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Extremism and the Modern Muslim State

by Khaled Ahmed

File photo. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Religious belief often negates the sovereignty of the modern state through extremism, endangering governance and due rights for all citizens

Extremism and violence are vestiges of the times when man was primitive and lived in a competitive jungle of scarce resources.

This extreme behavior was manifest in the distant past of “jungle conditions.” Why is this collective human trait so pronounced among Muslims in the 21st century? One diagnosis is conservatism or the trait of holding on to the past, a condition met by religion if its “eternality” is preserved with extreme conservatism. Religion and its “eternal” relevance to human behavior is commonly believed to be the cause of this extreme behavior.

Time-arrested extremism of faith

There are other reasons why extremism and violent collective behavior persist in present times. Human sociology describes current extremism and resultant violence as a state’s inability to “remold” the tribal areas on its territory into a modern state. Lack of civilizational communication keeps these “highlanders” steeped in the “honor” of the “survival of the fittest”, inclined to invading the “settled” area occasionally to safeguard their “honor-based” way of life. The modern state inherits these “ungoverned” spaces and strives to “merge” them with territories evolved away from “violence” often expressed through preservation of “honor”. Most often the evolution of the modern state out of the extremism and violence of tribalism is thwarted by religion and its “un-changeability”. The denial of “evolution” in religion causes the state to become stunted.

Pakistan has inherited a “tribal” population where extremism and violence emanate from the honor-based life of the population. The delayed “reform” of the “tribal” to “municipal” has aggravated the state’s internal search for sovereignty. It allowed the tribal areas comprising northern and north-western territories abutting Afghanistan to retain their tribal way of life. Almost all of Balochistan was not given the “normal” municipal order, thus postponing the removal of the “sovereignty” of the “sirdars”, and denying itself writ of the state in a large area of the province. This lack of extension of the writ of the state in the interior of “wadero” Sindh and, to some extent, in South Punjab which is the home of powerful religious madrassa employed by the state in “proxy” jihad. The curtailment of “internal sovereignty” thus allowed most of the territory of Pakistan to fall to the “extremism” of the tribes.

Pakistan’s error at birth

At the time of its birth in 1947, Pakistan was largely tribal and the first task of the new state was to start a process of “detribalization” in order to become a “normal” state. It faced instead of the problem of “tribalization” of the “settled” population in southern Punjab. The preservation of the tribal way of life without economic facilitation forced tribal populations to migrate from the high birth-rate tribal areas to the cities. Already predominantly tribal, the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was soon receding into its early honor-based identity; migration to Punjab too affected its more post-tribal identity; but it was Karachi—the most highly socially evolved city—that was to become the biggest “Pashtun city” of the world after “survival” migration from the north. Karachi evolved from Pakistan’s most highly urbanized metropolis to an area stricken with violence associated with communities.

Religion tends to affect the internal capacity of the state to nurture modern cohesion with equal rights for all citizens. It tends to award lower status to minorities and–self-damagingly–to Muslim women. The religious man challenges the state from his superior status as a follower of sharia, which cannot even be uniformly agreed upon. This phenomenon weakens the state and undermines its legal status through extremism and consequent violence. Extremism springs from the condition of certitude which is the gift of religion in an uncertain human condition. And no certitude is possible without reductionism. The cleric can become the fascist who imposes his creed on others ultra vires of the constitution of the state. People who are fired by conviction look impressive. On the other hand, more “inclusive” liberals fail to impress because they find fault with creeds and are singularly lacking in symbolism of power.

Faith and ‘universal’ human rights

Most Muslim states are haunted by lack of human rights in general and particularly in relations to women. In South Asia, Bangladesh has forged ahead of India and Pakistan economically—despite its democracy-related shortcomings—because of its long-term just treatment of women. It was slightly ahead of Pakistan in adult literacy in 1980, but since then the gap has widened: nearly 75 percent of adults in Bangladesh were literate in 2018 compared with about 60 percent in Pakistan. The gap is wider for females: 71 percent in Bangladesh versus 48 percent in Pakistan. Bangladesh’s economy, based on garment-manufacture, is led by women. The prominent factor, compared to Pakistan, is Bangladesh’s almost uniform level of society as opposed to Pakistan where more than half the territory is not “normally administered.”

The biggest threat to “normal democracy” in Pakistan comes from Afghanistan and its “aligned” Pakistani territory where the Pashtuns persist in the habit of ignoring the “separation” imposed by the Durand Line. As seen during the local government polls in the “tribal areas” merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, violence is the latest message to the “ideological” state of Pakistan. To complicate the scenario further, Afghanistan hosts Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) that names itself Islamic State Khorasan or Daesh Khorasan, the last word designating Pakistan as the target of its ideological plan of action. There is Arab money behind it which has sprung from the “differences” that the “oil states” of the Gulf can’t get over with.

Muslim states fund Muslim extremists

One report in Asia Times, published on Dec. 17, 2021, has revealed the following “charity” awards by Qatar to radical organizations: “Though many Eid Charity beneficiaries have yet to be audited, some preliminary findings further reveal Qatar’s ties to Middle Eastern radical groups including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Hamas, and Ihsani Yardim Vakfiih (IHH). Collectively, these groups and their referenced affiliates have received about $75 million from Qatar’s Eid Charity. AQAP’s ties to the Eid Charity are unsurprising given the haven that Qatar afforded to 9/11 mastermind and Al Qaeda figurehead Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). In Qatar, KSM was employed by the Ministry of Electricity and Water, and helped plot attacks targeting the World Trade Center (1993) and the Philippines—where he reportedly sought to assassinate then-U.S. president Bill Clinton as he traveled abroad.”

Violence related to religion has destroyed a number of Arab states in the Middle East. Sectarian violence in Iraq is widely perceived to have developed as a result of rising sectarian tensions between the different religious and ethnic groups of the country, most notably the conflict between the Shia Muslim majority and the Sunni Muslim minority. These tensions slowly worsened and eventually developed into violent conflicts such as the War in Iraq (2013–2017) and the Iraqi Civil War (2006–2008).

Next-door Syria has gone through the trauma of state annihilation based on religious sects and terrorist sharia-based organizations forcing the population to migrate out of Syria. The tragic collapse of the state of Lebanon constitutionally organized between three communities—Christian, Shia Muslim, and Sunni Muslim—has fallen apart and once-prosperous citizens stand by the roadside today begging for money to eat. Further south in Yemen, no state actually exists and an intra-Muslim proxy war has annihilated what existed as state. All this has transpired as a result of the extremism springing from religious belief negating the sovereignty of the modern state.

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