Monday, May 17, 2010

      VIEW: The fountainhead of religious extremism -Yasser Latif Hamdani

       Pakistan will have to undo the Maududian infiltration of its state and 
society. It means liberating our campuses of organisations like the IJT. It 
means purging the state and its machinery of elements that are furthering the 
Jamaat's hate-filled agenda

      My article last week on Faisal Shahzad's radicalisation elicited 
unprecedented response on the issue of Islamic organisations operating in the 
US, thereby necessitating this sequel. There are things that need to be said 
before it is all too late.

      Faisal Shahzad's e-mail to the "peaceful ummah" as published in the New 
York Times ( 
leaves no doubt about Shahzad's state of mind. It was his association with 
Islamic organisations in the West that transformed him into a global jihadist 
in the classical Qutbian mould. His language, his denunciation of the West and 
of hypocritical governments in Pakistan, his appeal to "Khilafah" had all the 
fingerprints of a campus or a local Islamic body, possibly one infiltrated by 
the Hizb ut-Tahrir and/or global activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). 

      All this however should not mean that we should shut ourselves off from 
the reality of religious extremism in our own neck of the woods. The lashkars 
and the mujahideen Pakistan's cynical and wretched establishment prepared 
against the Soviets, with American blessing, are obviously one part of the 
overall story. Religious extremism in Pakistan has a sordid history, one of the 
state's constant retreat in the face of religious parties - the same religious 
parties that had opposed the very creation of Pakistan - and horrible 
compromises with extremist and fascist elements. 

      To recap, Islamic religious organisations have been part of the political 
landscape of the subcontinent ever since Indian independence leader Mahatma 
Gandhi brought them into politics under the guise of the Islamist 'Khilafat 
Movement'. It bears repeating that when Gandhi first encouraged Islamic 
religious clerics for his own anti-imperialist goals, the lone dissenting voice 
of reason was that of Pakistan's founding father Jinnah who told Gandhi not to 
bring "unwholesome elements into public life". Yet it is Pakistan - ironically 
- that has come to be associated with the same unwholesome elements today. 

      After partition, religious extremism in Pakistan reared its ugly head 
when Majlis-e-Ahrar, a vociferously anti-Pakistan Islamic party during 
pre-partition days and an erstwhile ally of Gandhi, in 1953 started its 
campaign of terror against a hapless sectarian minority with the help of 
another witchdoctor of dubious history, i.e. Maulana Maududi, who till then had 
become completely irrelevant after his opposition to Jinnah and the Muslim 
League. To the credit of Pakistan's judiciary, it swiftly handed down a death 
sentence for the person who is singlehandedly responsible in providing the 
ideological foundations for not just the Islamisation in Pakistan but the 
global Islamic jihad.

      Nevertheless the Maulana's sentence was commuted and it is Pakistan that 
has suffered as a result. Subsequent to commutation, his book, Islam and 
Communism, was picked up, reprinted and distributed allegedly by CIA's JI desk 
all over the Muslim world. The idea was to use Maududian extremism to stiffen 
resistance against Soviet expansionism. It is therefore ironic that the JI, 
Maulana Maududi's enduring creature, which in 1977 received funds from quarters 
in the US to overthrow the increasingly pro-Soviet Bhutto, is today the bastion 
of anti-Americanism. Wonders never cease. 

      The fountainhead of religious extremism in our country is Mansoora, the 
headquarters of the JI, in Lahore. Unless Pakistan and the US seriously take a 
look at the activities of the JI, any meaningful progress in stopping extremism 
feeding this terror will be impossible. The JI actively works on Pakistan's 
largest university campuses to spread its doctrine of hate and bigotry not just 
against other countries such as the US but religious and sectarian minorities 
in Pakistan. Its student wing, the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba (IJT) is modelled 
after the National Socialist Party. The JI seeks to infiltrate the army, the 
air force and the civil bureaucracy to weaken the state's resolve against 
extremism in Pakistan. Key members of the JI sit in departments such as 
education introduce nothing but poison in Pakistan's young minds. 

      The JI's mouthpiece, the Daily Ummat, is full of (fifth) columnists who 
advocate not just extremism but open violence against minorities. Maududi has 
inspired a generation of Islamists globally. His exegesis of the Holy Quran is 
widely read and followed by the Salafi Islamic order, predominantly found in 
the West and the main source of terrorism in the name of religion. Along with 
Sayyid Qutb of Egypt, Maududi remains the most widely read Islamist ideologue 
for relatively more affluent Muslims in the west. Within Pakistan too, the 
target audience is the middle class. It is, therefore, not uncommon to find 
inter-city bus services advertising during their in-coach entertainment the 
publications containing "sagacity and wisdom that defeated Communism, 
Secularism and Capitalism, which flowed from the pen of Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid 
Maududi" (direct translation). In the triumphalist Islamist narrative, Qutb and 
Maududi are prophets without parallel. 

      Pakistan - if it is serious about tackling terrorism - will also have to 
undo the Maududian infiltration of its state and society. It means liberating 
our campuses of organisations like the IJT. It means purging the state and its 
machinery of elements that are furthering the Jamaat's hate-filled agenda 
instead of doing their job. The time has come to take stock of the damage this 
body of conspiratorial and bigoted men has done repeatedly to the body politic 
of Pakistan. 

      It must be remembered, for those who still care about the reasons why we 
made this country in the first place, that Jinnah's Pakistan and Maududi's 
Pakistan are mutually exclusive. Pakistan must decide here and now: do we wish 
to make Pakistan a prosperous and democratic state, which is at peace home and 
abroad ala Jinnah? Or do we wish to make Pakistan a violent dystopia run by 
maniacs and religious extremists with twisted ideas about religion ala Maududi?

      The former route shall save us a lot of heartbreak and humiliation. The 
latter will ultimately lead to our destruction.

      Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He can be reached at

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