Published on March 13th, 2013 |
by Usman Butt
Image © Nadir Burney 2013
Wars of Apostasy – Frontline Pakistan
Pakistan is on the frontline, the frontline of the ‘Great Islamic reformation’ and like the European reformation, violence is prevalent and blood is being spilt. On Sunday evening 45 Shia Muslims were killed in a bomb attack, in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi. This bloody assault follows attacks on Pakistan’s other ethnic and religious minorities in recent months, most notably the ethnic Hazara Shia community. Some activists have alarmingly labelled this “Pakistan’s Shia Genocide”. Whilst the term genocide is disputable, it nevertheless highlights that something is seriously wrong in Pakistan. What is causing this upsurge in violence towards Pakistan’s minorities?
Pakistan is a deeply religiously divided but tolerant country. They have had Shia leaders and Prime Ministers, despite being a majority-Sunni country. It’s a country where people borrow freely from other religious practices and incorporate it into their own religious practice. It is a country that, much like neighbouring India, struggles with the process of modernization. It is also a country where-Islamists can never take power, for the simple fact that Pakistani society is too pre-modern for Islamist movements to galvanise enough support to win parliamentary elections. What is often forgotten is that Islamist groups are essentially modernist forces that need a modern society in order to function, as ‘traditionalism’ within society tends to prefer tribalism, kinship and feudalism as the basis of politics, which Pakistani politics is currently structured on. Islamist on the other hand rely on methods such as mass mobilization, cross-tribal, ethnicity and class ties and a greater ‘Islamic’ identity to govern society, which the traditional society with its family politics and feudalism prevents. What Islamist forces in Pakistan seek to do is to ‘revolutionise’ and homogenise Pakistan’s Islamic identity and make it the basis of the state.
Islamists’ often complain about the Pakistani tendency to mix ‘culture with religion’, as well as, mix between the religious traditions and thus they are attempting to create an ‘Islamic reformation’ in order to purify and cleanse Islam in South Asia. This battle for Islamist-led progress is not unique to Pakistan, as we can see examples of this in Iran and the Arab world. The trouble is modernity and homogenisation of the populace are seen as two-sides of the same coin and it is this that is producing the violence. The idea of modernity meaning homogenisation is an 18-19th century European idea, which called for the creation of nation states. The school of thought, sees diversity and non-conformity as a threat to state power and government and this threat lead to violence and the collapse of order, which is why government’s throughout Europe call for ‘new minorities’ to ‘integrate’ into society.
Islamist is seeking to do what early nationalists in Europe did and that is to re-create the state in the Islamist image. Many intellectuals have argued that globalization has made nationalism and national boundaries irrelevant. Traditional nationalism has been weakened by globalization, whilst at the same time it has strengthened religious identity. What Pakistan is witnessing is a new-type of nationalism in the making, one which is not based on ethnicity or language, but on religion. Religious nationalism has already taken hold in neighbouring India and Iran and it looks like it will take hold in Pakistan too. The knock-on consequences of this are the violence we are now witnessing.
It should be stressed here that whilst some groups seek to create an Islamist identity based on Sunni principles at the expense of other sects, it does not mean that this is the inevitable or only path that this process may take. After all, nationalism in Europe didn’t lead to mass genocide in every Europe country. Some strands of European nationalism not only tolerated but also embraced ethnic, religious and cultural diversity hence the multicultural societies we now live in. Religious nationalism takes on many forms as classic nationalism does and it is capable of developing the same level of tolerance that some nationalisms’ did. It remains to be seen where the Pakistani crisis will take us, but where it goes should be of concern to all of us. As places like Pakistan will shape the future of globalization, far more so than old Europe and the United States will.