The Attack on Church, Taliban and Democracy’s Paradox

Raza Habib Raja

christianToday another suicide blast took place targeting the Christian community. I really don’t know what to say because a suicide blast is in fact no longer news unless it accounts for many causalities or targets a minority. The latter grabs attention less because of the horror of the local populace but more due to the international spotlight.

And ironically the spotlight always ends up making Pakistanis defensive. It has to be a conspiracy to defame Islam and Pakistan. The assumption of moral superiority of Muslims manifests in disbelief and statements like “It cannot be a Muslim” reflect that disbelief.

A country is eventually gauged on a moral compass by the way it treats its minorities. We have blatantly failed in literally every way. And as extremism and bigotry chip away at the very foundation of our social order and cohesion, what is even more shameful is denial and constant apologetic defense.

Although Muslims are not a monolithic community but a sense of moral superiority cuts across the sectarian divide. And consequently, it becomes extremely difficult for Muslims to believe that a fellow Muslim may be involved in hideous crimes like suicide blasts. It is no wonder that from Shiite Iran to Wahabi Saudi Arabia, majority still thinks that 9/11 was planned and executed by US/Israel to create a conducive environment to attack Muslims.

Following 9/11 the subsequent numerous attacks have mostly been labeled as either conspiracy or merely a reaction. Only when a Muslim sect is targeted then members of that sect ( not the rest) accuse the rival sect and there also US realpolitik concerns are also held responsible.

In Pakistan, both the narratives (which eventually blame the outside forces one way or the other) are highly pervasive and unfortunately continue to affect even serious policy discourse.

Right now, many Pakistanis are in favor of negotiation with Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), militant organization which openly claims responsibility after such attacks. As circumstantial evidence builds up that the organization consists of our own home grown monsters, not surprisingly the “reaction to US atrocities” narrative is gaining currency and becomes the main justification for wanting to “negotiate” with our “own” people.

The main justification of course is that since all of this is a reaction therefore by negotiations we can pacify them and perhaps convince them to reintegrate into mainstream politics.

The very fact that such negotiations are a sign of weakness particularly if these do not initiate from a position of strength simply does not cross our naïve brains. As PML N came into power and showed its intention to negotiate, TTP sensing willingness and construing that as weakness is now on the rampage. Many of the recent blasts are tactical in nature as they aim to influence the negotiation.

It is simply the way war is often used to force the opponents to give concessions on the negotiating table. This is a deliberate war and sensing Pakistani state’s weakness, TTP is accelerating its attacks to extract more and more concessions.

They are being helped by our jingoistic media, delusional urban middleclass and dangerously reactionary politicians like Imran Khan. All these influence political stance towards TTP and end up strengthening the militants. In fact for the first time in history, we are encountering a situation where Pakistan Army, the one-time backer of these non-state actors, is actually calling for an action whereas the political leadership dominated by PML N and PTI are vying for the alternative strategy. In fact PML N recently released a top Taliban commander as signal of its “sincerity” for negotiations

The schism is ironic because we may be entering a phase where civil-military relations are slowly tilting towards the former. And this relative ascendency is coming at the time when political leadership is conceding ground to TTP and its allies.

As a democrat but also someone who espouses liberal values, I can only shudder at this irony and for me it is like actually living thorough what is known as “The Democratic Paradox”. The parties pressing for negotiations have the mandate and yet I do not at all agree with their stance.

I sometimes doubt that liberal democracy can actually flourish in Muslim countries. Democracy when it starts to consolidate in countries like Pakistan somehow or the other leads to regression with respect to liberal values.

A question is often asked: Is Democracy really compatible with Muslim Countries? I think this is not the appropriate question. The right question is: Can Democracy and Liberalism flourish together in Muslim Countries?

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