Red, White and Black

Muscle Flexing by the Religious Right
14 April, 2007, 2:46 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan, Politics

Lately, the news emerging from the capital has been been dominated by the black ninjas of Jamia Hafsa. These vigilantes have taken it onto their brave shoulders to purge society of all immoral activity, else they have promised to reply with suicide bombings. But, these ninjas are not the ones I intend to deal with here. Maybe later, as the situation clears out and settles a little.

What concerns me here are these incidents of this nature:

  • Blast outside girls college in Peshawar [#]: A bomb exploded in front of the City Girls College in Hashtnagri police precincts… two passers-by were injured in the explosion. College guard Mohammad Shoaib said the college administration had earlier received a letter warning that female students must wear scarves
  • Signs of greater talibanisation in NWFP [#]: Barbers are scared to shave customers’ chins; alleged thieves with blackened faces are paraded through the streets in shame; and suspected spies for the US are found beheaded in a ditch.
  • Two injured in blast at music market [#] : Two people were injured in an explosion in Bhana Marhi police precincts on Sunday, police said. The homemade bomb damaged four music and video shops just weeks after their owners refused an order to close down from Islamic hardliners, AFP reported. One of the shopkeepers, Bashir Khan, said that hardliners calling themselves the “Soldiers of Islam” had left him a note several weeks ago, saying that music shops in Gulshan market should close their doors. “We had informed the police about the note and requested them to provide security,” Khan said.
  • IJT students beat up students at PU [#]: Activists of the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) on Tuesday harassed Punjab University English Department students accusing them of “immoral activity” and “improper” dressing. The activists dragged a student of the department out of the premises, beat him up in front of the canteen and threw him in a nearby drain…Later, a couple of men on a motorcycle, who said they were IJT activists, dragged a female student along the Canal Road before throwing her on to the green belt along the road. She was on her way to her hostel. They called her up on her cell phone again telling her to change her “anti-Islamic views”.
  • IJT shows its strength at Punjab University [#]: “Some miscreants, following a foreign agenda, wanted to turn the English Department into a den of obscenity and immoral activity. The department is at the height of vulgarity and immorality, which is a violation of the university’s sanctity and calendar, and a sheer violation of Islam,” said an IJT press release. “The Punjab University is a fort of Islam and no student will be allowed to indulge in immoral activity. Parents send their daughters to the university in hope of a good, secure and peaceful atmosphere. The IJT will continue working for a good and peaceful atmosphere free from immorality on campus. We will not let the university become a home of immoral and vulgar activity.”

While the Jamia Hafsa incident would get government attention and defuse easily, what will become of the above incidents? Who will take notice? Who will take action? To some extent one can understand the tolerance of these incidents by the NWFP government – after all the mullahs are in power there. The same ones whose total claim to fame is Hasba bill or absconding of duty when it comes to religious vigilantes – the question is when would the public tire of them? And how much of the public in NWFP actually accepts their policing? I don’t think I am in the position to answer that question – for I really don’t know. The profile and views of the MMA vote bank is unknown, especially that has traditionally been dominated by the ANP and PPP. So at this point, I really don’t know how much support the MMA exercise and consequently how much longer they will continue to do ‘good’ to society.

But the question of IJT in Punjab is more perplexing. IJT is, perhaps, the only remaining viable student political wing all across Pakistan. Karachi University sports student wings for MQM and the Pakhtoons too – but not so in Punjab. By and large, the colleges and universities of Punjab are IJT’s turf. And therefore, they get away with their dadagirri – all in the name of religion. Check this documentary [1,2] on the PU vs the NCA in Lahore – it presents the difference in attitude at both places. The dispute between the English department and the IJT goons surfaces here too. My question is why are they students allowed to disrupt the atmosphere of an academic institute to such an extent? What is the limit to their moral policing? Who decides that the other person is ‘immoral’? Who then stops them from crossing the fine line?

This, to me, represents the silent struggle that is taking place within Pakistani society. While the radical goons are flexing their muscles, the other side is quiet. silent. Why? What differentiates one from the other? Why is the religious right readier to flex its muscles? What will it take for the other side – the moderates, the progressives, the liberals [whatever, you may call them] to take up the gauntlet too?

Perhaps, I am raising more questions, than providing answers. But I believe that the key to the difference between the two is the sense of social uprootment. Most of these guys would belong to the middle class – some would have just moved from a rural setting to the urban one. These would be individuals who have little money in their pockets, who are overwhelmed by the changing society and the difficulties in brings upon them – in short they are the lumpen-proletariat of political Islam [to play a little on Olivier Roy’s lumpenization of the Muslim world.] When nothing strikes them, they turn to religion. Religion is the only thing, they can hang on to. And that, I believe, is the difference. Religion, in our society, is their sense of security.

