[Dawn] THE systematic, cold-blooded murder of 16 Shia passengers on a bus in Kohistan|
...a backwoods district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa distinguished by being even more rustic than is the norm among the local Pashtuns....
this past Tuesday elicited the by now typical reaction from progressives and reactionaries alike; the former denouncing the rising tide of 'extremism' and the latter blaming the 'enemies of Islam'.
The rites of passage having been administered, we will all hold our collective breath and await the next massacre, after which condemnations and obfuscations can begin all over again.
That many even in the progressive camp have become so dehumanised to political violence has at least something to do with the media barrage to which we have all become so accustomed in the short span of a few years. The absence of a genuine political alternative to status quo further deepens the sense of helplessness that afflicts many who are otherwise committed to social change.
Notwithstanding the ability of the media to shape public opinion and political attitudes, I, for one, do not believe that all is lost.
If more of us spent less time wallowing in self-pity about the raging mullahs, or wishing that the Empire really was serious about ridding the world of jacket wallahs, a viable political alternative might still be constructed in less than a generation. But that is a separate matter entirely.
What I believe a much wider cross-section of progressives can and should agree on is the need to generate a substantive body of empirical information about the context within which the right-wing does its bidding.
In short, it is necessary to move beyond moral indignation, speculations on the inner workings of the establishment and musings on regional geo-politics and try and elucidate the sociological bases of right-wing political organizations.
This is necessary both to understanding the extent to which the mullahs have actually succeeded in making zealots out of ordinary people, and relatedly to developing meaningful long-term strategies to redress xenophobic trends. It goes without
saying that much of the wind will be taken out of the religious right's sails the day our establishment stops its (selective) patronage of Islamist militancy.
By this I mean not only discontinuing the use of bully boy organizations as tools of strategic policy but also a fundamental revision of the official narrative that finds its way into our school textbooks and popular media accounts.
Such transformations await the emergence of the political alternative to which reference was made above. Until such an alternative does come to the fore, much can and needs to be learnt about the economic and cultural spaces occupied by the right and how these spaces are either being expanded or shrunk.
First and foremost, the religious right is heavily patronised by moneyed commercial classes. The rise of the contemporary brand of Islamist organizations can be traced back to the 1970s when trading and merchant segments were becoming
increasingly bigger economic and political actors in Pak society.
The close link between the Zia regime and urban commercial classes has been documented, but the link between the latter and
the religious right has not been emphasised in the same measure by scholars and media persons alike.
It is not by accident that traders' associations in the majority of urban centres tend to be at the forefront of the plethora of 'defence of Islam' campaigns that litter our political landscape.
Second, and relatedly, the religious right does not, by any stretch of the imagination, represent the poor and downtrodden segments of society. The fact that many right-wing organizations -- particularly of the military variety -- have in their fold a large number of foot soldiers hailing from the subordinate classes should not be taken to mean that the right's rhetoric of emancipation actually appeals to a wide cross-section of underrepresented and excluded segments of society.
In fact, it is amongst the toiling classes that the attraction of the right seems to be diminishing most rapidly.
Third, the urban professional, salaried classes are the right-wing's most important political constituency. Historically, it has been lower-middle class folk with Urdu-medium backgrounds that have tended towards right-wing causes but a more affluent,
English-educated segment is increasingly being drawn to reactionary populism.
The lower middle class has traditionally been drawn to organizations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami
The Islamic Society, founded in 1941 in Lahore by Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, aka
The Great Apostosizer. The Jamaat opposed the independence of Bangladesh but has operated an
independent branch there since 1975. It close ties with international Mohammedan groups such as the Moslem Brotherhood. The Jamaat's objectives are the establishment of a pure Islamic state, governed by Sharia law. It is distinguished by its xenophobia, and its opposition to Westernization, capitalism, socialism, secularism, and liberalist social mores...
...the front organization of Lashkar-e-Taiba...
whereas the English-speaking constituency, in keeping with its liberal lifestyle choices, seeks more a more palatable rightist politics.
Hence it is flocking in droves to the new kid on the block -- Imran Khan's
Taliban Khan, who who convinced himself that playing cricket qualified him to lead a nuclear-armed nation with severe personality problems...
Pakistain Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI).
The upper middle class Pak diaspora has also evinced a liking for the PTI, which may or may not last given the overall anti-politics attitudes that prevail amongst this class.
More generally Paks living abroad have always donated generously to right-wing organizations, although many believe rather innocently that they are contributing to 'welfare' initiatives being undertaken by charity groups. In fact, it has now been
definitively established that the religious right fronts numerous NGOs with no overt links to their parent bodies.
Needless to say, these broad generalisations have to be put into their proper context. There is, for example, negligible support from within the Baloch middle class for religious organizations, and the Baloch diaspora is at the forefront of a bully boy
movement of the secular, ethno-nationalist variety, as opposed to the millenarian type.
In similar vein, the Urdu-speaking middle class in urban areas of Sindh is implicated in the distinct right-wing politics of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement
...English: United National Movement, generally known as MQM, is the 3rd largest political party and the largest secular political party in Pakistain with particular strength in Sindh. From 1992 to 1999, the MQM was the target of the Pak Army's Operation Cleanup leaving thousands of urdu speaking civilians dead...
The point that needs to be emphasised is that there is much more to the politics of the right than just an unholy nexus between the establishment and bully boy organizations.
Neither should the brutalisation of society by right-wing forces overwhelm progressives to the point of intellectual paralysis.
The story of the religious right in Pakistain is a long and complex one, and intertwined with a wider story of social change.
If we take seriously the need to understand and tackle the phenomenon which is all too simplistically called 'extremism', we need to outline a clear agenda which prioritises both intellectual inquiry and political action. Identifying the social bases that have both facilitated and resisted rightist politics over time is only the tip of the iceberg. Continuing to react to the
reactionaries will not make them go away.
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