Al Qaeda and its apologists

Published: March 19, 2012

The writer is a former consulting editor at The Friday Times, and can be found on Twitter @RazaRumi

The new al Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri in his new video statement has urged the people of Pakistan to overthrow the “corrupt” government in Islamabad. Interestingly, he has also asked the people to rise against the Pakistan Army, which has been fighting a battle against some extremist groups in the north west of the country. Al Qaeda has been making such desperate calls for a decade now. But the worrying part is that the message — or its operative part — has gained currency in many middle class Pakistanis. Despite the crackdown, Hizbut Tahreer (HuT) continues to operate like several other militant groups. The extent of its advocacy for overthrowing the generals and the politicians is such that a HuT affiliated senior army official is on trial these days.

But these trials and military interventions are pointless when Islamabad, virtually a security zone, displays HuT posters and stickers almost everywhere. Why are the activists not tracked down and why do the government and the all-powerful intelligence agencies allow proliferation of such propaganda? A partial explanation is that elements of the state are also steeped in this a similar mindset. It is an established fact that the composition of the officers’ corps in the army and civilian bureaucracy is overwhelmingly middle class.

In his latest statement, again al-Zawahiri has mentioned the 70-year-old American aid worker Dr Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped in August 2011 from Lahore. The message from al Qaeda is that Weinstein will not be released until their demands are met. Among others, a key demand is the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist sentenced by the US courts and currently languishing in an American prison. Ms Aafia’s story is still incomplete and there are competing claims over her role in perpetrating ‘terrorism’ as well as her innocence.

But in the popular imagination, Ms Aafia is a victim of US aggression. Pakistani Urdu media and sections of its political class have declared her the ‘daughter of the nation’. Even a secular party such as the MQM had to appease public sentiment and held a huge rally in Karachi against the US. It’s a separate matter that the ‘nation’ (looking at what the Baloch are rejecting as their Pakistani identity) here is as contested as the idea of its ‘daughter’ being imprisoned and violated by the US. Even the missing persons case is instructive. On balance, there is more noise about the missing persons allegedly linked to the militants than those belonging to the Balochistan province. This is not to suggest that the state has any right to incarcerate a citizen without due process but the ‘ideological’ tilt is quite clear.

Dr Weinstein was never charged of spying and no evidence has been brought in public light. Equating his case with Afia Siddiqui or others, as some Pakistanis do, makes no sense. If anything, the silence in our media about the plight of an old, frail man who lived in Pakistan as a development worker betrays how the aversion to US harms our collective humanity. Should Pakistan become a state where no Westerner is safe, considering that millions of Pakistanis are living in the West, especially the US?

Al-Zawahiri’s confidence is not all that misplaced. The dominant sections of media comprise the middle class, which views the Taliban and other militants as forces pitted against Western imperialism. Sadly, there is also a growing trend where scholarship is legitimising jihadis. The postponed agenda of counter-radicalisation by mainstream politics is giving way to a new political force which popularises simplistic solutions to extremism and blames ‘liberal scum’ instead. Such lies are being fed to younger Pakistanis who want positive change, better prospects and a safer Pakistan. For economic progress, security is important and sustainable peace cannot be achieved when millions readily justify the violent version of ‘jihad’. This misleading political narrative must be challenged and reclaimed from such apologists. Rejecting and fighting US hegemony is not enough. The domestic battle against the many-faced protégés of Mr Zawahiri is equally important.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.

Reader Comments (29)

  • Mir
    Mar 19, 2012 - 11:12PM

    well said mr. rumi, i would like to ask those who take out rally for afia siddiqui who is allegedly being treid on murder case, why didn’t they take out rally for zarina marri a poor lady who was abducted from kohlu by our state agencies where were they at that time? Why our priorities so messed up why we don’t clear our own mess first.

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  • Falcon
    Mar 20, 2012 - 12:14AM

    While the pitch of your article is noble, I think you might have gone too far in bashing the other side. All critics of Imperialist aggression are not Al-Qaeda apologists, if that was the case people such as Noam Chomsky would top the list of intellectuals? Let’s look at the issue objectively. Let’s criticize any thing where it is due, which certainly includes ourselves as well. Extremism becomes worse when we start taking sides. Isn’t it possible that US with the best of intent is pursuing the wrong strategy in the region?

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  • s shah
    Mar 20, 2012 - 12:14AM

    excellent article Mr. Rumi. Thanks.

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  • Abid saleem
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:04AM

    Brilliant article…you raised valid points…but hey who is looking for rational and realistic picture here…!

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:07AM

    Very good.

