View Point: The Pakistani General Declares War – On Islam

By Abid Ullah Jan, Pakistan
Posted: 3 Zul-Qa'dah 1422, 17 January 2002

One lesson I have learnt from the history of Muslims. At critical moments in their history, it is Islam that has saved the Muslims and not vice-a-versa.

- Allama Iqbal

Every war begins with identification of an enemy, planning, preparation, propaganda, and then a declaration of war. Pervez Musharraf's speech to the nation on January 12 was a formal declaration of "the real war," for which all the necessary steps up to propaganda were already undertaken by the real actors of the war. No matter how odd it may sound but this war was well on its way regardless of September 11 or December 13. Symbolic attacks were well underway since Pervez Musharraf's arrival on the scene. His latest speech simply formalized launching of "the real war" demanded by no less an authority than New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman in his November 27 column.

Like Thomas Friedman, many of the US policy makers and analysts believe that the West is "not fighting to eradicate 'terrorism.' Terrorism is just a tool… [it is] fighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism…But unlike Nazism, religious totalitarianism can't be fought by armies alone. It has to be fought in schools, mosques, churches and synagogues, and can be defeated only with the help of imams, rabbis and priests."

So was the theme of General Musharraf's speech. It was an attempt to prove that every ill afflicting our society and the world is just because of the "misinterpretation" of Islam and if it is chained, curricula "improved" and a wall erected between mosque and state, Pakistan would become a heaven on earth. Except for the word "Allah Ta'ala," there was hardly any word that could tell the difference between a speech prepared by Thomas L. Friedman, Daniel Pipes or Pervez Musharraf.

Of course, armies cannot fight this war, and this fact makes the General's speech -- studded with the word Allah Ta'ala, a couple of Ahadith and a verse from Allama Iqbal -- far more valuable than the multi-billion dollar investment in the war directly at dislodging Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. With all the world power at their disposal, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair could never perform this feat. This is the way to strike at the roots of Islam, what Thomas Friedman called "fighting to defeat an ideology" with the help of a Muslim leader. The speech was an attempt to make us unlearn, what we have learnt as Muslims that Islam is a complete code of life. It is not so any more, we are told. It is not fit to govern us. We have to separate it from politics; we have to remove its objectionable portions, like the incomprehensible Jihad from the school curricula to "improve" it; we have to chain it down in madrassa because it is responsible for violence, sectarianism, extremism, the problem in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, etc; it gives us the false sense of being saviours of all the oppressed Muslims around the world and thus has become a source of our bad image abroad.

There is no denying the fact that "sectarian" clashes have been going on in Pakistan for quite some time; some religious leaders definitely have acted on "a basis of selfish interests," our economy is damaged, but it is absolutely wrong to ignore all other factors and put all the blame on madrassa for teaching "terrorism and religious hatred instead of teaching them friendship and brotherhood." There are much worse conditions in other places on this planet earth. Nowhere and no one, however, holds religion of the perpetrators responsible for their evil acts. Look at the Israeli and Indian arrogance, intolerance and extremism. Is not all the Israeli aggression, occupation, repression, human rights violations, killings, demolition of homes, torture and deportations based on pure religious beliefs and history? Would Israeli president ever take to the international media and lecture for an hour to put all the blame for the continued bloodbath on misinterpretation of Judaism by Rabbis, fundamentalist Jews, religious institutions and organisations? Would he say that he is not Tekkadar (contractor, or responsible here) for the safety and well being of all the Jews in the world? The US would gather a coalition of dozens of countries to avenge the death of 3,000 Americans. Pervez Musharraf, however, believes that the Palestinians, Afghans, Kashmiris and all other Muslims have to fight their own cause individually regardless of their number, vulnerability and decades under foreign occupation.

General Musharraf surrendered the raison de'etre of Pakistan.

It is not that just the banning of religious organisations, ordering to register Mosques and Madrassas, or "improving" religious curricula, that is worrisome. What is even more damaging is the theme of Musharraf's address that would be exploited for a long time. It is his attempt to make religion and associated organisations and personalities the basis of all problems, to prove Islam incapable of governing our lives, and to relegate Islam to a very narrow sphere of personal life, that has further sharpened the western propaganda tools for neutralizing Islam. The orders and rules of behaviours set by the General are trivial side issues. The general impression that the Western public may get from his speech is all that matters. And the general impression confirms the years long propaganda that Islam, if followed to the letter, is intolerant, anti-modern and totalitarian.

