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Right click for revolution: the laptop revolutionaries of Pakistan – by Nadeem F. Paracha

Right click for revolution
Anyone questioning the padded extremism and soft authoritarianism peddled by enlightened moderation is a liberal extremist who is undermining religion and promoting corrupt politicians and violent ethnic thugs.

Just what exactly was Pervez Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’? Though vague, it did seem to have enough bite to at least create (a malformed) narrative amongst a new generation of young middle-class urbanites.

If you observe closely much of what is being emitted by this section of society, you can safely suggest that ‘enlightened moderation’ was, at best, a heavily padded and soft version of Ziaul Haq’s reactionary ‘Islamisation’ mantra. This may sound oxymoronic, but it all comes to pass when one notices the kind of people defending Musharraf in the media and in assorted drawing-rooms.

These are no liberals, believing in concepts like democratic pluralism or in the importance of tolerating and promoting religious, sectarian and ethnic diversity. On the contrary, they sound clearly bitten by the tenacity shown by both the ruling coalition and the parliamentarian opposition that (so far) are simply refusing to collapse under the weight of the usual intrigues engineered by the ominous sounding, clandestine individuals and institutions.

They fear democracy to be a threat to Pakistan’s imagined existence as a monotheistic state and society based on a single (state-sanctioned and clergy-approved) strain of the faith. The pro-Musharraf ‘moderates’ have, at best, sounded like 21st century versions of Ziaul Haq. Instead of a shervani and a stern frown, they can be seen in modern, western clothes and designer shalwar-kameez spouting the most worn-out rhetoric and narrative that first started to be built up by the state under Zia and his politico-religious sidekicks.

It’s the usual dead beat: Pakistan and democracy are not compatible; democratic pluralism promotes ethnocentricity; secularism is akin to atheism; religious extremism and violence is the handiwork of the ‘anti-Pakistan’ and ‘anti-Islam’ elements (mainly foreign), and the state and intelligence agencies of Pakistan had nothing to with it; there is only one correct version of Islam but most Pakistanis follow a corrupted and adulterated version because they are illiterate and superstitious; anyone questioning these assumptions is a traitor; only politicians are corrupt; and that we need a strong leader who cannot come through democracy because most Pakistanis are ignorant.

Even though Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ generated a few positives as well, such as the bold act of reshaping the disgraceful Hudood ordinances, much of which, however, has left behind a thoroughly confused edifice of support usually crowded by certain highly animated TV personalities, showbiz and sport celebrities and their largely urban middle-class following.

What’s more, there are some among these who may have actually disliked Musharraf, but ironically, they too carry almost the same body of beliefs and ideas that ‘enlightened moderation’ was made of. Simply put, ‘enlightened moderation’ was supposed to be an ideology that advocated a middle-ground between religious extremism and western liberalism.

However, if one is to notice the content and tone of the children of this largely cosmetic middle-ground today, what it really meant was that religious extremism that was attacking the monolithic Pakistani state was bad, but those extremists attacking everyone else (non-Pakistani and non-Muslims), were misunderstood.

All in all, this so-called middle-ground basically advocated a sympathetic attitude towards extremism, or in other words, as long as this extremism did not challenge the Pakistani state, the army and the intelligence agencies, it needed to be empathised with either as a liberation movement against ‘American/Hindu/ Zionist designs in the region’, or as a bunch of ‘misled’ and poor tribal people exploited by politicians, Americans, and, of course, the NGOs.

This middle-ground seems to only have used words like moderation as a way to sound a lot more ‘modern’ compared to, say, the rhetoric of men like Ziaul Haq or Maulana Maududi whose jargon wouldn’t have sounded all that great in the post-9/11 world. However, while dealing with the left side of the divide, this middle-ground quite clearly detests notions like democracy and pluralism. Eventually, to describe this side, it proudly borrowed a term called ‘liberal extremism’ from the vocabulary of the neo-conservatives; a term first coined by assorted right-wing groups in the US.

Thus, anyone questioning the padded extremism and soft authoritarianism peddled by ‘enlightened moderation’ is a ‘liberal extremist’ who is undermining religion (and/or undermining the monolithic version of Islam concocted by the state and its ulema); and promoting ‘corrupt politicians’ and violent ethnic thugs (who, nonetheless, have not come in through any mysterious backdoor, but through the ballot).

But, alas, what Musharraf left behind is still a minority view which is only a ‘revolutionary’ majority (nay, a mob) in cyber space, on TV screens and in drawing-rooms. As many young middle-class urbanites, in cyber space and TV studios, prepare for a revolution led by a strong man (a modern-day, English speaking Saladin) uttering modern sounding jihadi spiels, thankfully the masses in the real world will continue going to the polls.

This is because the masses have got it right: that Pakistan is a country of ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity, which is still respected and addressed best by democracy and, like it or not, by ‘corrupt’ politicians and ‘liberal extremists’.

Source: Dawn