Lal Masjid: Who is in the dock?

Lal Masjid: Who is in the dock?

By Zaigham Khan 7/19/2007 They occupy the prophet's pulpit; their job is to propagate the message of peace and lead humanity to eternal salvation. We trust them with lives of millions of our most vulnerable and poor children and generously support them to carry out their mission. They are ulemas, the scholars of Islam, and we call them maulanas, our lords. Unfortunately, apart from the establishment that rides us roughshod in the name of national security, no class has failed the nation more than its religious scholars. For more than five months, baton-wielding and gun-totting students of Lal Masjid complex provided excellent shots to photo journalists and their charged slogan made fantastic sound bites for electronic media. But did they really deserve what they got? A violent push to mass graves from where their identities or even exact numbers would never been known? The students of Lal Masjid can hardly be considered as free agents, responsible for their actions and therefore paying for it through their blood. To borrow the concept popularised by American sociologist Erving Goffman, a madressah is a "total institution". As he elaborates, "a total institution encompasses the whole being of its inmate. It undercuts the resident's individuality. It disregards his or her dignity. It subjects the individual to a regimented pattern of life that has little or nothing to do with the person's own desires or inclinations. And it is inescapable." In other words, it defines and structures the world view and personality of the resident. In this, madressahs resemble military institutions, prison camps and religious seminaries worldwide. These institutions prepare the script for actions of their inmates and sculpture their personalities in a way that would make Michelangelo envious. This obviously does not mean that they don't have a positive role to play in the society. The responsibility for the actions of the inmates of a total institution lies on the shoulders of those who manage it and also who are supposed to keep a vigilant eye on what happens to children inside their compounds. The criminality of the maulanas of Lal Masjid is there for everyone to see. Maulana Ghazi tried to glorify his own death by taking down with him hundreds of innocent students who were given into his custody by unsuspecting parents, in the hope that they would be turned into guardians and guides of the last message of God. A more worldly reason for these parents might be their inability to pay the high cost of mainstream education. Whether these children were made hostages at gun point or not is beside the point. They were at the mercy of their teachers any way and these teachers used their brains and bodies as tools for their paranoid ambitions. Alongside the media savvy and power-hungry maulanas, in the dock stand the perpetual rulers of the state of Pakistan who sow thorns and hope to reap a harvest of roses; who callously use religion as an instrument for internal and external policies. We were told in our school books that Pakistan was founded to be a laboratory for Islam. Who has turned it into world's largest industrial complex for manufacturing Frankensteins? Some one should tell our masters that human beings are not robots that could be programmed and re-programmed as the policy environment shifts and human societies are not mere chessboards. Hatred, violence and bigotry are easier to unleash, but it takes prophetic wisdom to send the ghosts back to Hades. Fear for Talibanization is the prevailing nightmare and Islamic extremism the new threat after communism. Every news event, large or small, makes us worried about our "image", or more specifically how the west looks at us. Perhaps, we would be better off dealing with local realities in the local context rather than worrying about western perceptions. If we are at peace with ourselves and with the wider world, we will not be bothered even if the west considers us manwolves. More than an ideology, Talibanization is a methodology. Talibanization is not about opposition to prostitution dens or
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Lal Masjid: Who is in the dock?

pornographic CDs or challenging the hegemony of a superpower; it is about the violent means used to counter what a group is opposed to. Rather than changing people from within, Talibanization believes in using the brute force to change state policies and individual behaviour. It believes in suppression and physically eliminates those who do not fall in line. This is simply fascism in the name of religion and the methodology is not peculiar to the Taliban alone. We need to look at the roots of violence in our society and weed out the poisonous plants we have sowed with our own hands. New saplings need to be planted with care and courage. Pakistani society needs wisdom from its rulers, not cleverness, and it needs a healing touch that can not be given by hands that carry guns and grenades. For once I agree with Benazir Bhutto that democracy deficit is the major reason for Talibanization in Pakistan. However, the self-proclaimed creator of the Taliban of Afghanistan may not be the most suitable person to lead us out of the tunnel.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant with a background in journalism. Email: zaighamkhan@yahoo.com

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