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VIEW: The fountainhead of religious extremism — Yasser Latif Hamdani
Pakistan will have to undo the Maududian infiltration of its state and society. It means liberating our campuses of organisations like the IJT. It means purging the state and its machinery of elements that are furthering the Jamaat’s hate-filled agenda
My article last week on Faisal Shahzad’s radicalisation elicited unprecedented response on the issue of Islamic organisations operating in the US, thereby necessitating this sequel. There are things that need to be said before it is all too late.
Faisal Shahzad’s e-mail to the “peaceful ummah” as published in the New York Times (http://documents.nytimes.com/e-mail-from-faisal-shahzad#text/p1) leaves no doubt about Shahzad’s state of mind. It was his association with Islamic organisations in the West that transformed him into a global jihadist in the classical Qutbian mould. His language, his denunciation of the West and of hypocritical governments in Pakistan, his appeal to “Khilafah” had all the fingerprints of a campus or a local Islamic body, possibly one infiltrated by the Hizb ut-Tahrir and/or global activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI).
All this however should not mean that we should shut ourselves off from the reality of religious extremism in our own neck of the woods. The lashkars and the mujahideen Pakistan’s cynical and wretched establishment prepared against the Soviets, with American blessing, are obviously one part of the overall story. Religious extremism in Pakistan has a sordid history, one of the state’s constant retreat in the face of religious parties — the same religious parties that had opposed the very creation of Pakistan — and horrible compromises with extremist and fascist elements.
To recap, Islamic religious organisations have been part of the political landscape of the subcontinent ever since Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi brought them into politics under the guise of the Islamist ‘Khilafat Movement’. It bears repeating that when Gandhi first encouraged Islamic religious clerics for his own anti-imperialist goals, the lone dissenting voice of reason was that of Pakistan’s founding father Jinnah who told Gandhi not to bring “unwholesome elements into public life”. Yet it is Pakistan — ironically — that has come to be associated with the same unwholesome elements today.
After partition, religious extremism in Pakistan reared its ugly head when Majlis-e-Ahrar, a vociferously anti-Pakistan Islamic party during pre-partition days and an erstwhile ally of Gandhi, in 1953 started its campaign of terror against a hapless sectarian minority with the help of another witchdoctor of dubious history, i.e. Maulana Maududi, who till then had become completely irrelevant after his opposition to Jinnah and the Muslim League. To the credit of Pakistan’s judiciary, it swiftly handed down a death sentence for the person who is singlehandedly responsible in providing the ideological foundations for not just the Islamisation in Pakistan but the global Islamic jihad.
Nevertheless the Maulana’s sentence was commuted and it is Pakistan that has suffered as a result. Subsequent to commutation, his book, Islam and Communism, was picked up, reprinted and distributed allegedly by CIA’s JI desk all over the Muslim world. The idea was to use Maududian extremism to stiffen resistance against Soviet expansionism. It is therefore ironic that the JI, Maulana Maududi’s enduring creature, which in 1977 received funds from quarters in the US to overthrow the increasingly pro-Soviet Bhutto, is today the bastion of anti-Americanism. Wonders never cease.
The fountainhead of religious extremism in our country is Mansoora, the headquarters of the JI, in Lahore. Unless Pakistan and the US seriously take a look at the activities of the JI, any meaningful progress in stopping extremism feeding this terror will be impossible. The JI actively works on Pakistan’s largest university campuses to spread its doctrine of hate and bigotry not just against other countries such as the US but religious and sectarian minorities in Pakistan. Its student wing, the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) is modelled after the National Socialist Party. The JI seeks to infiltrate the army, the air force and the civil bureaucracy to weaken the state’s resolve against extremism in Pakistan. Key members of the JI sit in departments such as education introduce nothing but poison in Pakistan’s young minds.
The JI’s mouthpiece, the Daily Ummat, is full of (fifth) columnists who advocate not just extremism but open violence against minorities. Maududi has inspired a generation of Islamists globally. His exegesis of the Holy Quran is widely read and followed by the Salafi Islamic order, predominantly found in the West and the main source of terrorism in the name of religion. Along with Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, Maududi remains the most widely read Islamist ideologue for relatively more affluent Muslims in the west. Within Pakistan too, the target audience is the middle class. It is, therefore, not uncommon to find inter-city bus services advertising during their in-coach entertainment the publications containing “sagacity and wisdom that defeated Communism, Secularism and Capitalism, which flowed from the pen of Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid Maududi” (direct translation). In the triumphalist Islamist narrative, Qutb and Maududi are prophets without parallel.
Pakistan — if it is serious about tackling terrorism — will also have to undo the Maududian infiltration of its state and society. It means liberating our campuses of organisations like the IJT. It means purging the state and its machinery of elements that are furthering the Jamaat’s hate-filled agenda instead of doing their job. The time has come to take stock of the damage this body of conspiratorial and bigoted men has done repeatedly to the body politic of Pakistan.
It must be remembered, for those who still care about the reasons why we made this country in the first place, that Jinnah’s Pakistan and Maududi’s Pakistan are mutually exclusive. Pakistan must decide here and now: do we wish to make Pakistan a prosperous and democratic state, which is at peace home and abroad ala Jinnah? Or do we wish to make Pakistan a violent dystopia run by maniacs and religious extremists with twisted ideas about religion ala Maududi?
The former route shall save us a lot of heartbreak and humiliation. The latter will ultimately lead to our destruction.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org