“Anger in Pakistan Fuels Cleric’s Rise”
The Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2014, p.A14
“Kiran Sajjad, a 16-year-old follower of Pakistani cleric Tahir ul Qadri, has a clear reason why she is living in a protest tent city in central Islamabad. ‘The system is rigged. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer,’ she said, as loudspeakers blared out the battle hymn of Mr. Qadri’s movement: ‘Revolution! Revolution! The downtrodden will rise!’ It is this kind of anger with Pakistan’s socioeconomic chasm that fueled the Taliban insurgency in parts of the country, where fiery mullahs promised swift justice to the peasants and curbed the power of feudal grandees. But Mr. Qadri is as anti-Taliban as it gets, and he is channeling this fury in a different direction. A Canadian citizen with a daughter living in Houston, Mr. Qadri authored a 600-page fatwa against terrorism, and is a frequent speaker at conferences dedicated to dialogue with Christians and Jews. Proud of having been educated in a Catholic school, he blasts Saudi Arabia as ‘the biggest problem of the Muslim world’ for exporting its conservative strain of Islam, and says that his goal is to eliminate Islamic academies known as madrassas by replacing them with schools that teach secular subjects. … It is Mr. Qadri’s supporters, many of them young women, students or recent graduates, who provided the muscle for clashes with police late last month that left three protesters dead and hundreds injured. Now, they guard entrances to the tent city, frisking visitors, and provide food distribution to the hundreds of tents. Some run a temporary school for the protesters’ children. … Mr. Qadri boycotted last year’s elections because he considered the makeup of election authorities to be unconstitutional and, in June, returned to Pakistan for another protest campaign. A fearful government diverted the plane that was bringing him back to Islamabad to Lahore. Then, a police attempt to clear out his movement’s compound in Lahore ended in a bloodbath that killed 14 people. That operation backfired: gaining its martyrs, Mr. Qadri’s movement was reinvigorated, and the cleric soon joined Mr. Khan in the effort to unseat Mr. Sharif.”
Quickie Analysis: A fascinating look at Pakistani protest leader Tahir ul Qadri, an unusual cleric who seems to be many things Pakistan desperately needs.