The caliph dream

Being the products of the myopic narratives about Pakistani nationhood and religion in our textbooks and the populist media, quite a few young educated Pakistanis are struggling to find practical political, social and economic examples of the faith-driven Utopia that they were told Pakistan was to be. The problem with many among this generation of middle-class men and women is that quite unlike the earlier generations, they seem to have wholly bought into the farce of a religion-based Utopia they were told the founding founders conceptualised.

This is strange. In spite of the fact that they have more opportunities to acquire modern education and information today, this generation has somehow blocked alternative narratives that attempt to counter the one that defines Pakistan as some unique blob of religious, nationalist and political singularity. This is a reflection of a reactive strain of desperation, myopia and close-mindedness that have been creeping into the urban middle-class ethos.

A good part of this dilemma is also about how many young Pakistanis feel awkward when their modern lifestyles fail to relate and connect with the brutal ways of creatures like the Taliban and Al Qaeda. So, as if feeling guilty about this, they have concocted various social escape valves with the help of modern-looking and sounding Islamic televangelists through which they believe they can keep one of their feet in religion and the other in the modern material world.

On a more disturbing level, there are also some who have become venerable to what can be described as the modern and educated face of religious extremism: The Hizbut Tahrir (HT).

The HT was formed in 1953 in Jerusalem by a former Muslim Brotherhood member. His professed goal was to unite the Muslim world under a single political entity (Caliphate) and the Sharia (his ‘Salafi’ version of it). In the 1950s and 1960s the HT was mostly active in Arab countries. In the 1970s it got involved in various coup attempts in Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Planned with a handful of military men and political clerics, the moves were easily crushed.

The setback saw many HT leaders escaping to European countries, especially the UK. There the HT came onto contact with the second generation young Pakistanis, Muslim Indians and Bangladeshis. Though staunchly anti-West, the HT was tolerated there because it was more vocal against the Soviet Union.

It was during this period that it began reworking its idea of a world caliphate. And since it was now operating in Europe, its activists began dressing in western clothes, speaking English and using modern political symbolism to communicate what was otherwise a retrogressive, if not entirely Utopian, idea.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the HT began sending its well-dressed and articulate recruits to Central Asian countries, but more than ever, the focus was now on Pakistan. Being the country most affected by the Afghan civil war a number of extremist and sectarian organisations had emerged in Pakistan. The fallout of the war was also a state-sponsored ‘Islamisation’ and the confusion that set in at the end of the Cold War. This confusion engulfed the urban middle-class.

Facing a regenerated conservatism, this class reached out to ‘rediscover’ its Islamic roots (without letting go of modern material aspirations, of course). The same thing happened in certain sections of the military as well. The HT also began infiltrating modern university and college campuses (especially in Lahore) with the help of sympathetic professors and teachers. It began recruiting military officers too.

The HT bypassed terrorism and concentrated on building support among middle-class students, professionals and the military men. In the new millennium, its leadership was convinced that Pakistan was ready to become the launching pad for an international caliphate. And it planned to use elements within the army to achieve this. Violence was not far behind.

In 2003, the HT was accused of being involved in an assassination attempt against General Musharraf. An army captain was arrested for plotting a military coup. According to a former HT man, Majid Nawaz, the HT does not discount the use of violence through the converted military men in its goal of toppling the Pakistan government and the military’s top leadership to ‘establish a Khilafah state’. He adds that the second phase involves spreading the borders of such a state through jihad.

Though the HT is banned in Pakistan (not banned in the UK), a recent report suggests it still has sympathetic groups operating in the military and in various private universities. The HT has given the somewhat concocted and worn-out Maududiist notion of Islam’s ‘pristine political past’ a contemporary dimension. By using modern economic and political symbolism it has reconstructed this notion as a largely Utopian and farcical model for some sort of a golden, all-conquering future.
Smokers’ Corner: "The caliph dream"  by Nadeem F. Paracha

Hizb ut Tahrir the Global Islamic Political Party working for the reestablishment of Khilafah, Caliphate, Islamic state in the Muslim world ...

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