Blog Page 23

The Boko Haram Ideology Unveiled

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The Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said that there is no point trying to negotiate with Boko Haram militants, as they are “ideologically bankrupt”. I would beg to disagree- Boko Haram do have an ideology- it is merely a fascist one. Fascism over centuries has taken different guises. It has in past cloaked itself in a caste system, at times in racial supremacy but at present it has shrouded itself in religion.

Boko Haram Flogging
Boko Haram in action

A deconstruction of the Boko Haram ideology is presented herein to better understand their viewpoint. For only if they are understood properly, they can be dealt in the right manner. Engagement with them is needed on two fronts, physical and ideological.

Elements of Boko Haram Ideology

Following features are the essential components of every fascist ideology:

  1. Sense of injustice
  2. Perception of being the chosen one
  3. Discriminator of  being with us or against us
  4. Impression of right to have the right to rule
  5. Methodology of end justifying the means
  6. Reign of terror

While other movements may have one or more of these features, it is the cocktail of all six that makes any ideology dangerous.

A prevalent sense of injustice is the foundation of every fascist movement. The followers are constantly reminded of their grievances.  All their failures, political, social or financial are associated with them being been wronged by others while their own shortcomings are ignored. Their reading of the world is based on either conspiracy theories or distorted facts.  Coining one conspiracy theory to explain the other is a self-perpetuating viscous circle that ignores the bare facts, dismisses conventional wisdom and develops a siege mentality.

Once the siege mentality is created, seeds of self-supremacy are sown. It is drummed that order, peace, prosperity and justice can be only achieved by them, the chosen ones. They are the custodians of what is true and right.  World is portrayed corrupt and it dwellers are classified sub-humans, non- Aryans, gentiles, infidels, hell fodders or in this case “Kafir”. This does not just merely lead to drawing of lines but rather elevation of plinths.  Being on higher side psychologically nudges them to look down on others, in such a manner that their existence is deemed inferior if not entirely worthless. And because the “others” are part of the corrupt system, they can be taken out.

Boko Haram written in arabic
Boko Haram logo

“Either you are with us or against us” is an expression that reverberates in memory of the recent past. It was notoriously used by the American president, ironically for war against terror.  It is no surprise this is the modus-operandi of fascist movements. No one is allowed sitting on the fence, be a spectator and remain impartial.  A fascist movement operates efficiently as long as there are no “grey areas” for the foot soldiers to deal with. This is exactly what their leadership’s task is. They root out pragmatism and replace it with idealism which knows no compromise. It eliminates the need for analytical thinking, interpretation, articulation and deliberation from its followers. And thus these movements are military in every sense on the word.

With a sense of moral supremacy comes the desire to reach out, to expand. Even a cursory look in history suggests that all fascist movements were intrinsically expansionist. The motivation comes from the mantra that only right has the right to rule and darkness must be expelled. This is at odds with the way the prophet of Islam(P.B.U.H) dealt. The “Treaty of Hudaybya” is prime example where position of power was not used to gain leverage, magnanimity instead was exercised.

Lastly, ascension to power by any means possible is deemed acceptable no matter how noble the cause. For these movements, end justifies the means. And so mass massacre, suicide bombing and mass kidnapping of helpless girls does not matter as they are merely necessary steps one has to take to bring eventual order. Furthermore because it is insecurity at the core of their ideology they try to ring fence it with a reign of terror.

It is the thought process that is founded on the six mentioned elements that gives rise to Boko- Haram’s vision of the world.

The Boko Haram ideology helps them recruit the impoverished and those wronged by society. It emancipates the barbaric crimes conducted by those with a criminal bent of mind (which are the majority in such organizations). It exonerates them in pursuing their perverse lust, it legitimizes their adverse actions.

Boko-Haram claim’s of getting guidance form Quran and Sunnah cannot be further from the truth.  While they have extracted portions of the Holy Scripture to support their worldview and modus-operandi, they have only done so by being non-judiciously selective. Leave alone the context; they don’t even appreciate the whole text. In some cases they follow just half a verse from the Quran/ Hadith when it suits their objectives while ignoring the other half. And so it would be grossly unjust for them to be linked to religion.

