Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan - A sad ordeal
By Iqbal Latif
Most recent news of suicide bombings’ tragic harvest that shows Iraq as number 1, Pakistan number 2 and Afghanistan number 3 (In the number of attacks, Afghans are a little ahead but in number deaths Pakistan is second to Iraq): A region that once stifled renaissance is now on the verge of silencing its second chance of enlightenment. Will these lands ever come out of ignominy?
Pakistan, after Iraq and Afghanistan, has become both a target and a staging ground for terrorism. Pakistan has become as blood-soaked and as dangerous as Iraq. The bombing of Jirga, funeral procession and prayer meetings indicate that the old ‘Pakhtun traditions’ are now compromised as the new breed of suicide bombers and mentors have conceivably taken a cue from the emerging patterns of strife-torn countries like Iraq. This highlights the ugly realization that the world's only nuclear-armed Muslim state now faces a new and growing threat from a resurgent al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies. Figures just released by the country's Ministry of Interior show Pakistan averaged more than one suicide-bomb attack a week in 2007. The number of people killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan doubled to 2,116 last year, as Islamic radicals and pro-Taliban militias increasingly targeted Pakistan's security forces.
Is Islam all about suicide bombing or denial of basic human rights to women and all human beings, and above all, denial of inquiry into human thought processes? The extraordinary logic of Talibans and Alqaeda to kill their own to create ‘chaos’ is defined as ‘fitna.’(sedition-‘fitna’ is the clerics obsessive fear since Islam exist.) Taliban seems to have forgotten the cardinal lesson that Islam’s own renaissance was nipped in the bud by the same kind of reasoning.
It was Baghdad's ‘House of Wisdom’ that bequeathed the Latin version of Aristotle and Plato’s thinking to the Western world; Islamic scholars translated their work from Greek to Arabic and the West got to see those works after they were translated from Arabic to Latin. Cordoba was the seat of learning in the times when west did not know what renaissance was. Islamic renaissance started 400 years ahead of the Western renaissance. It was a tragedy of the greatest magnitude that Islamic renaissance lost its steam once the clergy branded most of the Muslim scholars as heretics.
Zeal to kill is license to destruct, and God never forgives those who take the life of innocents in the name of the Most Merciful and His Prophets. This self-imploding phenomenon is clear indication of the death of revolutions. Death never conquers life - tolerance and progress are two pillars on which humanity has survived through eons. The future lies in the burial of hatred and violence; venom cannot turn into elixir. In very few occasions in Islamic history can one look at great leaps forward to advancement of science and technology; the hallmark of those centuries were tolerant and peaceful nature of the societies.
The extremist fringe has mutilated the true picture of Islam and its historical benevolence and patronage of culture and science. In a bizarre sequence of events, ‘as far as political Islam goes,’ two events triggered (in what was until 1975 a relatively calmer region) the Shiite and Sunni centric extremism we find so rampant today. A study of contemporary history, without going deeper into the causes of Iranian and Afghani backwardness, the twin recents that propelled extreme ideologies of today were: The Iranian Revolution and the Invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan by a dying communist regime. Freedom and tolerance is a lesson that is learnt over centuries and decades. Short spurt of lessons by over-eager enthusiasts with a change of governments in the USA has sparked many a downfall.
President Carter’s modest roots as a peanut farmer and his lack of foresight and historical context of the region expedited not only the exit of the Shah of Iran but also an influx of global green-turbaned extremists in a very explosive region. As an individual, and US as a nation, their insistence on human rights and their decision to demand freedom in Shah’s ‘Savak’ operated state and roll back of the Russian invasion definitely helped the fomenting of the Iranian revolution and rapid Talibinisation. The Iranian Imam, until demands for freedom grew, was ensconced in Najaf, as was OBL in Arabia. The Taliban remained aloof from the world; the over-eagerness to bring them to modern civilisation, albeit a great novel idea, was akin to a ‘newborn’ experimented to grow on a physical trajectory of a gorilla without learning the social structure that needs to be respected in a society. If similarities are extended, then Iraq is also a victim of strategic machinations. Perhaps totalitarian Saddam’s removal was a big miscalculation, maybe freedom and pluralism is not the fate of these nations. There is not a single case of suicide bombing in Iraq pre-invasion. Saddam’s control not only extended to the state, but terrified the minds of people.
Oversimplification is a pitfall we all fall into. I will make an effort to oversimplify some scars of history we suffer from. Perhaps one lesson is clear from our contemporary past: fine tuning the totalitarian governance of this region has been suicidal for the region. With the benefit of hindsight, removal of the Shah, Saddam and Najibullah, all tyrants in one form or another, look to be a faulty strategy. Not to tamper with the region is the best course. Let wafts of freedom and open communication do its trick as populations learn from open waves, but tinkering with liberty, ensuring freedom, heterogeneity of ideas can backfire.
The Western Civilization, from Magna Carta to present day, has not been destruction-free. Dictatorships, tyranny, colonialism, imperialism and unbridled bloodshed has been part of the evolutionary process of today’s West; a West that since Renaissance only continued its attempts to perfect the ideologies of freedom and democracy. Let the Islamic nations evolve and learn from their own renaissance; let them go through the trials and tribulations rather than impose the sophisticated beliefs and principles of the West. The reason that humans are born hapless and need social education until physical maturity is why we don’t mate with our siblings and hence are able to create a society, whereas chimps and gorillas with accelerated growth part have an absolutely different social structure. Societies cannot be forced into toleration and freedom overnight; these slogans expedite destruction. Human mind needs education and familiarity with its surroundings; it evolves positively but some disasters can be avoided by not imposing pluralism where a society is not yet mentally reaped.
