A militant Islamic movement active in Pakistan and in other parts of the world shows the divided state of Muslims close to the scene of battle, even as they close rank during the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.
Formerly associated with the Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies in Geneva, and currently Director of the French “Centre de Sciences Humaines” in New Delhi, Frédéric Grare’s new book Political Islam in the Indian Subcontinent looks at the role of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). an important Islamic political movement on the Indian subcontinent. The JI was founded in Lahore in 1941 by Abul Ala Mawdudi, a major ideologue of contemporary Islamic activism.
Though pan-Islamic and anti-nationalist in its aspirations, the JI had to adjust to the realities of national states and to accept “Islamic nationalism” as a first step toward the later establishment of an Islamic system. Sometimes courted as a useful partner by people in power in Pakistan, the JI proved unable to go beyond the role of an eternal opponent (as its poor electoral performances indicate, about 5 percent). “Its function of legitimizing Pakistan is getting eroded with the gradual development of a still uncertain but real Pakistani national identity,” Grare writes
The JI is not only active in Pakistan and other parts of the subcontinent (including Kashmir, where it maintains its own armed branch fighting against the Indian forces). It is also present in the Muslim diaspora, especially in South Africa, in the United States (through the Islamic Circle of North America) and in Great Britain, where it is the inspiration behind the Islamic Foundation, Leicester, one of the major intellectual centers for the spread of militant Sunni Islamic thought. In an interview with RW, Grare commented upon recent developments in the subcontinent and their impact upon Pakistani Islamism.
“There is little in common between the Taliban and the Jamaat,” explains Grare. The way in which the Taliban are ruling Afghanistan emerged from practical experiences, and not from a strong ideological background, as is the case with the JI. The JI had been deeply involved in Afghan affairs and in the support for the jihad against the Soviet Union, but then lost its influence when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. If the Taliban would lose power in Afghanistan, Grare does not expect the JI to recover its former role: However, the Jamaat finally decided to join the Pakistani front supporting Afghanistan after the recent developments.
Grare identifies several reasons for that move. “The JI was afraid to see more radical movements taking the lead, but there is also a very real anti-Americanism among a majority of Pakistanis. It is likely too that the JI did not want to leave the monopoly of the defense of Afghanistan to its arch-rival, the Jamaat-Ulema. Finally there is a sincere sympathy for the Afghan people, seen rightly or wrongly, as the main victim of the events.” Political Islam in the area appears as highly militant, but also divided and fragmented.
— By Jean-François Mayer.