The seriousness of the crimes by “Boko-Haram” are such that it seems they are getting abandoned by the very own organization (Al Qaeda) which bore them. When they came out with the statement of selling the kidnapped girls, they received a severe back lash from all corners. This certainly put them on the spotlight, but in light that was bad.  Not that they cared, but Al-Qaeda did, who saw their popularity waning and since have distanced themselves. Fearing isolation, they have released their video that shows the girls being converted to Islam and thus trying to portray their cause was rather noble and missionary.  They could not have done a better job in exposing their idiocy.

Fascist movements have the tendency to go rogue particularly if they are asked to retreat or step back. Even the slightest hint of de-escalation or taming turns them against their masters. Marry Shelley’s Frankenstein perhaps is a great example that sheds light on this phenomenon. Boko-Haram are Al Qaeda’s Frankenstein.

Unfortunately we live in a world in which global justice is dispensed by those who fall on their own standards. Often criminals are dealt with but not the crime. Any serious effort against Boko-Haram must look beyond taking the perpetrators to task. The grievance that is steeply settled in the minds must be addressed and any addition to it must be curbed. Thus one has to look at the root of injustice and how it was created.  Is it due the philosophy of “protecting and furthering interest” at cost of others? Is it due to the methodology of “Pre-emptive strikes”?  Is it the false flags, the Coup d’état or the unlawful drone strikes? We need to think deep before we act.

Why our “Right Wing” itself is undermining Ideological foundations of Pakistan?

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While the statement that right wing of Pakistan is itself undermining its ideological foundation would sound controversial, but deconstructing it would reveal some dark facts that have to be brought into lime light.

Pakistan as a society is becoming increasingly polarized. This polarization is evident on many levels and on many issues. The case of Ahmadis, Salman Taseer, Blasphemy law, banning of Youtube, Lal Masjid, Malala and her book, Hakimullah Mehsud’s death are just to cite a few. The country is still divisive on which colour to paint Malala. Is she a national treasure or imposter? Furthermore what title to issue for Mehsud?  Hakimullah’s death has brought forward controversial statements about his martyrdom. He stands a hero to many and at the same time villain to many more. Many of our opinion makers and elders are silent. And those who have spoken, have not done so judiciously. Instead, they have rolled out opinion that is s chained with excess baggage and selective quotations. Opinions that are bludgeoning with decades of frustration and apologetic rhetoric. For level headed people, it is now getting tiring to hear that every obstacle in the nation’s pathway is a cunning scheme of either the near east or the far west. As a nation, the only sport we can now think of getting medals is cooking conspiracy theories and antagonizing others. This development has taken us from a people of vision and ambition to masses of scepticism and intolerance.

For me “The Pakistan ideology” was a vision of a state of welfare, opportunity, creativity and tolerance. It was where the “ills” of the world would have been cured.  A fair and just society. A place where the contentment of the heart, mind and soul as opposed to monetary prosperity would have  been an index of progress. A society, where every living being would find peace, nirvana and much more. Life not merely a struggle for existence, but a thriving reality. Unfortunately at present, it is anything and everything but that.

Have our right wing helped in inspiring our youth to that utopian image, particularly in this dark-age which we are going through? The answer sadly is no. Would they vilify this article on the bases of words like utopia and nirvana? Sadly yes.

It is disappointing to see our righteous leaders provoke but not inspire. They do not calm but incense. They do not ooze positivity but propel negative motivations like hatred and revenge. Their reactions ride on waves of rancour.  Their arguments riddled with fallacies. Their comments tainted with rhetoric. They do not leave pearls of wisdom but do leave bones of contention. And perhaps the image of the ideal Pakistan is getting blurred not because its existence is a mirage, but because the path to it, as shown by our “righteous” leadership is false.

I believe the regressive thinking by our right wing to be responsible for dragging us in this mire of confusion.  A case in point is Jamat- e-Islami. A party that has an organization and structure that many rival parties envy, but has a leadership that is intellectually decadent.  They seem clueless, disconnected and aloof, living in a construct of reality in which they have given up free will for a self-imposed sense of powerlessness. This rot should be a worrying and a lesson for everyone.  Jamat seems stuck on a one point agenda, blame America for all evils. And not budging from this stance does not seem to be taking them anywhere. Their blind hatred of the west has alienated them from their staunchest supporter. Instead of providing real solutions, their hopes are pinned on the fall of the US as a superpower through imperial overstretch. They have gone beyond treating everything coming from west with suspicion; they believe irrationally on the outset that it must be wrong.

