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In a Globe and Mail opinion piece published Thursday, Tarek Fatah examines the politics behind Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on militants inside the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad.

As Mr. Fatah writes, "Both Gen. Musharraf and the Americans who prop him up must realize that, to fight malaria, one needs to drain the swamps, not kill individual mosquitoes. The best way to fight Islamist radicalism in Pakistan is to ask the general to step down and organize democratic elections without the aid of fraudulent voter lists that deny exiled politicians a return to the country."

Mr. Fatah joined us online Friday to take your questions about Islamic radicalism, the doctrine of jihad, Pakistan and the global tide of extremism.

Your questions and Mr. Fatah's answers appear at the bottom of this page.

Tarek Fatah is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Islamic state or a state of Islam, to be published by John Wiley & Sons in 2008. He is the host of the weekly TV show The Muslim Chronicle on CTS-TV and is the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

Mr. Fatah was born in Pakistan, where he became a left-wing student leader. Later a newspaper and TV reporter, he fled Pakistan in 1978 following a military coup and settled in Canada in 1987.

Mr. Fatah was an outspoken opponent of efforts to establish religious courts in Canada.

Sasha Nagy, globeandmail.com: Thanks for agreeing to answer questions on this topic. There are so many questions from readers, choosing the appropriate ones for you to answer could be difficult. There are so many agendas at play and strong points of view. How do you personally approach discussing the topic of jihad, given that is such a polarizing topic?

Tarek Fatah: Sasha. From my perspective, the discussion about Jehad is not about what the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad had to say baout it, but what do contemprary Islamic scholars of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Jamaat-e-Islami ask their followers to do. That is the area that needs to be addressed.

Cdn observer from Toronto writes: Dear Mr Fatah; Two years ago, RCMP described Punjab as the hotbed of terrorism in Pakistan. Now we know some of the 7/7 bombers, and most of the Mississauga gang accused of plotting terror, as well as the leaders of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) are all from Punjab. Was the RCMP right?

Tarek Fatah: I don't think it was the RCMP that described the Punjab as a hitbet of terrorism, it was another government agency associated with Immigration Canada.

Having said that, most of the people involved in the Islamabad Red Mosque incident were not from the Punjab. The two brothers - the one who escaped dressed a woman in a burka and the one who died - came from the Mazari tribe of Baluchistan. The majority of the students in the mosque were from the Pushtun areas of Pakistan's NWFP province.

Punjabi Muslims have historically been associated with the more Sufi 'Brelvi' school of thought and the most respected saint of Punjabi Muslims is Bullay Shah who died in the late 1700s, and who is equally respected by Sikh as well as Hindu Punjabis.

Punjab was one of only two Indian regions (the other being Begal) that were not overwhelming Muslim or Hindu before the 1947 partitition. This lead to a culture of pluarlism and tolerance.

But that there is no denying that the influence if Jihadi radicals has started to penetrate the culture of Punjab and there is a diminishing of the province's Islamic pluralism.

Albin Forone from Toronto writes: My question is from where a radical jihadist takes marching orders. Some, like the Red Mosque group, seem to have primarily localized national objectives, while others, apparently inspired by Al Qaeda, seem to have global anti-Western ambitions. Is it simply a personal choice of which Imam an adherent decides to follow, or is there more to it?

Tarek Fatah: Most of the Islamic radicalism that you see today stems from from the empowering of Saudi based Jihadi groups that were funded and backed by the U.S. and the CIA throughout the Afghan war against the Soviet Union.

Most secualr and liberal institutions were detsroyed piece by piece and what we are left with is the result of huge amounts of cash and weapons in the hands of the Taliban type, or Al-Qaeda groups that get their intellectual sustenance from the political teachings of the Muslim Botherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna and the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abul ala Maudoodi, both of who preached Jehad as an obligation for all Muslims if they saw another Muslim under attack.

As far as Imans are concerned, it depends on their congregations and their sect. However, in the West, in U.S., Canada and Western Europe, the influence of the Saudis in how they pay for the mosque and the training of the imam has led to a preponderance of Wahabi teachings in our mosques, even if the congregation does not want it.

Henry B from Galt Canada writes: I am stricken by your quotation 'to fight malaria, one needs to drain the swamps, not kill individual mosquitoes' but wonder if even you perceive the true nature of the swamp. The violence and intolerance of radicals is inspired by the scripture of Islam. Moderates of your faith (like you) cannot denounce this poison using Koranic arguments. Isn't the only way to fight Islamist radicalism to radically reform Islam?

Tarek Fatah: The poison is not coming from the Quran, but from the man-made shariah laws of the 8th and 9th centuries as well as the works of such 20th century scholars as Syed Qutb, Hassan Banna and Maudoodi.

