Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Colossal Human Tragedy

By Saeed Qureshi

The present generation of humans is witness to a colossal human tragedy unfolding itself in the Pakistan’s scenic valleys, drenched in natural beauty. The Valleys of Swat, Buner and Dir are almost depopulated as if demons have devoured the humans there. There is mournful stillness in the environment. The energizing and revitalizing air that allured the fatigued souls from the plains to come and be close to the virgin nature has turned nauseating with the stench of human blood and gunpowder. The ghastly sound of gun and mortar fire has suppressed the chirping of the birds and their sweet songs and these too have flown to the safer environ. There are very few people left to unburden the fruit laden trees. The crops are ready to be harvested but there are not enough people to do so. The humming of the streams with crystal waters looks like chanting of funeral prayers and mourning incantations.

The harrowing displacement of 3 million mountain dwellers of these placid vales and dales from their hearths and homes for the first time would become part of the painful human history for all time to come. The displacement is stunning as it took place within merely two weeks of a huge population where the normal means of transportation were unavailable. These people could have never imagined that they would face an unprecedented upheaval of this scale and they would be uprooted to live in the most trying conditions in the plains. The infants and the adolescents would always carry it as a calamity embedded in their psyche and sensitive minds to be told again and again by them.

This massive migration of settled segment of humanity would also form part of the future folklores of sufferings as to how their bygone generations underwent. The tormenting pangs of displacement would keep revisiting and reflecting upon the minds of the people even long after the settlement. The natural calamity such as the earthquake is different because that is taken as the will of God. But a holocaust engineered and inflicted by humans against their fellow humans by design or under the duress of the circumstances remains unforgettable. This earth shaking migration would haunt many as long as they live. The children would keep asking questions how it happened and why they had to suffer so enormously.The vendetta of the ferocious Taliban now in a state of retreat is resurfacing as a spillover in other cities of Pakistan. During the past week alone, a spate of suicide bombing has rattled and rocked among others, the cities of Peshawar, Lahore and Dera Ismail Khan. The human blood has never been so cheap.

In fact the war between Taliban and the State of Pakistan is a replay of such conflicts in the past in which the state has act to stop the religious encroachment in state affairs. Europe has gone through church and state tussle for ages. Those wars of medieval ages were on the one hand between church and state, and the orthodox Roman Catholic Church and the rival sects on the other. The Roman Church that dominated Europe between 5th and 15th century remained plagued with constant religious strife.

The story of war for ascendency between church and state and also between Roman Church and its ideological rivals who were against its corruption and moral decadence is awash with horrific executions, persecutions and bloodletting. The religious tribunals called inquisitions set up by the Catholic Church in 13th century marked the beginning of an era of religious persecution by way of torture, slow death by burning and large scale massacre of the religious opponents. A break away religious movement called Albigenses started in France in 12th century was suppressed by sword on the orders of the Pope and 20000 members of this group were massacred in a fierce battle.

Taliban are misguided faithful of an Islamic creed which calls for social justice, equality and establishment of strict ritualistic orthodox Islam. They want to revive the age of the third caliph of Hazart Umar.But they try to enforce their religious regime by use of ruthless force and ghastly tactics. By virtue of their ideological upbringing they are oblivious to the inevitable existence of a modern nation state. Their aim is to evolve a rigid theocratic set up with a style of life that is not Islamic in true sense and that is an anti-thesis of the modern nation state with democracy, human rights, liberty and the norms of a civil society.

Their rigid code of Islam also militates against the Islamic belief and faith of the majority of Muslims around the world and is also a travesty of the pristine Islam. While in previous centuries when human society was still primitive, such religious revivalist movements had lasted for some time, but in the modern age when the world is knit together as one village, such an attempt to reintroduce a radical distorted version of any religion let alone Islam was as daring as it is myopic.

The Taliban’s enforcement of their version of Islam was indeed well intentioned from their point of view but, ireefutably; it is aimed at creating a zone within the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for further advancement of their agenda in due course. Notwithstanding the pro-Taliban sentiment of a segment of the population of the affected areas, the fact cannot be obviated that while the state may ignore such religious zeal, the other Islamic sects would not be dictated by a tiny minority of fanatics with queer beliefs forcing the latter, to change or conform to their beliefs. By intervening militarily the Pakistan government has in fact averted a definitive impending sectarian civil war that could have been more devastating and gruesome that the ongoing tumult.