By treading on the path we are treading, we will become more differentiating rather than integrating. It is true that those who don’t stand for anything will fall for everything. Perhaps it is this message that the rightist have taken on board with the wrong understanding. They should also know that those who stand against everything will also fall with nothing. We will have to get out of our siege mentality that is a product of centuries of subjugation. A rebellious psyche can be an agent of change but a vengeful psyche is regressive and disastrous.

What is much needed at this point from our right wing is instilling tolerance, clear the air, create space for dialogue and focus on the broader issues of sustainability. They need to cultivate the frustration of our radicalized youth and mould that intense energy for development, beginning from educating minds. They need to learn from Ikhwan movements of Turkey and Eygpt, whose popularity lies in furthering education, welfare and charity not in slogans. They should not be selective in their truth and give their moral narrative to events based on the whole truth, not driven by the hatred of west.  The holy Qur’an says “Let not enmity of a nation incline you to be unfair; be fair, that’s closest to piety.” After all, that is what the Pakistan Ideology demands. If this is not done, they will further alienate themselves, create chaos and will do a huge dis-service to their own ideology, country and religion.

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Building the Counter Narrative against Wahabism

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Pakistan and Islam are intertwined, with the religion forming the core and the nation wrapped around it. Some might disagree and would replace people in the middle with the armed forces at periphery, binding them. However, even if the latter is assumed true, it is undeniable that other than comradely and patriotism, the more potent force that motivates the armed forces itself, is again religion. The bulk of our population looks towards religion for understanding reality. It does the same when facing crisis. Religion is their  motivator to do good and  strength to abstain from bad. It is religion that provides the basic policing of oneself. It builds up self impeachment and personal accountability, traits that are valuable in a country where security apparatus is seemingly non- existent and where justice is a fairy tale. It is the intrinsic concept of virtue and sin that has to a degree held up the social order. Is it not a miracle that our nation is not entirely narcotized given that we are part of a heroine producing region that the world refers to as the Golden Crescent?

Both the ideological foundation and the constitution of Pakistan, if not based entirely are influenced by Islamic values. However, to resolve the current state of confusion, the values and the interpretation that are backed by consensus have to be not only defined, but enshrined. It is this confusion that had lead to a paralysis in the masses as well as leadership. We as a society are getting increasingly polarized. There is a group that has hijacked the banner of Islam and sailing it towards regression using winds from the middle-east. And in the process, it is trying to tug us to a territory of intolerance. And then we have the other group, which is shunning religion altogether, and wants its role next to nothing in the state of affairs and affairs of state. One driven by a foreign”Wahabi” ideology, feeding on our love of religion, building on the grievances of political failure and galvanized by our dysfunction. The other is trying to use a stencil of modern western civilization while keeping a blind eye on its perils, blaming religion for all ills, pedaling the fear of unknown and betting our very existence on religious detachment. Well both need to learn that Pakistan is neither Saudi Arabia nor USA.

Our way forward is to fight the ideological onslaught and pull our liberals back in the fold. This can only be done by building up a counter narrative of Islamic values against the ones which seem to have sprung up from nowhere and are dividing us as a nation. Who is a Muslim? Who is a martyr? Who can wage jihad? Can Muslims ally with west and rest of the world? These are all profound questions that are cropping up in collective psyche and must be addressed. This counter narrative has to be adopted soon and has to be shaped by consensus. Some of the areas the council of Islamic ideology needs to address to weed out the flawed concepts that have taken root in our fertile religious minds are as follows:

First and foremost we need education and in particular religious education that is pluralistic. If we look at our sectarian make-up, we constitute largely of Sunnis and Shiaa sects. But even within these larger groups- Sunni for example- we have several smaller groups (Deobandi, Barelvis, Ahle Hadith etc). Furthermore, we have a sizeable Christian and Hindu population and albeit small, an indigenous Kalash community.  And so a nation that is compounded by so many elements cannot afford to have religious education that would teach one group’s superiority in way that declares the others deviant or heretic. On the contrary, a conducive environment must be established that would enable us to learn from every community. We must instil tolerance and our education particularly in madrasas must not be based on our insecurity of the west. It will take extreme courage from our religious leaders to climb down their lofty castles of self-righteousness. However in the process they will purchase humility for arrogance, a trade that is valued in the eye of their creator.  It is a leap of faith but the direction is clear, we need an integrating approach rather than a differentiating one.

