Friday, December 28, 2007

The Time to Act is Now

Here is a courageous call for a unified front to oppose violence. This is no small armchair call from a distance. Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad, professor of Political Science at Hampton University, Hampton, VA, writes from directly on the scene. The following is written while IN Ilsamabad for the national newspaper in Pakistan:

The Time to Act is Now

Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad*

Benazir Bhutto challenged the extremists and terrorists among us and paid for it with her life. The question is: Is there anyone else among the Pakistani politicians who can stand up to them and make the fight against extremist elements as a top priority?

True, Benazir acted a little imprudently by endorsing the military action against the Ghazi brothers of Lal Masjid in July this year. But, in principle, her stand on the rising tide of extremist violence was courageous, whatever the motives.

We may differ on the genesis of terrorism and political violence that has gripped the nation in recent years. We may also have different views on how to deal with this menace. But the time is now for all political parties, and especially for religious political parties and the ulama, to come out publicly, and forcefully, to condemn this senseless violence and send a clear message to the militants that the nation is united against them.

Terrorists and militants have thrived on a tacit understanding that they enjoy a degree of support among the people for their violent actions both as a result of the prevalent anti-Americanism and anti-Musharraf sentiments.

The time has come to tell them that the popular resentment against the US-led global war on terrorism and the policies of the present government will not gain any sympathy for their gruesome murders, suicide attacks on security forces and innocent civilians, and intimidation of people in the name of Shariah.

Those of us who do not endorse the current strategy pursued by the US and the Pakistan authorities to fight against militancy may continue to voice our disagreement with such strategies that have not produced any positive results so far. But no one should give the militants the satisfaction that by opposing the policies of the US and President Musharraf people also support their murderous agenda.

When the bomb blasts by some religious fanatics ripped Bangladesh in 63 out of its 64 districts on the same day in August 2005, the entire nation was united in condemning these horrible acts of violence. More importantly, the first to come forward were the Bangladeshi ulama of all schools of thought – since the violence was committed in the name of jihad and Islam – and condemned all kinds of political violence and suicide attacks as un-Islamic. In May this year, more than 250 Bangladeshi Deobandi ulama gathered in one of the largest madrassa in Northern Bangladesh and passed a unanimous resolution condemning suicide bombing as un-Islamic, howsoever just the cause may be of the perpetrators.

The time is now for the religious parties and the ulama of Pakistan to similarly disassociate jihad and Islam from the suicide attacks and political violence and deprive the extremists of the Islamic legitimacy on which they seek to justify their heinous acts.

Egypt in the 1990s was similarly gripped with religiously-inspired violence. What really ended the reign of terror in Egypt were not the high-handed and equally violent tactics of President Hosni Mubarak but the popular disgust against, and abhorrence of, senseless violence, especially by the mainstream Islamic groups. Bereft of Islamic legitimacy and popular support, the militants withered away, left with no ideological locus standi and no place to hide.

The Islamic political parties and the ulama failed to take the lead to resolve the Lal Masjid crisis which subsequently led to a bloody showdown with numerous innocent lives lost. They watched the looming crisis sitting on the sidelines until the lines were drawn and it was too late to be effective. Some among them left for London during the most critical time in the negotiations between the Ghazi brothers and the government, from where they issued empty threats and shallow sermons.

But it is still not too late for them – and for other civil society groups – to prevent further bloodshed and anarchy in the country. Only they can delegitimize the socio-cultural and ideological infrastructure that the radical Islamic groups have been able to put together in recent years in the name of jihad and Islam.

The time is now to challenge the religio-ideological claims of extremists. The complacency of the mainstream Islamic groups for political expediency or any other reason will most likely lay the ideological foundations of a new generation of radicalized Muslims youth, threatening the already fragile edifice of the moderate center. Once the extremists have a monopoly on Islamic discourse, the mainstream Islamic groups are the ones that will become the obvious target of their righteous rage.

The time to act is now!

* Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad is a Professor of Political Science at Hampton University, Hampton, VA, USA

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