Paul J. Mills, Tiffany Barsotti, Meredith A. Pung, Kathleen L. Wilson, Laura Redwine, and Deepak Chopra Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us […]
What can we do when one man’s Paradise is another man’s brutal dictatorship? This question faces the world once again with regard to Pakistan. It was announced on February 16th that the Pakistani government had reached an agreement with the pro-Taliban insurgents in the turbulent northwest region of that country. In exchange for peace, the government agreed to institute Shariah law, based on Islamic principles of jurisprudence.
The news sent a shudder through much of the world, even among those who fervently extend respect and good will toward Islam. Although the Pakistani government tried to put a good face on it, calling the agreement essentially a technicality (apparently there has always been a statue that prohibits any law that contradicts the Koran), it’s obvious that the rebels were winning. With 3,000 fighters in the mountainous Swat Valley, the main area of conflict, the pro-Taliban forces were vastly outnumbered by 12,000 army soldiers. But as so often happens, guerilla tactics had the upper hand over tanks, trucks, and artillery. The rebels were merely gaining official sanction for the stranglehold they already have in the region.
The world found this to be an intolerable state of affairs in Afghanistan a decade ago, but without the 9/11 attacks, no country was willing to intervene. Now the dilemma has multiplied in difficulty. Pakistan is an ally who doesn’t want American military intervention. It possesses nuclear weapons and a weak regime increasingly powerless in the face of extremism. President Obama’s promise to find and capture Osama bin Laden is basically nullified now that the region where he is likely to be hiding has officially become a de facto Taliban province.
Nor is this a case where negotiation holds any short-term promise. It is a cultural belief among Muslims, going back many centuries, that religious law and medieval social norms should be honored and upheld over any incursion from non-believers. The educated elite in Muslim countries are Westernized, yet they pay lip service to the rule of mullahs, ayatollahs, and clerics in general (the Taliban holds itself to be a clerical reform movement, “reform” meaning the extirpation of secular modernism).
Thus the Muslim world stands between two stools. The vast majority lead lives steeped in modern amenities like electricity, television, cars, antibiotics, etc. But spiritually there is a yearning for a long-lost and largely mythical Paradise in which the Prophet’s every word is reality. Today each of us must ponder this dilemma as uneasily as past history pondered slavery, imperialism, fascism, and militant Communism. What to do? Our only tools are negotiation, humane entreaty by the UN, persuasion, moral witness, patience, and a change in consciousness. In the long run, the trend has always been to benefit and uphold tolerance over intolerance, freedom over oppression, and common humanity over inhumanity. But the long run can seem like an eternity, and it does no good for the innocent citizens held in the vicious grip of extremists.