Red Mosque Incident Sparks off More Protests in Pakistan.

14 Jul

As we drove in silence, I thought of how easy it is from positions of safety and comfort to denounce fundamentalism, how often I have done just that. But who are we targeting when we make such statements? I have no trouble denouncing the bin Ladens and al-Zawahiris, or the Bushs and Robertsons, and critiquing their twisted worldview. But what of the ordinary people struggling against the elites who ignore the cries of the suffering? When those people take up a fundamentalist theology that we Western left/progressives reject, must we not highlight the inequality we also say we oppose?

– Robert Jensen, Lessons from the Lal Masjid Tragedy

The Eight Day Battle at the Red Mosque in Pakistan left 108 dead, mostly believed to be armed militants advocating a Muslim state that practises Sharia Law. With most of the news focusing on the extremism preached by the cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, it is easy for the average and detached newsreader to believe that the situation in Pakistan is like a painting divided into only two shades of black and white.

If we are to believe that the solution is to simply eradicate all extremists and naively hoping that the issue will resolve peacefully by itself, then we are in a serious state of denial. In real life,  things are not that clear cut.

In a AFP article dated 14th July, protest rallies were held across the nation condemning the government’s action. It reported that fire was set to the effigy of Musharraf and a puppet of ‘Uncle Sam,” which personified the United States. Another 20,000 men, women and children also offered prayers for the victims at a meeting in a Lahore mosque run by a hardline Islamist group that has been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist organisation.

As the Western media portrayed this conflict as an ‘Extremist Islam Vs Secular Modernity’ battle, it was the opinion piece, ‘Lessons from the Lal Masjid Tragedy; The Siege of the Red Mosque and the Cries of the Suffering’ by Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, who recently visited Islamabad, that offered a more thought-provoking view on the delicate underpinnings in the Pakistani society.

He agreed that the values preached by the clerics are reactionary and sometimes violent. Yet, the media has also neglected the key social and economic aspects of the story. The clerics who lead the Red Mosque were, at the same time, critical of the corruption that was widespread within the elites. They also aimed to highlight the conditions in an increasingly poverty-ridden society due to the country’s pro US neoliberal economic policies. As the mosque was shut down, some of the madrasa students in Lal Masjid were forced to became homeless as it was a refuge for those who were dispossessed or from poor families.

Looking at the bigger picture, facing increasing and greater dissent at home, whether from the Islamic mosques or the protests against the dismissal of judge Iftikhar Chaudhry; and the fear of Taliban insurgence from Afghanistan, it is very likely the military dictatorship in Pakistan would be forced to adopt more heavy-handed measures to resolve all these various conflicts. The only peaceful way out would be for President Pervez Musharraf to come to his senses. He has to listen to what the people has to say and allow them to participate in politics.

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