Last Thursday the Senate voted to triple the amount of non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually. The money is supposed to go to build democracy and aid anti-terror efforts. “We should make clear to the people of Pakistan,” explained Senator Richard Lugar, “that our interests are focused on democracy, pluralism, stability, and the fight against terrorism. If Pakistan is to break its debilitating cycle of instability, it will need to achieve progress on fighting corruption, delivering government services, and promoting broad based economic growth.”
This all sounds great, until one looks at the post-9⁄11 record of dealings between the United States and Pakistan. Last September, the New York Times reported that “after the attacks of Sept. 11, President Pervez Musharraf threw his lot in with the United States. Pakistan has helped track down Al Qaeda suspects, launched a series of attacks against militants inside the tribal areas — a new offensive got under way just weeks ago — and given many assurances of devotion to the antiterrorist cause. For such efforts, Musharraf and the Pakistani government have been paid handsomely, receiving more than $10 billion in American money since 2001.” However, “the survival of Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders has depended on a double game: assuring the United States that they were vigorously repressing Islamic militants — and in some cases actually doing so — while simultaneously tolerating and assisting the same militants.”
What has changed in Pakistan since then? Not much. Musharraf is gone, but much of the rest of the Pakistani leadership is the same, and above all, the core attitudes that led to the double game being conducted in the first place have not changed. One fundamental assumption that all too many Pakistani officials hold is that when something goes wrong with society, it is because the people have faltered in their fidelity to Islam, and only renewed religious fervor can solve the problem and restore prosperity to the nation and health to the society. This assumption militates against the idea that any amount of American aid will significantly alter the situation in Pakistan, or lessen popular support for the Islamic jihad of the Taliban and allied groups. For the Americans will always, no matter how much money they lavish upon the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, be infidels. The solution to Pakistan’s problems will not be seen as lying with them, but with a renewed commitment to Islam.
In Iran it was the same story. The attempts by several Shahs to follow the lead of Turkish secularist Kemal Ataturk and modernize Iran along Western lines were ultimately torpedoed by Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, which restored traditional Islam’s strict dress code and swept away “music and most other ‘satanic arts,’” as well as alcoholic beverages. Westerners were mystified by the spectacle of women wearing traditional Muslim garb, demonstrating against the Shah who had tried to give them greater rights. But those who searched for economic or political causes for this revolution, or who were puzzled by the apparent popularity of the dour, scowling Khomeini failed to recognize that, as the Muslim writer Sadeq el Mahdi put it in 1981, “in the Muslim world, Islam is the only key to the hearts and minds of the people.” When Khomeini spoke to the Iranian people, he didn’t talk about economics. His message was that it was time to restore the purity of Islam.
This pattern is repeated throughout the Islamic world. Every government that goes too far in implementing Western principles encounters religious resistance. Pakistan also has struggled since its independence with the relationship between Western principles and Sharia norms. It was founded as a secular state, but Islamic activists resisted its secular character from the beginning. In 1956, eight years after independence, it was proclaimed an Islamic Republic. Amid a great deal of ongoing unrest, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto promised in 1977 to implement the Sharia. Shortly thereafter President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who had taken power in a bloody coup, declared that the Sharia was above Pakistan’s civil law. Unrest has continued, and the small Christian community in Pakistan has suffered considerably under the Sharia.
Desire to restore the purity, and thus the glory, of the umma is also the impetus behind the rise of Osama bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists today. Setbacks in the Islamic world commonly result in the diagnosis that the defeat resulted from insufficient religious fidelity. In 1948, the Egyptian jihad theorist Sayyid Qutb surveyed the House of Islam and wrote passionately, “We only have to look in order to see that our social situation is as bad as it can be.” Yet “we continually cast aside all our own spiritual heritage, all our intellectual endowment, and all the solutions which might well be revealed by a glance at these things; we cast aside our own fundamental principles and doctrines, and we bring in those of democracy, or socialism, or communism.”
In other words, the ingredient for success is more Islam. V. S. Naipaul discovered this diagnosis to be very much alive in modern Pakistan, at least as regarding Islam: “failure,” he says, “led back again and again to the assertion of the faith.” He quotes an article in the Pakistan Times by A. H. Kardar, “the former cricket captain of Pakistan, and an Oxford man.” Says Kardar of modern Pakistan: “Clearly, the choice is between materialism and its inseparable nationally divisive political manifestoes, and the Word of God.” A new severity invariably follows.
If Islamic orthodoxy were differently constituted, it wouldn’t be so vulnerable to exploitation by fanatics and demagogues who invoke religious principles as the basis of their legitimacy — but that’s precisely the problem. And it’s a problem that everyone who believes that the House of Islam can easily be secularized and fit into place as another ingredient in a global multicultural society should examine carefully. Especially those Senators who have just showered more American billions upon Pakistan.
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