[Sayma-Discuss] Pakistan, the Sufis & the Taliban

Mike Shell bright_crow at mindspring.com
Thu Apr 16 13:42:11 EDT 2009


I want to juxtapose two important articles which, together, give American readers an essential perspective on the conflict in Pakistan which the mainstream media and...perhaps...the government are missing.

The first article is "Pakistan's Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy" http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Faith-and-Ecstasy.html, By Nicholas Schmidle, in the December, 2008, issue of Smithsonian Magazine.  Some key excerpts:

"Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world..., and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one.

"Sufis represent the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2001, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter extremism.

"Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threaten the prevailing social, political and religious order.

"Pakistan, carved out of India in 1947, was the first modern nation founded on the basis of religious identity. Questions about that identity have provoked dissent and violence ever since. Was Pakistan to be a state for Muslims, governed by civilian institutions and secular laws? Or an Islamic state, governed by clerics according to sharia, or Islamic law?

"Sufis, with their ecumenical beliefs, typically favor the former, while the Taliban, in their fight to establish an extreme orthodoxy, seek the latter. The Taliban have antiaircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and squads of suicide bombers. But the Sufis have drums. And history.

"I asked Carl Ernst...whether he thought Pakistan's Sufis could survive the wave of militant Islam sweeping east from the region along the Afghanistan border. 'Sufism has been a part of the fabric of life in the Pakistan region for centuries, while the Taliban are a very recent phenomenon without much depth.... I would bet on the Sufis in the long run.'

"This summer, the Taliban attracted a few hundred people to witness beheadings in Pakistan's tribal areas. In August, more than 300,000 Sufis showed up to honor [13th century Sufi saint] Lal Shahbaz Qalandar."

The second story is "United Militants Threaten Pakistan’s Populous Heart" http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/world/asia/14punjab.html,  By SABRINA TAVERNISE, RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and ERIC SCHMITT, in the 4/13/09 New York Times:

"DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan — Taliban insurgents are teaming up with local militant groups to make inroads in Punjab, the province that is home to more than half of Pakistanis, reinvigorating an alliance that Pakistani and American authorities say poses a serious risk to the stability of the country....

"'I don’t think a lot of people understand the gravity of the issue,' said a senior police official in Punjab, who declined to be idenfitied because he was discussing threats to the state. 'If you want to destabilize Pakistan, you have to destabilize Punjab....'

"In at least five towns in southern and western Punjab, including the midsize hub of Multan, barber shops, music stores and Internet cafes offensive to the militants’ strict interpretation of Islam have received threats.

"Traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing have been halted in some areas. Hard-line ideologues have addressed large crowds to push their idea of Islamic revolution. Sectarian attacks, dormant here since the 1990s, have erupted once again...."

Those "traditional ceremonies that include drumming and dancing" referred to here are the same 300,000-strong celebrations of the Sufi saint Qalandar described in the Smithsonian article.

The Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan are declaring war on the indigenous Sufis, the heart of Punjab, which is the heart of Pakistan.

We need to know about this dimension of the conflict in Pakistan.  We need to make certain our national leaders know.

Please read both articles and consider what might Friends do?

Blessed Be,

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