Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Imran Khan


FANATICS to the left of us, fanatics to the right of us, with Pakistan caught in the middle. There are two minuscule fanatical groups, the influential liberal fanatics and the religious fanatics, at either end of the spectrum. Trapped and held hostage in the middle is the moderate majority, from westernized liberals who are genuinely tolerant of others' views to the genuinely religious with open minds who believe that there is no compulsion in religion. There is also plenty of ignorance and as a result plenty of confusion, especially amongst the youth.

Because to liberal fanatics' modernization means westernization; they have perforce to look down on their own culture and religion. Lacking a proper understanding of Islam, they see the religion through western eyes, convinced that it is a retrogressive, primitive creed of ancient desert folk. Resultantly, they are convinced that Islam impedes Pakistan's progress, meaning westernization. Thus, though the mullah has never been part of our effete and corrupt ruling elite, he is blamed for Pakistan's current crises. To the liberal fanatic secularism means being anti-Islam, as in Kamalist Turkey. Lacking respect for, and an understanding of, Pakistan's history and culture, their every solution to Pakistan's problems is imported. Hence liberal fanatics have variously advocated Marxism, women's liberation, market economy, and other western beliefs which are being boosted by a particular lobby for a western-specific purpose at a particular point in time. Only free minds can have the original ideas so desperately needed by this country.

Liberal fanatics credit India's recent economic success not to the country's better education system but to the 'westerness' of Indian culture as falsely portrayed by some of their TV channels by attempting to remove all Indianness from their character. They don them in western clothes, give them American accents and, most shockingly, white skins. Indian-looking caricatures are objects of ridicule while the hero or role model is always fair and totally westernized.

These people have only to study colonial history of the past two centuries to realize that whenever an alien culture was imposed on an indigenous people it caused mass upheaval, disruption and destruction to their way of life. From the aborigines of Australia to the Indians of the Americas and most of Africa the local people fell between two stools in the name of modernization. Societies that have been success stories have all used western knowledge but developed in the context of their own culture and environment like Japan and China. Desi liberal fanatics preach secularism, yet they don't fully understand the evolution of secularism in Europe. Martin Luther's movement was to free religion from the stranglehold of the church, not to get rid of religion altogether.

The Desi secularists have been heavily influenced by Marxism with its anti-religion and anti-family message and American secularism. After the bitter Scopes court case in 1925, the secularists turned fiercely anti-religion and after a hard fought campaign won a huge victory when in 1963 the US Supreme Court actually disallowed the teaching of religion in state schools. Martin Luther, who was a God-fearing man, would be turning in his grave at the thought of where the movement that he began to break the tyranny of the church has ended up. Unfortunately our liberal fanatics are bent upon imposing western secular values on a country where the vast majority's entire way of life is influenced by religion. Their arrogance arises out of a feeling of 'superiority' that westernization bestows on them.

When our liberal fanatics talk of women's rights it is not from the Islamic perspective but a western one. Again, the struggle of western woman for emancipation is within the context of their history and culture, totally alien to the Muslim experience. Hence when the real liberal Mohammad Ali Jinnah was addressing the Aligarh students in 1938, he appealed to them to work for the emancipation of the Muslim woman: "This is essential; but I do not want to ape the evils of the West". Similarly, the other great Muslim liberal Allama Iqbal always kept stressing to the Muslim youth to find their own way and not "tread on others' paths". Iqbal was an original because by having in-depth knowledge of the Quran, Islamic history as well as European philosophies he was in a position to critically evaluate Islamic as well as western civilization.

If only we had a scholar of Iqbal's calibre today he would have questioned the direction western civilization has taken e.g. in its exploitation of women, as in beauty contests, in advertisements where half-clad women are used to sell products, or where fashion forces women to display their bodies. He would certainly have commented on the proliferation of public immorality in the name of freedom and its role in the breakdown of the family. And, its impact on the devaluing of the role of the mother, a role so highly regarded in Islam. Iqbal would certainly have questioned homosexual marriages and gay couples adopting children.

