While we in the West work to defend secularism against creationists, pro-lifers and other would-be theocrats, it’s worth remembering from time to time how good we have it. Our church-state wall may be an embattled boundary, but in most of the world, it’s nonexistent. This is especially true in most of the world’s Muslim-majority countries, where a few heroes of secularism are fighting against nearly impossible odds. Take Kuwait, where two courageous female MPs are refusing to wear headscarves in Parliament, in defiance of Islamist lawmakers who want to force all women to obey sharia:
“You can’t force a woman going to the mall to wear a hijab and you can’t force a woman going to work to wear the hijab,” the MP, Rola Dashti, told The Daily Telegraph. “This is not Iran or Saudi Arabia.”
Although Kuwait has taken some small steps forward as compared to its neighbors – women gained the right to vote and to run for office only in 2005 – the Islamist parties that still exercise major influence in its government are doing their best to roll back that progress. Granting women the vote was a major advance, since female Kuwaitis now have a say in how they are governed. Rest assured, however, that the Islamists will take away that power if they can. Their demands to impose sharia and the hijab even on elected female lawmakers are doubtless their way of testing the waters for more restrictive laws. Rola Dashti and her colleague, Aseel Al-Awadhi, deserve great credit for having the courage to stand up to them, but victory is far from certain.
And when Islamists can’t win at the ballot box, they’ve proven time and time again that they’ll eagerly resort to violence to get their way. Just so is this story, about a suicide bomber who targeted the Pakistani office of the World Food Program:
The bomb exploded without warning about noon, said Saadia Abbasi, a Pakistani lawyer and former senator who lives across the street. “There was a terrible blast, and everything shook and smoke started pouring out” of the compound, she said in a telephone interview.
…Five people — an Iraqi man and four Pakistanis, two of them women — died by early evening, said Wasim Khawaja, spokesman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences hospital.
Finally, I wrote in January about the Taliban takeover of Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Shortly thereafter, the Pakistani government found the will to launch a counteroffensive and drove them out, thankfully. Now they’re targeting the true power center of the Islamist insurgency, the tribal region of South Waziristan. But the coming battle may be a costly one, as reported in this article from the Telegraph:
“If the soldiers come to our land I am ready to fight them,” said one of them, a teenager called Ijazullah, who only had one name. “I am ready to die. I am even ready for a suicide mission if that is required.”
…”There are thousands more like me who have come here to join our Muslim brothers,” he said. “We are ready to fight these Pakistani soldiers who are doing the work of the American unbelievers.”
I’ve often said that beliefs can’t be defeated by force alone, that the only way to truly overcome an idea is with a better idea. I still hold that to be true. But when violent extremists of any kind come together in an organized center of power, when they terrorize the populace and seek to impose their way of life on everyone, then the use of force is necessary as a means of self-defense.
The Taliban, al-Qaeda and their allies can’t be permitted to have a safe haven or to exercise uncontested control over any region of a sovereign nation, and there’s ample evidence that trying diplomacy only gives them a chance to consolidate their power. This hornets’ nest has to be cleared out, lest the fundamentalists overthrow Pakistan’s fragile democracy or get their hands on the country’s nuclear arsenal. This isn’t a recommendation I make lightly, but if ever there was a just war to uproot dangerous extremism, this is it. Pakistan’s army has tried and failed to uproot them in the past; whether they will succeed this time is something that time will soon tell.