Anti-Rushdie demonstrations in Pakistan

By K.N. Pandita

In Pakistan some religious activists have staged demonstrations to express their resentment against the British government conferring knighthood on Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was published simultaneously with the occurrence of Islamic revolution of Iran. Late Ayatollah Khumeini had projected himself as the champion of Islamic World and claimed that now was the historic time of Islam’s ascendancy. Having smashed Iran’s monarchy, he now tried to find justification for his act in declaring that monarchy was not the tradition of Islam and as such questioned the status of the Saudi monarchy. The unfortunate episode of Saudi security forces firing in Ka’aba during the pilgrimage in 1979-80 on Iranian pilgrims and killing nearly five hundred of them has been described a sequel to the anti-monarchy campaign of Khumeini.

As self-styled watchman of Islamic orthodoxy, Khumeini pronounced his well-known decree of death against Salman Rushdie. The Pasdaran or the Iranian Secret Service under Khumeini dispensation even announced a hefty prize for the one who assassinated Rushdie.

The fetwa against Rushdie simply said that he had indulged in blasphemy meaning defamation of the Prophet of Islam and had been casting aspersions on leading Islamic personalities including the Companions of the Prophet. With this decree an anti-Rushdie wave swept Iran but there was no reaction worth the name in other Islamic countries at that time. It showed that Iranian theocratic regime was the lone Islamic regime that magnified the Rushdie issue in order to be known to the world that Islam could no more be treated lightly.

The British government moved quickly and provided security cover to Rushdie, a British national. Ever since he has been living, so to say, an underground life. There is no relenting in Iran’s anti-Rushdie fetwa although Iranians were sounded by some Muslim states to lift the fetwa and forget the past.

Rushdie, on his part, stated that he had never insulted anybody much less the Prophet of Islam. He claims that his ideas were misinterpreted and not understood in right perspective. He said that his allegorical style of writing had no anti-religious bias and that those who had banned his book had never actually read it nor grasped its contents. However, his pleas cut no ice and the matter remained where it was. Rushdie, of course, had to live a miserable life, being always shadowed by his security guards. His movements remain a secret.

Pakistan was not among those who had demonstrated against Rushdie when Ayatollah Khumeini imposed a ban on the book and pronounced his fetwa against Rushdie. The question is why have the Pakistani radicals belated jumped into the fray and joined issue with Iranians? Obviously the epicenter of Islamic fundamentalism has shifted from Iran to Pakistan.

Pakistan is a country where state and society are constantly on loggerheads. Created on the basis of two-nation theory, Pakistan’s founder in his first speech to the newly formed state rejected the idea of a theocratic state and discrimination on the basis of faith. This statement sowed the seeds of confusion and dilemma for the Pakistani society, which has not been able to come out of it to present day. The successors of Jinnah lost no time in converting Pakistan into an Islamic State. In order to prove their Islamic credentials, Pakistani rulers whether elected ones or coming to power through military coup d’etats pandered to Islamic radicalism. The strongest and the most rabid Islamicist, President, Ziau’l Hhuq was lucky to have been provided with a rare opportunity of boosting the morale of Islamic diehards. He could have got nothing better than the Soviet intransigence of making a senseless incursion into Afghanistan. Zia very shrewdly cashed on the situation and galvanized the Islamic protagonists both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan into a concerted resistance to the invading Soviet forces.

This presupposed the conferment of extraordinary patronage of the state institutions to Islamic seminaries called madrassahs in the length and breadth of Pakistan. These seminaries did an excellent job of brainwashing the young students and later on raising them into Mujahideen force to resist the enemies of Islam not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan but wherever they found Muslims were under oppression.

Thus radical organizations began to be formed and made to operate. Young Afghan students flocked to Pakistani seminaries, received indoctrination and after completion of their studies, took the oath of protecting Islam against its enemies and adversaries. Thus with tacit support of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, government and bureaucratic structure, the Mujahideen comprising nationals of many countries walked triumphantly to the war front in Afghanistan to join the crusade against the atheists.

The Soviets withdrew and the Soviet Union collapsed. Whatever the reasons, the Mujahideen attributed it to the victory of Islam over a mighty world power. Religious organizations that played the catalyst saw a great role awaiting them. They re-grouped and re-organized and streamlined their organizations with a much broader canvas and a broader agenda.

As the crescendo of the radicals rose in Pakistan, its political parties began to woo them and thus a religio-political environ was created in the country, which proudly boasted of Islam’s ultimate victory and domination of the world. Islamic volunteers from different parts of the world where they were involved in Islamic struggle flocked to the Pakistani seminaries and training camps in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. These foreign Mujahideen were supposed to carry fire and brimstone to their native lands where Islam was engaged in conflict, such as Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Kashmir, Indonesia, Xinjiang etc. This plan generally attributed to Gen. Zia had supervened the “Export of Islamic Revolution” of Khumeini.

Thus we find that Pakistan radicals have a reason to rise against the Knighthood awarded to Salman Rushdie. They have a reason to don the mantle of Khumeini and continue the work of protecting faith against all blasphemies. From now onwards Rushdie has to reckon with not only the Shia but also the Sunni ire against him.

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