To be more specific, a good place to begin would be banning the practice and preaching of “takfeer”.  Takfeer refers to the ruling that deems someone out of the fold of Islam and labels them apostates. This clears the conscience, removes any remorse in its practitioners, who callously attack the populace as they feel an obligation and a sacred duty to kill apostates. Unfortunately, looking at the tradition of Islamic scholars, even the staunchest of them have strayed away from using it. In modern day Pakistan however, it is a blunt tool that is used simplistically by some groups. In fact the brainwashing of individuals- so called “fidaeen”- who carry out heinous suicide bombing attacks, is done by embedding this concept repeatedly, never allowing their young minds to question it let alone challenge it. Ironically, there is a mountain load of scholarly literature that debunks this deviant concept, which is exactly what needs to be rolled out in the “counter narrative” .  Takfeer is at the heart of all modern terrorists groups that have wrecked havoc across the Muslim world be it Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia, IMU in Chechnya/ Uzbezistan or our very own TTP. Pakistan government must make use of all media to narrate that no individual would be allowed to practice takfeer. It should take as many ulema as it can on board to propagate this message. Unfortunately many a preachers, such as Maulana Abdul Aziz of red mosque, who is the high priest of this dangerous concept, are allowed openly to propagate their views. They should be challenged and checked.

A lot of similar divisive concepts have arisen due to the analysis and interpretation of Quran in an atomistic fashion. This again is an attitude that must be curbed. Our opinions are increasingly getting based on a limited snapshot of the holy book rather than a holistic view. Bite-size information and selective quotation is a recipe for disaster when studying theology. Unfortunately it is a practice that is rampant, even within our ulema.  The original message of the noble Quran is getting lost in the process from our national memory.  Emphasis should be to encompass the whole body of knowledge on a relevant topic for which an opinion is to be churned out. Thus walls of scepticism must be erected against ideas that do not sound mainstream, only to stop them from mass propagation before a thorough investigation is carried out.

The Friday sermons must be looked at as an opportunity for training the nation and building character. It is a fantastic platform for the government to disseminate the “national Islam”, address native issues in light of Quran and sunnah and layout guidelines. Unfortunately, many of the sermons either spew venom against other sects or state the obvious, the training opportunity is lost. All mosques sermons must be regulated.  Just as PEMRA acts as a governing body for media, a similar body for mosques must be established.

On the issue of blasphemy, anyone acting above the law must be punished. Every now and then an event regarding blasphemy stirs up emotions and creates an implosion. Shops are burned, houses and even villages are ransacked and the cost of damage is immeasurable.  There should be zero tolerance towards disruptive mob behaviour.  Unless discipline is brought into the application of law, we will continue to have tragedies like Salman Taseer and Badami bagh.

The term jihad, its use and prerogative must lie solely with the government and the army. Anyone willing to join jihad should enlist in the army. Any other organization that is “jihadi” must be banned regardless of the cause. This would be a loss to our armed forces, who have in past treated such groups as precious assets, ghost warriors to wage proxy wars. But we have now witnessed that in times of peace these groups are likely to go rogue and turn against us. Such is the menace caused by these rogue elements that the term “Mujahid” that entails dignity and honour has been tarnished and is being equated to barbarianism. It’s time we put an end to this practice. Similarly, the term “shariah” that should have been synonymous to peace and justice, sends a chill down the spine of many, ironically in a country where any form justice is almost non-existent (barring Karma).

To sum up, the state does not have an option to remain impartial over religious opinions that are fracturing our society and threatening to tear its very fabric. When a slogan “Kafir, Kafir, shia Kafir” is raised, it cannot remain silent. It has to be vocal and active against views that are intrinsically divisive, fascist and nihilistic.  It has to fight back with a counter narrative or rather the national narrative of Islam, one that is pluralistic and acceptable to masses.  Co-existence is only possible through mutual respect with room for disagreement. We need to learn the trait and practice it.

In every society, the left is the engine of progress while the right ensures integrity. Unfortunately both groups are pulling away from helm. At this point, we desperately need a strong religious left to evolve. We need to re-marry the carriage of nation to our liberal stalwarts and secure them with religious integrity. This can only be achieved by building a counter narrative.

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