The Red Mosque
The situation in Pakistan with the government storming the Red Mosque and killing or arresting various militants based there raises a ton of issues for me.
On the one hand, I am relieved that the government has finally done something to reign in this group, which was carrying out vigilante style "justice" in the neighboring street and advocating for the overthrow of the government with the implementation of a Taliban style regime in its place. The government's inaction in the face of these people implementing their own laws, and advocating for the Talibanization of Pakistan was very troublesome. Something clearly needed to be done.
On the other, I worry that the manner in which it was done -- storming the mosque, and killing scores of people, will only create fodder for the cannon. The militants will no doubt make great use of the "martydom" of their fighters. And there will no doubt be a group of people who see such military action against a mosque as a validation that these people had it right -- the government does need to be replaced. Either way, it seems like the attack will serve as fertile ground for militant recruiters. In fact, Al Qaeda's second in charge has already issued a call for a holy war against the Pakistani government.
I compare this storming to the infamous Waco debacle here in the US. Clearly there are differences -- the Waco people weren't carrying out their own policing on their neighbors. Nor were they actively stirring up sedition against the government.
But there are also similarities. The outrage caused by the seige of Waco can only be even greater in the case of the Red Mosque as the latter is a historical mosque, a recognized sacred space, which has now been violated. While Koresh and his followers may have seen his compound as sacred space, most Americans did not. Most Pakistanis, however, will relate to the Red Mosque as first and foremost a religious institution.
More importantly, both cases raise the issue if military action is the appropriate response to radicalism and even to seditious propagandizing? Clearly the Red Mosque militants had broken a variety of laws (taking justice in to their own hands, taking hostages/prisoners, killing police officers who were sent to restrain their activities). It would seem that the appropriate response would be to arrest them and throw them in jail.
At what point does military action become justified? Clearly these folks were training themselves as warriors, the Pakistani military is now clearing the area of grenades and mines which speaks of intention to violence not just fiery rhetoric, but I still wonder if it wouldn't have been better to arrest the lot of them.
Of course, that probably would have resulted in a firefight that pretty much resembled the one that actually occurred...
I'm sure that this battle was just the opening salvo in a war that is going to be fought over the character of Pakistan -- will it become a Taliban style state as some elements wish? If the left, if moderates are not willing to fight fire with fire are we then doomed to lose to radicals? Can we win a battle for people's faith, for their beliefs with military action? Seems like it has to go hand in hand -- police action or if necessary military action coupled with an intensive campaign to convince people that militarism and radicalism have no place in Islam.