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Critical issues in the Islamic Movement

Zafar Bangash

History does not move in leaps and bounds. Most Muslims involved in Islamic activity, especially of the political party variety, want immediate results. While hoping to bring about change in one’s lifetime is not an undesirable objective, the end result is not upto humans to determine. Nor is the timescale.

The historical process is measured and slow. Small increments over a long period of time lead to significant changes. What Muslims can and must determine, however, is the direction of change.

While change is endemic, it does not necessarily mean that it will always be in the right direction. Change in the wrong direction often leads to disastrous consequences. So along with change, even the understanding of the issues to bring about the desired change is important.

A quick review of the mode of operations of Muslim political parties shows clearly that their understanding has been faulty. They have failed to grasp the elementary point that the dominant political system in their societies is unjust and totally alien to the ethos of Islam. The ‘Islamic’ political parties cannot bring about change by operating as part of the existing framework. In the unlikely event that they are allowed to assume power, as for instance, in Turkey, they are forced into humiliating compromises.

The struggles going on in different parts of the Muslim world also illustrate this point. From Mindanao to Morocco and from Srinagar to Sarajevo, Muslims are struggling to secure their rights. Invariably, the struggle is brutal and exacts a heavy price in life, blood and honour. The examples of Kashmir, Palestine, Chechenya and Bosnia immediately spring to mind.

These are areas in which Muslims were or are engaged against an external enemy. There are also struggles within Muslim societies between various competing groups. These have far greater impact on the future of the society than the struggle against an external enemy. In the latter case, people of divergent opinions usually rally together against a common enemy, setting aside their differences temporarily.

The case of the Afghan mujahideen validates this point. As long as the Red Army was in Afghanistan, the mujahideen, by and large, set their differences aside and took on the invaders. With the Red Army driven out of the country, the groups started to fight among themselves.

It could be argued, quite justifiably, that their external backers must also share some blame for this. True, but in the final analysis, the Afghans themselves must take responsibility for what has befallen them. Unless there are weaknesses within their ranks, no external power can manipulate them.

Once the external factor is removed, internal contradictions immediately come to the fore. The internal struggle for power is far more deadly. It virtually wipes out the gains made against the external enemy. Again, Afghanistan offers a good example.

Kashmir may face the same problem were the Indian army to be driven out of there in the near future. There are far too many groups with divergent outlooks that are likely to take on each other once Indian troops are expelled.

The various groups struggling against Indian military occupation have not given much thought to this. And if they have, so far they have not come up with a satisfactory solution. The All Parties Hurriyet Conference, for instance, is a mix bag of some 30 groups who do not see eye to eye on many important issues.

Chechenya, too, could go the way of Afghanistan if their leaders are not careful. So far, however, they have shown far greater maturity and sophistication than Muslims in other parts of the world.

In the arena of internal struggle, Muslims face some very difficult choices. In both Algeria and Egypt, for instance, the legitimate struggle of Muslims against brutal regimes has degenerated into violence whose ultimate victims are the Muslims themselves. The Islamic Movement cannot and must not compete with the regimes in the level of violence.

The regimes have far greater capacity for violence. In fact, their only expertise is to inflict violence on their hapless subjects, thereby terrorising them into submission. Unlike the regimes, the Islamic Movement is dependent on the goodwill of the masses.

Once the struggle degenerates into violence, the regime gains the upperhand. It not only has the capacity for far greater violence but it can and does manipulate the situation to blame it on the Islamic Movement. This it has done successfully in Algeria for instance, where the junta’s hired militias indulge in gruesome crimes against civilians but blames it on the Islamic Movement. The same can be said for the situation in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and other places.

This brings us to the point about what the Islamic Movement should do. It needs repeating that there are no short-cuts to Islamic work. A sustained effort over a long period of time in which the methods and processes are critically analysed and debated is the only answer.

Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1997

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 6

Muharram 09, 14181997-05-16

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