May Allah forgive the BBC

Ziauddin Sardar, on an asignment for the BBC, meets heads of states in some of the Muslim countries- Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey and discovers the different trends in politics and Islam in those countries. Pakistan, he avers, can be rescued from fanatic Islam not by the military but by popular movements that negate both the military as well as the Islamic fundamentalists.

If Pakistan poses a threat to the rest of the world it does not come from these people, or from Qazi and his conservatives. It lies elsewhere, and the west just cannot see it. The most obnoxious religious zealots in the country wear the uniform of the military, and what happened after my interview with Musharraf was a perfect illustration of the army’s mentality. General Sultan, who had been sitting behind the president taking notes throughout, called us over and proceeded to review the interview line by line. “Can you cut this sentence out?” he asked. “And that sentence; and this word in the sentence after that?” The producer and I looked at each other in amazement.The army has the habit of controlling everything. The richest, most politically active and most zealot-ridden institution in Pakistan, it helped create the Taliban and the jihadi madrasas, and it propped up the religious opposition. It was the former military ruler, General Zia ul-Haq, who enshrined the sharia in law. Those who think Pakistan’s military rulers will rescue them from extremism are barking up the wrong tree.

What is most surprising to a visitor from the west is that, despite the military, an alternative, progressive interpretation of Islam is gaining strength. This is the force that can lead Pakistan out of its darkness; these are the people – not Musharraf and his supporters – who need our backing in the fight against extremism.

Sardar however does not go beyond interviewing General Musharaff and Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the leader of the Jamaat e Islaami, and hence what he seems to say appears to be no more than a personal wishful thinking, albeit a desired one.

In the same paper, John O’Farrel writes on why Tony Blair’s comment that the al- Qaeda and the IRA are fundamentally different. Besides the fact that Tony Blair is a god fearing Christian with Catholic influence in his family, Blair seems to have gone further and read the Koran and listened to discussions within moderate Islam. Hence it proves that the ‘Thatcher in trousers’, as Hobsbawm derisively referred to Blair, is far more enlightened than President Bush to take on the Islamic fundmentalists. He points to the similarities between Gary Adams and Blair as well.

Although five years older, Gerry Adams has some things in common with Blair. Both are essentially pragmatists, and have moved their respective organisations to powerful positions through ditching shibboleths. Dissidents have been isolated and marginalised.Both men are children of the Sixties, but neither were ’68ers. IRA veterans use the revealing term “theological republicanism” to describe those dissidents who opposed “electoralism” and viewed “armed struggle” as the purest means to their ends. These diehards were to Adams what “old Labour” was to Blair. While both can be charming, they can be ruthless when faced with obstruction.

In war, Blair has been an advocate of what the IRA might, for its purposes, have called the “tactical use of armed struggle”. His Chicago speech of 1999 laid down rules for “internationalist” military intervention. “War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress,” he argued, “but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators.”

Morality may be the motive, but ultimately the use of violence is based on whether it will work. According to this theory, the amount of force needed is part of the moral calculation – placing just enough pressure on the Serbs, for example, to withdraw from Kosovo, rather than occupying Belgrade. Likewise, the combination of ruthlessness and incompetence that created the Omagh atrocity probably would not have happened on Adams’s watch.

Both men are religious. Adams is a regular communicant and Blair is inching towards the faith of his mother and his wife. Also, Blair’s understanding of theology in an essentially atheist political culture may give him an insight into the sheer inflexibility of al-Qaeda. Middle Britain gets confused by fundamentalism, be it Christians picketing the BBC or suicide bombers from Leeds.

Blair has made a point of reading the Koran and has listened to British Islam. He understands the nuances of faith and appreciates that the line between the personal consolations of faith and the violent expression of sectarian superiority is fine but deep. Marx called religion “the heart of a heartless world”. Salafism views sharia as this world’s heart transplant. Blair understands the nature of this ambition, and therefore the violence “without limits” required to achieve it.

If Blair had believed that the IRA could not be brought onside, he would not have spent so much effort since 1997. He believed that Irish republicanism could be dealt with because he understood it. For exactly the same reason, he will not deal with al-Qaeda.

It was O’Farrel himself who once referred to Bush as the global village idiot, and while one liked the column of political satire that O’Farrel wrote till recently for The Guardian, this piece of wisdom is slightly more difficult to digest.

Unless O’Farrel actually meant this piece to be a continuation of his weekly column…

And as if continuing on the same theme, Hanif Kureishi, the son of an English mother and liberal, more Buddhist than Islamist father, describes the discomfort that he felt listening to clerics haranguing their British- born 30 something audiences in mosques in England.

The mosques I visited, in Whitechapel and Shepherd’s Bush, were nothing like any church I’d attended. The scenes, to me, were extraordinary, and I was eager to capture them in my novel. There would be passionate orators haranguing a group of people sitting on the floor. One demagogue would replace another, of course, but the “preaching” went on continuously, as listeners of all races came and went.

…. Sometimes I would be invited to the homes of these young “fundamentalists”. One of them had a similar background to my own: his mother was English, his father a Muslim, and he’d been brought up in a quiet suburb. Now he was married to a woman from Yemen who spoke no English. Bringing us tea, she came into the room backwards, and bent over too, out of respect for the men. The men would talk to me of “going to train” in various places, but they seemed so weedy and polite, I couldn’t believe they’d want to kill anyone.

….I found these sessions so intellectually stultifying and claustrophobic that at the end I’d rush into the nearest pub and drink rapidly, wanting to reassure myself I was still in England. It is not only in the mosques but also in so-called “faith” schools that such ideas are propagated. The Blair government, while attempting to rid us of radical clerics, has pledged to set up more of these schools, as though a “moderate” closed system is completely different to an “extreme” one. This might suit Blair and Bush. A benighted, ignorant enemy, incapable of independent thought, and terrified of criticism, is easily patronised.


Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

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