In Pakistan, The Extremists Have Won

January 7th, 2011 at 1:10 pm | 19 Comments |

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Pakistan’s founders explained their hasty creation as the Promised Land where no Muslim would be killed for being Muslim. Today, it is a land where Muslims are killed for not being Muslim enough. Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, was assassinated because he had the temerity to assail the country’s anti-blasphemy laws. In responding to the plight of Asia Noreen – a 45-year-old Christian woman awaiting execution for the capital crime, under Pakistan’s penal code, of blasphemy against Islam – Taseer had inflamed god’s warriors, earning himself a fatwa. On Tuesday, as Taseer was entering his car in Islamabad, one of his security guards shot him dead. The guard then surrendered himself, explaining, like a latter-day Godse, the Hindu fanatic who murdered Gandhi for being too “soft” with Muslims, his opposition to Taseer’s views.

“Facts”, Louis Fischer wrote in his autobiography Men and Politics, “cannot compete with a fiction that is comforting”. If history is a reliable guide, comforting fiction is what is likely to emerge from Pakistan. Who bears the responsibility for Taseer’s death? To Pakistan’s liberals, the principal cause of religious extremism in their country begins and ends with one person: Zia-ul-Haq, an austere bigot who governed the country from 1976 until his death in 1988. But apportioning the blame so disproportionately exonerates his predecessors, erases the deeper history of religious supremacism that underpins the very idea of Pakistan, and promotes, to the present generation, the false idea that, prior to Zia, Pakistan accommodated pluralism.

The formal Islamisation of Pakistan was initiated as early as 1949 by Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister; the Objectives Resolution he introduced that March set out the core constitutional principles by which the new country would be governed. Among other things, it proclaimed that Allah, who held sovereignty “over the entire Universe”, had “delegated it to Pakistan”. Most alarming of all, it called for the creation of conditions “Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.”

By the time Ayub Khan launched the first military coup in 1958, 11-year-old Pakistan had been ruled by seven prime ministers. His finely clipped moustache and fondness for scotch whiskey led outsiders to view Ayub as a great modernizer. Indeed Ayub’s first major act as president was to commission the construction of a new capital city. A Greek firm of architects was tasked with the job. On 24 February 1960, Ayub gave the city its name: Islamabad, the City of Islam. Fittingly, while the parliament and the supreme court built by the Greeks are frequently forced into abeyance, the one building that is always open for business in today’s Islamabad is a lavishly built mosque named after a Saudi despot who funded it.

What followed was an intensive program of indoctrination. Education was the principal target – textbooks were filled with myths; the study of “Islamiyat” was promoted at universities; a whole new discipline called “Pakistan Studies,” locating the country’s origins in the history of Islam, was created; and the army, particularly Ayub, was portrayed as its saviour.

To validate this myth, Ayub launched a war against India in 1965. At the battle of Badr in the 7th Century, the Prophet’s tiny band of Muslim soldiers claimed to have vanquished the Quraysh with the help of white-turbaned angels sent by Gabriel. Ayub’s propaganda machinery borrowed directly from that legend, reaffirming Pakistan’s position as the defender of Islam. Stories about Pakistan’s forces being assisted by green-robed angels who deflected Indian bombs with a wave of their hand were circulating, as were legends about Pakistani soldiers shooting down Indian aircraft with Enfield rifles. Pakistanis weren’t just being invited to celebrate the valor of their soldiers – they were being told that their side had received celestial sanction.

Salman Taseer’s security guard seemingly felt blessed by that very divinity when he pulled the trigger yesterday on the man he was commissioned to defend. To all those in Pakistan’s armed forces who sympathize with Taseer’s killer, this may be a logical culmination of the journey that began in 1947. Advocates of tolerance have gone into hiding. The government has surrendered. Taseer’s killer is now a hero, beatified by Pakistan’s mullahs and televangelists. Dissent carries the death penalty. Historians will look back at the murder of Salman Taseer as the point at which Pakistan was irrecoverably lost to extremists. This was Pakistan’s very own Khomeini Moment.

Recent Posts by Kapil Komireddi



19 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    Guess it’s time to open up a third front in the glorious war on terror ™. Get the shock and awe ready to go and as a certain President said in a way only he could. “Bring it on”

  • Alex 0_0

    Very sad, but don’t give up. This could also be a wake-up call for the decent people in Pakistan. Too soon to declare defeat!

  • midcon

    The signs of this have been evident in the last several years. Primitive tribalism combined with a fanatical version of Islam will always culminate in an extremist, barbaric society. It will be the same in all countries who can be characterized as a tribal society coupled with extreme beliefs.

  • TerryF98

    “The signs of this have been evident in the last several years. Primitive tribalism combined with a fanatical version of Christianity will always culminate in an extremist, barbaric society. It will be the same in all countries who can be characterized as a tribal society coupled with extreme beliefs.”

    Change one word and it sounds like the Right Wing in the USA.

  • greg_barton

    The shock and awe is on it’s way. Just ask the dead birds in Arkansas.

  • Diomedes

    This could also be a wake-up call for the decent people in Pakistan

    The ‘decent’ people of Pakistan have all left the country. Do you know how many Pakistani’s live in the Western World now?

    Unfortunately, there is little cure for something like this. Poverty, natural disasters (earthquakes and floods) and a radicalized religious right is inevitably going to result in a situation like this.