    I do feel sorry for that frail old man who had the courage to come to Pakistan to do some good. I believe he had been in Pakistan for seven years and was preparing to return home. Obviously an “inside job”.

    It is nice to know that he is still alive (if indeed he is) so that someone is making sure he gets his medications.

    Whether it is the Swiss couple (recently released) or him or the many other US and/or other western nationals that dare to come to work in Pakistan, I salute them for their courage and commitment and I thank them.

    I think they are nuts but I salute them all the same.

    My former neighbour in Reston VA applied for a USAID post in Islamabad. He withdrew his application when his wife threatened to divorce him — even though it is a non-family station.

    Sensible woman.

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  • maham
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:14AM

    the awkward moment when the writer is ‘really’ RUMI ;)
    but RUMI was one sane man…

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  • shabbir hussain
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Mr. Rumi said “It is an established fact that the composition of the officers’ corps in the army and civilian bureaucracy is overwhelmingly middle class”
    Are you saying that if you are from MIDDLE CLASS you cannot be progressive or libral ?

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  • Mj
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:22AM

    Has there even been a single large scale protest against terrorists and terrorism? I don’t recall any taking place. And yet there have been hundreds against cartoons, papal remarks, alleged blasphemies, and of course the US.

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  • Shakky
    Mar 20, 2012 - 2:28AM

    Very well written article. A moderate middle class is key to economic and political development. It does not bode well for a nation when this segment of society falls under the sway of religious demagogues who label progressives as “liberal scum”. Particularly when the liberal tent is so much broader and encompasses so many more perspectives than the conservative one. It took Zia ul Muck a decade to distort Pakistan’s middle class. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long to remove those distortions.

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  • Realist.
    Mar 20, 2012 - 6:14AM

    Its not just middle class there are people in every section of the society who’ve got these kinda apologetic views for AQ & others!
    Media is playing an important role in all this , if people like zaid hamid ,orya maqbool jan & the likes will present their PoV on tv almost everyday & theres no one to counter that this is bound to happen. We need to educate our people, need to be more vocal on that & yes Mainstream political parties HAVE TO step in.

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  • Iron hand
    Mar 20, 2012 - 7:18AM

    Unfortunately for Pakistan and the rest of the world, the lunatics on are the verge of controling the asylum. It will end badly for all concerned.

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  • Ak
    Mar 20, 2012 - 8:17AM

    Arundhati Roy is one such example. She has a very favourable view of groups like Taliban and views them as fighting imperialism!

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  • Falcon
    Mar 20, 2012 - 8:39AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    I agree with you. Honestly, these people are like saints. But I must also add here that it is extremely irresponsible of US to do intelligence gathering using NGOs in some cases on the front end. The same issue is happening in Egypt as well. That’s why some NGOs have loudly started criticizing US that their neutrality should not be jeopardized by using their brand name for intelligence gathering. At the end of the day, who bears the brunt of it all, poor NGO workers since people start questioning their motives and governments use this as an excuse to hunt them so that they can keep human rights violations from being reported.

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  • BASHARAT
    Mar 20, 2012 - 9:42AM

    Thank you Rumi Sahib, people like you, who are combating intolerance and religious bigotry with full zeal, give us hope that the hatred and intolerance will vanish and peace will rule in our society.Recommend

  • Mar 20, 2012 - 10:23AM

    *Dr Weinstein was never charged of spying and no evidence has been brought in public light. *

    Who said Dr Aafia crime was “spying”??? :O

    Btw is he the same writer, who defend Raymod davis,by declaring him “diplomets” before the foreigen office confrimation?

    Both Alqaeda and americans apologists destroying our nation :(

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  • zalim singh
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:21PM

    Should Pakistan become a state where no Westerner is safe, considering that millions of Pakistanis are living in the West, especially the US?

    Dear Mr.Rumi, Pakistan already is such a state and so are almost all the Islamic nations in the world. I am unable to understand why the world tolerates them. Even Indian muslims find every small incident to criticise USA, but are first in line for US visas.

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:47PM

    @Falcon:

    What is the basis of you saying they gather “intelligence”? We are very fond of saying that about anyone and everyone.

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  • Sajjad H. Changezi
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:53PM

    Isn’t it too short or incomplete??
    I feel it concluding too fast..

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  • Mar 20, 2012 - 3:20PM

    Just yesterday I watched a programme on the ceremony at the wagah border and the moderator mentioned that 10 lakh muslims were killed during partition – there was no mention of the reciprocal killings. This is only one example of the one-sided facts that tv anchors representative of the middle class no doubt continue to reinforce.

