The CNN headlines are dramatic. “Cleric in Islamabad: ‘It’s the beginning of the revolution'” His actions are equally dramatic. Tahir-ul Qadri has led a “Long March” through Pakistan to the capital. His message is simple: end government corruption. The problem is that in Pakistan that means ending the government.
“It’s the beginning of the revolution,” Tahir ul Qadri told a rally in Islamabad. “Dissolve federal and provincial governments by tomorrow morning; otherwise, the public will force them to step down!”
But the most dramatic thing about Qadri is that nobody is quite sure who he is and whom he represents. The Los Angeles Times quotes sources who believe that he’s come to end democracy in Pakistan:
Many analysts and commentators have questioned whether Qadri’s mission ultimately imperils what could be a historic transfer of power from one civilian government to another in a country with a history of military takeovers and interference in governance.
“This represents a big threat to Pakistan’s parliamentary process and its hard-fought democratic freedoms,” said Raza Rumi, a political analyst at the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute.
But still others regard him as a new Gandhi. Wikipedia identifies him as a Sufi. “Qadri started his education at the Christian ‘Sacred Heart School’ in Jhang, where he learned English and was exposed to Christianity at an early age. He learnt under Diya’ al-Din al-Madani. He studied Hadith from Muhaddith al-Hijaz. Qadri continued his quest for knowledge early in his life.”
In March 2010 he gained media attention for the launch of his unconditional Fatwa on Terrorism and appeared on various international media outlets including Sky News, BBC News, ITV, EuroNews, Al-Jazeera, CNN and CNN’s Amanpour, CBC News, Russia Today, Al Arabiya and various other outlets. He appeared on Frost Over The World and interviewed by David Frost in which Qadri stated that the “purpose of his life is to bring peace and harmony in the world”. Furthermore, the US State Department declared the Fatwa to be a significant publication which takes back Islam from terrorists. Qadri was quoted in the American Foreign Policy magazine stating: “I am trying to bring [the terrorists] back towards humanism. This is a jihad against brutality, to bring them back towards normality. This is an intellectual jihad.”
In August 2010 Qadri held the first anti-terrorism camp for Muslim youth at the University of Warwick with the aim of tackling extremism in the UK.
Sufi. Activist against the Jihad, Canadian citizen — that might be the most convincing circumstance of all. But the Economist writes that there seems more to Qadri than meets the eye. For one thing, he seems to have altogether too much money. In an article titled “The mystery of Tahir ul Qadri” they wrote:
Who and what is Tahir ul Qadri? And, more importantly, who is behind him? Those are the questions now racing through political Pakistan, with no firm answers. The religious cleric, previously a minor figure politically, has been living in Canada since 2006, where he acquired Canadian citizenship. Since he arrived back in Pakistan last month, however, Mr Qadri has caused a political sensation with his demands that Pakistan’s democratic system be reformed. He wants to throw the “criminals” out of Pakistani politics, the implication being that doing so would leave very few of today’s politicians still in business.
Mr Qadri seems to have unlimited funds available to him and a huge and growing following. A rally held on December 23rd in Lahore, the provincial capital of the politically all-important Punjab province, attracted hundreds of thousands of people. (Mr Qadri claimed it was a crowd of 2m.) Now he is to march on the capital, Islamabad, aiming to take 4m people to that small and usually serene city on January 14th.
In an interview, Mr Qadri says that he wants to “get rid of electoral dictatorship”. At times he talks about a “Tahrir Square” situation, though he also denies wanting to topple the government. Unlike Egypt before the Tahrir Square protests, Pakistan already has an elected government and is due to hold elections before the summer.
The answer to the question “Who Am I” so far is that no one in the public knows for sure. At stake is the Pakistani nuclear arsenal — believed to be bigger than India’s and rivaling that of France or Britain.
The lack of background disturbs some observers in the West, where it is inconceivable that a political figure should come from nowhere with unlimited money and publicity at his disposal preaching a messianic message, and, without a track record, rise to control the destiny of a great state armed with nuclear weapons.
In the West the press vets political candidates.
Still this seems the season of surprises. Mali, Syria, Somalia, the discovery that the Chinese nuclear arsenal might be much bigger than believed. All this is unsettling. And now come dramatic developments in Pakistan, which is even now engaged in border tension with India. The puzzles come thick and fast. Mystery makes for good drama, but often produces poor statecraft. One is tempted to ask: do the Western electorates have all the information to understand all this?
In times of crisis there is sometimes a tendency among the vexed and harried people to look to a savior. One Muslim explained it thus:
In fact, this belief is not limited to the Muslims alone. In almost all religions and heavenly creeds one can find a similar belief in the future savior. The followers of these religions believe that there will come a time when the world will become corrupt and engulfed in a crisis. Evil and injustice will become the rule of the day. Disbelief will cover the entire world. At that time, the universal savior of the world will appear. With remarkable divine help he will restore the purity of faith and defeat materialism with the help of divine worship. Not only are the tidings to be found in revealed books like the Zand and Pazand, and Jamaspname of the Zoroastrians, the Torah and other Biblical books of the Jews, and the Gospel of the Christians, such information can also be seen, more or less, among the Brahmins and the Buddhists …
each group believes that this divinely ordained savior will be among them. The Zoroastrians believe he is Persian and among the followers of Zoroaster. The Jews maintain that he will be among the Children of Israel, and the follower of Moses. The Christians think he will be one among them. Muslims believe that he will be among the Hashimites and among the direct descendants of the Prophet.
Perhaps the biggest innovation of political correctness was to instill in the population the idea that the savior would not be one of them. Rather he would be of the other, free of the defects that condemned them in the first place.
So who is Qadri? There are no clear answers. No matter. Maybe we should approach these vexing questions like they did in the old days. They waited to see what the answer was.
Who am I?
A man shrouded thick with mystery.
These innocents who bear my face
Who authorize the nukes but in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself for evermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Who am I?
I had not looked until today.
How can I know before I’ve started?
You might well be from worlds away,
And yet with you, the crowds have parted!
I had a dream there was a meme
In this crazy world I live in!
Watch ’em run amuck,
Catch ’em as they fall,
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all,
Here a little `dip’
There a little `touch’
Most of them are goners
So they won’t miss much!
Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!