SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the capitalist counter-revolution in China, an immense political vacuum opened up in ideology and politics on a world scale. The tendency that gained the most prominence was the resurgence of political Islam and religious fundamentalism. Sectarian conflicts of the warring religious sects from Islam to Judaism and Christianity have raised their ugly heads, leading to vicious bloodshed, cruelty and the slaughter of people mostly in the former colonial countries, particularly Arab and the Muslim societies. From the savage reaction of ISIS in the old Levant to the ferociously bestial Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, these Frankenstein’s monsters created by imperialism have wrecked havoc and are raising the spectre of barbarism in several areas. These very imperialist bosses are now howling through their reactionary media about the menace they contrived.
The architect of the reactionary theory called ‘clash of civilisations’ was the notorious “butcher of Vietnam”, Samuel P Huntington, the CIA’s foremost theoretician in the 1990s. It was designed to foment religious conflicts in societies both east and west to tear apart the impending waves of class struggle. Although the reactionary role of religious fundamentalism is not a new phenomenon, its character dramatically changes with the rise of capitalism and imperialism. The social relations and class antagonisms that arose from this capitalist mode of development, and the uneven and combined patterns of socio-economic development in the former colonial world exacerbated religious prejudices dominating in the periods of reaction. Most forms of these religious fundamentalisms have ancient roots but their menacing form is a response to modernity dating to the early parts of the 20th century. This is true for Christian fundamentalism in the US, Jewish fundamentalism in Israel and the Jewish diaspora, Hindutva in India, Buddhist or Sinhala fundamentalism in Sri Lanka and Islamic fundamentalism in the Muslim world.
In Pakistan, 67 years after its inception, there is still a raging debate about the ideological basis of its creation. The liberals assert that Jinnah was a secular while large sections of the state and the clergy insist that Pakistan is a theocratic state. In fact, both views can be attributed to Jinnah’s speeches on different occasions. However, presently, most forms of Islamic tendencies are far from a monolithic version of Islam and are traditional, conservative, sectarian and an urban or suburban phenomenon. This, in turn, is the outcome of the convoluted and strangled development of Pakistani capitalism where the ruling classes entered the arena historically belated.
Pakistan’s urban landscape is a testimony to this uneven and combined nature of development where the rapidly expanding cities are still mostly rural in culture, owing to the constant flow of migrants from the countryside and the failure of the Pakistani bourgeoisie to create an advanced industrial state and a modern society that could absorb and develop this influx. Rural masses for centuries ascribed to secular cultural traditions. Only the advent of massive cash in the form of black money and distorted capitalist intrusion resulted in factitious modernisation. It destroyed the relatively harmonious life and cultures in the countryside. Instead of harnessing and beautifying nature they have disfigured rural landscape with disastrous environmental and social consequences and transformation in the various Islamic schools of thought.
Theologically, most Sunni Islamic tendencies and parties of political Islam, like the JUI, Jamaat-e-Islami, the barbarous Taliban and other outfits, come from the traditions of the Deobandis, Ahle-e-Hadith and Barelvis. The Shia tendencies within the South Asian subcontinent mainly come from Persian origins. Deobandis trace their origins to the famous madrassa (seminary) founded in Deoband (now in UP, India) in 1866. The Ahle-e-Hadith was a branch of the international Salafi tradition, heavily influenced by Wahabism and close links to Arabia dating back to the 16th century. However, until recently, a majority of the population in Pakistan was either oblivious to this doctrinal attrition and could loosely be ascribed as belonging to Barelvi tendencies named after a madrassa founded in 1880 in the town of Bareilly, also now in UP, India. Up until the late 1970s, religious sectarian prejudices were irrelevant and it was quite common to see intermarriages between Shias and Sunnis.
However, the draconian Zia dictatorship’s counter-revolution threw the movement of the working masses back and reaction began to dominate society. Mullahs, particularly those that never had any mass base, helped to perpetuate Zia’s heinous rule and used this ferocious dictatorship and the state in amassing huge wealth and setting up their seminaries and apparatuses to incarcerate society. The wily Zia used political Islam to secure his rule by stirring up Islamic sectarian hatreds to further divide and atomise the worker and peasant classes. Politically, he tried to revamp the traditional party of the Pakistan ruling classes, the Muslim League, with Islamic overtones. The various Muslim Leagues (N, Q, Z, A etc.) are the political foster children of Zia’s brutal legacy.
The main Islamic parties that represent these sectarian traditions are the JUI representing the Deobandi school, the Jamaat-e-Islami that is mainly a manifestation of the Ahle-e-Hadith and the formerly JUP, and now Qadri’s PAT, the modern reformist version of the Barelvi sect. All these parties and many other rising Islamic political outfits have extensively used welfare and rescue operations in natural disasters to expand their social base. The Jamaatud Dawa excels most. This method is not new as it has been practiced by most religious organisations be they Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. However, with the suffering intensifying, the masses are bewildered in how to find a way out of this orgy of capitalist coercion. In these declining economic, social and cultural conditions, adherence to an Islamic network is perceived to provide a sense of security amongst the most poor and alienated sections including the urban and rural lumpen elements. Poverty is recast as religious simplicity and austerity amid continuous humiliations and temptations.
Inspite of their utopian dream of an Islamic welfare state, all these parties, fundamentalist terrorist groups and sects prescribe to capitalism no matter how many denials they construe. In that respect, their conflict with imperialism is temporary and superficial. Till the late 1980s they were in the forefront of the dollar jihad and the repression of the left instigated by imperialism. Political Islam is another name for dark reaction and its oxygen is being provided by sections of the state, the mass disillusionment and inertia within society. Once the mass movement erupts, the class struggle will expose political Islam and intensify struggle between the ruling and toiling classes. Only the victory of a proletarian revolution can put an end to this excruciating deprivation and alienation. This would be the beginning of the end of political Islam in Pakistan and religion would become a private matter of the individual without any external pressure, social dictates, interference or force in adapting to any particular sect or religion.