Over the past several months, as the dark shadow of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has spread over an increasing fraction of the Middle East, forcing the rest of the world to choose sides in the ongoing bloodshed, the Muslim world is faced with an exceptionally disturbing paradigm: that of picking between fellow Muslims who seem to be bent upon slitting the throat of the other blood brothers!
At least ostensibly, despite a deep and cozy relationship that the Sharifs have with the House of Saud, Pakistan has not actively participated in the ongoing conflict that has consumed the Arabian Peninsula. All that, however, might change as a result of a promise made, earlier this week, by the PML-N Government to the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir that Pakistan will lend its muscle to defending any threat against the integrity of Saudi Arabia. Also, in the same breath, Pakistan officially extended its support to the recently formed Saudi led coalition, which claims to have been formed to fight terrorism (read: Iranian influence) in the Middle East. As a result, of these promises, Pakistan has officially declared its support of the Wahhabi Saudi Arabia (of course through some arm-twisting and bribing of petro-dollars) against the Shia ideology of Iran. And in many ways, nothing different could have been expected by the PML-N Government, which has historically relied upon the support of domestic Sunni-religious parties, and has internationally been backed by Wahhabi monarchs.
Even through the rosy glasses with which most of Pakistanis view Saudi Arabia (since the land houses the two most sacred sites of Islam), the support of Saudi Government in its bid to quell all voices of dissent and democracy seems hypocritical at best. Majority of the world, including Western democracies, are rushing to the defense of a despotic monarchy that has the most abominable record in regards to human rights – for no other reason than to preserve the perverted status quo in terms of the petro-industry. And while economic interests alone might be sufficient justification for the West to defend the repressive Saudi monarchy, it cannot serve as a plausible excuse for the Muslim World to follow suit.
Does the mere geographical control over Mecca and Medina absolve the Saudi Government of the manner in which it treated Muslim corpses during Hajj? Does custody of the keys of Kaaba also come with a license to ignore the injunctions of Islam in regards to shedding of innocent blood? Does entrustment of the Holy sites grant automatic immunity against repressing women? Does the worldly authority to appoint the imam of Kaa’ba also grant divine powers to suppress minorities? Can the momentary fiefdom over a country that produces nothing other than oil, grant dominion over defining the essence of an eternal religion? Can wearing a thawb and gold plated cufflinks empower one family to replace the theology of peace with self-serving Wahhabism? Does the empire of human rights, of equality, of free speech, stop at the shores of an oil field?
And what about the bloodstained record of awarding death penalties to those who voice dissent against the tyrannical regime, including juveniles and individuals with special needs? What was the crime of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr? There are no charges against him, none in terms of violence. His crime was to have lent voice to his conscience. To have spoken what he believed to be the truth about religion as well as governance. And to have done so freely. He encouraged others around him to do the same, in the hope that multitude of voices will bear some echo in the gold-plated palaces of Riyadh. And throughout history, despots have greeted such unpardonable crimes with the same punishment: crucifixion.
There is a deep malaise in the manner that Saudi-sponsored religious philosophy colors our view of the world. The petro-Wahhabi empires of our time have caused a deep rupture in our religious ideologies, and in our threshold for accepting barbarity in the name of religion.
The battle to reclaim Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance, and acceptance, is now not only being fought in the deserts of Arabia, but also on the streets of Pakistan, as well as within each conscientious soul. The physical presence of ISIS, of Saudi sponsored American jets, of Iranian missiles, may be half a continent away, but its ideological ripples are present on every street corner and mosque in our land. Its horrific shadow can be seen in the activities of LeJ, TTP, and Jundallah. Its deplorable consequences are visible in the security arrangements each Muharram. It is incumbent, now, to participate in and claim our stake in the ongoing discourse about the future of our individual as well as collective religio-national identity. If for no other reason than to be active players in the quintessential quest of our time.
The Holy Scriptures in each of the Abrahamic religions, prophesize about the culminating battle between good and evil; the final coming; of the climactic drop-scene in the eternal conflict that rests at the heart of humankinds redemption. A battle in which there are no bystanders, and each of us will have to pick a side.
Are we living through the fulfilment of this prophesy? Maybe. But whether or not one believes in this eternal promise, at the very least the future of our nation, and that of our children, is intrinsically wedded to the outcome of this conflict.
We cannot sit passively, in our comfortable inertia, and allow a handful of political rulers to cast our lot, according to their subjective preferences. Our individual consciences must find expression that resonates in our national decisions. And this must happen before we find ourselves, regrettably, on the wrong side of history.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.