Umar Khalid Dar
It was with concern that I have read a few newspaper articles where authors are ‘terrorising’ people that Talibanisation of Pakistan’s major cities is looming over our heads. They have based their ‘theories’ on an event where traders on Lahore’s Hall Road have burnt thousands of pornographic DVDs voluntarily. With a pinch of salt I have taken this news but I was more hurt with the analysis of the news. The analyst suggested that the ‘Taliban’ hold ‘twisted and mistaken belief that the pornography the vendors allegedly supply to people is ruining the morals of society’. I do not know which ‘morals of society’ will get better by watching pornography. Even in the West, where I have spent quite some time, all such materials are considered objectionable; then how can it be considered normal in an Islamic country. So if any such material has been destroyed by some vendors then how can this act be objectionable? When people follow the Western culture or become ‘enlightened moderate’, no one has the right to object to them. Similarly, anyone trying to get rid of such material and follow an Islamic way of life has the right to do so.
Are we becoming a society of extremes? The concept of ‘if you are not with us then you are against us’ is distorting the fabrics of Pakistani society. I do not want to be part of enlightened moderation but then I also do not want to be part of Talibanisation concept of rigid Islam. I want to lead a simple life according to my own will and of course within Islamic principles. So I feel perturbed of anyone being labelled Taliban, if one tries to follow Islamic tenets or one is considered infidel if one does not keep a beard or keep his ankles naked.
The Taliban have become synonyms to extremist, radicals and terrorists. We need to analyse this fact. To me it is all part of Western propaganda that wants us to start detesting anyone who wants to follow an Islamic way of life by calling him Taliban. Here I am not advocating the Taliban or endorsing their way of governance, but we need to acknowledge that the Taliban were a reaction to Western failure in Afghanistan. After a Soviet pullout and US disengagement in 1989, various mujahidin factions fought amongst each other to fill in the power vacuum. Afghanistan’s civil war continued for many years. Therefore, Afghans of all ethnicities welcomed the Taliban as heroes when they brought an enduring peace, national security, and respect for Islamic and Afghan beliefs and traditions. Most of the country became peaceful and disarmed: with trade routes to Central Asian states prospered, the value of the currency increased, and agriculture improved. The Taliban were effectively governing Afghanistan – with many bad practices, when the Americans decided to interfere again, after 9/11, and anything associated with the Taliban (good or bad) was considered evil and odious.
Let me put it bluntly that the Taliban never wanted any ill for Pakistan or the Islamic world or the Western world. So why do we hate them? Are they responsible for suicide bombings? As far as my knowledge is concerned, I have never read any Taliban – the original one from Afghanistan, decreeing suicide bombing against Muslims as justifiable or killing of every infidel as their goal. They might not have shown the world the best of Islam: like hanging of TVs, lashing of women or disallowing of women from getting education and medical treatment. It was hardly Islamic. Tribal laws and traditions have routinely taken precedence over Islamic laws. As Muslim I am ashamed of such Dark Age’s traditions. The Afghan burka conjures up the image of oppressed womenfolk. ‘Liberating’ oppressed Afghan women from their evil burka was a subtext of the war against the Taliban. Anyone with a little background knowledge on the Afghanistan culture will bear me out that the burka is a symbol of respectability for the Afghan women. The women in the villages do not wear burkas but when a family rose on the social scale, as a symbol of respect its women start donning the burka. It is a symbol of their newly gained social status and class. Despite the efforts of US marines who had been on a feminist mission of ‘liberating’ Afghan women from their misery, an overwhelming majority of the Afghan women continue to wear it as a matter of choice and social norm. It is cultural and deep-rooted and as human rights activist we must respect the way Afghan women want to be clothed.
One needs to differentiate between al Qaeda and the Taliban. The former has a worldwide agenda and they recruit radical fighters to engage in wars but the Taliban have just one motive and it is to free Afghanistan, which is a legitimate demand and wish. Their forefathers have fought the British and the Russians, and they are fighting the Americans for freedom and free homeland where they can lead their lives as per the majority wishes; what is wrong in it, I cannot see. The British and the Russians failed in this region, not because they were weak but because they failed to understand the Afghan culture, their resilience and love for freedom. The Americans are bound to fail even more miserably. Because they have learnt nothing from history and rather they have increased their canvass of fighting and have increased the targets including religion along with the culture.
So who are those who are killing innocent people and are bombing video shops and threatening barbers? They are people hired by foreign powers to terrorise ordinary people and make them think that fighting these maniacs is their war. The people who are doing all this are not the Taliban, rather they are foreign-sponsored elements who just want to malign Islam and taint our mind. Such miscreants needed to be handled with complete state might and deserve no pardon. If the American and the Western media is trying to promote their culture and wants us to live like them then what wrong are the Taliban doing if they want us to keep beards and offer namaz and lead an Islamic life. It is up to the people to decide what way of life they want. It is just like marketing; where one brand tries to highlight its strong points and show the weaknesses of its rival brand. They cannot force the viewers to buy their brand but they try nonetheless. So I am with all those Taliban and Westerners who are trying to promote their cause by talking and not fighting. I am not afraid of Talibanisation of our cities or them adopting Western way of lifestyle, if it is left on the will of people to decide for themselves. Better of the culture will prevail. Let nature take its time.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Manchester, UK
The Post, 25/10/2008