February 14th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Australia-US free trade agreement: free trade or fair trade?

EDITORIAL: Bush and Iraq: the essential issues

ELECTION: How Labor outgunned the Coalition in Queensland

AGRICULTURE: Political will needed to solve dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham catches government on wrong foot

OPINION: Regionalism the solution to excessive centralism

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Deschooling or reschooling? / Oxbridge / Pluralism

Death ethics (letter)

Front and centre (letter)

CANADA: Exposing the myths behind 'free market' agriculture policy

ISLAM: Musharraf's ambitious quest to lead the Islamic world

Bird flu cover-up shows that change in China comes slowly

COMMENT: Is President Bush really "dumb"?

BOOKS: Divorce Law and the Future of Marriage, by Barry Maley


MUSIC: Reflections for Peace, Joy and Serenity

Books promotion page

Musharraf's ambitious quest to lead the Islamic world

by Dr Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, February 14, 2004
Dr Sharif Shuja reports that Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, is making a determined bid to lead the Islamic world out of the sense of hopelessness and anti-Western hostility which has characterised it over recent decades. But will he succeed?

Can Pakistan become the leader of the Islamic world and play a key role on the world stage? President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan desires to be a big player, a global leader.

Those close to him say that his ideas have become grandiose, that he sees himself in a different league, a league of frontline leaders of the world. And this, they say, is a new addition to his oft-repeated belief that he is the best salesman Pakistan has.

The 2003 Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) summit in Malaysia gave Musharraf another opportunity to hold forth on his grand vision. In his speech, he unfurled a view that was transnational, big on the theme of the Muslim Ummah being in dire need of rescue and rehabilitation.

At the end of the conference, he was self-congratulatory, proudly claiming that the OIC's acceptance of Pakistan's proposal for restructuring the organisation was a diplomatic gain for the country.


Preceding the OIC performance was Musharraf's theory that the road to the Islamic world's salvation lies in "moderate enlightenment" - a suggestion that the Muslim world needs to pursue the path of moderation and enlightenment to come out of its present impasse.

Why has the Muslim world in general, and the Middle East in particular, had such a rough time in the modern world?

In many Muslim countries, political dissent is simply illegal. Yet, year by year, the size of the educated class and the number of young professionals continues to increase. These people need space to express their political and social concerns. But state control is total, leaving no room for civil society to grow.

It is the sense of alienation and the perception that the world is against them that nurture bitterness among those who resort to terrorism.

Today extremists lure adherents from among the poorly educated and unemployed by preaching a return to the true religious values of former times. The religion they preach is a cover for advancing their political agenda and their lust for power, an ideology more akin to Fascism and Marxism than to the Islamic faith. Fanatics are perverting the Koran's message of tolerance.

The Muslim moment of truth has arrived, because if they continue to be hijacked by the vested interests of fanatical terrorist and extremist elements, then the future is bleak.

Muslims from different backgrounds should unleash a learning process in key areas of human development so that the gap, which one can see between them and the Western world, is narrowed.

It is this very gap which has served the interests of Muslim radicals so well. Islam, it is often said, is the religion of the marginalised. Radical leaders have become adept at exploiting those many millions who are indeed marginalised, both politically and economically.


Illiteracy, poverty, high unemployment, absence of democracies and good governments, and a lack of development and political institutions in much of the Muslim world are immediate causes of extremism.

Like radicals throughout history, Islamic radicals become moderate once accommodated and incorporated into the socio-political mainstream. If they do not, they perish or become irrelevant.

Therefore, extremism can best be reduced through gradual democratisation, a process and a system of governance which the West is not actually encouraging in the Muslim world.

The need for the West to actively encourage moderation and democratisation in the Muslim world is obvious. The West, led by America, will need to take a greater interest in the Muslim world if it is to check growing anti-Western sentiments.

Efforts should be directed to expedite the transition to democracy in the Muslim world. They should be made to feel that the West is on their side, particularly if the movements that precisely champion the values of democracy arise there.

We need to dismiss the proposition that any religion is a source of terrorism. Such arguments seek to discredit one of the great religions of the world. No religion prescribes violence against innocent people. Our battle is against extremist elements, who misuse and misinterpret religion to justify terrorism and incite violence.

The need for Muslim societies to address their internal social and political development has become more urgent than ever.

If real change is to occur in the Arab world, it must come from within. The great failing of Arab intellectuals is that, rather than looking inward with a critical eye, they have looked elsewhere for people to blame. And where the intelligentsia have gone, the Arab people have followed.

For that reason, Arabs have been stuck in a cycle of victimisation and self-delusion. Only when they can take a cold look at their own cultural shortcomings will they be able to emerge from the mire of economic stagnation and social malaise.


A proper orientation must also be developed for Muslim engagement with the world at large.

In recent times, President Musharraf has spoken openly against militancy, sectarianism, benighted mullaism, and other ailments of misapplied faith.

Mix this with his generally secular take on life and the result is fairly interesting: a powerful military leader, propounding a moderate vision for a world of Islam locked in a multiple crisis of confidence and future direction.

Recent developments on the international front may also be encouraging Musharraf's ambition to speak from a pedestal higher than that of a national leader.

The Islamic world's traditional pillars of leadership have all but collapsed. The House of Saud is shaking. As the momentum builds in the US - the Saudis' diplomatic life-support - against the status quo in the Middle East and in favour of democracy, the rulers of Mecca and Medina are too consumed by the battle for survival to think of the challenges confronting the Muslim Ummah.

Elsewhere, the picture is just as grim. Saddam Hussein has gone, Syria and Libya are on a weak wicket and Iran is totally taken up by the growing international pressure on its nuclear program.

The parts of the Islamic world that have traditionally been the source of leadership are in a situation which is getting worse rapidly. There are no leaders to be found.

Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia is controversial and, in any case, is no more. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been tainted with the Israel deal, and Turkey is seen as too Euro-centric.

If Musharraf looks around in his near and distant diplomatic neighbourhood, he does not see too many towering personalities.

There are none. None, at any rate, who represent a significant militarily potent Muslim country, with exceptional geographical location, and at the same time acceptable to the West.

But Musharraf's path, or ambition, to reach the pinnacle of the Islamic world's leadership is strewn with fault lines. And these start from home. He is not a leader who is ruling Pakistan by consensus.


His power still flows from the barrel of the military's guns, and the political chessboard he is playing on is tricky. The issue of the legitimacy of his rule has not gone away; nor has the power of the opposition weakened in any significant measure.

Musharraf cannot be a credible leader at the international level if the domestic ground he stands on is not built on consensus.

The lead role that Musharraf has on the global stage is because of the tactical adjustments that he has made so far. These include: timely help in the war against the Taliban; the fight against Al-Qaeda and capture of some of its top leaders; firm action against militant organisations at home; slow but steady show of flexibility towards India and positive engagement with Hamid Karzai's regime in Kabul.

These make him a good tactician, but not a strategic visionary - the quality that enables leaders to have a real and lasting impact on the world stage.

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