Mirza Ghalib, one of the masters of Urdu poetry, bemoaned the tragedy of having a good memory in one of his famous couplets and pleaded with God to deprive him of it. I faced a similar situation a few days ago, upon reading an article by the grandson of Qazi Hussain Ahmed (former head of Jamaat e Islami) in a national newspaper. Baby Qazi complained of negative coverage given to his party and misconceptions about the party’s views, laying the blame on a hostile media. He went on to explain that ‘Islamist’ parties in Turkey and Egypt took inspiration from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). The Jamaat’s attitude towards the Taliban is also misconstrued, according to Baby Qazi. He was of the view that JI gets a lot of negative publicity due to the misdemeanours of JI’s student wing, Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT). The article also noted that women do not view JI in a glowing light, which is only because they are not informed about the excellent women’s wing of the Jamaat. The writer extolled the struggle for democratic principles waged by JI and its good intentions towards both the ‘West’ and Muslim countries.

Having extensively studied the history of JI (and written thousands of words on it), I was surprised by the (feigned) ignorance of Baby Qazi towards his party. He made the Jamaat look like a bunch of toothless fairies with noble intentions. In reality, the Jamaat is anything but. Founded in 1941 by Abul A’la Maududi, as the ‘vanguard’ of Islamic revolution, the Jamaat’s history is full of skeletons in its closet. Starting from an anti-nationalist position, JI changed its colors faster than a chameleon after the creation of Pakistan. Following the make-over, JI became the flag bearer of the ‘Ideology of Pakistan,’ a vague term introduced by its members in the 1960s. The party remained a pawn in the hands of the Pakistani establishment between 1965-2008 and aided/abetted every military coup apart from the first.

The Jamaat was one of the torch-bearers of sectarian politics, which ravaged the country initially in the early part of the 1950s. Contrary to the position taken by Baby Qazi, JI has always punched above its weight in the political arena despite having done nothing at the electoral level. From local elections in the Punjab in 1951 until the national elections in 2013, the Jamaat has never gained more than a handful of seats in Pakistan’s parliament. In the last national elections, JI gained a little over a hundred thousand votes (which is the approximate number of its registered members). How this entitles JI to claim its role as a ‘national asset’ is beyond my comprehension.

Regarding the ‘hostile media’ accusation, there is no available evidence to suggest that JI gets negative press coverage in Pakistan. Umair Javed, a well-informed political scientist, mentioned in one of his opinion pieces that religious parties dominate the ‘local news’ sections in Pakistan’s Urdu Press. A cursory analysis of the opinion pages of the same newspapers reveals that a clear majority of opinion writers share their views with the JI leadership and cadre. Even the ‘liberal’ English newspapers don’t publish many articles or reports that are anti-Jamaat. Some analysts believe that the reason for this ‘bias’ is that the lower staff in many papers (both English and Urdu) have ideological leanings towards the Jamaat. Baby Qazi conveniently overlooked this ‘intellectual hegemony’ in favor of his party.

A neutral glimpse at the history of Jamaat reveals that it has been the breeding ground, the ‘mothership’ of violent Jihadi organizations since the 1960s. During the so-called Afghan Jihad, many members of JI went on to fight alongside the CIA-sponsored Mujahideen. Some of those members are present in the upper echelons of JI these days. In 1989, Qazi Hussain Ahmed arranged a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and a Saudi businessman by the name of Osama Bin Laden at the Mansehra office of JI. In 1993, Director General Military Operations (DGMO) of the Pakistan Army, Pervaiz Musharraf, concocted a plan to stoke insurgency in Kashmir Valley. The first person he visited was Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who agreed to supply cadres to be trained as fighters.

In August 1995, Qazi senior accompanied Mast Gul, a militant infamous for escape after the Charrar Sharif operation in Kashmir Valley, from Chakothi to Muzaffarabad. Mast Gul recently resurfaced in a video, sitting alongside a local TTP commander. Saleem Shehzad reported in 2010, that members of Jamaat’s student wing, IJT, were migrating to Waziristan in droves, to become part of TTP. In the last few months, members of Al-Qaeda have been arrested in Lahore from rooms belonging to IJT leaders.

On the women’s front, JI is rightly pilloried by feminist groups in particular and women in general. The party promotes a retrogressive world view which places several constraints on women. JI’s last chief, Munawar Hasan, did the party no favors by declaring that rape victims should not pursue justice if four men didn’t witness the crime. Samia Raheel Qazi, president of the JI’s women wing, opposed the landmark ‘Protection of Women Bill’ tabled in the National Assembly in 2006. She instead moved a private bill to repeal the pro-women legislation. She also voted in favor of the ‘Hasba Bill,’ which proposed the institution of vigilante groups to enforce Sharia. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, while supporting Zia’s Hadood Laws had argued that women were emotional and irritable, with inferior faculties of reason and memory; hence their testimony in a court of law should be discounted. Quite a women-friendly bunch!

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister proclaimed, ‘If you repeat a lie enough, people will eventually believe it.’ There can’t be a better lesson to learn from Baby Qazi than this.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.