The Potential Menace of Islamist Politics

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

For a long time, I have held this rather well meaning but terrible belief that Islamist or religious parties should participate in democracy. Now I must say that I realize the gravity of such disastrous ideas.

Probably the most underestimated factor in democracy is that church and state should be separate. Not only is that fact being undermined in countries with Muslim majority population, but also in some Western and perceivably more democratic nations.

In Pakistan, however, the problem is particularly disturbing. Even though the Jamaat-e-Islami gets very little love at the polling booth, a large number of people agree with their populist Islamist rhetoric. This is a problem when anyone who wants to see democratic value flourishing in a country with such a poor track record in the subject.

Belief in Islamism and the tenets of Islam in general encourage a draconian system of governance and a violent medieval system of justice, contrary to freedom and democracy. If this statement sounds like an Islamophobic sweeping rant, then consider the following statement by former Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Syed Munnawar Hassan.

Syed Munnawar Hassan just called for Qital Fisabeelilah or murder in the name of God in order to fight oppression. While this sounds just like a noble call for the righteous kill from the Bolshevik revolutionary in your high school mate, it is a far more dangerous than militant socialism, or even authoritative conservatism for that matter.

When an Islamist leader calls for something, he or she, pardon me it’s always going to be a he, is always going to invoke the name of God for any action. Since religious people in general and Muslims in particular are conditioned not to question religious authority, they are bound by whatever sort of decree comes down upon them. Their potential for menace is far greater than what most people imagine.

It’s not that Jamaat-e-Islami, or other Islamist and other religious parties for that matter, should be banned for statements such as these. Instances like these only show how dangerous they are. They should be banned anyway because they endorse and promise to enforce undemocratic or religious principles.

I understand the dilemma of our secular politicians allowing the religious parties to live with them. They are afraid of their violent backlash if they are not allowed to maneuver politically.

However, if the Communist Party of Pakistan can be banned for all its undemocratic values, by ironically a military dictator without any violent resistance from them, why should we treat the Jamaat-e-Islami any differently? I would always endorse serious violent crackdown on Islamist parties in case they try rioting or disturbing the peace and quiet of our cities.

Apparently, there is a lot of hope in the Pakistani society as you see great resistance to the political ambitions of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that is linked to Muslim Brotherhood and has sympathies  for, if not possible connections to, Al Qaeda. You would see the most conservative quarters rejecting JI candidates. A JI candidate has not won a major seat in Punjab or interior Sindh in my living memory.

However, there is no shortage of well meaning and religiously bound idiots who would still endorse Islamic system of governance and Shariah. As if giving up their freedoms would redeem them. A more dangerous breed among them recognizes that only religious parties can truly enforce this system of governance and support Jamaat-e-Islami without holding back.

Just imagine the horror of an Islamist group gaining access to power through a democratic process, when they should actually not even be participating in it. The irony.

So it is a disappointment when I see Information Minister Pervez Rasheed speaking at an anti-Israeli rally held by Jamaat-e-Islami. Or Governor Punjab validating their political forum by offering them a speaking appointment.

We must come to our senses before we end up destroying whatever democracy we have left. We must also understand that democracy must have no room for religious political parties. All the more reason for a secular constitution.

In other words, Jamaat-e-Islami should be banned.

Note: As published in The Nation blog.

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