By Dr. Haider Mehdi

Above and beyond all other aspects and religious-spiritual dimensions, Karbala was a monumental human tragedy. And tragedies create physical pain, emotional-sentimental anguish, scars on the human soul, existential devastations, extensive periods of debilitating socio-psychological agony, societal anxieties and, at times, social-political unrest leading to phenomenal revolutions in the conduct of human affairs. Karbala was such a phenomenon: Yazidiyyat is a symbol of ultimate human malevolence, its enormity of  brutality, and the resultant outrage, while Hussainiyyat stands for human preservation, its moral strength, its boldness against unthinkable cruelty, its spiritual dedication and devotion to the Kingdom of God on Earth and beyond, and above all, the ultimate sacrifices for a virtuous stand to uphold the righteousness and ethical-moral rectitude of the Islamic ideology and the universality of human existence.

Imam Hussain did not die in vain only for us to make sorrowful speeches all year long. As we commemorate the tragedy of Karbala that took place on the banks of River Euphrates some 1373 years ago, there are humanitarian, social, political and moral-ethical lessons to be learned besides those of religious-spiritual devotion.

Karbala, foremost, is the symbol of the human spirit that confronts the arrogance of political power, its inherent terror and capabilities to inflict unimagined atrocities, and opposes the human capacity to violate the sanctity of life and its dignity. It also tells us the difference between right and wrong and exemplifies the limitlessness of human endurance. Karbala teaches us to seriously reflect on political- moral conduct and how power in the hands of the morally inept and ethically incapable can turn a society into a nightmarish existence of fear, violence, terror, restlessness, destruction, mayhem and absolute political chaos. This is exactly what Yazid did at Karbala — But Imam Hussein accomplished exactly the opposite: the Islamic view of challenging injustice and confronting those who would use force to compel humanity to submit to the rulers’ unlawful dictates.

Political Islam is an ideological platform that promotes a welfare state. Its political fundamentals are based on humanitarian principles: rulers do not so much as govern as they serve the people. Political power is not the personal prerogative of rulers – it is the responsibility accorded to individuals in the name of Allah and the people of a nation. Political power is meant to be a medium through which justice, equality, economic and social advancement is imparted to all citizens irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliations. Political power is a moral trust bestowed on one strictly within the boundaries of ideological parameters and ethical definitions of the rules of political conduct. The rulers are answerable and accountable to the people for their political behavior– they cannot exist in isolation and lead a privileged life apart from the common citizens. Yazid violated each and every rule of Islamic ideology and, in an inexplicable pursuit of power, massacred the entire family of the Islamic Prophet (PBUH). Karbala is a reminder to all of us to confront the arrogance of power that led to one of the gravest human tragedies on the banks of the River Euphrates.

But the questions are: Have we as Muslims in Pakistan, followers of the Islamic Prophet, the everlasting yearly commemorators of the Karbala tragedy, learned the true lessons from Imam Hussain’s martyrdom? Is our political system in conformity with the ideological parameters of Islamic welfare state concepts? Is our political culture in tune with the fundamentals of our belief system? Is our political ruling elite structure designed on the principles advocated by political Islam? Is our ruling class truly moral-ethical in its political conduct? Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that none of the questions above can be answered in the affirmative.

Look at present-day Pakistan: no wonder there is mayhem, terror, fear, destruction of life and property, violence, terrorism, suicide bombing, killings of innocent people, drone attacks and human tragedies all over the place. And human tragedy is what Karbala is all about – as such, there are endless Karbalas on a daily basis in my beloved country.

A school of thought contends that the recent spate of increased violence in the nation is because of sectarian tensions. But that is not an accurate explanation. Indeed, historically, sectarian tensions have always existed all over the world in faith and religious relations: Catholics have fought and disagreed with Protestants, the Hindu caste system has been a bone of serious contention for ages, Shia-Sunni animosity has existed and so on and so forth – with Pakistan being no exception to this universal phenomenon. And yet, Pakistanis have more or less treated each other’s religious orientations with respect and tolerance – there have been marriages between Shias and Sunnis, combined communities have existed with complete solemnity and both sects have observed solidarity with each other. Then why the recent sectarian violence?  There are some other explanations – we will come to them later.

The incumbent PPP regime and the leaderships of some other political parties attribute the years- old ongoing violence in the country to so-called “extremism” and “terrorism”. Ironically this school of thought deals with symptoms of the problem but conveniently and purposefully ignores the “causes” and the cause-effect relationships of the problematic in pursuit of their own vested interests. Advocates of this view ought to be asked the following questions: Did you ever hear of a suicide attack in Pakistan prior to the US-Nato’s so-called “war on terrorism” (and Pakistani rulers’ implicit behind-closed- doors collaboration with the US)? Why have violence and terrorism increased since the incumbent PPP regime came into power?

My view on the said issue, as a social scientist and political analyst, is that our ruling elite’s “arrogance of power” implicit in their political conduct is the fundamental factor behind the entire mess in the country: they are self-centered political actors focused on their vested interests. They consider politics as a craft to hang on to political-economic power. They are corrupt, inefficient, incompetent managers of national affairs. They work against national interests because they look for foreign patronage to ascend to political power. They have failed in entirety to engage the Pakistani people in political processes and nation-building. They manipulate people’s sentiments by religious slogans, deceit and downright lying. They consider themselves a privileged class above the rule of law and even beyond constitutional constraints. They believe they are neither accountable nor answerable for their conduct to the people or anyone else.

They are completely ignorant of what political Islam is and what the concept of the Islamic welfare state is – nor do they understand what modern-day democracy is all about.  In their version of a sham democracy, they have purposely collaborated  with the US-Nato’s implicit state-terrorism and as such they continue to operate against the interests of the Pakistani people.

That is the complex web of political realities from which terrorism originated and emanates now.

No wonder, then, there are endless Karbalas in my beloved country on a daily basis!