PAKISTAN: Islam and the anti-war movement


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LAHORE — As I watched a 500-strong January 18 anti-war demonstration here, a well-dressed man with a crisp English accent approached me. Believing I was a Western journalist, he asked if I would be interested in interviewing the spiritual leader of his organisation, which, he said, calls for “holy war until America is destroyed”. I declined.

Nevertheless, I was curious about what attitude the Pakistan anti-war movement takes to these old allies and new scapegoats of imperialism. Later that day I sat down with Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the revolutionary socialist Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and a member of the Anti-War Committee (AWC) that had organised the protest in Lahore.

Tariq spoke about the AWC, how it had been formed on the initiative of the LPP and had united first the left parties, then a number of NGOs, and now some of the unions and mass organisations, as well as how the small successes of the Lahore group were leading to its replication around the country.

He told me that the anti-war movement must also be an anti-imperialist movement, that it must make links with the movement against neoliberal globalisation and explain the economic roots of the US war drive.

While every Pakistani is invited to the group, he said, if fundamentalists adopt the slogans of the left, they will be hypocrites and they will destroy the movement.

As I questioned further, he smiled just a little — it was obviously a conversation and a debate that had been had many times before — but his face lost none of its energy.

“They want to make this whole issue a religious war. So we think that fundamentalists are not for peace, they are for more war, a holy war, jihad. For us, the way to stop Bush attacking Iraq is to build up an anti-war movement, while the fundamentalists are building up a so-called anti-imperialist jihad.

“Also it is only the left forces in Pakistan that have consistently spoken against imperialism. The fundamentalists have been very much part of the imperialists' policies. Now they say they are opposing imperialism. They are not a reliable partner; they are opportunists.

“Also the fundamentalists offer no solution. September 11 has only politically strengthened George Bush.

“We differ from A-Z, so why should we be together? We should not stand with them because they are saying `Down with America'. You have to look at the deeds, what they are doing."

We talked for a while about the plight of Muslims in the West, where Islam has become the new, post-Soviet “evil empire”, the new enemy of “civilisation”.

Tariq explained the attitude of Pakistani Marxists toward Muslims. "We have no problem with ordinary Muslims. The problem is religious fanaticism. Most of the radicals are Muslims, but we just see no point uniting with the religious fanatics."

I'm uncertain. In Australian media discourse “fanatics” are those that oppose the US government slaughtering large numbers of people. Who defines a who's a “fanatic”?

“The leadership of the religious organisations that are calling for jihad are fanatics”, Tariq argued. “The departing point is the intentions and practices of the leadership and the program they are for.

“Bush's policies have given fanatics an easy ear so that the followers of these fanatics wrongly believe that these people are anti-imperialist and that they may be able to do something.

“There's a war of ideas been the fanatics and the left. So there can be no unity."

On the other hand then, I ask, does the Pakistani state give the left some leeway because it sees the left as some kind of bastion against the fundamentalists that are growing in strength and threatening to swamp it? Tariq grins.

“As you saw, the police stopped our demonstration in Lahore. The state was quite worried by our demonstration and took serious note of our actions. The police were worried because we had said we would go to the American consulate which the fundamentalists normally do not do. They just demonstrate after Friday prayers when Muslims are there already."

The protest in Lahore was small by Western standards and the fledgling secular anti-war movement is under attack from both sides, from the religious forces and from the state. Tariq was not disheartened by this.

“We have just started our work and we have got a tremendous response while giving out leaflets and putting up posters. We are ready to meet the challenges.

“We are planning to have a demonstration of animals against Bush. They will be suffering from the war, so we are planning on donkeys and horses coming into the streets, with handmade slogans. We are also planning a children against war demonstration.

“We don't want to limit the anti-war movement just to the war on Iraq though. The AWC will take up Palestine and we will definitely speak against the present tension between India and Pakistan."

I note to Tariq that he doesn't seem to see building an anti-war movement as being something separate to building the left in Pakistan, and that left parties in Australia are often criticised for not putting enough space between their party and social movements. His nodding response to my questions is beginning to become familiar.

“Building the anti-war movement is part of building a new left in Pakistan. The AWC from its very beginnings has had this task, to build the left. It is the only committee where all the left parties are together. It has a common left platform and a platform for common action by the left.

“We see great possibilities for building left forces and for changing consciousness through this committee by exposing imperialism and fundamentalism and also the friends of imperialism in Pakistan, the parties of the rich. The AWC is not just limited to war, but part of a broader perspective. Maybe it will lead to a more integrated left alliance in Pakistan. That discussion is one for the future."

He is quick to add that the AWC is not a mere party-building exercise. "There is no greediness", he says with a jovial smile. "It is a genuine collective effort of the radical forces against imperialism. In the process we are building our own organisations. There is no contradiction between these two objectives."


LPP (For a democratic socialist Pakistan)

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