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Pakistani Conspiratorialism

America remains the main target, not the aggressor, in the conflict with radical Islam.

1:40 PM, May 17, 2010 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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In the aftermath of the failed Times Square bombing, the world appears--not for the first time--to be catching on about Pakistan. That country’s reality is simple: Radical Islamist movements have a choke-hold over the military and intelligence services, and blackmail Islamabad into subsidizing jihadist activities across South Asia, from Afghanistan to Burma, the latter with a small Muslim community. In addition, the large Pakistani diaspora, mainly in the UK and U.S., shelters numerous active agents of and contributors to terrorist efforts.

Pakistani Conspiratorialism

Many Pakistanis and other Muslim South Asians despise and oppose jihadist agitators. Yet even the opponents of Pakistani Muslim radicalism often live in a convoluted world of conspiracies, in which nothing is what it seems. Muslim South Asians in America note a rising tone of belligerence among doctors and other professionals, directed both at Islamist terrorists and at the U.S. The image of a hegemonic America is transformed, for them, into that of a power capable of, and bent on, destruction of the Muslim world through financing of the very terrorists against whom America is fighting.

In this world-view, members of the Pakistani elite proclaim their long-time attachment to universal, liberal values and their opposition to the Taliban in Afghanistan and its penetration of Pakistan. They argue that they have fought Islamists through the civil institutions of their country, and that they never defended such crimes as are charged against the New York bomb suspect, Faisal Shahzad. In many instances, their claims are correct.

But some among Pakistan’s liberal elite also see America in the distorting mirror of Machiavellian manipulation. While they express fear and hatred for radical Islam, they blame its rise on U.S. support for the Afghans in expelling the Russians two decades ago. According to them, the anti-Moscow campaign produced the Taliban regime, although seven years passed between the withdrawal of then-Soviet troops in 1989 and the Taliban seizure of Kabul in 1996. And Pakistanis of this ilk point with rage at the American energy alliance with Saudi Arabia, progenitor of the most radical sect to claim the mantle of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism. Pakistani secularists, like many of their peers now heard in Turkey, combine “progressivism” in politics, a declared resistance to jihadists, and visceral loathing of American power.

Criticism of blinkered U.S. relations with radical and radicalizing powers like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is certainly appropriate, and the issue has become more acute under the Obama administration, which pretends there is no such thing as radical Islam. But the Western links to Riyadh and Islamabad are pragmatic and empirical, founded on energy economics in the Saudi case and military necessity in that of Pakistan. Wahhabism was the ideological foundation of the Saudi state before oil was found on Arabian territory and America began to pay attention to politics there. Jihadism emerged in today’s Pakistan when the territory was still part of British India and America played no role in the region. Historically, Pakistanis have unresolved grievances against their former colonial masters in London, and have only become anti-American as a deranging consequence of their dangerous situation.

American leaders have been hesitant to name radical Islam as the enemy in the current global confrontation, out of reluctance to become involved in religious matters and lack of on-the-ground expertise, rather than because of scheming calculation. American policy is not and never has been aimed at destroying Muslim societies from within by supporting fundamentalism and jihadism. It is absurd and dismaying that anyone should have to state such a thing. But such distorted arguments are now frequently expressed among South Asian Muslims. In a column for the Daily Times of Lahore, one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers, a professor of medicine at the University of Florida, Dr. Mohammad Taqi, swung between rational admissions about the problem of extremist Islam in America and outrageous conspiratorialism.

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