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Pakistan: Forked tongues of the holy armies

by Ayaz Amir, 13 October 2012

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The News International, 12 October 2012

They just can’t say it straight, our blessed holy fathers, champions of righteousness and clear winners of an international hypocrisy prize if one was on offer. What can be clearer, and more mindboggling, than the attempted killing of young Malala, all of 14 years old, and a threat – so it seems – to the mighty Taliban?

But try getting a clear condemnation from any of the holy fathers – take your pick from their frothing multitude – and you will taste the cup of frustration.

On supposed insults to the faith, insults real or imagined, their fists go up and angry foam flecks their outraged lips. Rallies are mounted across the country and the pillars of the republic, far from sturdy at the best of times, are shaken. But come a Taliban-staged event like the shooting of Malala and tongues begin to twist, churning out a fog of doubt-laced ambiguity. To every crocodile tear shed is added a comparison with drone strikes and the American war in Afghanistan.

A cleric on television, Mufti Naeem of Karachi, was asked by his host whether the learned doctors of the faith could bring themselves to issue a fatwa against the shooting of Malala. And try as the anchor did, the Mufti just wouldn’t give a clear answer. But we will have to issue a fatwa against drone strikes as well, he kept saying.

Maulana Ata-ur-Rehman, brother to his holiness Maulana Fazlur Rehman, put up much the same performance in the National Assembly. We condemn this outrage, he said, but we will have to go to the root causes of why such events happen...then a string of equivocations about drone strikes and the infidel war in Afghanistan. Root causes...the last refuge of those trying to take cover.

If this is the predictable response of the commanders of the bearded, that of the foremost clean-shaven sympathizer of the Taliban, Imran Khan, is no different. Shaking his head this way and that before a clutch of journalists he said who wouldn’t be outraged by this event...and then immediately brought in drone strikes and root causes.

There are visible beards and there are hidden ones. Lest we forget, Gen Ziaul Haq, was also clean-shaven, although his moustache, until presidential exigencies taught him to trim it, was sinister-looking.

On making a near-saint of Mumtaz Qadri, winner of eternal fame for pumping a magazine of bullets into Salmaan Taseer, no time was lost, by none of the holy fathers. Rallies were brought out in his support and lawyers of ‘Pindi/Islamabad, to their everlasting glory, showered him with rose-petals when he was brought before a magistrate.

I was on TV with the same above-mentioned Mufti Naeem, more power to his eloquence, and it was fascinating watching the circles he made. Javed Jabbar was there too and Iqbal Haider also and they kept saying what a wicked piece of work Taseer’s killing had been. But the Mufti, and there was a leader of the Sunni Tehrik, and they both just couldn’t bring themselves to utter the right words of condemnation.

See how quick off the mark the holy fathers were in the Rimsha Masih blasphemy case. A concocted incident from day one which the local police station chief should have been able to handle if he had his wits about him and a bit of courage but across the country guardians of the cloth reacted as if the faith had been mortally insulted. The farce has been revealed for what it was but notice now the silence of the evangelists – a silence as impressive as the initial clamour.

Notice also the outrage and the burning and killing which occurred on a day designated cynically, by a cynical government, as a day of love for the Holy Prophet. Not the smallest ambiguity there as the storm-troopers of the religious parties marched and destroyed what lay in their path.

But let the gangland-style shooting of a young girl happen, who by her outspokenness and courage had become a symbol of resistance against the Swat Taliban, and the walls of ambiguity go up – holy fathers straining to bring in qualifications whose only purpose is to dilute and dampen the enormity of an outrage that, had it occurred in the time of Omar, the Caliph with his own sword, drawn and flaming, would have avenged. The attempted killing of a 14-year old girl: is it so hard to imagine the wrath of Omar?

Can there be a greater insult to Islam, a bigger act of blasphemy, than invoking its sacred name – yes, the name of Islam – to target a young girl? And yet the Taliban spokesman, his name familiar to all of Pakistan by now, exults in the act. Not only that, but vows to strike again if the girl escapes death this time.

And caught between fear and the wages of expediency the holy fathers take refuge behind two-edged statements. The last circle of hell is reserved for hypocrites, no sin in Islam greater than hypocrisy, but hand it to the professors of the faith for fearing nothing, even though their lectures about the hereafter have to be heard to be savoured in their true setting.

What people are we dealing with? The Taliban are men in arms but what code of chivalry animates them? Young and old die in wars but which military code of honour countenances their deliberate murder? Which military code of honour permits the slitting of throats? Our conflicts are puny compared to the great wars of the 20th century. But where in those wars did any side take pride in the calculated, cold-blooded killing of the young and innocent?

And if Islam be the benchmark, pause for a moment and think of the great Khalid bin Waleed, the incomparable Salahuddin: among a long line of distinguished captains of war, and there has been no shortage of great captains in the history of Islam, how would these two have looked upon the attempted assassination of young Malala? If there are occasions where words fail this is one. But listen to the doctors of divinity and one has to admire the complicated layers of their sophistry.

And if in the world of Imran Khan and the leading warriors of the Defence of Pakistan Council (Gen Pasha, thou hast much to answer for) drone attacks is the big issue, is it not worth asking whether the state of Pakistan is in control of the area where these attacks are occurring? Do we control North Waziristan? If we don’t, shouldn’t lost sovereignty be reclaimed first before a violation of sovereignty is alleged?

In North Waziristan, as we have just had occasion to be reminded, even the great Khan dare not enter...nor Hafiz Saeed, he of the fiery creed. But let this be. Is the shooting of Malala revenge for the drone attacks? Yes or no? And if in the dimmest recesses of confusion the answer is no, then why draw the connection and dig up justifications for something beyond justifying?

This is turning into a demented society. Our responses to so many things – and I dare not name all of them – are not rational or normal. This is what we have done to ourselves, the logical culmination of years of playing with fire and manufacturing demons and Frankensteins we should have had sense enough to understand would come to haunt us and become our worst nightmares.

But the past is the past, never to come back. The example of this young girl may just force us to think where a line must be drawn and how, whatever the risks involved, we must stand up for what is right and uplifting and life-giving if this country is to be rescued and we are to leave our sorrows behind. May the angels speed her recovery.


The above article from the The News is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use.