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Talibanization: Nemesis of a Betrayed Idea

In order for Islamic idea to stand up to the efficacious ideas of twentieth century dynamic societies, it has to recover its original efficacy, that is to say, to resume its position among the ideas that make history -Malik Bennabi

This Sunday, as I was surfing through Malik Bennabi’s ‘Islam in History and Society‘ at my car mechanic’s workshop, a 15 year illiterate boy who was working there asked me about the ‘Sabaq‘ (lesson) I was reading. I told him that it was not a ‘Sabaq‘ in the classical sense; rather, a book about history, society and religion. Perhaps deceived by the beard on my face and the title of the book, the kid spontaneously shared with me his own one-second sociological percept. “The establishment of Islamic law is better than the current system“, the boy remarked as if he was insinuating agreement with my presumable stand, “we will have quick justice and everybody will be equal.” I engaged with him for some time and by the end of our brief conversation, I realized how the kid’s perception was shaped by the complex matrix of economic deprivation, sense of injustice and a belief in an almost superficial Islamic ideal. While driving back, I kept wondering whether the boy would have any qualms accepting Taliban’s brand of Islam in exchange of justice as a starting point; would he doubt the authenticity of their religious pronouncements – unmarried women as war booty, the Jizya, dhimmi status of non-muslims, black turbans, long beards and 15th century school syllabi – if they promise to get his illegally detained cousin released from jail.

The phenomenon of Talibanization has been increasingly symbolized to depict all kinds of religious extremism in Pakistani society – “a response to modernity“, a recent analyst calls it. Even beyond a cursory judicial institutionalization and entirely ahistorical in nature, Taliban’s version of Sharia is understood to be dangerously myopic and repressive in character. Coalesced with a tribal outlook, Taliban’s rudimentary religious and political philosophy is seen to radiate a certain savage medieval character; a disposition which can be attributed to its proclivity for anti-westernization and thus against all kinds of modernity and enlightenment. The intellectual deficit is visible as unlike bimodal Islamic reform movements of first half of last century – where they had separate militant and scholarly wings – these radical militant groups under the umbrella of Taliban are totally deprived of any strong ideological backbone. Yet, with its radical physiognomy and onionskin ideological structure, Taliban movement is successfully endangering a nation’s existence which was built on a so-called strong and modern Islamic ideal just 60 years ago. Therefore, on an intellectual front, we should engage more with the phenomenological principles that are at work since the creation of Pakistan in the realm of ideas rather than actual happenings in the realm of persons and objects.

As much as I contemplate about the ideological foundation of Pakistan, I am forced to believe that the underlying idea was the triggering of a new cultural universe which can grow on its own, thereby transforming, reforming and keep enriching itself according to Islamic ideals. Due to its arguable historical reawakening, it was idealized that a socio-political future of Islam is possible in the subcontinent due to a presumable shift of centre of ideological gravity from the Mediterranean. A separate state for Muslims – which may not be an Islamic state per se – was understood to present a direct opportunity for Islam; “…an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its laws, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times“, as articulated by Iqbal in his historical address of 1930.

In his philosophy of ideas, Malik Bennabi states that all the “ideas governing the moral and material order have their moment of grace“. “Archimedean moment“, he specifically terms it; but whether this moment successfully shapes the objective reality depends upon the sustenance of logical relationships between the idea and its archetypes. It still may be a genuine idea, even if it fails to do so, but it will not be an efficacious one, i.e., an impressed idea, it is; but not an expressed one.

When expressed ideas incessantly betray the impressed ideas – as it is happening in the land of pure for more than half a century – the latter eventually become dead, trigger a sociological metamorphosis and shape up new deadly ideas. Deadly ideas, which take vengeance and bring forth new crises which are never heard of hitherto. Modernity, justice, tolerance, religious harmony, revival and reformation – each great ideal falls one by one.

The mother of all crises, however, is the one related to identity. With all the statistical limitations of sample size, choice and demographics, figures reported by world value survey indicate few dimensions of this crisis: 83.5 percent of the subjects would like to identify themselves as Pakistanis first, in contrast to 14.2 percent who would like to be described as Muslims first. What is strange, however, is that 71.8 percent believe nationalism is incompatible with Islam in contrast to 2.2 percent who believe otherwise; 26 percent remain dithery. Large groups of people remain oblivious regarding most fundamental Islamic questions related to modernity; 50.8 percent do not know whether democracy is compatible with Islam; 63.4 percent remain clueless whether Islam permits killing of civilians if a country pursues laws harmful to Muslims and 74.2 percent cannot decide whether a true Islamic country should have a parliament with the right to pass laws. The only concrete deduction that can be successfully made out of these figures is the extent up to which an average Pakistani’s mind is plagued with atomism – a mind that is totally incapable of making systematic generalizations. Not surprisingly, therefore, 61.5 percent want implementations of Sharia law in contrast to 7.5 percent who disagree. The rest (30.9 percent), obviously, are still thinking.

With my mind drifting and meandering, I kept driving back home with a whole lot of ‘Sabaq’ in my mind – Bennabi, Iqbal, Jinnah and the philosophies they proposed and stood for in their own respective ways. But the strongest voice that kept tearing me apart was of Abul Kalam Azad. Almost prophetically with a pinch of well-placed acerbity, he wrote as he finished his own account of partition of India:

It is one of the greatest frauds on the people to suggest that religious affinity can unite areas which are geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally different. It is true that Islam sought to establish a society which transcends racial, linguistic, economic and political frontiers. History has however proved that after the first few decades or at the most after the first century, Islam was not able to unite all the Muslims countries on the basis of Islam alone.

Unlike Mukhtar Masood, the proverbial cat within me does not walk away hearing this; yet, my heart is unable to sync with the first part of the contention. I am not ready to believe that the whole idea was nothing more than a hoax. Believing that would mean suicidal self destruction. At the same time, however, I do believe that an idea is true as long as it brings success. There is no question defending it indefatigably without trying to restore its efficacy.


3 thoughts on “Talibanization: Nemesis of a Betrayed Idea

  1. I believe there are certain dynamics of our society that needs to be taken into account. There is no doubt people of this country wants “Islam”, what kind/type? This question is not relevant to people but scholars. Why people want Islamic Shariah? I believe they are romantic, well at least in this country yes that’s true! They buy romantic dreams usually. Dreams are sold in movements not their implementation. (1940s movement a dream? – The Idea). While starting socio-combat for restoring the “refined image” of religion as per this century, wouldn’t that be another ‘dream’ without its existence on earth? What we were told 60 years back was just a dream. Whatever Talibans are doing is realization, implementation. That is why the referred kid perceived that his ‘romantic dream’ is happening.
    I would say,
    “There is no question restoring religion’s efficacy without going practical now.”

  2. I think it depends on what one means by “unite”…

    It is clear throughout Muslim history that after 750CE, the Muslim world was divided in to numerous caliphates and sultanates, yet were still oriented towards the Divine. Each region had its own specific government power and centres of learning, yet the transferrance of knowledge and experience, plus the pilgrimage etc. continued unabted.

    The issue of the nation state, centralised governmets and subsequent developments, including the idealisation of the “caliphate” (when history often shows a different picture, especially the Ottomans)… all of these require dealing with. Can we have spiritual unity without necessarily physical unity?

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