The value of evil

Published in The Express Tribune

The human heart is mentioned over a hundred times in the Qur’an. It appears in verse not just as an organ that pumps blood, but as the core of our consciousness. And it is the heart, not the mind, from which our humanity flows; where the self and the soul meet. It is the heart that goes blind to the truth (22:46), and the heart that softens from faith (39:23).

But if it’s the heart where the light gets in, it is also the heart that falls sick. Verse 125 of Surah atTawbah – Repentance – reads: ‘But as for those in whose hearts is sickness, it has (only) increased them in evil (in addition) to their evil.’

Different scholars have placed this in different contexts, some pointing to the fight against the Byzantines when the Surah was revealed. But it’s also a reminder how far into the dark sick hearts can lead. The well-wishers of Boko Haram, Nigeria’s most vicious career killers, say they are ‘the Quran walking the Earth.’ To anyone with the simplest idea of Islam, this is abuse.

It was sick-hearted men that kidnapped hundreds of girls last month, and it was a state-in-collapse that allowed it to happen. They attacked a secondary school in Chibok, where the girls were preparing for final exams, and took them away in trucks. ‘I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market,’ warbles Boko Haram boss Abubakr Shekau, eyes rolling in and out. The video address is ugly and unfocused, with more than one observer pointing to drugs.

The girls themselves may have been divvied into smaller groups, as human shields against reprisals. Some may have already ended up in Chad. The state is slow to act, and then arbitrary in its action – peppering hard offensives against Boko Haram over long lapses and human rights abuses.

The boys behind Boko Haram, and many are boys, are the latest strain of terror to arrogate religion to the evil they do.  As yet, they’ve proven hardier and bloodier than any of Nigeria’s other rebel concerns. They kill students and teachers, bomb buses and barracks, break open prisons, and use child soldiers as young as 12. This is as bad as it gets.

The world feels horror. But beyond the calls for solidarity, beyond the promises of foreign assistance, there is a damning indictment. Not Nigeria’s, the press has already seen to that – but Pakistan’s.

Pakistan has nothing to do with the madmen taking over Nigeria’s Borno State, where Boko Haram feeds on state breakdown. Nor are the mass-abductions about us; they’re about Nigeria, and how best to get those girls back. History too is witness to a long line of maniacs that perverted Muslim ideas in Muslim states – from the Khwarij in the seventh century to Syria’s ISIS today.

But it’s a massive wakeup call for Pakistanis, the logical outcome when the state stops safeguarding the social contract, and loses its monopoly over violence too. Seen through another prism, on another continent, in another language, Abubakr Shekau is our moral failure waiting to happen. It’s best we act before it does.

Because we’ve heard this story before. A terrorist group runs rampage, with a portfolio that ranges from blowing up schools to shooting up police stations. It specializes in urban bombings that kill scores of civilians, but is also known for wild attacks on government buildings and army headquarters.

And there’s a method to the madness. It generates funds by extorting businesses, robbing banks, and kidnapping the rich. It has a vile sectarian plan, fulfilled by storming churches and culling minorities. It preys on poverty in the north, where uneducated, unmotivated men and boys are recruits, and where the state is out of its depth.

The end goal is overthrowing the state, but the initial goal – forbidding voting and learning – takes care of fundamental rights anyway.

Pakistan’s plethora of Boko Harams has done all this and more. They have shredded our churches with ball bearings, they have ethnically cleansed our Hazaras, they have attacked political rallies and military convoys and the Quaid’s house in Ziarat. There’s more than a few of them, with agendas ranging from ethnic to sectarian, from local rackets to international terror. And the state isn’t getting it.

We know the solution. It’s been presented to us a dozen times over the past nine years, by wailing witnesses, by corps commanders, by these pages in fact. Stop the terror in the north-west, drain the swamp of sectarianism in Southern Punjab, provide a stake to the Pakistanis in chronic poverty in both places, cut the obviously foreign funding, try an ethos that won’t encourage textual literalism – that teaches children to think. Try and fail, if nothing else.

Because the bombs have started going off again, this time in our football stadiums.

But it’s hard to concentrate when Tahir-ul-Qadri’s making a comeback, our own adorable Wizard of Oz. Then there’s D-Chowk. There’s 3-G and 4-G. There’s that obscene Twitter fight between Abid Sher Ali and Nabil Gabol. There’s endless copy to file on ‘civil-military imbalance.’ There might be a new Modi to the right and a new Ghani to the left.

There’s enough – in short – to talk about, even with the sound of death in the distance. Of men that shoot churchgoers at point-blank range, that assault schoolgirls, that push and push the state to the brink and the citizen to desperation. And it’s not coming from Nigeria.

We’ve been reading that same quote from Burke in these pages again and again and again, with each act and each blast: that for evil to win, the good men should do nothing. Since we’ve run out of good men, it would be best to look beyond Burke.

‘May the forces of evil,’ said George Carlin, ‘become confused on the way to your house.’ As far as hopes go, that’s as basic as it gets – but they will come for us. They have sickness in their hearts.