Extremism is nobody’s friend. It only deals in might gained from coercion. It does not rest after it has defeated its ideological opponents because then it goes on to destroy even those supporters whom it deems too soft or moderate.
This is an aspect of extremism that a lot of its more ‘moderate’ supporters in Pakistan have not comprehended. Educated men and women can be heard and seen concocting outlandish explanations and justifications in a bid to sympathetically define the economic and political reasons behind religious extremists’ acts of terrorism. What they do not realise is that to the extremists these sympathetic ‘moderates’ are as much infidels as any westerner or a non-Muslim.
It seems many ‘moderate’ Pakistani Muslims who (sometimes rather mindlessly) echo the usual anti-West rhetoric doing the rounds in mosques, madressahs, drawing rooms and TV studios do so for two reasons. Interestingly however, I believe, a firm embracing of the ideology of the extremists is the least of these. Because one either has to be clinically insane (like a suicide bomber) or stark, raving stupid (like Faisal Shahazad) to fall for such an ideology.
The other reason is the most prominent though. It has something to do with a state of mind that is a culmination of fear, ignorance and guilt. Thanks to the maliciously tempered history taught to us of Islam and Pakistan in our schools and colleges, I have noticed that very few young Pakistanis have any ability left in them to question (in an informed manner) what is dished to them by the courts, the state, the clerics and the televangelists as ‘Islam’ and ‘nationalism.’ This, despite the availability of a vast treasure of knowledge available in bookstores and libraries with which a questioning mind can easily puncture the spew of lies, half-truths and myths spun into the nation’s collective psyche—all in the name of defending the country’s Islamic heritage and the so-called ideology.
Some ten years ago when Islamic evangelists were out in force asking Pakistanis to stop saying Khuda hafiz and replace it with Allah hafiz, no ‘moderate’ bothered to ask them why. They heard the word ‘Allah’ and that was it. No questions asked. So naturally, the same social preachers then got enough leverage to continue, asking Pakistanis to stop saying wa-alaikum salaam to non-Muslims who greet them with asalamalaikum.
These are trivial nuances but the sort that go a long way in gradually turning society into an intolerant whole that some men and women would like Pakistan to become. Their weapon is distorted history unquestioningly understood as correct by a majority of Pakistanis. Learned, rational and modern Muslim leaders and intellectuals like Jinnah, Iqbal and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan — the three main icons behind what became the ‘Pakistan Movement’ — have gradually been turned into myopic near-fanatics with a blind hatred of Hindus. These great men are taught in schools as being the original purveyors of a theocratic state, a notion that has no roots in reality whatsoever.
Historians of note, such as K.K. Aziz, Dr. Mubarak Ali and Asiq H. Batalvi who have convincingly rubbished the history taught in schools peddled by the state and its right-wing allies, have been sidelined. A concerted effort to subdue and repress the rationalist Islamic scholars of yore and today has been underway by organs pushing in narratives of traditionalist religious scholars (Khurshid Ahmed, Maryam Jameelah), political Islamists (Maududi) and even some obvious crackpots (Amir Liaquat, Zaid Hamid), to portray a highly aggressive, xenophobic and militant image and understanding of Islam, especially in the context of Pakistan.
Through decades of disseminating glorious fantasies and myths about what a Pakistani Muslim is to believe and behave like, advocators of a hybrid version of faith and national ideology—in which conservative and traditionalist understanding of the faith is updated by a myopic and paranoid understanding of modern society—have been successful in turning much of society into an unquestioning, knee-jerk mass. This mob has little or no capacity to think beyond what is handed out as faith and patriotism.
What goes missing in such a society is the ability to think and reflect. Its knee-jerk applause for popular Islamist causes and conservative social behaviour make it a society that is both fodder and food for nihilism—all in the glorious name of jihad, patriotism and good morals. This misplaced understanding of nationalism and religion is not only the vocation of crackpots and the clerics, but can now be found in the courts of law, intelligence agencies, the military and elected politicians alike.
Their propagated goals are the supposed Islamisation and sovereignty of the Pakistani state. But the truth is, so far the many actions taken to achieve this goal have only managed to continue making society collapse inwards, and gradually turn Pakistan into a kind of forbidden island whose inhabitants simply refuse to give up (ideological) cannibalism, even if this means their existential, economic and diplomatic exclusion from the rest of the world.