Return to sender

LAST week, Mali refused to permit Pakistani clerics to preach in its mosques. Also last week, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, leader of the opposition and key figure in the Islamic grouping, the MMA, was not allowed to enter Dubai. A few months ago, Maulana Samiul Haq, another pillar of the MMA, was refused entry into Belgium when travelling with a parliamentary delegation.

By Irfan Husain

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2005, 9:57 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:49 PM

What links these incidents, apart from long, unkempt beards? Obviously, most people are getting fed up of the violent words and actions camouflaged in Islamic garb that are radicalising young people and claiming innocent lives abroad.

The maulanas concerned and their supporters blame our Foreign Office for these snubs. However, they should examine their own conduct, which has made them undesirable visitors in many countries, including Muslim ones. Indeed, not only have they put themselves on black lists maintained by immigration officers abroad, they have made travel for the rest of us Pakistanis difficult as well.

While these recent actions by friendly nations have startled many Pakistanis, the fact is that for years, we have found it difficult to get visas for most of the Arab world. Indeed, it has often been easier to get visas to Western countries than to Muslim ones. But to be fair to our army of clerics, factors other than their fiery speeches and connections have contributed to the devaluation of the Pakistani passport.

For decades, Pakistanis going abroad have been involved in a range of shady activities ranging from illegal immigration to drug smuggling. Millions have wanted nothing more than a chance to make a decent living and to create opportunities for their children. But this natural motive has seen them involved in criminal and often-desperate tactics to enter foreign countries. Other Pakistanis have made obscene fortunes by trafficking in heroin and marijuana. Some others are swindling social security organisations in the West. The Sunday Telegraph of London recently ran a story about the Sindh governor’s allegedly fraudulent claims to housing and support while living as an asylum-seeker in the UK.

These crooked activities have made Pakistanis unpopular visitors. However, the real suspicions and fear their presence currently provokes is the justifiable feeling that Pakistan has become the centre of terrorism and militancy. This perception is reinforced by the presence in Pakistan of hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taleban militants and leaders. So when preacher-politicians like Fazlur Rahman and Samiul Haq defend them while urging violence against the West, they should not expect to be warmly welcomed when they arrive in the very countries they threaten.

Arab countries have long resented the sanctuary Pakistan has provided to their extremists. The training these dissidents have received in camps here has helped them plan and launch attacks elsewhere. And who runs these camps? None else but extremist groups with close links to the MMA, often aided and abetted by shadowy intelligence agencies.

What are the forces transforming the world today? Not political or religious ones, but those of globalisation. It is trade and industry that are driving the international agenda. You either keep up with these forces as well as you can, or get left behind. The rules are very simple: sink or swim. While most of these forces are not actively for or against any particular group, they will crush anybody trying to block the free flow of goods, capital, services and technology. The export of terrorism and violent rhetoric that affects stock markets and profits as 9/11 and 7/7 did is simply not acceptable.

Directly or indirectly, military and diplomatic action is often decided in boardrooms in the world’s financial capitals. Competition over energy sources and raw materials is behind many of today’s headlines.

The economic reality underlying global forces are beyond the understanding of fundamentalists who are living in the long-dead past. While they dream of a mythical utopia, their simplistic vision has long been superseded by events and ideas. But as they are unprepared to be part of the innovation, science and rational thought that defines the modern world, they become angry and bitter at being marginalised and irrelevant. This anger expresses itself in their politics of hate and violence.

Before 9/11, the terrorist attacks launched by these groups were seen as irritating events, and lethal groups like Al Qaeda and the Taleban were allowed a relatively free hand. Militant outfits in Pakistan even prospered under official patronage. The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon changed this attitude forever. But because extremist religious parties have nothing but their message of hate to offer, their leaders have continued in their usual manner, spewing hate against everything to do with the West.

But the rest of the world —including moderate Muslim countries —wants nothing to do with them or their poisonous message. Prosperous states like Dubai are doing very well by positioning themselves as business and shopping centres for foreigners. Understandably, they do not want to ruin their image by admitting clerics preaching violence against the people they do business with.

Basically, our religious leaders must realise they cannot have their cake and eat it too. They can either preach violence and whip up crowds into a killing frenzy, or they can travel abroad as peaceful citizens of a moderate state. The open support they extend to extremist groups taints them and the whole country.

Unfortunately, even intelligent and well-travelled Pakistanis see a conspiracy at work when incidents like the recent one in Dubai occur. But in reality, there is no anti-Pakistan plot. We must realise that many of the virulent tendencies at work in Pakistan are no longer acceptable elsewhere. For instance, recently a crowd in the NWFP burned dozens of TV sets because a local cleric had announced that watching television was un-Islamic. What kind of signal did this act of madness send to the rest of the world?

General Musharraf has repeatedly expressed his concern for Pakistan’s image without realising that he cannot fix the image without fixing the product. Until he does, the people who have damaged it had better stay at home.

Irfan Husain is an eminent Pakistani commentator

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