‘Silent majority’ welcomes mosque raid
ISLAMABAD: The army raid on Lal Masjid has raised fears of an extremist backlash, but many in the country’s so-called “silent majority” say the government was right to take action.
While hardliners have been able to stir up anger each time President Pervez Musharraf moves against them, most people have traditionally been tolerant Muslims and many oppose the militant drive to impose Islamic law. For many of the one million people in Islamabad, the raid - the deadly climax of a three-month standoff - has restored an uneasy calm despite the lingering fear of revenge attacks. “Never before has Islamabad seen anything like this, nor should it be allowed in future,” said a garments shop owner Mohammad Siddiq, adding, “We are all Muslims, but that doesn’t give a few clerics the right to teach us Islam.” The standoff at Lal Masjid, less than two kilometres from the presidential palace, began in April when Lal Masjid chief cleric Maulana Muhammad Abdul Aziz set up a religious court to bring the capital under Islamic law. In the final battle with radicals holed up in the mosque, cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi died in a hail of bullets while militant snipers fired at soldiers from the minarets and booby-trapped the compound. In recent weeks, his radical students, including bearded men and burqa-clad women, abducted Chinese women, accusing them of prostitution, and harassed shops selling western DVDs in the city, which is among the country’s most liberal. “These people were making life difficult for everyone and that too, in the name of Islam,” said Mehreen Shah, a housewife, adding, “They should not have been given such liberty in the first place. Enlightened people are under threat from bearded militants, whether they are video shop owners, beauty parlour workers or even school and college girls.” A female student, requesting anonymity, said, “How can you allow someone to start running around and enforcing sharia through kidnappings, threats and attacks the way Ghazi was?”
Reacting with fury to the massive raid, Al-Qaeda’s global deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for holy war, saying in a new Internet posting, “Muslims of Pakistan, your salvation is only through jihad.” But many silent majority members would prefer to just get on with their lives after the traumatic week that saw plumes of smoke billowing above the capital. “It’s a sad end but life could return to normal within one or two days, which is good news for a poor person like me,” said taxi driver Rahim Shah, who has maneuvered around road blocks and police checkpoints for more than a week. “If half the city is under curfew and the other half under construction, it affects your business, even if you’re a taxi driver,” he added.
The guns have fallen silent for now, but many residents said the battle and Ghazi’s death had escalated tensions and predicted it would embolden those who are fighting to turn their country into a hard-line Islamic state. College student Umer Farooq said, “I don’t agree with Ghazi’s style of politics. But he has certainly become a symbol of defiance who did not surrender despite the massive odds against him.” afp