Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Fanatacism" In Pakistan

There is an interesting editorial in the Pakistani newspaper, the International News, by Kamila Hyat. The author examines the spread of radical Islam and makes some suggestions for combating it.

There are other examples too of a new fanaticism that has crept into society. Middle-aged women walking in parks report repeatedly being asked by other walkers, including women, to cover their heads. Similar incidents have been reported from bazaars and other public places in several cities. In a posh Lahore bazaar, an old man armed with a megaphone delivered stern sermons against women out shopping on their own. Shopkeepers quickly chased him away, anxious he would frighten customers.

And the situation is of course considerably worse in the NWFP. Even in Peshawar itself, schools for girls have closed down after threats. Administrations have received warnings about dress codes and in some cases parents have been warned to keep daughters away from educational institutions.

Beyond the issue of women too there has been terrifying evidence of this extremist scourge. In the Swat area, people have been informed in sermons delivered over illegal radio stations that they should not get children vaccinated against polio, as those who "die in epidemics are martyrs". Reaching directly in to homes, other messages over radio stations in some areas have called on women to ensure their husbands grow beards, while in incidents that are being reported almost daily, video or music shops have been attacked, bans placed on the playing of music even in personal vehicles or homes and girls' schools attacked in several areas.

While the incident involving Maulvi Sarwar and the young minister has most vividly driven home the message concerning fanaticism in society, the evidence of its presence has been there now for many years. The attacks on New Year Eve parties, on marathon runners and on fast food restaurants are all symptoms of the same trend.

It is obvious that this malaise is expanding its tentacles, and assuming the shape of a giant monster that cannot easily be hacked down. This has happened because the threat was not tackled when it was smaller, and therefore relatively easy to deal with.

The need now is to confront it head on before it acquires still more alarming dimensions, which may prove impossible to take on. For this, a long-term, holistic set of strategies will have to be derived -- beginning with the acknowledgement that the issue does not involve merely the death of a single woman by a man who had obviously lost all connections with sanity, but runs far deeper than this.

Read the rest of the story. The NWFP long ago became radicalized, and it is there that the Taliban and al Qaeda are gaining safe haven. There is a sizable number of Muslims throughout Pakistan that support a radical Islamic agenda, but that has not been the case outside of the NWFP, though, as this story makes clear, Pakistan is awaking to that poison throughout the country now.

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