Mr. Friedman defined totalitarians as those who claim to have a corner on exclusive truth - even if they are completely tolerant of those with other beliefs. What is the present US and UK administration by this standard? Aren't they claiming to have a corner on exclusive truth? What use is their tolerance when it is only their will and way of life that has to reign supreme? Even if we accept as harmless all the laws and regulations imposed by the General the other day, still it's not the end of it all. The fear of an Indian attack would remain there to force Musharraf into going even further for pleasing Washington. Many Western analysts have called Musharraf initiatives revolutionary by nature but meaningless unless supported by reinterpretation of Islam. David Limbaugh, for instance, writes in his January 12 column (Washington Times) that many Jews and Christians "have gone back to their sacred texts and reinterpreted their traditions to embrace modernity and pluralism, but those who haven't diluted their sacred beliefs to conform to today's twisted concept of tolerance are dangerous."

Let's see what's dangerous. It's this kind of indiscriminate and prejudicial thinking and planning to reduce Islam from a code of life to merely a few rituals and prayers that is dangerous. As important as religion is, it's amazing how much ignorance about it persists. In fact, it is really an intellectual copout to argue, for the sake of acceptability to Washington or some other secular piety, that the beliefs of many of the world's religions can be reconciled. Islam, in contrast to all other religions, touches all aspects of life. Removing it from politics means leaving many faculties of life untouched by Islam, simply because there would be no system to make the relevant Islamic obligations practicable.

So, we cannot reasonably say, as the western analysts seem to, that all religions worship the same God and the Muslims should get rid of religion just as the other religions have cleansed the public sphere of it. Just like all other religions, that would make Islam nothing more than a human construct, which would mean there is no religion of God. Either He exists in reality, in which case certain absolute truths about Him apply and a certain way we have to follow, or he doesn't, and then none of this matters anyway.

Just because some claim to know the truth does not mean they advocate eliminating other faiths or even suppressing their free exercise of religion. While Muslims, for example, believe Prophet Mohammed (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was the last prophet, they do not deny non-Muslims the right to believe otherwise. But being tolerant toward other people's beliefs does not require that the Muslims abandon their own or water them down. Calling a struggle Jihad when others don't mind and removing Jihad related verses from school curricula when others want you to "improve" school curriculum is hypocrisy -- not eliminating extremism. It is playing into the hands of our Masters.

Whether we accept it or not, General Musharraf surrendered the raison de'etre of Pakistan, justification for our clinging to the Kashmir issue and our right to have an Islamic government in a single go. Let's see how. Pakistan was established in the name of Islam for Muslims to form a government different than the government across the border. It doesn't make any sense to struggle for years only to form the same kind of governments on both sides of the border. Now that General Musharraf has thrown religion out of our politics, it's definitely going to be a Secular Republic of Pakistan, which was not the objective of Pakistan's movement. If its going to be so, why not call the partition of sub-continent null and void and make it one greater India, a confederation already proposed by Benazir Bhutto. For what specific characteristic does Musharraf consider Pakistan, without an Islamic government, a "bastion of Islam"? Just for having majority of the Muslims doesn't make a country "bastion of Islam," nor does Islam need bastions for its protection. In this regard a secular India is a better bastion of Islam than a secular Pakistan for giving protection to twice the number of Muslims living in secular Pakistan.

Being tolerant toward other people's beliefs does not require that the Muslims abandon their own or water them down.

Then comes Kashmir. If Islam is a private matter of praying a few prayers, it doesn't need a separate state for the Muslims anywhere in the world. If millions of other Muslims can live under the secular Indian rule, so should the Kashmiris. Moreover, without any evidence of their involvement in terrorism, General Musharraf banned a couple of religious groups accused by the Indian for terrorism. This indirectly proves the Indian accusation that these groups were involved in terrorism. There is no need to ask India for evidence any more. Our action proves India right. When India is right and when secularism is the ultimate objective, choosing to live independently or otherwise becomes irrelevant and Allama Iqbal becomes the worst kind of extremist for putting forward Two-Nations Theory for the partition of India, where the same two nations could live in peace under a secular government.

In the final analysis we much keep in mind that Islam can neither be exploited by a few religious leaders sticking to their respective branches while the core of Islam is under attack, nor can it be moderated and liberalised, as Musharraf and his company dream of. We cannot even get rid of it by claiming like General Musharraf that we are Muslims and that is good enough -- we need not talk about it any more. We must counter the Western propaganda that the country would collapse if we tried to develop political, economic and social institutions according to the principles of Islam. Sidelining Islam is not the answer. Our "real war" should be to debate how best can we apply Islam's golden principles in social, political, economic and social life, and assure the "real warriors" that an Islamic government would never pose a threat to their interests. A genuine shift in these directions would help resolve the internal difficulties of Pakistan by strengthening its systems from within and ensuring closeness with the rest of the Islamic world. We would survive only if we stick to Islam.