WASHINGTON DC, Aug 10, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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A meeting of religious alliance MMA in progress

World Getting Fed up of Unwanted Pakistani Clerics Roaming the Globe

By Irfan Husain

KARACHI, August 10: Maulana Fazlur Rahman, Leader of the Opposition and a key figure in the Islamic party alliance, the MMA, gets thrown out of Dubai.

A few months ago, Maulana Samiul Haq, another stalwart of the MMA, was refused entry into Belgium when traveling with a parliamentary delegation. A couple of days ago, Mali refused to permit Pakistani clerics to preach in its mosques.

What’s the common strand linking these incidents, apart from facial hair? Clearly, the rest of the world is getting fed up of the unending stream of violent words and actions garbed in Islamic colors that are polluting young minds and claiming innocent victims abroad.

The clerics directly concerned and their rabid supporters lay the blame for these stinging snubs at the door of our foreign office. However, they should reflect on how their own conduct has contributed in making them unwanted in many countries, including Muslim ones. Indeed, not only have they put themselves on black lists maintained by immigration services abroad, they have made our travel overseas difficult as well.

While Dubai’s recent action has shocked many Pakistanis, the fact is that for years, Pakistanis have been personae non grata in most of the Arab world. Indeed, it has often been easier to get visas to western countries than to Muslim ones. But to be fair to Maulana Fazlur Rahman et al, factors other than their words and antics have contributed to the devaluation of the dreaded green passport as a travel document.

Over the years, Pakistanis going abroad have often been involved in a host of shady activities ranging from illegal immigration to drug smuggling. Hundreds of thousands of them have wanted nothing more than a chance to make a decent living for themselves and their families. But this understandable impulse has seen them adopt ingenious and often desperate methods to enter foreign countries. Other Pakistanis have enriched themselves by smuggling heroin and marijuana into the West. Still others are running profitable scams by claiming benefits from social security. A London paper recently printed details about the Sindh governor’s allegedly false claims to housing and support while living in the UK.

These dubious and downright criminal activities have made Pakistanis unpopular visitors. But the real suspicions and fear their presence provokes is the growing perception that Pakistan has become the hub of Islamic terrorism and militancy. This is reinforced by the presence here of hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban foot soldiers and leaders. And when people like Fazlur Rahman and Samiul Haq defend them while preaching violence against the West, they should not expect to be garlanded when they arrive in the very countries they threaten.

Arab countries have long resented the sanctuary we have provided to their dissidents. The training these people have received in camps here has helped them plan and launch attacks elsewhere. And who runs these camps? None else but jihadi groups with close links to some religious parties.

What are the most powerful forces sweeping across the world today? Not political or religious ones, but those of globalization. It is industry, commerce and trade that are driving the international agenda today. You either keep up with these forces as well as you can, or get left behind. The rules are very simple: sink or swim. While most of these forces are benign in the sense that they are not actively hostile to any particular group, they simply roll over anybody trying to block the free flow of goods, capital and services.

The export of terrorism and violent rhetoric that affects stock markets and profits as 9/11 and 7/7 did is simply not acceptable. Indirectly, military and diplomatic action is decided in board rooms in the world’s financial capitals. The fierce competition over energy sources and raw materials is behind many of today’s headlines.

These trends and forces are beyond the understanding of fundamentalists whose thinking is still rooted centuries in the past. While they dream of a mythical utopia, their vision has been long overtaken by events and ideas. But as they are unqualified to participate in the modern world of innovation, science and rational thought, they grow angry and bitter at being marginalized and irrelevant. This anger expresses itself in their politics of hate and violence.

Before 9/11, the terrorist attacks launched by jihadis were considered to be annoying pinpricks, and vicious groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban were allowed a relatively free hand. Jihadi outfits in Pakistan even prospered under official patronage. The 9/11 episode changed this attitude for ever. But because extremist religious parties had nothing but their message of hate to offer, their leaders have continued in the same mode, spewing bile against everything that has to do with the West.

Unfortunately for them, the rest of the world, including moderate Muslim countries, want nothing to do with them or their hate-filled dogma. Small Arab states like Dubai are doing very well by serving as business and shopping centers for foreigners. Understandably, they do not want to risk tarnishing their reputation by allowing hate-mongers in.

Basically, our clerics must realize they cannot have it both ways. Either they can preach violence and whip up crowds of their ignorant constituents, or they can travel abroad as peaceful citizens of a moderate state. The tacit support they extend to terrorist groups taints them and the whole country.

Unfortunately, even educated and sophisticated Pakistanis see an anti-Pakistan conspiracy at work when incidents like the recent one in Dubai occur. But in reality, nobody has the time to hatch plots against us. We need to realize that many of the prevailing attitudes constantly on display here are no longer acceptable elsewhere. For instance, recently a crowd in Charsadda burned dozens of TV sets because a local mullah had decreed that watching television was un-Islamic. What kind of impression did this act of lunacy convey to the rest of the world?

I agree that there are nuts everywhere. But we seem to have more than our share of them. General Musharraf has repeatedly expressed his concern for Pakistan’s image without realizing that he cannot fix the image without fixing the product. Until he does, the people who have damaged it had better stay at home.

The writer is a regular columnist for Daily Dawn, Karachi and wrote previously under the pen name of Mazdak

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