The War Within Islam

Much hinges on which interpretation of the faith will prevail.

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To westerners, it looks like a worrisome, volatile mix. Cambridge's Nazir, however, says that as despised as Musharraf is, most Pakistanis are equally wary of fundamentalists who preach for an Islamic state. There was some hope when Musharraf took control that endemic government corruption would end. It hasn't, Nazir says. Instead, the general changed the Constitution and named himself president in 2001. And fundamentalists in parliament are seen to have supported him. Meanwhile, Islamists elected to office in some regional areas have failed to deliver basic public services, he says. "They have discredited themselves," Nazir says. "Fundamentalists in power have in some ways exposed themselves as people who cannot deliver anything. They have strong rhetoric and the power to call people into the streets. You can do that for a while, but then what?" A revolution, either Islamic or secular, is not likely, Nazir says, because there is no one popular enough to lead one. The result, he says, is millions of "disillusioned" Pakistanis for whom democracy seems a dream. Still, there are strong voices for democracy in Pakistan, among them Ayaz Amir's. He is a leading Pakistani journalist who says that for its own sake, not America's, the Islamic world must embrace democratic reform and reject Islamism. "For the West it is but a physical threat in the form of terrorism," he recently wrote. "For the world of Islam . . . to be trapped in bin Ladenism is to travel back in time to the dark ages of Muslim obscurantism. It means to be stuck in the mire which has held the Islamic world back."