Interestingly, the doctrine of social justice that the Taliban want to enforce comes closer to the socialist ideology, in that the means of production and distribution are possessed by the state. This is what the Taliban had done in Swat after they were allowed by the Pakistan government to go ahead with the establishment of the Islamic Justice system. They took over the lands and orchards of the wealthy and the notables and distributed them among the common citizens. They also set in motion a speedy justice paradigm. The outlaws and the sinful were awarded punishments which were mostly physical and punitive in nature and were executed without much of evidence and inquiry. The felons were be-headed or lashed or their body organs chopped off with a view to instill fear and to create a drastic deterrence against the crimes. But this had created an atmosphere of paranoid and harassment that in return painted Islam as a savage and repressive religion.

This projection of system was the religious bigotry in its most diabolic form and could not have lasted long. It was in force in Afghanistan for a certain period of time and Afghanistan turned into a land parched of all civilities.The preaching of Taliban’s brand of Islam, that is basically Wahabism, looked more barbarian in the modern age of enlightenment, moderation and modernity as compared to the primitive orthodox theocratic regimes because during those times, the civil society was almost nonexistent. The caliphates of Omayyad’s and Abbasids and ottomans were of far more liberal character than that of Taliban of the present era. By removing and disallowing the modern gadgets of fast communication and knowledge such as televisions, computers and musical instruments, the Taliban were fighting against the spirit of the time and thus creating an island of ignorance and regression within a modern society.Wahabis strictly negate such practices as ceremonies for marriage or death, belief in saints, adorning of graves, tombs or other sacred objects and holding religious processions. They shun wearing of gaudy and costly clothes, wearing of jewelry or ornaments, and demand the total suppression of women. The Wahabis denounces art, music and dance and other similar pursuits for fun and pleasure and amusements.

“Mohammed Abdul Al Wahab, the cult founder, born around 1703, not only redefined Islam in a puritanically narrow and intolerant way but injected into it such a virulent hatred for its perceived enemies that this vicious creed could revive again and again after being repeatedly wiped out to rise like a phoenix and become the single greatest threat to world peace today. ….Abdul Wahab urged his followers to mercilessly exterminate infidels, blasphemers, idol worshippers and Christians and even Muslim apostates like the Shias and Sufis” (Murad Beg)The Wahabi cult believes in the inexorable power of hatred to unite and brainwash the followers for crusading against the enemies of their beliefs. Wahab motivated his followers to such an extent that they had the temerity to defile and destroy the tomb of The Prophet Muhammad at Medina in 1803 and took away from “Kaaba” at Mecca the precious and sacred donations preserved there. The Tehrik-i-Taliban is the followers of the Wahabi faith and therefore is very closed and narrow in its teachings.

The first Wahabi resurgence in the Indian Sub continent took place under the command of Syed Ahmed Brelvi (1781-1831) who is considered to be the forerunner of the present day Islamists in waging of jihad and attempting to create an Islamic state with strict enforcement of Islamic law. He was the founder of a revolutionary Islamic movement Tariqah-i –Muhhamdiyah: (The Way of the Prophet Muhammad). He called himself the Commander of the Believers and proclaimed a jihad against the Sikhs in the Punjab. His movement posed a threat to Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Sikh Kingdom after it inflicted defeats on Sikh troops as well as recapturing Peshawar, Mardan and surrounding towns and villages. He was betrayed by some locals and was killed by the Sikhs along with hundreds of his troops and followers in Balakot, Mansehra District in 1831. His defeat ended the dream of establishing an Islamic state in Peshawar, now Pakistan. (Wikipedia)Thus the movement for the establishment of an orthodox Islamic state by the Wahabi believers went into a state of limbo till they got another chance in Afghanistan in 90’s and now in Pakistan to stage a comeback. The fight with Taliban is going to be tough and long but it can well be augured that they will be defeated perhaps never to pose a challenge to the civilized world at large both Islamic and un-Islamic.

In the meantime, the rehabilitation of the displaced families of Swat and other embattled areas is not going to be easy. The life in tents for the mountain dwellers habitual to cool breeze, clean air and pure water round the year would be nothing short of a trauma. How the families with children are going to survive under unbearable conditions is a big yet unanswerable question. Such are the vagaries of social disorders, fermented and propped by those who wish to establish an elusive Islamic polity or the kingdom of god on earth: in this case the Taliban and their ilk.

God would be laughing or lamenting on the misuse of his name and miscarriage of his aim for this world inhabited by race called intelligent humans. It can be wished only that these displaced Pakistanis would ultimately and sooner than later return to their homes albeit with a burning nostalgia. The wars have never been without collateral casualties and damage. The journey back to their homes is going to be arduous than their hasty exodus to the plains.

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