Set The Priorities Right

Gulf News, July 11, 2007

The siege at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) and the recent thwarted terrorist attacks in London involving an Iraqi-born doctor are the latest symptoms of what ails the Muslim world.

Unwilling to take stock of the causes of its decline, the global Muslim community is trapped between the rhetoric of thoughtless radical clerics, the hate and anger of their violence-prone followers and the opportunistic behaviour of governments lacking legitimacy.

The clerics of Lal Masjid encouraged their students to impose their brand of Islam through vigilante actions. Their oratory is similar to the hate-filled preaching of other self-styled jihadist Islamists such as Shaikh Omar Bakri Mohammad and Abu Hamza Al Masri of London, and Abu Bakr Basheer of Indonesia.

At the heart of these clerics’ world view is an incorrect diagnosis of contemporary Muslim humiliation and weakness.

The current state of the Ummah – the Muslim community of believers – is the result of a failure to keep up with knowledge, science and technology, modern means of wealth generation and evolved systems of political and social organisation.

But the rhetoric of the radicals attributes the Muslims’ decline to the rise and power of the West and recommends random violence as a means of levelling the global playing field.

Instead of recognising the need to modernise the Muslim world, the jihadists claim they can Islamise the modern world through furious speeches and violence.

The opportunism of rulers lacking in legitimacy further aggravates the tragedy caused for the Muslim world by radical clerics and their ill-motivated followers.

For several months, Musharraf’s military regime did little to stop Lal Masjid from becoming a radical stronghold.

Pakistan’s ubiquitous intelligence agencies clearly failed to correctly estimate the strength of armed men and potential suicide bombers holed up in it and the library occupied by the Pakistani Taliban.

Real problem

The fact that Pakistani intelligence operatives have been found tapping the Chief Justice’s telephone and taking pictures inside his home reveals the real problem of the Musharraf regime.

Its priorities are misplaced. If the energy spent on spying on judges and political opponents was focused on finding and fighting Islamist extremists and terrorists, the situation at Lal Masjid would have been pre-empted.

Musharraf is simply muddling through, instead of evolving a clear vision backed by a coherent strategy that makes Pakistan a normal (as opposed to a troubled) state.

Musharraf’s government is not alone in allowing menace to lurk as part of a grand design to convince the international community that the authoritarian ruler alone can keep the lid on a perilous pressure cooker.

Other governments in the Muslim world have engaged in similar patterns of behaviour, alternately nourishing and fighting extremism with little regard for the long-term consequences. As a result of these rulers’ self-serving attitudes the crisis of the Muslim world continues to deepen.

Radical Islamists often claim that “Islam is in danger”. But this danger comes primarily from terrorism, economic and knowledge poverty of Muslims and lack of progress that prevents Muslims from being equal partners in the contemporary world.