword speak for most of us?


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