Suicide Watch,  Your View

Pakistan’s Islamist Consensus

This is a cross post by Effendi of The Spittoon

The business writer Khurram Husain delivers a fine piece called ‘Cheer the Assassin’, a fierce polemic criticising Pakistan’s popular support for the assassination of Salman Taseer and canonisation of his killer Malik Qadri:

Kiss the pages of the document where the ‘holy’ laws are written. Don’t read them, don’t think about what they say. Don’t ask questions about them, such as what the rules of evidence are under these laws or how the court is supposed to tell the difference between a true and false allegation. No, don’t do any of that, because soon these will be the only laws left in your life.

Do it, my friends! Because there is no ‘silent majority’ any more, only a frightened and confused flock hemmed in by the darkness, trembling at the howling of the hyenas around, huddled together under a vanishing light, barely enduring the great dark absence beyond.

No words will soothe their fears, no courage will call them to action. No strength exists any longer to lift this cowering multitude into the ranks of humanity, no mind’s eye to light the way for them.

So do it! Celebrate all manner of bloodlust because soon there will be nobody left in your life who can call murder by its name.

But an observation made by one Hussam Chaudhry in the comments is more true to the reality:

“Powerful piece but I am sorry to say, totally ineffective and useless for the masses. All you (including me i suppose) ENGLISH medium activist/wanna-be activist crowd lives in our own utopia. All our ‘Angraizi’ medium causes and intellectualism is good to get cheers from like minded english reading crowd we usually operate in. The real shots in Pakistan are being called by the s*heads like hamid mir, ansar abbasi, orya maqbool etc. Anyone who has followed even a little bit of coverage of urdu media regarding this issue and the characterization of Salman Taseer by these hate-mongers shouldn’t be surprised at the clearly predictable climax scene of this whole media circus.

Writing is an art and unfortunately I am challenged artistically and so are so many like me. But I am amazed at the people who are good at it and only chose to write for their “bubbled” LUMS/LAS/LGS etc crowd. Either urdu media doesn’t allow them OR probably they think that they are too good or too intellectual for the common urdu reading masses.”

That’s a succinct description of the impossible chasm that exists between three broad socio-economic groups which makes up Pakistani society. Top of the list are the Elites – the urban, educated, middle-classes; then come the Feudalists –  a creaky association between the power brokers of the Pakistani military and the old land-owning political clans who, between them, have access to vote banks, cash and automatic weapons; finally, we have the Folk – the long-suffering, mostly uneducated, disenfranchised, religiously-conservative, rural majority. The first of these grousp, the Elites, nowadays politely referred to as the “civil society” seem unable to impose constitutional checks on the shift towards increasing religious conservatism in society. On the back of this phenomenon is the rise of radical Islamism onto which the Feudalists have piggy-backed to consolidate their hold over the good Folk – who also happen to be in support of increasing Islamism to topple their incompetent and impossibly corrupt politicians. But Islamism is a power that has spiralled out of control of the Feudalists. In the midst of this very vicious cycle is the Media which is consumed in two flavours: the English-language channels, only a thin sliver of the country’s media output, caters to the Elites and there is the Urdu media which goes out to everyone else. Progressive ideas which are discussed in the English media do not have currency outside of it. Commentary and analysis in the Urdu-language media is almost entirely hidebound sectarian, anti-American, anti-Indian and anti-secular in nature.

A news story of a candle-lit vigil held in Lahore shows the sort of people who convened to protest the death of Salman Taseer and mourn the murder of a fellow liberal. We know their anguish is genuine because Taseer came from the same class as these well-to-do elites who are comfortable with ideas such as human rights, democracy and tolerance for the equal rights of women and non-Muslims.

But how many candles will be lit for Taseer by ordinary Pakistanis in the market places, in the villages of Peshawar or in the poorer districts of Karachi? Salman Taseer was the only politician in his party, the PPP, to have taken a stance against the Blasphemy Law in public and gained the wrath of Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawwar Hasan in return. He was a symbol for the minute demographic of secular democrats in Pakistan. They have access to English-language media which the rest of the word see as a window into Pakistan but the image is distorted. The real story, the one you won’t see on video feeds in English, is all about the heroicism of Malik Qadri, Taseer’s killer.

Rose petals for the hero

The popular Urdu press reported on Qadri as he made his first appearance in an Islamabad court, where lawyers tossed handfuls of rose petals over him. A rowdy crowd of some 200 sympathisers slapped him on the back and kissed his cheek as he was escorted inside. They chanted “death is acceptable for Prophet Mohammed’s slave” outside the court throughout the duration of his trial. When the suspect came out of the building, the police walked him to an armoured police van and allowed an admirer to place a garland of flowers lovingly around his neck, shouting “Allah hu Akbar!”

There is no distinction now between Islamists and the Traditionalists who stand united on the question of support for the Blasphemy Law. Yesterday nearly 50,000 people marched in a rally in Karachi to protest its repeal. Present among the speakers was Syed Munawar Hasan, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, who stepped up to the mike and shouted to the crowd that there was no need to mourn the death of Taseer. When Sahibzada Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair, the leader of the Barelvi sect’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan, came to make his speech, he smiled and praised Qadri as a hero of Islam, saying:

“There is a Mumtaz Qadri in every house of Pakistan”

Islamist have claimed to be correct on two scores: first, that “Islamism” as an aberration distinct from Islam is a falsehood and second, Islamists are the true representatives of majority Muslim opinion as such. Given the reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer as a symbol of secularism and opposition to the Blasphemy Law, perhaps they have been right all along.

But what does that mean for Liberal Islam in Pakistan? Is it in any shape to put up a fight against Islamism? Awais Aftab on Pak Tea House is despondent:

The varieties of Islam that are being used in discourse these days are “Fundamentalist/Orthodox Islam” and “Liberal/Moderate/Progressive Islam”. Whenever Western thinkers criticize Islam at any point, the objection came up “Oh, no, the fundamentalists are just a minority. There is also the Moderate Islam. Talk about us; we are nice people.” And that was what was assumed by most, and which even West had to concede to in the name of political correctness. However, the current circumstances in Pakistan surrounding the murder of Salman Taseer have revealed something entirely different. Turns out, the silent majority, when it has spoken, doesn’t belong to Liberal Islam. Surprise, surprise, they all uphold fundamentalist ideology. The Fundamentalist Islam not only has a sweeping consensus of followers, it also has a well-developed theology, with all the references to Koran and Hadith & Sunnah worked out in detail. The Liberal Islam, in contrast, is not only in an exceeding small minority, it also lacks any consensus, it has barely any prominent scholars to point to, and it has no well-developed theology. Most of the proponents of Liberal Islam are actually young kids, who barely have an adequate knowledge of theology to compete in the religious discourse. One single properly referenced Hadith from a Fundamentalist can deflate a Liberal’s case. Yes, it’s that easy.

Fundamentalist Islam has demonstrated such wide-spread consensus and domination that they are now the current representatives of Islam. Liberal Muslims who are reading this will no doubt protest, but the facts are in front of all of us. Liberal Islam has failed. Liberal Islam has no consensus, has no scholars, has no properly worked out theology. It is all just a bunch of individual voices, shouting “No, this isn’t Islam.”

It is also time that Western thinkers realize that this consensus in the favor of Fundamentalists has taken place. Fundamentalists are no longer in minority; Islam is no longer benign. It has become the current successor in the dynasty of fascists, nazis and communists, and it must be dealt with accordingly. Rome has spoken, the matter is settled.

h/t: qidniz in the comments

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