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What is the extremist narrative?

The government and the state are in a dilemma over the extremist religious narrative: if they do identify its broad features they will invite the wrath of the community of clerics, and if they try to evolve a counter-narrative they will have to revise policies, laws and restructure institutions developed with a deep sense of exclusive and, in some ways, extremist religious content and identity. Here we will focus on the extremist religious narrative that has placed both state and society in a very precarious situation.

There are broadly nine features of this narrative:

One: Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. Otherwise there would have been no point in creating Pakistan. As geographical nationhood is un-Islamic, the Muslim community is essentially ideological and supra-territorial. An ‘Islamic state’ was the sole objective of the ‘Two-Nation’ theory that subsequently became the ‘ideology of Pakistan’.

Hence, Islamic identity is supreme and cannot be subordinated to the concept of citizenship and territorial nationhood. The terrestrial concepts of a modern nation-state and citizenship are alien to Islam and are not in consonance with the celestial concept of Ummah. The Islamic community is rooted in its original golden era of the Prophet (pbuh) and the first four caliphs. The community also becomes institutional; assumption of terrestrial functions by the high clergy or those presumed as the most pious leaves no room for franchise or democracy and man-made laws and constitutions.

Two: Muslims are not supposed to own and identify with indigenous cultures and the ethno-lingual heritage of various nationalities as they are parochial and not permitted. Nationhood and nationalism are Western concepts and are contrary to the universality of the Ummah. That is why the clerics opposed Jinnah’s struggle for a homeland. After Partition, the Islamists took an entirely different position by metamorphosing the ‘Two Nation’ theory, then valid for geographical separation, into the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ with an aim to introduce Shariah that could be established by Khilafah. Groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh have challenged this notion based on geography and countered it with the extra-terrestrial concept of Ummah (this is why Daesh shed its Iraqi and Syrian identity and kept just the ‘IS’ title).

Three: Governance, citizens’ freedoms and rights, lifestyles, culture, women’s and minorities’ status were to be determined on the basis of an ideology to be solely defined by the ulema, not by a parliament elected by the people. Western-oriented democracy is either un-Islamic or a transient phase, which can only be used as a temporary tactic to eventually impose theocracy, leading towards the establishment of a khilafah of the Ummah.

Four: Liberal arts, indigenous or foreign cultures, women’s empowerment, freedom of expression, human rights, international laws, modernity, rationalism, family planning, the international market, any kind of restriction on polygamy, due process of law, an end to patriarchal barbarism and violations of privacy are more or less against the tenets of Islam. The sole source of knowledge is religion. All social and physical sciences, research, and inventions are manmade and thus cannot be relied upon. The moral standards of good and bad are absolute and therefore not amenable to change.

Five: Except Islam, all other religions are false; their adherents are misguided and can never be friends with the Muslims – even though adherents of different sects consider one another kafir (apostates) and are bent upon killing each other. Various Muslim groups can resort to any means, including jihad, to impose what they deem right, even if this means breaking national and international laws. Muslim bodies are under obligation to take the course of vigilantism even if not permissible in an Islamic state. A true Muslim is duty-bound to stop other people from indulging in vice and to invite them towards goodness by means of advocacy or violence.

Six: The international community and modern world have been plotting against the Muslim world. They have usurped resources of Muslim lands and external non-Muslim enemies are behind all the ills affecting Muslims. Hindus, Jews and Christians are the eternal enemies of Muslims and responsible for the latter’s backwardness, deprivation, deviation, and sectarian infighting. The events of 9/11 were hatched by Jews and Christians to malign the Muslims. The Muslims are not to be blamed for their weaknesses, ignorance, obscurantism, sectarianism, and terrorism since ‘foreign hands’ are in fact responsible for all this.

Seven: The Muslims of the Subcontinent or other Muslim countries do not belong to the land and culture of their ancestors and are to de-identify themselves as aliens – belonging to some abstract Ummah. The history of the Subcontinent’s Muslims starts with the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim. The Mughals, Afghans, Arabs, and all those who invaded the Subcontinent came to spread Islam here, which remains the sole mission of all Muslims. Their sacred land is the birthplace of Islam, not the unholy lands of the Subcontinent. Thus, a Muslim living in the Subcontinent or any non-Arab land is an alien in an enemy territory (Darul Harab), even though 85 percent of Muslims are of non-Arab origin. In this reductionist view, it is sinful to adopt indigenous national cultures, languages, and ways of life considered hostile to Islam.

Eight: The primary cause behind the downfall of the Muslims is that they have been distanced from puritan Islam. Therefore, Muslims should revert to the original tenets and fundamentals of Islam as practised during the golden era of the Four Caliphs. Regardless of time and space, a number of Khawariji ideologies are being popularised that apostatise a vast majority of Muslims. To establish the hegemony of these Khawariji and Takfiri ideologies, horrific interpretations of jihad (struggle) and qittal (slaughter) are being propagated that genuine ulema find shocking.

Daesh and Al-Qaeda have adopted such a course of action, which has been readily accepted by almost all radical sectarian terrorist outfits. Ayman al-Zawahiri has declared Pakistan’s constitution un-Islamic. They insist on imposing their own brand of Shariah. Takfiri, Wahhabi, Khuwarji ideologies are being used to mobilise warriors to fight against the state and society. The major religious political parties (who are sectarian or follow one or the other cult) flirt opportunistically with the extremists to expand their own space, forgetting that their ideologues will be overpowered by armed gangs. They are betraying the constitutional and peaceful path their forefathers chose when they entered into a social contract with secular and liberal parties in framing the 1973 constitution.

Nine: In the name of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’, mullahism/obscurantism, religious extremism, sectarianism, and jihadi culture have been promoted under the tutelage of the security establishment and state institutions since Zia.

Since the time of the jihad against the Soviet Union, the security agencies have recruited, trained, and financed Islamist militants and created diverse gendarmeries of ideologically motivated warriors, whom they continued to use for security and foreign policy agendas. These militant non-state actors and armed militias were openly declared ‘strategic assets’ and the state continued to back them till the time they turned their guns on their creators.

In the next column we will focus on an alternative national democratic narrative to defeat the extremist narrative – essential to win the war against terrorism.

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: imtiaz.safma@gmail.com

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

Imtiaz Alam, "What is the extremist narrative?," The News. 2016-02-04.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Islamic state , Government-Pakistan , Political system , Political parties , Political leaders , Human rights , Al-Qaeda , Extremism , Democracy , Politics , Muhammad bin Qasim , Ayman al-Zawahiri , Afghanistan , Syria , Pakistan