    Raza – most pakistanis blame gandhi for driving away a secular jinnah into pressing for partition – that notion of ‘blaming others’ continues and pervades all classes.

    For instance, in a recent talk show – sochta pakistan – the painful moderator and other pakistani guests told the indian counterparts that with the Maoist belt, India did not face the issue of foreign intervention as pakistan does in balochistan.

    And this was from the middle to upper middle class!!

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  • Dr Abdul Kalam
    Mar 20, 2012 - 5:30PM

    I am sorry to say its the most Unrealistic article i have ever read….

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  • fdsfs
    Mar 20, 2012 - 6:38PM

    as for zarina marri, any innocent woman who is abducted, must be freed by force, and her captors killed. IMMEDIATELY!

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  • Salahudeen Islam
    Mar 20, 2012 - 7:33PM

    Mr Rumi if only proved guilty should be punished then OBL was only an alleged terrorist. he was also never proved by any court that he had a role in 9/11. You talk about middle class as if all are terrorist sympathizers. A great number in west also speak against the unjust war on terror and the number is growing. Pakistan is for Muslims and we want to live understand Islamic laws.

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  • Ashvinn
    Mar 20, 2012 - 8:42PM

    Is it really that or is it just sensationalism at best, what is the basis for this assumptions a few abductions and some unnatural deaths, in a country fighting WOT.Most horrible news I have heard from Pakistan, killer of salman tasser being celebrated by a section of lawyers

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  • Mirza
    Mar 20, 2012 - 8:53PM

    “a key demand is the release of Aafia Siddiqui”
    If this does not prove a relationship between the terrorists and AS then what would? In additon there has never been an outrage on the streets on the atrocities at the hands of terrorists. The whole world notices this silence and one of these days Pakistanis living abroad are going to suffer.
    BTW, a great Op Ed once again by the author.

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  • Adnan
    Mar 21, 2012 - 12:34AM

    @Mir:

    This question could be valid if you would have come out for mentioned women. Sadly people like you can do anything for sake of dollars, so can Mr.Rumi.

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  • Adnan
    Mar 21, 2012 - 12:39AM

    The Author said:
    The dominant sections of media comprise the middle class, which views the Taliban and other militants as forces pitted against Western imperialism.
    A few months back Joe Biden said:

    ‘That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S.
    interests.’
    Does it mean VO of USoA belongs to Pakistani Middle Class?
    Google about Joe Biden Taliban not enemy and you would find several links of VP of US statements. Recommend

  • Marium Lodhi
    Mar 21, 2012 - 5:23AM

    I disagree. While I am no Alqaeda apologist , neither do I consider this war our own nor believe in our ability to tackle it when the USA has been unable to do so combined with the NATO Forces and the might of their technology. I prefer taking the cowards way out and preserving security and peace in my own country. Now you may go on and tell me how this is our war and how we have suffered. When you put your hand in the lion’s den you can hardly expect to go unscathed. Pakistan did not suffer from terrorism before this intervention and I prefer that status quo to this. period.

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  • Andrew
    Mar 21, 2012 - 7:18PM

    @Mirza,

    This does not prove a relationship between Aafia Siddiqui and al-Qaeda. 

    *al-Qaeda ignored her when she and her children were kidnapped from the streets of Karachi in 2003.
    *al-Qaeda ignored her when reports began to circulate that she was being held and tortured in Bagram Prison in 2006. 
    *al-Qaeda ignored her when she was shot in Afghanistan in 2008
    *al-Qaeda ignored her when she was convicted of attempted murder in 2010.
    *al-Qaeda ignored her when she was sentenced to eighty-six years in 2010. 

    Aafia is nothing more to these than a recruiting tool. al-Zawahiri never mentioned her until he realized how popular her cause was in Pakistan. There is, however, a perverse charm in watching al-Qaeda flopping around like a fish on dry land yelling at the crowd “Wait for me, I’m your leader!”Recommend

  • Adnan
    Mar 22, 2012 - 2:56AM

    So as per liberal point of view about Women Respect and Honor, if the lady belongs to opposite camp or does not serve the agenda, it is OK to molest her, rape her,torch her and what not in the name of *terrorists

    I guess the Talibans which likes of Rumi condemns all the time should not be condemned either, after all those women did not serve their agenda either.

    The most disgusting thing I find that even Women are OK for what is being done with her, start comparing Aasia Bibi with Aafia Siddiqui. Can anyone tell me how many times Aasia BibI was raped by Pakistani Policemen? How many times she was torched?

    I think it’s time to getrid of such biased apologists like author and start finding facts.

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