The son of an air marshal ruined his own life and abandoned his wife and kids in an utterly incompetent attempt to blow up innocent people (some of whom were probably Pakistani cab drivers). Why is Pakistan breeding (or attracting) so many Islamic fanatics (luckily for us, some of them are incompetent Islamic fanatics)? And is it different from other third world countries and other fanaticisms?
In some ways, Islamic supremacism is not that different from Christian evangelism, Hindu revivalism or those Japanese rightwing nuts that go around in loudspeaker vans appealing to the emperor to restore Japanese honour and for everyone else to prepare to commit hara-kiri. It is true that Christian fanatics and Hindu revivalists are not exploding in buses and trains in faraway countries but, psychologically, the profile is very similar. In any case, in most places, states do most of the killing -- domestically as well as internationally. Or people fight the state locally.
What is different about Islamist terrorism is that these killers are international in scope and action and they seem to have an endless supply of morons willing to ruin their own lives for "the cause". But why are they headquartered in Pakistan? The ideology, after all, is more closely associated with Saudi Arabia. I think the presence of Islam is not a critical factor here (though of course it helps to have the ideology in place). The road from ideology to actual explosion passes through state-sponsored brainwashing, an infrastructure of terrorism and a culture where this kind of bombing has become an accepted response to whatever is perceived as injustice. And the reason this infrastructure is headquartered in Pakistan rather than Saudi Arabia is because the elite has been uniquely stupid in Pakistan.
The people running India, Japan and the USA may be cynical, manipulative and greedy; but they still seem to have a vague grip on reality (and who can hope for more than that?). Their worldview accommodates science, common sense, change and empirical evidence. The same is true even of the Iranian Mullahs and the Saudi Royal family. But in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the lunatics took over the asylum. They didn't really build the asylum. It took the superior skills of the CIA to actually set up the infrastructure (though I personally don't think the CIA intended for it to be used beyond Afghanistan and maybe India -- but then who knows?).
Once the Americans had taught them how to blow up things, the students rushed off to start the neo-caliphate with wild abandon and the state security apparatus in Pakistan helped them, financed them, trained them, protected them and, bless our souls, worked tirelessly to get them to the point where they can threaten the same state security apparatus. This level of stupidity may be unique in recent history. Partly this is due to the fact that the army took over the state in Pakistan. So while tunnel vision may be a characteristic of all armies (Tolstoy famously said that a good general needs to be a little stupid), in more advanced countries it is under adult supervision. Not so in Pakistan, where the half-baked “strategic” notions of the generals could operate unhindered by any supervision or even comment by “bloody civilians”. Partly it was a result of the original millenarian fever that erupted at Partition. Or maybe it was just one of those things that happen in history; but whatever the reason (or reasons), for the last 30 years, the state in Pakistan has been an active participant in this lunacy and the ideology has taken hold.
Sons of air marshals are dreaming of setting off bombs in public places. That just takes the biscuit. I don't know what to say anymore.
On a purely western and academic left wing blog, where no contrary opinion can sneak in, I would actually blame the CIA and orientalism and colonialism (not necessarily in that order) and go to sleep a happy man, but even in that echo chamber things are starting to fall apart. Where will this go next? Allah alone knows for sure. We can only hazard a guess. Mine is this: When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. So we may expect the state department to pass out more money to GHQ; the CIA to fund some new insane lunatic fringe to counter their last lunatic fringe; the Pentagon to ask for more money for weapons and a good hard "shock and awe campaign"; professors in San Francisco to blame colonialism, and Islamists to blow themselves up with even greater devotion. In short, more of the same. Until when? Perhaps until the US gives up and leaves the region and the real war starts.
This criticism of Islamism (whether in the form of Mullaism or Zaid Hamid style “burger jihadism” or ISI-style sophisticated and underhanded jihadism is not based primarily on moral grounds (it is only partly moral). Rather, my biggest complaint is that the parrot they are selling is dead! It died 800 years ago in Baghdad. He has ceased to be! He's expired and gone to meet his maker. He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! His metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible! This is an ex-parrot!
This is not to say that capitalism or imperialism or any other ism is good and only Mullahism is a problem. The point is that this dead parrot is a total distraction from the live debates we could be having. It may be hard to say what the morally or politically correct choice is in case A or case B, but it's much easier to dismiss the choices that are no longer viable and have already visibly decayed and started to rot. This Islamism is not a viable parrot. To waste a generation of young men proving this seems the height of folly.
Finally, I do not mean to imply that “Islam” is the dead parrot we are talking about. Islam is alive as long as Muslims are around and surely they are going to be around for a long long time. It will continue to grow and evolve and will be adapted to many things, as it has been in the past. But the dead parrot of the caliphate and “return to original purity” is the mother of all dead ends. To waste time and lives trying to revive that particular parrot is a waste and I am sure we can all agree that waste is not good.
Omar Ali is a Pakistani-American physician who also moderates the “Asiapeace” discussion group on the internet. He wishes to thank Monty Python for the dead parrot sketch and Professor M. Bokhari for first using it in relation to the late lamented caliphate.