Why Varun and why not Geelani?

via http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/apr/01/why-varun-and-why-not-geelani.htm published on April 1, 2009



Author: T V R Shenoy
Courtesy: www.rediff.com

In August 2008, Syed Ali Shah
Geelani, the Hurriyat Conference leader from Jammu & Kashmir, gave
an interview that has not received the attention it deserved. He said,
among other things, “The question of imposing an Islamic rule is
different. Why do people object to it? If America and India can have
democratic rule, others can have Communism, why object to Islamic rule?”

Presumably
to avoid any misunderstanding, Geelani also said, “The creed of
socialism and secularism should not touch our lives and we must be
totally governed by the Quran and the Sunnat.”

[Varun Gandhi has been gaoled for reportedly making provocative statements. Would any ministry, either in Delhi or in Srinagar , ever dare apply the same draconian laws against the Hurriyat Conference chairman?]
Of
course, elections were held in Jammu & Kashmir within months of
Geelani’s incendiary statements. But the polls have scarcely dampened
militant activity in the state, nor do they seem to have notably
reduced Geelani-like sentiments. We are now told that the assembly
elections were about jobs and the trinity of ‘bijli-sadak-pani’, not about issues of identity.

The Hurriyat Conference leader’s sentiments are shared by others across the world. Shortly after engineering the Taliban’s 
ascent to power in the Swat Valley, Mullah Sufi Muhammad gleefully
howled, ”We hate democracy. We want the occupation of Islam in the
entire world. Islam does not permit democracy or elections.”

It
is for Islamic scholars to take up the challenge implicit in that last
statement. But if we look at the history of elections in
Muslim-dominated nations it is hard to see how voting has led to more
‘secular’, more pluralistic societies.

How many times has
Pakistan gone through the ritual of elections? Yet the Pakistan of
today is notably less liberal, more hostile to the world at large than
Ayub Khan’s Pakistan of the 1960s.

Observers applauded when Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won the last election in Bangladesh. But the most notable
event of her tenure to date has been the revolt of the Bangladesh
Rifles, not confined to Dhaka but spread across a dozen cities. One of
Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet ministers, Faruk Khan, has admitted that the
rebels were linked to the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh, a Muslim fundamentalist outfit. They obviously have as
little respect for elections as Mullah Sufi Muhammad on the other end
of the subcontinent.

We in India tend to think of Pakistan and
Bangladesh only as smaller neighbours. In actuality they happen to be
two of the four countries with the largest Muslim citizenry — India
and Indonesia being the other two. And “tiny” Afghanistan, as we think
of it, is actually home to the eleventh largest Muslim population. (It
is also larger in area than Iraq.)

Pakistan, Bangladesh, and
Afghanistan are certainly no advertisement for elections being a shield
against Muslim fundamentalism. How do other nations with a large Muslim
population fare?

As it happens, some of the largest will be
going to the polls this year. Indonesia, with the largest Muslim
population on this planet, elects a new parliament on April 9 and a new
president on July 8. (There may be runoff elections if nobody comes
through with clear majorities in the first round.)

Iran, the
principal Shia power and eighth overall in terms of Muslim population,
elects a new president on June 12. The West expects little of Iran’s
polls. The ultimate arbiter is the Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah
Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei no matter who sits in the president’s
chair. There is, however, more than the usual amount of interest in
Indonesia — partly because of President Obama’s family links, partly because Indonesia is historically one of the most pluralistic Islamic societies.

Oddly,
the influence of the more overtly Islamic, less ‘liberal’ Indonesian
parties seems to be increasing over time as it moves from its history
of dictatorship to elected governments. The Partai Keadilan Sejahtera
(Justice and Prosperity Party) wants a central role for Islam without
specifying what that means. The Partai Amanat Nasional (National
Mandate Party) speaks out against the historic Hindu and Buddhist
influence. Between them they hold 98 seats in the current lower house
of parliament, and are generally expected to hold the balance of power
in the next one (which will have a total strength of 560).

Indonesia,
to be brutally honest, is not an opinion leader in the Muslim world,
certainly not on the scale of a Saudi Arabia, an Iran, or an Egypt 
But it is home to the least ‘fundamentalist’ school of Islam. If even
Indonesia, that most liberal of Islamic nations, veers to a more
puritanical form of Islam with each election, will other
Muslim-majority nations act differently?

I come back to where I
started. Are the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mullah Sufi
Muhammad correct in holding that Islam and electoral democracy stand at
two ends of the spectrum? And if they are wrong — as I hope they are
— where are the Muslim leaders that are telling them off?

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