“From the pressure of all desolations, faith springs forth… we enter a tomb illuminated by dawn. (Victor Hugo) Revolutions in the world have always been triggered by inequalities and massive injustices. From the revolutions of Set and Nubia in 2730 BC. AD and 2690 BC. .
The “power” – the power – which presides over a system of booty has always been the target of the indignation of the people in all these revolutions. Where a lack of collective action due to an organizational and intellectual deficit in society thwarts any possible revolution, the “revolutionary need” generally turns into collective disorder and violence.
This mess, according to eminent scholar Gary Becker, is spawned by pressure groups that rise to prominence in response to a government’s inability to correct policy failures that favor politically powerful and wealthy segments of society. . These pressure groups can be political, ideological or anomic (spontaneous).
An anomic political group is born in response to an event. The example of the rise of the Ghazi brigade after Operation Lal Masjid is an example of an anomic pressure group. According to Arthur Bentley and David Truman, the two prominent lobbyists, these groups are formed on the basis of shared beliefs or attitudes which eventually become group interests that are further advanced with the transmission of certain types of values within the population.
In Pakistan, the failure of politics to anchor the needs and aspirations of the people in political and governance structures has led to a slow alienation of the people from mainstream politics. Fareed Zakaria’s concept of “illiberal democracy”, which exhibits all the outward attributes of a constitutional democracy – elections, parliament and governing bodies – applies well to Pakistan where the substance of democracy – rule of law, strong institutions , public responsibility and civic responsibility – is absent.
The resulting elitist regime gives rise to proverbial “wretches” who have no choice but to take to the streets to fight for their rights. The non-inclusive political regime, poor governance and frequent authoritarian regimes result in the emasculation of the democratic spirit that animates a political regime with the rights-based struggle for the basic rights and privileges of the dispossessed.
When people feel powerless in the face of an extractive elite, they tend to gravitate towards a pressure group that ennobles their quest for personal dignity. In the absence of political parties with inclusive structures and internal democracy, the people, especially the dominant conservative fringe of society, embrace parties that base their politics on religion. The religious and ideologists of these parties intelligently integrate religious doctrine with cultural practices that have been anchored in society for ages.
Motivating people in the name of religion to defend these values which correspond to their vision of Islam is the strategy to gain notoriety and to put pressure on the government to claim political and economic spaces. Two favorable factors reinforce these extremist narratives. One: the state’s absence of human security space and the equitable provision of public goods such as education, health care, justice, public order, housing and civic amenities.
Second: the timely use of religion to achieve political and strategic goals by the state. Our history – as well as that of other countries – shows that whenever an emotionally charged religious ideology has been used for political or strategic ends, the result has been the rise of religious activism.
Examples of extremist Jewish parties like the Kach which believe in the theocratic state and Al Qaeda which believes in armed struggle against its perceived enemies are relevant. Even in the atheist Chinese context, when an ideologically inspired Communist force, which was initially supported and armed by the United States with the nationalists of Chiang Kai Shek and which controlled the areas behind the Japanese invaders with an army of 900 000 men in May 1945 refused to disarm after World War II, it turned into the famous Red Army.
The use of the Deobandi version of Islam as a motivating force for the Afghan jihad in 1979 created a well-trained and equipped militant cadre who refused to lay down their arms after the end of the jihad. Seeing the steady rise of Islamic Deobandi parties, the Barelvi majority which constitutes over 51 percent of the population in Pakistan have also risen to claim political power.
From Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), Sunni Tehreek, Sunni Ittehad Council to the later Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the Barelvi sects have also used the same model to gain political and public influence. . The dispossessed and the destitute of poorly governed spaces have rallied to these parties to be empowered and adapted to the realities of power in the country. A soft state and a sympathetic population combine with sensationalism seeking the media to cripple the state’s response to the steady march of extremist militancy.
The state’s failure to hold strong religious activism accountable for acts of violence is the greatest incitement to distrust of religious particularism towards the state. A populist judge not only bailed out, but even went so far as to rehabilitate Lal Masjid clerics involved in inciting violence and killing members of the security forces.
Later, TLP clerics were again left unharmed after the Faizabad sit-in. And now another concession to the TLP has shown the state’s inability to uphold the law of the land. Rampant religious activism cannot be contained by administrative and repressive measures alone. To contain this threat, a full menu of options is required.
This menu must consist of measures to eliminate the root causes of extremism, including a distorted understanding of religion at the top. Instead of injecting religiosity, the state should sponsor enlightened, non-sectarian clerics to take center stage in religious discourse. Measures to improve people’s security needs and the rule of law can wean large sections of the population from activism. Only strict responsibility, and no molly pampering clerics stoking the fires of activism, can heal the cries of the helpless.
The author is a security analyst and a doctoral student. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org