Liberal fanatics overlook such issues because 'westoxified' minds are in no position to critically analyze the direction in which western civilization is headed. The irony is that in the Victorian age, the peak of British civilization, public morality was much higher than in most of the Muslim world today. Indeed, the Victorians thought Islam a permissive religion.  Consequently, and not surprisingly, the family system and values were strong. If the liberal fanatics had their way we would destroy the only institution that is keeping our society from completely falling apart, our family system. Already satellite and cable TV are causing tremendous frustration amongst our youth and putting a great strain on our social system.

At the other extreme we have religious fanatics whose numbers are growing by the day. The main cause of religious extremism is injustice; the growing gap between rich and poor, with the majority of the population being denied education, employment, health and justice. With no stake in the system, militant Islam becomes appealing to the dispossessed. Add to this the injustices against Muslims in Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Palestine and so many other places. Eighty per cent of all refugees in the world are Muslim.

It is not hard to see why the idealistic and romantic amongst us are driven to take up arms. In the last century such European romantics fought in the Spanish Civil War. There are, of course, religious zealots who through sheer ignorance decided to force their uninformed version of Islam through the barrel of the gun. Such bigots have done tremendous damage to Islam as they have failed to understand that Islam is a battle for conquering hearts and minds. The Quran repeatedly says that there is no compulsion in religion. The Messenger (PBUH) was told by Allah in the Quran that his job was simply to proclaim His message, the real meaning of Iqra "Proclaim the Word of God who created Man from a clot". Whether people converted or not wasn't Muhammad's (PBUH) business.

There are yet others who have killed fellow Muslims in the name of their sect, doing the greatest damage to a religion that constantly preaches tolerance and rejects sectarianism, tribalism and clannishness of any kind other than the ummah, the universal brotherhood of believers in one God.

The worst of the fanatics are those who have actually made Islam a business proposition. Then there are those who have become fanatics as a  reaction to their religion and way of life being threatened by western culture. This is because of little understanding of western culture, due to a sub-standard education system in which everything western is viewed with suspicion, part of a western or a Jewish conspiracy. This group is not only anti-West but is also anti-all the westernized Pakistani elite.

As to the question about how a country deals with the complex issue of religious fundamentalism, the liberal fanatics have only one answer, one very close to Hitler's 'Final Solution': they want the army to take them on. The same group that, quite rightly, preaches dialogue with India, has the most illiberal solutions for its own countrymen.

In fact liberal fanatics are not equipped to hold any dialogue with religious fanatics simply because they are not armed with sufficient knowledge of Islam. In any case religious fanatics consider liberal fanatics (with some justification) as toadies of the West. We need an Iqbal to fight religious bigotry for the only weapon against fundamentalism is enlightened Islam. Fanatics need to be told about Islamic history, how other religions and other points of view were tolerated in days when Europe was ruled by bigotry and ignorance. Islam never knew the savagery of the Inquisition where people were put through unimaginable tortures in the name of religion. As early as the 9th century AD Muslim scholars were debating the rights of the child. The sophistication of debate was such that a scholar, before putting forth his point of view, would start by saying, "it is possible that I may be wrong".

It was this freedom of thought and the spirit of inquiry that created the intellectual atmosphere that enabled the Islamic world to produce all the world's top scientists for 750 years. Had it not been for the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongolians in 1258, and had the autocratic Mongolian mindset, that stifled debate, not taken over the Muslim world, it would not be in such a sorry state today.

It was scholars like Jamal-ud-din Afghani, Mohammed Abdu and Iqbal who talked about the movement of thought through Ijtihad. Iqbal argued that just as the European Renaissance and Reformation were triggered off by the acquisition of knowledge from the Muslim universities of Spain, and the
Middle East during the Crusades, it was high time that the Muslims used western knowledge to "reconstruct religious thought". The reason why even today Iqbal is regarded our greatest scholar is because he was able to give the Islamic perspective on contemporary issues of the time, like democracy, socialism, and capitalism.

To end fanaticism both religious and liberal we need to gather genuine Muslim scholars from Pakistan and abroad and hold debates on TV and radio. Pakistani youth needs to know the relevance of Islam to their lives in the 21st century. We need to find "our own way" rather than importing ideologies that have no relevance to our lives and have failed to deliver. A modern day Ijtihad done by genuine Islamic scholars (and there are plenty of them in the world) will not only give us a common vision and values, it will also marginalize the extremists at both ends. Above all our ruling elite might finally break the shackles of mental slavery and find home grown solutions to our problems.


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