Many Pakistanis Side with the Taliban against Malala

21 07 2013

Malala_Yousafzai_addresses_UN_295x200
Pakistani Taliban Swat

Malala Yousefzai wrote and delivered an outstanding speech at the United Nations last week.  Yet, many in the cyber world of comments, tweeting, and hot air dispensing were not only dissatisfied, but missed the heart of her message completely.  Instead, many nitpicked about how she should have done X, Y, or Z, and not A, B, or C, including, among many other criticisms, supposedly her failure to sufficiently glorify Islam and/or the Prophet Muhammad.  This is very typical of myopic Muslims who time and again fail to receive important messages as the one Malala is conveying, and instead focus on – no, obsess about – the trivial and peripheral nonsense that they can pick on endlessly like mindless vultures.  Why do we bother pondering the reasons why the Muslim world is not progressing?  If only they would actually take her advice about getting a decent education and using their intellect for the greater good!  But that might be asking too much.  It’s much more convenient to blame others for all your problems.

Pakistan is already overflowing with conspiracy theories pertaining to Malala’s UN sponsorship for the speech.  Some ridiculous conjectures include CIA support for her activism, and even farfetched suggestions that the CIA is the one that actually shot her in the head in order to “make Pakistan look bad.”  Let’s be frank here, does Pakistan really need outside help to look any worse?  It’s not exactly the best example for “good governance” for the past decades, and some would even say since the country’s birth.  Besides, blaming outside forces for all their woes is really getting old.  And, let’s stoop to yet a deeper low and chastise a young girl for what – getting shot in the head?  For taking a refreshingly nonviolent stand against extremism and ignorance?  For initiating activism for girls’ education in Pakistan?  Yes, she deserves to be shot for all that, some actually would say!

Then came the letter to Malala from a high-ranking Taliban commander, which could not possibly be out of embarrassment.  The Taliban are not known for being embarrassed about anything they do.  Clearly, he saw a PR disaster as a result of Malala’s global stature.  According to the New York Times, the 4-page letter – “was signed by the militant Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani Air Force officer who took part in an attempt to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf a decade ago and escaped from prison last year, in the biggest jailbreak in Pakistani history.”  Yes, he is an esteemed character indeed, and he represents a segment of Pakistan’s armed forces no less.  What exactly does he want to convey to Malala?

Adnan Rashid explains in the letter that the Taliban shot Malala, not because of her activism and advocacy for girls’ education, but rather her “smear campaign” against the Taliban.  He admonishes “English” education and then he says:

“I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pushtoon culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah, use your pen for Islam and plight of Muslim ummah and reveal the conspiracy of tiny elite who want to enslave the whole humanity for their evil agendas in the name of new world order.”

The Taliban enslaved the Swat Valley, using brutality and force against locals to comply with their distorted policies.  The Taliban never hesitate to kill, maim, and brutalize civilians, and in his own words, they can’t even take criticism (i.e., “Malala’s smear campaign”) from a teenager!  By his own admission, the Taliban shot her in the head because she criticized them.  And, he claims the assassination attempt had nothing to do with her education advocacy, but yet he emphasizes that she must attend only a female madrassa that teaches nothing useful for individual and social progress and development.

Exactly which ‘ummah’ is he talking about?  Is it the one in which Shias, Ahmadis, and other sectarian and religious minorities are not only excluded, but even violently persecuted?  Is it the one in which schoolgirls get acid thrown in their faces for daring to get an education?   Is it the puritanical ummah that hates and fears females and anyone and any ideology that does not conform to its own brand?  Is it the ummah that is being forced on civilians at gunpoint and with threats of beheadings and amputations?  Is it that great ummah in which the Taliban carry out suicide bombings killing scores of civilians, in order to impose their own “new world order”?  Hypocrisy thy name is the Taliban!

The greater travesty is that many in Pakistan are embracing the Taliban’s messages and reactions.  The fact that the Taliban’s asinine victimization claims are touching a chord in Pakistani society, to the extent that many are reviling Malala, is a deeply troubling commentary about the state of affairs in Pakistan.

Pakistan is afflicted with much more than just geopolitical complexities; it is clearly in deep psychological crisis and confusion about its national identity, internal contradictions, violent dissent, and the rise and empowerment of militancy, extremism, and militarism in nearly all aspects of society.  Many Pakistanis obsess with blaming outside forces for all their troubles, yet they ignore their self-inflicted social ills, including violent misogyny, debilitating poverty, and gross corruption and incompetence of political leaders.  The greatest casualty in all this social/psychological turmoil is something so basic and essential to survival and progress:  common sense.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed are personal.