The gullibility of human minds cannot be better illustrated by the example of Germans who as recent as in the 1930’s had fallen into the trap of ‘Nazism’ – the most sophisticated of the race from the land of Mozart, Beethoven and Goethe and Immanuel Kant. Taliban entrapment by oil-rich, Arabic-speaking green-turbaned Sheiks has to be seen in this background. Human life, if ensured perpetual conditions of super luxury by blowing themselves apart and that too with a covenant from Allah, then nothing can stop a brainwashed young child from killing hundreds so that he can get his heart’s delights of 70 houries.
Our ‘madrassas’(Islamic seminaries) of today have limited their teaching to theology and shunned scientific progress. Terror and bloodshed in the name of Islam is the complete antithesis of life. Human life has been attached the greatest of importance in the Quran; to take it away in the name of protecting the ideology and practices of the Prophet is a contempt of Islamic thought and principles.
Imam Khomeini’s brand of Islamic revolution produced a natural counter-Sunni revolution once the hundreds of thousands of ‘new Assassins’ who, after the break-up of USSR and freedom of Afghanistan, had no other agenda but to pursue continued ‘Jihad’ against infidels. What a geo- strategist like Brezezinski/Casey failed to grasp was that although the plank of pluralism, freedom and toleration demanded by the USA in Iran and Afghanistan certainly helped destroy the totalitarian Shah regime and did lead to the defeat of USSR, the new emerging political Islam considered freedom of thought as the greatest threat to the Islamic civilisation. The two revolutions helped to instil freedom and democracy produced new mutations and wild ideological freedom. Imam’s Iran has a strange kind of democracy where candidates are vetted for their ideological leanings; and Taliban defines freedom as a lockup of the better half of the population and taking the nation back to conditions that existed 1400 years ago.
The ‘Sheikh of Yemen’ did not appear from a vacuum with its own fiery brand of orthodox Sunnis. The firebrand Taliban and Wahabbi followers after the Afghan victory were ready to resist Imam’s ideological export of the Iranian revolution across the restless population of the Arabian Peninsula and export their brand of revolution to the south of their borders, i.e., Pakistan. Emergence of Taliban and Alqaeda and present instability in Pakistan cannot be studied out of context with the resurgence of Iranian revolution and defeat of USSR.
The recent tragic suicide bombings in Pakistan and Iraq are efforts of Sunni-centric Taliban and Shiite-centric ideologies to install their version of ‘good democratic governance’ in the two countries respectively. Good democratic governance a la Taliban and Imam is a little stretched definition of both democracy and pluralism.
Taliban are more ferocious in their interpretation; they are fighting for freedom to install shariah in their lands and then export that later to the hinterland. Their shortfalls and heavy-handed attitudes have resulted into a backlash by the voters who rejected them in free elections. Their preoccupation with the idea of reincarnation of the Middle Ages’ ‘medieval Islam’ so that hands are chopped freely, women be enslaved is what actually fuels this campaign of suicide-bombing. Icons like Benazir Bhutto are hated for only one reason: she presented freedom and equality of gender, an idea they abhor. In Iran, their brand of democracy revolves around ‘vetted incarcerated minds’ elected to the ‘free parliament.’ (to the extent that Ali Eshraqi, grandson of Khomeini, was not considered puritan enough to pass the hurdle of ideological clarity by the council of Guardians)
My question to Islamic intelligentsia is: What kind of sovereignty is this where minds are vetted for their ideas before they are allowed to participate in governance? This is absolute distortion and should be termed as such. The idea, that most in the Islamic world buy into that Alqaeda, Taliban and Iranian orthodoxy suicide bombings are a backlash against American imperialism and Israeli atrocities, is untenable. None of these suicide targets are legitimate or justifiable targets; harmless mortals and innocents without regard to their ideology do not constitute legitimate targets by law of God as proscribed in Quran.
Islam’s rich inheritance includes the memories of the 'House of Wisdom' in Baghdad in early part of history where persecuted scholars from the Christian and Jewish world found refuge. In fact, the years between 900 and 1200 in Spain and Baghdad are known as the Hebrew Golden Age, a sort of Jewish Renaissance that arose from the fusion of the Arab and Jewish intellectual worlds. Jews watched their Arab counterparts closely and learned to be astronomers, philosophers, scientists, and poets. But this was a time of only partial autonomy.
The war of ideas where Islamic clergy, for its own limited interests, has tried to introduce elements of bigotry and fanaticism in mainstream Islamic thought is not new to Muslim societies. It has made them weak and backward and if it continues in its most dangerous form, such a schism will fragment the country whose only reason to exist as a nation is theological unity of belief. Today, our ‘Dar-ul-ulooms’ are a breeding ground for sectarian terminators. Unless our ‘madrassas’ are redesigned on the pattern of Baghdad’s House of Wisdom and, instead of producing human terminators, we produce men of letters who may recognize how to respect life, the prospects of any nation are bleak. Great nations learn from history; grudges based on history will further soak us in self-destructive streak. In the world of new ideas, any efforts to recreate decadent thoughts and wasted ideas will further draw these nations into self-obliteration and retardation.
Iqbal Latif writes for the Global Politician about Islam and related issues.