  • Carney

    Diomedes, one major thing we can and should do is to break the oil cartel.

    While Pakistan was indeed a dubious enterprise from the start, the Saudis have played a major role in radicalizing Pakistan, and do so throughout the Muslim world. They are only 1% of the Muslim population but control 80% of Islamic institutions, for only one reason: money.

    They have so much money for three reasons:

    1. They control the oil cartel, OPEC, by having the deepest reserves and cheapest expenses. If a member state exceeds its production limit for quick cash, the Saudis can impose collective punishment by flooding the world with oil to crash the price so low only they can make any money from it. The other members thus go along, albeit with occasional grumbling, and despite often being religious, ethnic, or political rivals, because they know it’s in their best interest.

    2. OPEC controls 78% of all world oil reserves, including all the cheapest, easiest to extract, most desirable stuff. This control tightens each year, because OPEC hoards its oil and strictly limits what it produces and sells, while non-OPEC producers race through our reserves, leaving us with a smaller portion of what’s left each year.

    3. Nearly all cars in the world are able to run only on oil-derived fuel.

    We can’t do much about 1 and2, but we can change 3, which makes 1 and 2 irrelevant. We can change it by passing a law, such as the proposed Open Fuel Standards Act, that would make all new gasoline cars sold in America fully flex fueled, able to run equally easily on any alcohol fuel as on gasoline. This would cost automakers only $130 per new car at the factory, and would break oil’s unnecessary monopoly on vehicle fuel. OPEC would in a few years be unable to charge backbreaking monopoly prices, since gas stations would then race each other to offer cheaper alcohol fuel to avoid being undercut by their neighbors. This caps OPEC states’ mischief budget; no more lavishing dunds for overseas mosques, pressure groups, sat TV channels, madrassas, training camps, etc.

  • think4yourself

    This is potentially quite serious in geopolitics. WWI began with the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (though the underlying causes had been there for years). Pakistan and it’s issues with radical Islam, India, nuclear weapons, etc. has potentially the same capability to be the spark in the tinderbox.

    In America, I can see the Religious Right pointing to this to say that Islam is the source of the world’s terrorism when they assasinate their own moderates. That of course will only make things worse and contribute to increased numbers of radicalized Islamists. For the US Gov’t, this is a difficult situation. The more we press Pakistan for moderation, the more the general populous will resist outside pressure. Perhaps some of the local Islamic countries may have some influence, but whom? Not Saudi Arabia or Egypt as they suppress their own. Is there a role here for Turkey?

  • Nanotek

    That was a very interesting article.

    Carney@”the Saudis have played a major role in radicalizing Pakistan, and do so throughout the Muslim world.”

    spot on

  • haterinos

    Pakistan has always been a terrorist friendly country. Don’t know why Bush was trying to be BFF of its terrorist president (ex) Musharaf.

  • medinnus

    “…one major thing we can and should do is to break the oil cartel.”

    Absolutely. This is what we should be focusing on – not the War On Drugs, not even really the War On Terror as its being conducted today.

  • Diomedes

    We can change it by passing a law, such as the proposed Open Fuel Standards Act, that would make all new gasoline cars sold in America fully flex fueled, able to run equally easily on any alcohol fuel as on gasoline

    And natural gas as an option as well.

    Alcohol based fuels are generally derived from corn, which is cost prohibitive to produce. Natural gas on the other hand is readily available and requires very little refining. Not to mention we have HUGE reserves of the stuff in the USA.

    I also really wish this country would get over its stigma around nuclear power. I find it amazing that my fellow liberals get their panties in a wad anytime the prospect of nuclear power stations is brought up, despite the fact that the socialist posterchilds of the liberal agenda, France and Canada, both get the majority of their power from nukes.

  • jakester

    TerryF98
    So in other words, since we have an obnoxious Christian right here, and we aren’t perfect or innocent, then who are we to condemn the barbarity of executing a poor woman on a garbage charge of blasphemy or murdering a politician who is trying to save her? Way to go, everything seems to boil down to taking cheap shots at the Right in the USA, by protecting Muslims 10,000x as bad. Makes no sense to me.

  • TerryF98

    Jakester,

    All I have to say is.

    Dr Tiller.

  • baw1064

    One thing we could do is to say to the Pakistanis, “Clean up your act, or from now on we’ll sell the Indians as much high end military hardware as they want to buy from us.”

  • jakester

    Yeah Terry
    death row is just packed with blasphemers here

  • baw1064

    In light of today’s events, there doesn’t seem to be as much difference between the U.S. and Pakistan as I wanted to believe 24 hours ago. :-( Very sad.

  • Utfordringer for moderat islam « minerva

    [...] Som Jan Arild Snoen er inne på i sin kommentar til angrepet på Taseer, støtter en overveldende del av Pakistans muslimske befolkning dødsstraff for frafall fra islam. Det er ingen tvil om at denne holdningen begrunnes ut i fra deres tolkning av islam. Det er ingen tvil om at ønske om dødsstraff for å benytte sin religionsfrihet ikke kan kalles noe annet enn ekstremt. Det er heller ingen tvil om at dette er mainstream islam i Pakistan. Og den religiøse intoleransen i Pakistan har i varierende omfang fulgt landet siden det ble til. [...]

  • Kurlis

    Very well written. I agree with Kapil’s interpretation.