Red Mosque episode represents a harmful trend in Pakistani society: Hasan Askari Rizvi

VIEW: Seeing red — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi
Daily Times, July 8, 2007

For six months, state authorities allowed the management and young students to function as self-styled vigilantes, enforcing ‘Islam’ and intimidating people. They threatened to launch suicide attacks if the government interfered with what could be described as their ‘state within a state’. One wonders if Islamabad will wait so long if the activists of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Group (PML-N) take over a public library and kidnap policemen.

The Red Mosque showdown raises four basic questions about Pakistan’s governance and the role of Islamic militancy. They are: Why couldn’t the government resolve the problem by peaceful means earlier? What was the role of religious leaders and groups? How could some religious leaders use the madrassa’s students so recklessly to pursue their self-ascribed role of enforcers of their interpretation of Islamic Sharia? Why do some people, especially traders and small businessmen, sympathise with the Red Mosque people?

...divide runs deep in the Pakistan administration and contributes to duplicity in government policy towards Islamic militants. Government inaction in the case of the Red Mosque and its ambiguous stance towards the Taliban are manifestations of this divide. They also enable Islamic militants to get informal access to the ruling PML and the Pakistani administration. The hardliners’ sympathisers dilute the resolve of the government to deal firmly with them. Had the Red Mosque people not kidnapped the Chinese, their sympathisers would have continued to block tough action against them.

Most Islamic parties and groups supported the Red Mosque’s goal of Islamisation of the Pakistani state and society but disagreed with its tactics. The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) disowned them and the federation of various madrassa management boards de-affiliated Hafsa. Several other Islamic leaders adopted the same strategy. However, they neither used their clout to restrain the management of the Red Mosque nor did they support the government’s action. They treated them as a break-away group and watched how far they could go in their stride to challenge the government.

This episode shows that the Red Mosque leaders, who encouraged some students to become suicide bombers, used madrassa students for their political ends. Other Islamic activists have also attempted to mobilise a whole student generation in regular universities and colleges for their political agendas. They emphasise ritualised Islamisation rather than working to improve citizens’ quality of life.

The Red Mosque confirms that some madrassas continue to serve as sanctuaries of extremism and militancy. This raises the question of what happened to the government’s madrassa reforms.

...Consequently, one Pakistani generation has fully internalised Islamic discourse on domestic and global affairs. This shapes their worldview and creates a strong sympathy for the goals, if not the strategies, of militant Islamic movements. There is an in-built sympathy in the state apparatus and society for Islamic discourse as opposed to liberal and moderate political and social discourse. This has two implications.

First, at least one Pakistani generation identifies so closely with the Islamic discourse that it could be described as suffering from ‘Stockholm syndrome’. They are now passing on this syndrome to the next generation. Second, the liberal discourse has been pushed to the sidelines and it is no longer fashionable to act on liberal and moderate political discourse.

The on-going lawyers’ movement is making an earnest effort for the first time since the early 1980s to revive a liberal and moderate political discourse as the main vehicle for popular mobilisation. This engenders the hope that the people will start openly identifying with the alternate political discourse.

The Red Mosque episode represents a harmful trend in Pakistani society, which undermines the state’s capacity to function effectively as a political entity. If this trend is not moderated by popularising an alternate political discourse and increasing participatory opportunities, Pakistan is likely to face more internal convulsions, no matter who rules.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst


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