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August 6, 2014
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The moral base of conflict

Opinion

August 6, 2014

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As the Israeli war machine targets and systematically mows down Palestinian children, global observers attempt to spin the conflict in moral rather than political terms. The problem is that most often, morality is an equal driver, along with all the other profane and pragmatic causes of conflict.
Pakistan has often been likened to Israel as the only other nation-state borne exclusively out of a religious imaginary. More recently, Devji even calls it the ‘Muslim Zion’. This has tempted some commentators to make comparisons of the conflict in both states. This can be a useful but also misleading exercise.
The advantage of attaching a moral cause to a political act of aggression is that it conceals and justifies the means to the end – especially when deemed to be divinely instructed. The racist white man justifies war crimes by insisting that Palestinian children are deliberate ‘shields’ used by Hamas and, therefore, this qualifies them as guilty war combatants. Funny then, how the global practice of ‘legitimately’ recruiting teenagers to fight wars and using them as ‘shields’ to defend nations would be equally immoral but, is glorified instead.
Stripping the innocence off a victim makes it easier to convert humans into instruments or objects and redefine them as passive-aggressive criminals. Blurring the distinctions between victim and perpetrator is a fashion in the new, politically correct game of ‘avoiding binaries’ and rejecting labels. In fact, such a ploy allows Israeli propaganda to justify the murder of Palestinian children as a defensive pre-emptive strike that makes no distinction between the child and the adult, the innocent and the responsible.
Equally and just as easily, such misanthropy applies to all those who are all too eager to deploy labels and, by calling their non-combatant opponents infidels, imperialists, traitors or western agents, they therefore, justify attacks on them.
Also erroneous in conflict

analysis is the application of moral equivalence. In the case of Pakistan, the 1971 war crimes are justified by the argument that Bangladesh conducted reprisal war crimes too. This then exonerates the Pakistani state from its ‘original sin’ that prompted conflict. Therefore, 1971 is falsely rendered as an event that ended up as a historical equaliser.
Similarly, we find extraordinary sympathy for the ‘collateral damage’ inflicted by US drone operations against militant strongholds in Fata. Many consider it an equal or worse crime than the targeted and random murders of thousands of Pakistani tribesmen, women and children and in the metropolis, who have been routinely killed in the pogroms conducted by the Taliban for over a decade.
But ‘sovereignty’ is a historically contested term. For Bangladesh, it was the driver of separation and division, but for the insurgents in Fata sovereignty is justified and translated as the site for the consolidation and rebirth of a different, counter-imposed imaginary. The argument for regaining something called sovereignty (either from the US or the Taliban) is an exercise in futile rhetoric. What is required is a political solution to the crimes being conducted against the citizens of Fata, and for that the moral base of the Taliban cause needs to be exposed rather than seeing them as permanent victims or heroes of anti-imperialism.
The moral competition over innocence/guilt and perpetrator/victim disguises the driving factors of conflict which are almost always territorial, capitalist and resource-based. But when sealed with divine or moral purpose these benefits become such a lethal combination that only the naïve can doubt their eternal durability or at least, durability until eternity.
In terms of political concerns, Pakistan’s current crisis is incomparable to Israel. However ham-handed, oppressive and brutal the role of the Pakistani state in its militaristic exercises in the case of Bangladesh or today in Fata, it is not possible to equate these two conflicts and neither can Pakistan’s policies be remotely compared to the actions of Israel.
If our ‘national interest’ lies in consolidating territorial integrity (brutally in the case of Balochistan) then Israel’s brutality is ruthless in its expansionist (and successful) quest. If anything, the Zionist aspirations could be compared to that of the Taliban imaginary rather than that of the Pakistani state. The fact that the state’s and, for lack of a better term, non-state agendas sometimes intersect, is the complexity that makes extrication out of this conflict difficult but not impossible. Any exit strategy would mean recognising and confronting the moral driver of these conflicts to be nationalised religion, and here the comparison between the Israeli and Pakistani states is valid.
Clearly, in Pakistan and Israel both the religious has trumped ethnic identities and, in our case, subverted whatever the shared culture had been in the different provinces. The divine inspiration behind the Taliban and Zionist bombardment of schools and public spaces is enabled by their host states’ religious policies, which in turn, depend for their respective national identities by and through the exclusion of their religious minorities. The treatment of Palestinian refugees in Gaza or minorities in Pakistan is entirely and critically dependent on the politics of puritanism.
While we flounder around and call for tolerance (which really just means tolerating non-Sunni lesser citizens called minorities), we refuse to confront the fact that by definition and by all legal and moral standards in Pakistan it is virtually impossible to tolerate heterodoxy. So, what does it mean to be tolerant? In reality, the immorality of religious insurgency seeks nourishment from the Pakistani state’s exclusion and, therefore, collusion in the persecution of religious minorities.
Both the Taliban and the Pakistani state’s religious ethos are dependent on a moral base. This is the competitive claim for the purest religious identity and, both are political projects. This combination means the contest will always be bloody rather than academic.
It also means that the only way to stem the escalation of horrific crimes in the name of religious cleansing is either to erase the victim or to actively challenge and disengage the foundational religious and moral bases of this kind of politics.
The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: [email protected]

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