I suppose, the difference between the two ends will begin to lessen once the other side’s sense of security is threatened enough. Then there will be action. And who knows, how bloody, that might be.

Forgive me, if it has stopped making sense. It is almost 3 A.M.

8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

on the hajj sermon thread you promised ibrahim to answer to his post. where is your answer? come on!!! after four months of waitingwhere is your answer?

Comment by BitterDuaiee

You raise a very important question, and I am certain its not invisible or inconceivable to our administration either. But Ayesha, the blame goes to our people, if you as me, to the most part. Public adapted liberalism first, went way overboard with it, when things got out of hand they started whining about how America and the west are instigating all this, and now that a byproduct of that whining is at ur hands, its a whatcha gonna do when they come for u situation. Now the burned video shop owner, the scared schol going girl, the mourning son of someone killed under a “suspicion” of being an american agent, they all stand as individuals. “Exceptional” cases, about which the whole doesn’t care. One or two blogs, a few news stories, and the world keeps spinning. A nation with dead conscience is what we have turned into – and have turned against our own very selvs. Lets hope for a bitchslap to awakening.

Comment by sulmanmohsin

Hi Ayesha,

Have been reading your blog for some months now (It is the only blog I read and I am very impressed).

The incidents you’ve mentioned have an echo across the border, except that the religious right flexing its muscles isn’t Islamic but Hindu. Its not necessarily the same settings, so its less likely that it will be a student political wing involved, but thats known to happen as well.

I am not going to venture a reason for either of the two regions, except to say that Sulman’s ‘nation with a dead conscience’ sounds uncomfortably familiar.

Comment by Aditi Mittal


Thanks a ton for the kind words. : )

Sulman: Yaar, I don’t know if the people chose liberalism – its not like that they had any grand choice in any case. The direction our society took is more a product of historical events and the manner in which we won our country. There were a lot of imperatives and scared notions that led to the formation of society, as it is today. Yes, I will concede that we could have taken a different course, but only IF we were awake to it. I just don’t think it was a conscious choice in most cases. Maybe, we are just waking up from the nightmare.

Comment by ayesha

Seeing this from across the border…

This religious fervour and fascism is a huge cause of worry for everyone… If pakistan falls for it (and I sure hope you dont)… its only a matter of time before Aghanistan and India will be on the same path…

From my previous posts you may know I’m no fan of Mush Saheb, but I sure hope he can be firm on this one and nips it in the bud…

At the same time, its time for liberal/ moderate pakistani families to make contingency plans… the “whatcha gonna do when they come for u situation” as aptly mentioned by Sulman… Mebbe just mebbe, the big western oaf (or oak – if you prefer) is taking notice and has some plans if Mush Saheb cant pull it off… I for one am really concerned…

Ayesha – do write if possible how are the feelings on the ground in pakland on the Jamia Hafsa Issue…


Comment by Daz

I personally consider much part of dis “suddnely surfacing extremism” as a political manouvre of General Musharraf of Pakistan and nothing else .
Elections are nearing ,General lost masses’ support on CJ issue and the green signal from White House is the last hope . So he’s creatin situations which’ll make his next term inevitable .

Yeh , dis is indeed true that we have two distinct groups in our society – the religious ones and the liberalists . But wat exactly do we mean by liberalists ? Do we mean the learned-ignorants who love to impose westernisation on the name of liberalisation and who kno nothing of the cultural heritage of a region?Or are we tellin liberals as those who talk reason and sense ?
Unfortunately , the liberals here are no less . They keep streachin things to the other extreme . One side says we wanna impose morality by “danda.” The other side says let their be “cheers” and night-club culture .
A normal person , swinging between these two factions usually falls on the religious side since the other side usually don’t accept the mediocres – mostly the elitists . And that’s the main reason of this growing religious “zest.”

Another important reason is the lack of education and poverty .
People don’t have money to feed their kids .They simply send em off to madressahs where at least their kid recieves free meals . And this way , a Mullah gets created .

We need to diffuse off these social divisions and only then problems are to be resolved , not to forget a severe need of “sincere” leadership – one that I see in Imran Khan .

Comment by Salman

I have read comments and general statements on this blog, but I have not seen anyone speak of actions that must be taken to resolve these issues. All problem solving starts with ideas, why don’t we use these forums to generate some ideas. After all, actions speak louder than words.
Looking forward to reading some ideas rather than the usual sympathy.

Comment by Afzaal

Afzaal yeh , dats the most imporant part – the question of wat we are to do practically ,a thing which can’t be achieved by mere bloggin .
Wel…for that , each of us , in his/her respected position should promote “Education” and reasoning among our masses and pave the path to “conscious choices” and sane chooses .

Comment by Salman

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