Red Mosque in Rebellion

Imagine that an Islamist central command exists — and that you are its chief strategist, with a mandate to spread full application of Shariah, or Islamic law, through all means available, with the ultimate goal of a worldwide caliphate. What advice would you offer your comrades in the aftermath of the eight-day Red Mosque rebellion in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan?

Probably, you would review the past six decades of Islamist efforts and conclude that you have three main options: overthrowing the government, working through the system, or a combination of the two.

Islamists can use several catalysts to seize power. (I draw here on Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: How Inevitable is an Islamist Future? by Cameron Brown.)

>Revolution, meaning a wide-scale social revolt: Successful only in Iran, in 1978-79, because it requires special circumstances.

>Coup d'état: Successful only in Sudan, in 1989, because rulers generally know how to protect themselves.

>Civil war: Successful only in Afghanistan, in 1996, because dominant, cruel states generally put down insurrections (as in Algeria, Egypt, and Syria).

>Terrorism: Never successful, nor is it ever likely to be. It can cause huge damage, but without changing regimes. Can one really imagine a people raising the white flag and succumbing to terrorist threats? This did not happen after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt in 1981, or after the attacks of September 11, 2001, in America, or even after the Madrid bombings of 2004.

 A clever strategist should conclude from this survey that overthrowing the government rarely leads to victory. In contrast, recent events show that working through the system offers better odds — note the Islamist electoral successes in Algeria (1992), Bangladesh (2001), Turkey (2002), and Iraq (2005). But working within the system, these cases also suggest, has its limitations. Best is a combination of softening up the enemy through lawful means, then seizing power. The Palestinian Authority (2006) offers a case of this one-two punch succeeding, with Hamas winning the elections, then staging an insurrection. Another, quite different example of this combination just occurred in Pakistan.

The vast Red Mosque complex, also known as the Lal Masjid, Pakistan's ruling institutions, boasts long-standing connections to the regime's elite, and includes huge male and female madrassas. But, turning on its benefactors, Kalashnikov-toting burqa-clad students confronted the police in January 2007 to prevent them from demolishing an illegally constructed building.

In April, the mega-mosque's deputy imam, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, announced the imposition of Shariah "in the areas in our control" and established an Islamic court that issued decrees and judgments, rivaling those of the government.

The mosque then sent some of its thousands of madrassa students to serve as a morals police force in Islamabad, to enforce a Taliban-style regime locally with the ultimate goal of spreading it countrywide. Students closed barbershops, occupied a children's library, pillaged music and video stores, attacked alleged brothels and tortured the alleged madams. They even kidnapped police officers.

The Red Mosque leadership threatened suicide bombings if the government of Pervez Musharraf attempted to rein in its bid for quasi-sovereignty. Security forces duly stayed away. The six-month standoff culminated on July 3, when students from the mosque, some masked and armed, rushed a police checkpoint, ransacked nearby government ministries, and set cars on fire, leaving 16 dead.

This confrontation with the government aimed at nothing less than overthrowing it, the mosque's deputy imam proclaimed on July 7: "We have firm belief in God that our blood will lead to a[n Islamic] revolution." Threatened, the government attacked the mega-mosque early on July 10. The 36-hour raid turned up a stockpiled arsenal of suicide vests, machine guns, gasoline bombs, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank mines — and letters of instruction from Al-Qaeda's leadership.

Mr. Musharraf termed the madrassa "a fortress for war." In all, the revolt directly caused more than 100 deaths.

Mosques have been used as places for inciting violence, planning operations, and storing weapons, but deploying one as a base to overthrow the government creates a precedent. The Red Mosque model offers Islamists a bold tactic, one they likely will try again, especially if the recent episode, which has shaken the country, succeeds in pushing Mr. Musharraf out of office.

Our imaginary Islamist strategist, in short, can now deploy another tactic to attain power.

Daniel Pipes


Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and the author of several books, including Militant Islam Reaches America and In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power (Transaction Publishers), from which this column derives.

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  • Guest

    We face this enemy only becuse the West refuses to recognize and voluntarily enforce the laws and cultural practices that have made us a superior civilization, namely Christianity. The enemy is bold because we are week. We need to reinstate censorship and other forms of restrictions that will address the sewage that is freely flowing in our culture.


  • Guest


    Though I agree that we are weak because our society is rebelling against its root of Christianity, I do not agree that force or law is the saving grace.  Stopping sin by weilding a big stick is not the Kingdom of Heaven.

    We will learn by our mistakes, even if it is a harsh lesson to learn.  The love of Christ will once again be appearent, and peace will prevail.  Until then, I think you should continue to speak out, pray and lead by example.  Love will reign supreme because only love has the power of life.  All else leads to chaos.

    Peace be with you and your love of Christianity and law.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Kent C. Bois

    When we, individually and as a nation, convert, repent and turn back to God our 'light' will shine forth. Our goodness and Holiness will defeat evil. We already have the 'big stick;' it isn't a guarantee of victrory only God is. The closer we are to God the more wisdom we have, the more our steps are 'guided' to walk in the right way. I leave you with the following scripture for your discernment. This does not preclude armed defense. But it does prescribe it!

    Zephaniah, chapter 2 RSV

    1: Come together and hold assembly, O shameless nation,
    2: before you are driven away like the drifting chaff, before there comes upon you the fierce anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the wrath of the LORD.
    3: Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the wrath of the LORD.

  • Guest

    Good work, Kent!  You keep telling the Truth in your corner of the world, and I'll keep telling it in mine; maybe, by the grace of God, enough Christians will actually hear it to begin making a difference.  But, I think not until we have another, major disaster on our own soil.

    "How blind are those that will not see"!