Nadeem Paracha: Can’t be us, or can it?

On the day of the devastating terrorist attack on the Ashura procession in Karachi, the MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, pleaded for a complete boycott of those political parties and personnel who he believed were supporting the Taliban.

Leaders of other secular political parties such as the PPP and the ANP and members of the liberal intelligentsia too have been expressing their concerns about certain political and TV personalities who are said to be mouthing loud, sympathetic sentiments for the Taliban. It must be asked: what does it mean to be an educated, pro-Taliban entity in a modern, urban setting? 

To begin with, the question is riddled with an obvious dichotomy. How can a person or a party in a modern, urban setting sympathise with a set of mountain men who are completely detached from reason and humanity; and whose idea of an Islamic state is actually a stony religious emirate built on the slain bodies of thousands of men, women and children, and a scruffy, violent romanticism derived from glorious myths about jihad, martyrdom and battles?

Well, supposedly educated men and women can regularly be seen on TV and heard in drawing rooms, passionately giving an economic twist to the shameful ways of the extremists. They say it is economic exploitation and lack of economic opportunities in the rugged areas of Pakhtunkhwa that have forced the locals to take up arms. But if this is true, then are these the only people in Pakistan hit by exploitation and poverty? 

One can come across even worse cases of poverty in the widespread slums of urban Pakistan. This poverty has given birth to all sorts of crime and even a few protest movements, but how many of these people have decided to blow up whole markets and mosques packed with people; and that too, in the name of God? The so-called economic argument by the Taliban sympathisers does not bode well with their supposedly educated dispositions. But then the question arises: what is their education made of? 

Many intellectuals and scholars have constantly lamented the volatile content that exists in the many Pakistan Studies books that have been used in both government and private schools ever since the 1971 East Pakistan debacle and, more so, since the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship. 

These scholars have systematically criticised these books for glorifying jihad and hatred (against both non-believers as well as those Muslims who do not follow a narrow and myopic rendition of Islam). Instead of telling history as a linear narrative based on authentic sources, these books read like badly written fairy tales oozing with half-truths and obvious distortions. 

The space here does not allow one to analyse the number of such ‘history books’ being taught in Pakistani schools, so I will take a single example in this respect to hit home the point. The Illustrated History of Islam by Abdul Rauf is an example. Published in 1993, it is said to be offered by schools as an ‘important side reading’. The cover is a watercolour painting depicting a Muslim warrior on horseback, wielding a heavy sword against what, I’m sure, are infidels.

Not surprisingly, the book uncritically uses the usual (and clearly polemical) Arab sources (that started emerging some two to three hundred years after Islamic conquests). Insisting on portraying the religion as a culturally homogenous entity (with all other variations being heretical innovations), the author, it seems, uses a war drum instead of a thoughtful pen to jot down his thoughts. 

Then, as is typical of such history books, the author laments the downfall of the Muslim empire and squarely bases the reasons of this downfall on the theological innovations of Muslims that made them move away from true Islam and indulge in luxurious living and social laxities of the infidels. Of course, the author never touches upon the stark economic and political reasons that can explain the fall of empires in a more rational and thoughtful manner. That would require a pen, instead of the sword he seems to be using here. 

My favourite section of the book is a sub-chapter called ‘The Four Anti-Islam Elements.’ This is what the author writes: “Currently Islam faces grave dangers from the following four elements: Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists.” In other words, everyone who’s not Muslim is a threat to Islam. 

If such are the books being taught to children, is there any element of surprise left in watching certain TV personalities, politicians and their largely urban middle-class fans nodding in uncritical approval to what is simply a convoluted charade peddled as history and analysis? 

The scary thing is, the bulk of young, educated middle-class men and women are lapping up these one-dimensional and black and white ‘historical’ tirades, and then using them to understand the issue of terrorism and extremism haunting Pakistan. No wonder then that even in the face of some stark proofs of the local Taliban’s involvement in terrorist attacks and religious coercion, our minds, as if on hypnotic cue, shut down and let the irrational instincts studded with paranoia and denial rule the roost.

‘Can’t be us’, becomes the mantra. Has to be some Christians/ Jewish/ Hindu or other such ‘anti-Islam’ abomination.

This column was originally published in Dawn on 10 January 2010.

One thought on “Nadeem Paracha: Can’t be us, or can it?

  1. I really love Nadeem Paracha’s columns. He is so clear headed and humanistic. There is urgent need to scrap many of these history and text books. We need to undo all the legacies of Ziaul Haq era. I don’t think that Nawaz Sharif will be inclined to do it. But PPP, now in power, can bring sanity by eliminating these legacies.

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