The swamp that needs to be drained is the swamp created by Saudi Arabia and Iran and their call for imposition of Shariah.

It is not Islam that needs to be reformed, it is the need for Muslims to reconcile with modernity and the notion of the secular nation state. The challenge for Muslims is to stop driving in a car rally with their eyes fixated in the rear view mirror. We need to to stop chasing the past as the way to the future. Unfortunately, whereas the religious right in islam is well funded and well organised, the liberal secular Muslim is too busy leadiung a 9-to-5 life, paying his mortgage and providing for her family and thus has no time or resources to challenge the Islamist extremists.

Devi Balchand from Toronto writes: From my understanding, Pakistan is a difficult country to govern. It has such a broad spectrum of people, from the sophisticated, well educated, and financially comfortable, to the superstitious and illiterate and poor. Furthermore, there are very remote areas run by local leaders which are almost inaccessible. Throw into that mix a broad spectrum of ideologies, from Taliban Islamist extremist, to Christian to secularism. The threat of civil war is always lurking in the background. What can a democratic President of Pakistan do to bring human rights, justice and prosperity to such a diverse people? And what should Western nations do to help him/her accomplish that task?

Tarek Fatah: Pakistan is not a very difficult country to govern. Its people have a rich heritage of democracy and it's a federation of four distinct national groups -Punjabis, Sindhis, Pushtoons and the Baluch.

If the West would stop propping up military dictators, Pakistanis are smart enough to develop their own institutions and progress towards a tolerant democractic society and team up with India and other South Asian countries.

The tragedy of the country is that from the early 50s, the U.S. has had a hand in every administration, using the country to fight communism and now Islamists. This has allowed for the vacuum that is now being filled by Islamic radicals who are funded by the Saudis and some influenced by Iran next door.

Unless Pakistan is allowed to develop its democatic institutions, the prognisis will not be good. The West should leave Pakistan alone and let the Pakistanis vote for the people they wish to elect, not who the West wishes to see in power. That is the big favour the West can do for Pakistan.

Pervaiz Salahuddin from Markham, ON writes: Who do you think responsible for the unrest of Pakistan, Military or Mullah?

Tarek Fatah: That is trick question because the Mulla and the Military are practcially one and the same. To the outsider, the conflict between Musharraf and the Mullahs may appear to be a fight, but to most Pakistanis, this is mere shadow boxing. The Pakistan military has funded the Mullas and the Mullas have provided the military support.

You should rememebr that Red Mosque was next door to Pakistan's Military intelligence, the ISI. There is no way the arms and rockets could have entered the mosque without the sanction of the the ISI or its renegade officers.

The Mullahs won the 2002 elections because General Musharraf rigged the polls to get them elected by barring the more secular liberal former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutton from participating in the polls. He has now overplayed his hand and is paying the price.

Sadia Deen from Boonton United States writes: How do you expect to clean 'the swamp'? as you put it? What are the underlying causes for religious extremism in Pakistan? I think, poverty, illiteracy are the two main causes… What do you think?

Tarek Fatah: Sadia, it is not illiteracy and poverty that gives rise to Islamic extremism. Most Islamic extremists come from educated middle-class or upper-class families.

In fact, the number of Islamic radicals among Canada's Muslim youth seem to be far more than their poor, illiterate cousins in Pakistan, Iran or Indonesia.

The way to clear the swamp is to fight the battle of ideas in an unfettered democracy. Look at the result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Did the use of force solve anything? It made it worse. The same with Pakistan. By using Pakistan's military to kill Pakistanis in Baluchistan, NWFP and now Punjab, it has created more Islamists than it could kill.

This is a battle of ideas that cannot be won by bombing of invading countries. This fight will be won or lost in the hearts and minds of Muslims, not on the battlefields.

Henry Allen from Toronto writes: Thank you for taking these comments. You call for the Bush Administration to stop propping up Gen. Musharraf, for him to step down and for democractic elections. Its been speculated that, if democratic elections were held in Saudi Arabia, the new president would be Usama bin Ladin. I have two questions. In your view, which direction would Pakistan take if legitimate elections were held? How might this new Pakistan government deal with the fiercely independent tribal region that currently protects al-Qaeda and the Taliban?

Tarek Fatah: Henry: If there was an election held today in Pakistan, my reading is that the religious parties would be trounced. If Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were allowed to participate, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the other Islamist groups would likely not be abe to form the governement as they did in the provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan.

Throughout Pakistan's history the Religous Right has never managed more than 10 per cent of the vote. It was only after General Musharraf's 2002 rigged elections that the two provinces bordering Afghanistan, elected religious fundamnetalists.

