The news in the Newsweek cover story about the chaos that is Pakistan is that it does not add more confusion (or much more) about the whole "moderate" Muslim mystery. In fact, there isn't much content on the progressive side of Islam at all -- which I guess tells us quite a bit about the state of things in what the newsweekly calls the "most dangerous nation" on earth. However, this cover story also does not offer much in the way of information about the beliefs of the Islamist forces that are hiding in clear sight in these tense days for the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. We are dealing with radicals, Islamists, jihadists and "Muslim extremists" and that's about all we know. The words have no real content, no doctrinal specifics.
That is, we do not hit any religious material until right near the end of this long piece, when the veils part for a moment and we are taken into the human details of the religious and cultural issues that lurk behind the numbing sectarian violence.
A key question: What does it mean to be "pro-West"? Well, what does it mean to be the opposite of "pro-West"?
Well, there is this:
The Shamshatu camp, just south of Peshawar, is the personal fiefdom of the notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. His guerrillas, the Hizb-i-Islami ("Party of Islam"), operate mainly in Afghanistan's Kunar province, but Shamshatu is their power base, in effect an autonomous enclave within Pakistan. Like Jalozai, the place resembles a sprawling, labyrinthine Afghan village of mud-brick houses surrounded by high mud walls, and it's ruled by strict, Taliban-style Islamic law. Music is forbidden -- even musical ringtones on cell phones. So is tobacco. Women are banned from venturing outside except in the company of a male relative. (There are girls' schools, though: unlike his Taliban allies, Hekmatyar believes in women's education.)
Shamshatu contains high-security areas that are out of bounds even to camp residents. Camp residents say Hekmatyar's men run private jails in these off-limits areas. Recently a woman who lived in the camp dared to go shopping alone. When she entered a small electronics shop, gunmen followed her. They forced the shopkeeper to close his store, detained the woman and telephoned her husband. "If you won't kill her, we will," they told him, before handing her over with a warning that if they caught her again without an escort, they would kill her. Then they confiscated the shopkeeper's goods and threw him out of the camp.
In other words, this is Taliban territory in deeds, if not in words.
So what is the dividing line?
There are Muslim scholars who say this is a battle inside Islam and it is all about sharia law and whether it is a requirement for faith. Can you be a Muslim and support the rule of civic law as understood in the West? Is there law other than the Koran? What is the authority of that civic law and can true Muslims submit to it?
But wait, I spoke too soon about this article avoiding the "moderate" mess. At the very end, we are told:
Few Pakistanis have any desire to live under the militants' rule. The trouble is, the country's moderate alternatives have become almost as unpopular.
So "moderate" is the opposite of "radical," "Islamist," "jihadist" and "extremist." Does this help? Does "moderate" equal "secular" or "modernist"?
Speaking of Newsweek cover stories, I had really meant to post a note of praise about last week's "Love and War" feature about the few -- very few -- marriages that have taken place in Iraq between American soldiers and Iraqi citizens. What would you assume is the No. 1 barrier preventing the usual wave of wartime marriages? Make sure you read at least halfway through this long piece, if you want to find the ghost.
Photo: Taliban fighters in the border land of Waziristan, in Pakistan. Ghauri medium range ballistic missile.