Playing with fire

By Khalid Hasan

On any given day, you may go through the pages of any Urdu newspaper published in Pakistan and it is unlikely you will come across many voices of moderation. The hysteria that you see in the streets today has been nurtured by what you read in print here. The language is belligerent and the appeal is directed at our most primeval instincts.

A good deal of the intellectual and ideological confusion that grips the nation today is largely the work of these holy warriors who see themselves as crusaders in print. They thunder forth as the defenders of a faith which they claim is under challenge from the infidels, not realizing that the course they advocate leads to the abyss. Their understanding of Islam is superficial and sentimental.

If there are any balanced and liberal voices in the Urdu press, they are few and far between. One such is that of the former left-wing student leader Raja Anwar who writes for an Islamabad daily, a lone advocate of what increasingly looks like a lost cause. Just before the US military action got underway in Afghanistan, he wrote a piece that deserves a wider readership.

The reaction he received was "extreme", physical threats included. The truth is that if we are to be saved from the zealots who are urging that Pakistan go down the tubes with the Taliban, we need to turn away from these siren voices and take stock of our situation. What follows is a somewhat shortened version in translation of what Anwar wrote.

"In 1991, after invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein challenged America. Our Punjabi intellectuals, lost in the wilderness of the past, immediately conferred the title of Salahuddin Ayyubi on him. Our intellectually paralytic media lost no time in coming with the 'research' finding that Saddam was born in the same village as the great Islamic warrior. In the days that followed, our newspaper columns turned into battlefields where new Crusades were fought. The result of that war was the utter destruction of Iraq and the permanent military presence of American troops in Arab lands.

"Whosoever attacked the World Trade Centre on the morning of September 11 not only turned thousands of living human beings into ashes but threw a noose around every Islamic country, including Pakistan, that will only get tighter with every attempt to move in the other direction. Only after the dust has settled, will we know what we lost on that fateful morning. One thing however is clear. The worst victims of this event are the nations of Islam. That notwithstanding, some Punjabi intellectuals, with no interest whatsoever in facts, are raring to go like frenzied bulls.

"They are not even aware that our country is already in the greatest jeopardy. They are busy dressing up Islam in an attire that has no relationship to history or Islamic teachings. A friend in London has sent me an 'Edict' from someone named Bilal which says that all countries that were once ruled by Muslims continue to belong to them. It is, therefore, our birthright not only to occupy those lands but also to enslave their inhabitants.

"In other words, this gentleman, safely ensconced in London, has transferred the overlordship of all lands once ruled by Arabs, Berbers, Ottomans and Tartars to the gallants of Punjab. I suppose it is also now incumbent upon us to reconquer parts of the Balkans and Russia. It will also be our duty to reclaim all areas in old Cathay right up to the "dust of Kashgar". As for Spain, victory is at hand.

"As I write, twenty to twenty-five thousand Punjabi eagles of the 'shaheen' variety are waiting to gain political asylum in Spain, having already taken care to burn their boats. The day this advance guard gets hold of the right papers, Spain will be ours. However, the reconquest of India may pose certain difficulties as the last time it was taken by a Muslim was when Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodhi, also a Muslim. So who will take it this time? Babar's descendents or Lodhi's?

"Who will explain to Bilal that Islam brought a message of peace, justice and equality for mankind that springs forth from the Quran? How does our being Muslim also oblige us to swear allegiance to the history of Berbers, Khiljis, Mongols, Turks, Uzbeks, Ghaznavis and Tajiks? They fought their wars mostly against each other. How have they become Islam's wars? And how do the areas that kept changing hands among them become our patrimony?

"The history of Muslim countries proves that Islam was damaged less by Jews, Christians and Hindus than by inter-Muslim wars for power and pelf. Is there a count available of the Iranians who lost their lives during Reza Shah's White Revolution of 1952 and Ayatollah Khomenei's Islamic Revolution of 1979? From Abdel Karim Kassem to Saddam Hussein, every Iraqi ruler murdered hundreds of thousands of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias. They were all Muslims. More than one million innocent Muslims lost their lives in the Iran-Iraq war while we continued to parade around with Saddam and Khomeni's pictures, raising slogans.

"In 1966, Suharto took the presidential palace over the fallen bodies of 250,000 Indonesian Muslims, a number far higher than those who died fighting for the country's freedom. The number of Palestinians killed by King Hussain in September 1970 was higher than the number of those who have been killed by Israelis.

"Muslims killed in Pakistan at the hands of our Muslim police, or in terrorist attacks in Karachi or during sectarian bloodbaths elsewhere is much higher than the number of those killed in 1971 in East Pakistan. Afghanistan has been a virtual battlefield over the last twenty years. Afghan leaders who keep declaring each another outside Islam's pale are guilty of the destruction of millions of Muslim lives.

"In 1982, Hafiz Al-Asad killed 10,000 Sunni men, women and children. Not satisfied with that, he levelled their city of Hama to the ground. And yet all his life, he kept calling for war against Israel.

"More Muslims have died in Algeria in the last decade than fell in the revolutionary war against France. Muslims massacred on the altar of power in Bosnia, Chechnya, Palestine and Kashmir outnumber those who died there fighting for their freedom.

"We are Pakistanis. The day this earth which we find under our feet today is no longer there, no Muslim country will offer us refuge. If you do not believe this, all you have to do is to visit any Arab country and you will find that despite our being Muslims, no Arab country grants us citizenship or equal rights. In no Arab country can we construct a home or even open a barbershop, though we may have resided there for thirty years.

"There are more than fifty Muslim countries in the world. They all have their own armies, their own cultures, their own problems and their own resources. Some are rich; others are poor like us. Our great burden is our debt. Is there a Muslim country that is willing to help us with this load? If the answer is no, then please for God's sake, do not make this country the last refuge of every fugitive from law. Do not make it an experimental laboratory for Mullahism. Do not turn it into a battling ground of sectarianism.

"Someone should ask these Hamid Guls, Nasim Begs and Qazi Hussain Ahmeds just one question. Where is to be found the 'Ummah' that you are so keen to lead?

"Or is it only to be found in Punjab where so deep is religious hatred today that Shia and Sunni cannot live under the same roof and Wahabis and Baralevis cannot pray in the same mosque.

"The Gujjars, Jats, Arains and Rajputs no longer want to live in the same village. Or will we find that Ummah in the desert of Sindh where every fourth or fifth Mohajir, Sindhi, Pathan and Punjabi is out to cut the next man's throat? Or is that Ummah to be found in the Frontier and Balochistan where loyalties stop at tribal territorial limits?

Who is going to unite the Ummah that despite its belief in one God, one Prophet (peace by upon him) and one Book is divided into 72 sects?"For God's sake, have mercy on this land and its people. Instead of placing guns in its children's hands, arm them with science and technology.

Instead of slashing one another's throat, unburden the nation of its crippling debt. Instead of dreaming dreams of the conquest of Russia, Spain and Kashgar, show us a way which will make this Pakistan of ours strong and prosperous. There are fires burning all around us today. How long will we keep our head buried in the sands of the past so as not to face reality? Those who are playing with fire to attain power, may end up being consumed by it. And they may take the country with them."