Let me state, right up front, that I am confused and the stories that I am reading in the big newspapers are not helping me. So President Pervez Musharraf has taken Pakistan into its latest state of "emergency rules" backed by the military, which he said was necessary to prevent a takeover by "extremists," which is usually code language for Islamists. Yet Musharraf has been focusing his crackdown on lawyers, journalists and human-rights activists, if the newspapers have their facts right.
So here is why I am confused. This past summer, during a conference in Istanbul, I had a chance to talk with several Muslim scholars who, in one way or another, stressed that we are watching a global struggle inside Islam. On one side are those who believe that to be a true Muslim requires living under Sharia law or engaging in some kind of struggle to create a state of Sharia law wherever one lives. On the other side of those who believe that Muslims can live under and even support cultures built on a state of neutral, common, secular law.
So here is where I am confused. It sounds to me that the lawyers who are revolting against the general in Pakistan are in favor of constitutional courts and, I would assume, the rule of law. What I cannot find out is whether there is some way -- I mean, Pakistan is a wild place -- in which some of these "lawyers" may also be on the side of Sharia law and the creation of an Islamic, as opposed to a "secular Muslim," state. Of course, I am also confused about what the words "secular Muslim" mean when placed in front of the word "state."
The Washington Post's report opens like this:
Ousted Pakistani chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry urged the country's lawyers to continue protesting against the emergency rules imposed by President Pervez Musharraf over the weekend, saying they needed to fight to eliminate "dictatorship" in the country and restore the constitution.
Under house arrest since his firing along with six other supreme court judges, Chaudhry reached a gathering of lawyers in the capital via cell phone and told them to "go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice," the Associated Press reported. "Don't be afraid. God will help us and the day will come when you'll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time."
So Musharraf wants to overthrow the supreme court. Yet, one would assume, that true Islamists -- like the Taliban within the nation's borders -- would also want to overthrow a secular supreme court. So this is a three-sided conflict inside one of the most religious nations on earth. And, of course, there is another key figure in all of this, another "secular" figure, Benazir Bhutto.
The New York Times' report offers this:
... General Musharraf stopped short of taking some steps characteristic of martial law, like shutting down Parliament, he said. The main points of General Musharraf's emergency order were the suspension of the Constitution, the dissolution of the Supreme Court and the four provincial High Courts, and the silencing of privately owned television news channels.
Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister and the leader of the country's biggest secular political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, said she would come to the capital on Tuesday from her home in Karachi, where she has been since returning to Pakistan as emergency rule was imposed Saturday night.
She insisted that a rally planned by her party would go ahead on Friday in Rawalpindi.
It will be a "secular" protest rally, of course, and one assumes the lawyers will turn out. What about the clerics? Where are they in this story?
Top photo: A Taliban-style burning of books, CDs and videos in Pakistan.