The News, Dec 21, 2008
The JuD and ordinary Pakistanis
By Omar R. Quraishi
In case readers didn't know -- and there is an acute shortage of facts on this issue -- the Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned by the Pakistan government in 2002. This happened following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 by what India later claimed were members of the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. One calls it a claim because the people who were later prosecuted and convicted of the attack have always claimed their innocence and sections of the Indian media and many Indian rights groups and activists have themselves said that the cases against these people were weak at best.
However, this is not to say that the LeT or for that matter its affiliate the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) are completely innocent of the terrorist acts that they have been accused of. And again, since facts are in short supply when one discusses such issues, one will take recourse to the organisation's website -- which carries several commentaries post Mumbai.
For instance, in a post dated Dec 11, the JuD website says that 'Saffron terrorist groups' belonging to the Sangh Parivar were behind the recent Mumbai attacks. It said that a 'Hindu suicide squad' called the 'Atma Ghataki Pathak' was trained by a former three-star general (who served as the GOC of the Indian Army's western command) Premnath Hoon, who had after retirement become the head of the Shiv Sena's military wing. It also blamed this 'suicide squad' for the attack on the Sabarmati Express in 2002 -- which then led to the Gujarat riots and massacre. It also says that a retired colonel of the Indian Army by the name of Jayant Chitale and an accomplice were in fact arrested in Nov 2002 for running a 'training camp' for suicide attackers but were 'later released at the intervention of RAW'. It claims that the attacks had several aims, one of which was to eliminate Hemant Karkare, the Indian police official who was investigating involvement by elements of the Sangh Parivar and military officers allied with them in the Samjhota Express bombing and the Malegaon blasts. The JuD post also claimed that Karkare has previously been posted the Indian embassy in Vienna as an undercover officer for RAW and that this was meant to indicate that he knew of the agency's inner workings.
Although the JuD would have said all this on its website to throw off the blame that has come on it and the LeT for involvement in the Mumbai attacks, the fact is even within the Indian media there remains confusion as to how Karkare actually died. While it is now presented that he died, along with two other officers, outside a hospital, several websites, including CNN-IBN, still have news reports saying that he was killed in an encounter with the attacks outside the Taj hotel. However, Ajmal Kasab's confession suggests that Karkare was killed outside the Cama Hospital.
Other posts included one dated Nov 14, 2006, and titled 'Woman: The honouring of Islam and the humiliation of West'. The article was obsessed with showing readers how superior Islam is to other religions and how superior Muslim societies are with respect to the rights of women compared to other communities. It gives numerous examples -- and one isn't sure of their veracity -- from the west and 'ancient India' to show that in Islam, women have rights like in no other community, society or faith. Consider the following from the said article and readers can judge for themselves whether women by and large are in such a predicament in the west: "As for contemporary woman in Europe, America and other industrial nations, she is a creature which is degraded and abused for commercial purposes. She is a feature of advertising campaigns and things have reached a stage where she takes off her clothes in order to advertise products on posters, and sells and displays her body according to systems devised by men, so that she is no more than an object of pleasure for them in every place... When she becomes old and cannot give any more, society -- individuals and institutions -- forsakes her and she lives alone in her house or in a mental hospital." Clearly, 'traditions' like karo kari, vani, swara and watta satta and the ways in which women's rights were suppressed under the Hudood Laws and the status of women in Pakistan today are all issues conveniently ignored.
Regrettably, this tendency to act superior than the rest of the world, ignore one's own warts and what not and to blame the rest of the world for all that ills the Islamic world is something that is found in many ordinary Pakistanis as well. Whether they have been influenced by organisations such as the JuD or whether the organisations have been influenced by the society that they have grown up in is not the issue but rather that the value system and worldview of the JuD and the LeT is in fact something that a lot of Pakistanis share -- particularly the view that a Hindu/Zionist/American conspiracy of sorts has been put in motion to annihilate the Muslim world. Another post is devoted to Mother's Day, or rather to equating it more or less with paganism. In fact, another post is on how Muslims should beware of doing actions that make them equal to kaafirs -- such as celebrating their holy days and festivals. Also, it is clearly mentioned that non-Muslims are kaafirs and should not be even befriended.
Clearly, the JuD promotes hatred and intolerance and this is surely not something that Pakistanis -- or in fact anyone regardless of their nationality -- would condone or encourage. This is also not to say that most Pakistanis are active supporters of the JuD but by the organisations own admission it serves thousands of poor people every day spending millions in the process -- so surely this money comes from somewhere. Having said that, it would be fair to say that an increasing proportion of Pakistanis agree with some of the things that are written on the JuD website and hence the sharp reaction perhaps to the ban placed on it.
To say that the JuD is involved in charitable work and hence a ban on it is wrong is to miss the point. It is a pretty much like saying that the Shiv Sena or the RSS is involved in charitable work and in helping the poor -- which they claim that they do in fact -- and hence that somehow mitigates the hatred and intolerance that they preach. If we want to ask for a ban on the RSS, the Shiv Sena or the Bajrang Dal -- or at least remind others that India has such extremists groups and outfits in its own midst -- then we also need to acknowledge that we too have (more than) our fair share of such organisations and that the biggest sufferers and victims of their excesses and indoctrination have been our own people.
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.