I am, at the moment, reading The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. It's an amazing book (a Pulitzer Prize winner), especially if you are interested in the foundational beliefs that fuel the fire in the Al-Qaeda faithful. So when you read this book, religion is all over the place in the story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There are other factors, but this is essentially a drama about love, hate, anger, shame and the power of faith.
Thus, it was strange to pick up a copy of The Washington Post last week and read Griff Witte's report, "Pakistan Seen Losing Fight Against Taliban And Al-Qaeda."
Now, if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are, in some deep sense, organizations that draw power from religious faith, then one would assume that strategic gains by these groups might have something to do with religion. One side is doing something right and the other is doing something wrong.
Apparently, one would be wrong if one thought that. Religion is MIA. Here is the top of the story:
Pakistan's government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.
The depth of the problem has become clear only in recent months, as regional peace deals have collapsed and the government has deferred developing a new strategy to defeat insurgents until Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can resolve a political crisis that threatens his presidency.
Meanwhile, radical Islamic fighters who were evicted from Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion have intensified a ruthless campaign that has consumed Pakistan's tribal areas and now affects its major cities. Military officials say the insurgents have enhanced their ability to threaten not only Pakistan but the United States and Europe as well.
This is big stuff. The experts have all kinds of things to say about the state of the military and about the political mistakes made by Pakistan's current leadership. It's a newsy, hard-hitting report.
But it is a faith-free zone. A reader paying close attention will find only one reference to the war that is taking place in Pakistan within the Islamic community, between armies of believers who have clashing approaches to their faith.
How bad is this situation at the moment?
Even hard-line religious leaders are not safe. Last month, one of Peshawar's most prominent clerics, Maulana Hassan Jan, was assassinated as he rode in his car to evening prayers. Although he had been outspoken in his criticism of the United States and was revered among many who want to bring Islamic law to Pakistan, he was not radical enough to satisfy insurgent groups, who are blamed for his killing. He had, for instance, shunned the pro-Taliban clerics at Islamabad's Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, when they instigated an armed standoff with the government in July.
So what is gaining traction is a brand of faith that is to the radical side of the "hard-line religious leaders"? So what's happening here? What do these people believe? I would like to know, but maybe that's just me.