Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi's Assasination

The murder of Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi, the senior cleric at Jaamia Naeemia and secretary-general of the Ittehad Tanzeematul Madaris-e-Deeniya, comes as a huge blow to the anti-Taliban movement in the country. Naeemi, who had taken a stand against the Taliban as far back as 1995 (albiet somewhat reluctantly), had held an anti-Taliban rally in Lahore barely two weeks before his assassination and strongly come out in favour of the military operation in Swat, declaring, "The military must eliminate the Taliban once and for all otherwise they will capture the entire country which would be a big catastrophe." It took real courage for Naeemi to take the stand that he did - courage that most of us do not possess - and for that he should be applauded and remembered fondly.

But the media obscures the true significance of Naeemi in its constant references to the cleric as a "moderate" (A Google search of Sarfraz Naeemi+moderate turned up 34,000 results). His opposition to the Taliban nothwithstanding, Naeemi held decidely unmoderate views on just about every issue, from his staunch opposition to the Women's Rights Bill, his support for the use of the death penalty for 'crimes' like adultery and blasphemy, his ridiculous statements on the Danish cartoons and fondess for consipracy theories.

Pointing out some of Mufti Naeemi's extremist positions isn't meant to denigrate or question his anti-militant bona fides or diminish his bravery in opposing the Taliban. I just feel that we need to place Naeemi in the right context to understand his achievements. He was no reformist like Fazlur Rehman (I refer to the scholar not the JUI leader) and was squarely in the mainstream of clerics in Pakistan.

This made his anti-Taliban stance all the more useful. He could reach out to people who might be inclined to follow the Taliban in a way that liberals like us never could. He also served as a symbol, not only of the public's growing revulsion at the Taliban, but also their willingness to support military action to deal with the threat. It is no surprise that Naeemi's support of the current military operation, support he had not given to such previous actions, coincided with greater public support for the army.

There are two possible public reations to Naeemi's assasination. One, the public will be even more fearful of the Taliban and other clerics who might have considered publicly and forcefully denouncing the Taliban may find it prudent to remain silence. Or, sickened by yet another display of barbarism, clerics who have not taken a stand against the Taliban and political leaders who still consider the US and India to be a greater threat to Pakistan than the Taliban, will finally come to their senses. We do a great disservice to the memory of Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi if it is the former.


Anonymous said...

" his support for the use of the death penalty for 'crimes' like adultery "

Yeah what silly thoughts by the late Maulana. Not like this is the punishment prescribed in the Quran for adultery.

Ahsan said...

Good post Bubs. Is this some sort of record vis-a-vis most links ever in one post?

bubs said...

Anon1137: I wasn't commenting on his adherence to the Quran; I was making the case that he wasn't a liberal.

Ahsan: Thanks.I'm trying to be more conscientious with my linking.

Philistine said...

I don't entirely understand the motives of the Taliban in killing this Mufti. There are many different types of anti-talibanism currently at play in Pakistan - why did the taliban target someone they had more ideological affinity with as compared to other anti-taliban people? That is, why did they not go for someone who was a raging liberal instead of targeting a mufti? Moreover, they've now alienated a whole segment of society that would have been apologizing for them based on their demands for sharia etc. I know the strategy of the taliban hasn't exactly been to woo the people with songs of love and economic prosperity, but this seems to be a bit extreme, even for them. Isn't it also out of character - when was the last time a cleric was targeted?

Anonymous said...

Only someone with a deficient understanding of the current state of Pakistan would make the imprudent decision to make false remarks against a truly moderate Islamic scholar.

Even more appalling is to do so at a time when the country is grieving tragic losses of Muslim lives do to extremists such as the Taliban.

bubs said...

Philistine: The best explanation I have for why Naeemi was targeted is that the Taliban is intent not on gaining support but in making people too scared to oppose them. What better way of doing that than killing a cleric with a large group of followers.

Anon1235: Could you point out any false facts? It seems we have a different definition of moderate. I don't consider Naeemi's killing any less a tragedy because I disagree with a lot of his views. But I think it is important to know what his views are on matters other than suicide bombings to get a better understanding of how opposition to the Taliban is now widespread and is being voiced by those who aren't liberals. One of the main liberal complaints over the past few years has been the reluctance of clerics to unequivocally denounce violence even if it is being used to achieve aims they might agree with. Naeemi is someone who supported the institution of Shariah in the country but was clear that violence wasn't the way to bring that out. Pointing that out isn't appalling.