Both provinces had a stellar record of elected centre-left political parties, but they were underminded by Musharraf who wanted to raise the bogey of "Bin Laden Rising" to ensure the U.S. kept him in power.

Pakistanis are like any other people. They have no appetite for repression, whether it comes from military rule, religious fanaticism or foreign occupation.

Derek Butler from St. John's Canada writes: Having lived in the Middle East and North Africa conducting democratic development, and now teaching on preconditions of democracy, I like you am more than fan of democratic government. But Algeria and Palestine are just two more recent examples of the ballot box having produced less than ideal results (in one case an election thwarted to avoid Islamic fundamentalists taking control, and the second Hamas taking power). I would be interested in hearing Mr. Fatah give some thought to the insufficiency of elections, even fair ones, in light of his comment 'The best way to fight Islamist radicalism in Pakistan is to ask the general to step down and organize democratic elections without the aid of fraudulent voter lists that deny exiled politicians a return to the country.'

Tarek Fatah: In both Palestine and Algeria, the West made a bad thing worse. In Algeria the Islamists were the protest party against the near one-party rule of the government. Instead of allowing the Islamists to take power and deal with the reality of governing, the cancellation of the elections allowed the Islamists to grow into a radical terrorist movement that killed nearly 100,000 fellow Muslim Algerians in the bloody civil war.

By denying them power, the West proved their point that democracy is only valid if it elects people who serve Washington, not the electorate.

The election of Hamas was also a direct result of anger against the corruption of the Fatah government. Even then, Hamas won no more than 46 per cent of the vote, while Fatah garnered 43 per cent. So the result was pretty close. The West was right to demand that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist, but it failed to give Hamas room to manoeuvre and the result is a fiasco for all of us to see. The Hamas that could have been tamed, is now a breeding ground for even more Islamic radicals than anyone could have imagined under a Hamas-Fatah national government.

Let me point out Iran. By throwing out Mossadegh in the 1950s, because the West didn't like his policies on oil, we lay the seeds of Ayatollah Khomieni and his Islamic revoltuion that has oppressed the Iranian people now for nearly three decades and now psoes a threat to all of us.

There is no substitute for democracy and there are no short cuts to eradicate the scourge of Islamic terrorism.

Ramesh Balakrishnan from Toronto writes: Don't you think Musharraf is doing the best he can given circumstances he has to deal with - The deep ethnic divisions, sectarian divisions, regional nationalism, ungovernable tribal regions, the growth of radical Islamism etc etc? Would any of these things go away if another individual were to step into his shoes?

Tarek Fatah: Ramesh: This is what Musharraf would have you believe. This is a man who could find a Baluch opposition leader hiding in the barren hills of Baluchustan and assasinate him using his airforce, but claims he cannot find Bin Laden or Mulla Omar.

The man is pulling the wool over the eyes of the West and the people who are suffering are the ordinary citizens of Pakistan. remember, the Islamists are the product of his own Armed Forces. Without the patronage of the Pakistani Army and its ISI, the Islamic radicals in Pakistan cannot expect to win power or rule terrorise the public.

In the 60s it was Field Marshal Ayub Khan, in the 70s and 80s, it was the Islamist General Ziaul Haq and now it is General Musharraf. isn't it obvious who is behind the creation and rise of the Islamists in Pakistan or at least we could conclude that the military has failed in combatting the Islamists.

Ramesh Balakrishnan from Toronto writes: Is their a danger of the Islamists toppling the Pakistan military from within and assuming the role of the Iranian Mullahs? In other words, would the military become subservient to the Islamists?

Tarek Fatah: One cannot rule out the likelihood of an internal coup that would replace Musharraf with another Islamist general.

In some ways, the military is already subservient to the Islamists. Many of the Islamists recruited into the army under the late Islamist General Zia ul Haq, are today occupying senior postions as generals.

However, Musharraf has broken up the military command in such a way, it will make such a putsch very difficult to coordinate in a complex country like Pakistan.

The real danger is that no democratic forces are confronting the Islamist ideology of the radical Jihadis.

The Jihadi doctrine of Hassan al Banna and abul Ala Mudoodi is freely being distrubuted in Canada and this is where the challange is lacking.

It is easy for traditional Muslim groups to denounce terrorism, but they will be very reluctant to distance themselves from the doctrine of Jihad which is the basis of terrorism they deplore.

Sasha Nagy: Tarek: Thanks so much for your time and your answers to our readers' questions. Do you have any closing thoughts?

Tarek Fatah: Thank you for allowing me to answer these questions. I believe Muslim Canadians should stand up and speak out against Islamic extremism and the doctrine of Jehad as propogated by Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations.

We should never allow the Jihadi ideology to find any roots in this country. That is our obligation to the rest of Canada.

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