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The Need for Intellectual Jihad

28 04 2013

jihad                      Islam Rational Thinking

The Islamic world has been suffering an intellectual crisis in the modern era since the decline of the Ottoman Empire.  This has accounted for the intellectual malaise and stagnation found internally within the Islamic umma, or community at large.  While this stagnation has occurred, those voices of reason and intellect that have tried to stimulate and resuscitate an ‘intellectual jihad’ within the umma have not only been stifled, but outright repressed and marginalized by the orthodoxy.  They’ve been silenced, bullied, and threatened.  Rational thinking has been banished; unquestioning compliance with the orthodoxy and blind dogma have become the order of the day and the status quo, even today.  Intellectual jihad has been defeated, but it has not been tossed in the dustbin just yet.  Intellectual jihad must be revived.  The Boston bombings are only one of many ominous signs of the dangers of repressing intellectual jihad and rational thinking.

One voice that strongly urged the Islamic umma to undertake the ‘intellectual jihad’ was the late Professor Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), originally from Pakistan.  He was exiled for speaking for rational thinking and against fanaticism and fundamentalism, which were on the rise in Pakistan.  Professor Rahman wrote many books and articles, and his book, Islam (1979), in particular explains the sources of fundamentalism and fanaticism in puritanical Islamic movements, since early Islamic history to the post-colonial era.  His advocacy for ‘intellectual jihad’ remained marginalized, while the voices and power of the puritanical orthodoxy in the umma became popularized.  Violent jihadism has managed to eclipse what used to be considered “the Greater Jihad,” that of struggling for self-improvement.  Intellectual jihad is yet another vein in Islamic exegesis and the need for reinterpretation in order to adjust to modernity, which has for too long remained suppressed.

The puritanical orthodoxy, then, has perpetuated intellectual stagnation and impeded the much-needed Islamic renaissance and reformation in the modern era.  The spread of harmful, intolerant ideologies, such as Wahhabism and Salafism, are documented sources of indoctrination into violent jihadism.  Online and satellite TV self-proclaimed clerics, who are usually uneducated in Islam and Classical Arabic, have easy access to impressionable Muslims, appealing to their emotions.  Rational thinking never enters their spheres and domains.  Counter-terrorism strategies need to address the source of the problem – these clerics, their messages, and the dangerous emotive ideologies they profess – rather than dealing reactively with just the symptoms.

Islamic schools usually teach rote memorization of the Quran, without understanding the meanings of the verses.  Classical Quranic Arabic is difficult even for native Arabic speakers, because it’s an obsolete and extremely difficult language.  Religious seminaries do not encourage questioning.  Memorizing verses, but failing to understand them, and also authoritatively forbidding any questioning of the curricula, all constitute a recipe for disaster.  Such curricula will never lead a student to a comprehensive education with competent skills for a viable career, nor would such students be contributing anything to social progress.

Muslims and Islamic religious authorities bear the responsibility to support and promote intellectual jihad and rational thinking.  This is imperative, and without such reformation those embracing the violent form of jihad will continue to capitalize on its use of violence and terror.  Hence, the proponents of violent jihad will continue to perpetuate insecurity, and governments will continue to react with harsher constraints on civil liberties and rights.  The vicious cycle will revolve indefinitely.

Religious reform is embodied in the intellectual form of jihad.  Given that religion and politics are not separate in Islam, such reform is imperative for facilitating progressive intellectual, spiritual, and political discourses.  One of the methodologies of Islamic jurisprudence is ijtihad, which is ‘reinterpretation,’ or ‘original thinking,’ applying reasoning and analytical thought to Islamic laws and principles.  Ijtihad allows for change and reform, without modifying the essence of Islamic principles and laws.  In modern history, ijtihad has been static, as the ultra-orthodox religious authorities and institutions have suppressed the process of change, which has been urgently needed in order to adjust to modernity.  In the field it’s said, “the gate of ijtihad has closed.”  Hence, Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism have predominated in modern history.  But is the gate truly closed, or is it blockaded by unsavory forces?  And if it’s closed, at least it is not locked!

It’s worth examining Fazlur Rahman’s forthright assessment of Islam and the roots of fundamentalism and fanaticism, and heeding his caveats and recommendations.  Otherwise, violent jihadism will continue to hijack Islam and perpetuate the worst that criminal behavior can offer.  It’s in no one’s interest to allow that to happen.

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed are personal.