Iftikar Baloch — and I do not mean to imply anything about him, especially since in this story he is a victim of the Islamic supremacists — looks as if he is a recipient of one of those Hitler haircuts that are so popular in Pakistan.
Here is a story by the Times’ Sabrina Tavernise about a gang of Islamic supremacists running roughshod over a university in Pakistan. It contains the usual oddities of Tavernise stories, as Hugh has pointed out. “At Top University, a Fight for Pakistan’s Future,” by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times, April 21 (thanks to BK):
LAHORE, Pakistan — The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.
Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.
The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.
But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.
The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors.
The dynamic helps explain how the Taliban and other militant groups here, though small and often unpopular minorities, retain their hold over large portions of Pakistani society….
Maybe it helps explain it, but it doesn’t get to the bottom of it. It doesn’t explain why no one calls the aggressors on their aggression, or expects anything from them. It doesn’t explain how they gained enough power to become beneficial to the opportunistic political class. And Sabrina Tavernise doesn’t explain any of this, of course, because it would lead her into discussion of Islamic texts and teachings.
But this is the University of the Punjab, Pakistan’s premier institution of higher learning, with about 30,000 students, and a principal avenue of advancement for the swelling ranks of Pakistan’s lower and middle classes.
The battle here concerns the future direction of the country, and whether those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam will prevail against this nation’s beleaguered, outward-looking, educated class.
That is why the problem of Islami Jamiat Talaba is so urgent, teachers say.
“They are hooligans with a Taliban mentality and they should be banned, full stop,” Maliha A. Aga, a teacher in the art department, said of the student group as she stood in a throng of protesters in professorial robes this month. “That’s the only way this university will survive.”
The rhetoric of the group, like that of its parent political party, is strongly anti-West, chauvinistic and intolerant of Pakistan’s religious minorities. It was a vocal supporter of the Taliban, until doing so became unpopular last year.
Its members block music classes, ban Western soft drinks and beat male students for sitting near girls on the university lawn.
“It’s fascist,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English literature professor, of the Islamic student movement. “Every single government has averted its eyes.”
Why? And by the way, by labeling this movement “fascist,” isn’t Shaista Sirjuddin being “Islamophobic”? After all, our “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” was “Islamophobic,” wasn’t it? Honest Ibe Hooper, drop your bees and call your office!
The group is something of a puzzle. It may be aggressive, but it is relatively small, and has waned in popularity among students in recent years. One young teacher said association with it now brought stigma.
Cognitive dissonance alert: everyone dislikes them, and stigmatizes those who join, but meanwhile they have the run of the place and terrorize everyone else, and enjoy connections in high places.
But it still manages to dominate by deftly wielding Islam as a weapon to bludgeon its enemies, denouncing anyone who disagrees with it as un-Islamic.
Of course, it couldn’t get away with this if its Islamic arguments were faulty or implausible.
The tactic is effective in Pakistan, a young country whose early confusion about the role of Islam in society has hardened into a rigid certainty, making it highly taboo to question.
“It’s unthinkable to talk even about human rights without reference to the Holy Book,” said Ms. Sirajuddin, referring to the Koran. “Such is the dread to be talked about as un-Islamic.” […]
The group created a parallel administration, according to a former member, Nadim Jamil, and has divided the university into five zones, with a nazim, or mayor, assigned to each. The dormitories are their fiefdoms, he said, where mayors monitor movements, hold Koran reading classes and recruit members. […]
As unpopular as it may be on campus, the group never has trouble getting recruits. Many first-year students are shy, underprivileged youths from the countryside. The group appeals to this weakness, helping with expenses and opening up a system of benefits: More milk in their tea. Better food. Cleaner dishes. […]
Sure. It’s always the material appeal that gets them — never the religious appeal. For Sabrina Tavernise to portray the religious appeal as effective would run her into more cognitive dissonance.
Last week, several of the attackers were arrested, but Mr. Ashraf, the ringleader, was not among them. Besides, the group’s top leader on campus is the son of an important politician.…