This week’s events in Libya have overshadowed the death of Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan.
Bhatti died in his car on Wednesday, cut down in a hail of bullets.
Bhatti was a Christian, and a committed one at that – you have to be in Pakistan. He was the first Christian to take the post as the Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs in Pakistan. He campaigned to protect minorities from the excesses of Sharia Law. In 2002 he banned the expropriation of property of minorities under investigation by law enforcement officials. He promoted campaigns for interfaith harmony. He succeeded in achieving prayer rooms for non Muslims in prisons. He proposed courses on comparative religions be run in schools, and more.
But it seems likely that his fate was sealed by his campaign against Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, which can carry the death penalty.
He foresaw his own fate, and spoke of the forces he knew were plotting against him.
Despite that, he carried on.
As columnist Peter Preston wrote this week,
Bhatti’s assassination is in bleak and bloody counterpoint to the to the dignity and unity with which Egyptian people mounted their semi revolution, Christian (for there is a significant Christian Coptic minority) and Muslim, men and women, united in largely non violent protest and which speaks of a progressive and democratic future.
Bhatti’s fate highlights a dark strand of ideology within Islamic thinking, the strict and fundamentalist Wahhabism which demands the re-instatement of the Caliphate and the suppression and persecution of all non believers.
Let me let me be very clear that I am specifically referring only to this interpretation of Islam. I have had the pleasure of passing through many parts of the world which although devoutly Islamic are as tolerant and open minded as the west.
But the Wahhabist ideology strain is aggressive, virulent and brutal.
It is this ideology which finds its poster boy in Osama Bin Laden and its expression through Al Quada and the Taliban (who have claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s death).
It is a powerful ideology because of its rigidity, simplicity and clarity – utter obedience to the will of God as expressed in the Koran – its sense of the legitimacy of violence in support of this moral certainty, and its belief in supremacy over the non believer. These are the classic components of ideologies which throughout history have proved seductive, particularly to the male psyche, and which inevitably result in calamitous, indiscriminate bloodshed. One might say the same, for example, of Nazism.
It appeals to the poor, the ignorant and the disenfranchised because its speaks of riches in the afterlife and payback to the perceived oppressor and “the foreigner”; it can attract the criminal and the wastrel with its sense redemption, brotherhood and purpose; and it plays to the ego of the intellectual and the former playboy such as Bin Laden himself with its sense of moral superiority and, I suspect, the power and glamour which comes with instilling fear.
Although this strand of ideology is most perhaps most violently expressed at the moment in Pakistan and Afghanistan, its wellspring is Saudi Arabia. The supposed stability of the Saudi state had long been the product of an unholy horse trade. The ruling family have power and unlimited riches; the mullahs are given freedom to preach fundamentalist Islam, and more, to fund the Madrassas of Pakistan and elsewhere. The West has turned a blind eye, dependant on its fix of oil.
A few years ago the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington advanced a theory popularly known as “the Clash of Civilisations.” In crude terms, he argued that in the post Cold War world, the predominant conflict would break out between cultures, rather than between the great ideologies of Capitalism and Communism. This theory has been interpreted as meaning in particular that there is going to be a head on clash, an ultimate showdown, between “Islam” and what may loosely be called “the West.”
It has been fashionable to decry that analysis, particularly amongst the leftist intelligentsia, ever paralysed by guilt over “imperialism.”
I am afraid that I find it all too real and likely. The civilisation of the West is soaked in blood and religious bigotry to be sure; but Christianity is tempered by the New Testament, which does not preach the annihilation of the none believer. And further, with the intellectual furnace of the Enlightenment the West has moved on, although ultimately ending up in the hands of some in the muddled moral relativism of the modern liberal elite.
This, though, is an issue which does not permit of moral relativism.
The democratic, tolerant and largely secular state cannot co-exist with this version of Islam, because their true values are inimical. The true values of the West – freedom of thought, freedom to choose, freedom to mock, freedom to be wrong, freedom to determine one’s own destiny, freedom to choose who rules, freedom to be gay or straight – are inimical to the values of Wahhabism. In this ideology “Islam” means “submission” both metaphorically and literally. Submission to the will of God. Democracy, self determination and tolerance of opposing views are thus by definition blasphemy and heretical must be treated accordingly.
Europe and Britain are no longer culturally and physically divorced from the threat of Wahhabism. This week, for example, sees the conclusion of evidence in the inquest of those tragically killed in the bomb blasts of July 7th 2005; a direct expression of fundamentalist rage perpetrated by citizens of this country.
The very significant levels of immigration from the Asian subcontinent over the past few decades have created significant Muslim populations with strong roots in Pakistan and Pakistani culture. In some parts of the country these are not minority communities. With trends in births, these communities will continue to grow in proportion to the rest of the population.
Neither can the West be divorced economically. As the tsunami of popular revolt sweeps through the Arab world, the price of petrol rises inexorably. Those ripples already lap upon the Saudi shore, and if the Saudi oil supply falls into chaos the effect will be drastic.
Will the “Arab Spring” bring more freedom, democracy and humanity for the peoples of the Arab world, or provide the Trojan Horse for men such as the murderers of Shahbaz Bhatti?
I suggest “the Clash of Civilisations” is a misnomer. There is a clash between “Civilisation”, including Arab and Asian on the one hand, and “The Uncivilised” on the other. It is taking place now, at home and abroad.
It will not be won by military means.
It will be the defining struggle of the 21st Century.
Gildas the Celibate Monk