Yearly Archives: 2009

The scholar, the sufi, and the fanatic

Roughly speaking, the political and social aspects of Islam in Pakistan can be seen as existing in and emerging from three distinct sets and clusters of thought. These clusters represent the three variations of political and social Islam that have evolved in this country: modern, popular and conservative.

The modern aspect of Islamic thought in Pakistan has its roots in the ‘Aligarh Movement’ – a nineteenth century effort launched by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

His analysis convinced him that the Muslims of India had failed to come to grips with the new zeitgeist emerging from the rise of western colonialism – a power driven by breakthroughs in modern scientific thought and economics, and pragmatic politics based on rational and dispassionate self-interest, all of which stemmed from the many doctrines and socio-political upheavals witnessed in the West during the ‘Age of Reason/Enlightenment.’

Ahmed strived to reinterpret the teachings of Islam so they could be brought in harmony with modern science and philosophy, helping the educated Muslims to continue holding on to their religion but through a rational and enlightened view of life.

Though accused of heresy by conservative Islamic scholars, Ahmed managed to lay the foundations of a modern college in Aligarh in an attempt to draw young Muslims away from the traditional madrassahs towards a place of learning where religious studies would be supplemented by the teaching of modern ‘secular subjects.’

The Aligarh College, that later became a university, soon spawned what came to be known as the ‘Aligarh generation’ – groups of young educated Muslims who would go on to lay the initial foundations of the Pakistan Movement and also become the intellectual engines behind the movement’s central ideological thrust.

Though the Aligarh generation was trained in western law, politics and science, it also held dear Ahmad’s notion that the Muslims of India were a separate cultural community; a thought that was molded into the Two Nation Theory by the All India Muslim League. Much has been contemplated about Jinnah’s ideological orientation, but it is rather clear that the new country was founded on an understanding of Islam that was steeped in Ahmed’s modern Islamic tradition.

The Aligarh tradition that was carried into the corridors of the state and governance of Pakistan pointed towards the new country as being a modern Muslim majority republic, as opposed to a theocratic Islamic State. In fact, the Pakistani state and governments between 1947 and 1977 used (in varying degrees) the above rationale to keep at bay the religious parties’ demand for a theocratic state. But it is also true that the modern Aligarh Muslim mindset was largely an urban phenomenon, associated with the urban middle-class elite of the Punjab and Karachi.

The majority of Muslims in what became Pakistan remained ensconced in the region’s popular variations of Islam. The so-called Barelvi Islam that became the mainstay belief of a majority of Muslims in the subcontinent (from the nineteenth century onwards), was, as a movement, the reassuring enshrinement of the traditional hybrid-Sufism that prevailed among the Muslims due to the long periods of interaction between Sufi Islam and Hinduism.

This hybrid-Sufism, or Barlevi Islam, became the folk religion of the rural peasants, the urban proletariat and the semi-urban petty-bourgeoisie of the country. It incorporated the anti-clergy elements of Sufism, the jurisprudence doctrines of the more flexible Sunni Hanafi fiqh and, as had been the traditional practice of popular folk Islam of the region, fused these with the concept of overt religious reverence of divine concepts and people, and the accommodating forms of worship found in various shades of Hinduism.

The result was an Indian/Pakistani Muslim polity repulsed by the dogma of puritanical strains of the religion, open to the idea of modern reinterpretation of Islamic law, permissive in its sociology, and largely non-political in essence. At the same time, Barlevi Islam is criticised for being willingly embroiled in superstition and doctrinal ‘innovations.’

Though being populist and agrarian in its world view, Barlevi Islam did not negatively react to Ahmed’s modern Islamic reform. What’s more, it was the constant failure of the political exponents of puritanical Islamic thought to penetrate the thick veneer of Barlevi Islam surrounding the rural and urban masses of Pakistan that in turn facilitated the moderate Aligarh Muslim thought and tradition within the Pakistani state to continue deflecting theocratic maneuvers in the country’s overall political polity.

As various forms of Ahmed’s  modern and rational Islamic notions continued to dictate the Pakistani state’s (albeit anti-pluralistic) politics, the masses-oriented make-up of Barlevi Islam became the chosen venue of populist politics in Pakistan.

The left-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) became the first Pakistani political party to set the tone of its manifesto and rhetoric according to the populist imagery of Barlevi Islam, in the process managing to attract the urban working classes and the rural peasantry towards its socialist program. Consequently, not only did the PPP chairman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became one of the first major Pakistani political figures to start being seen indulging in rituals associated with Barlevi Islam (such as visiting Sufi shrines), PPP rallies themselves started radiating an aura of the colourful and musical activity found outside many Sufi shrines of the region (such as the dhamal).

The 1970s in Pakistan thus became an era of populist extroversion. With Barlevi Islam adopted as a populist political expression by the ruling PPP. This saw a further hybridisation of Barlevi Islam. This form of expression eventually became the cultural and religious connect between the country’s secular political parties, the working classes and the peasants.

However, as the popular variation of Islam in Pakistan peaked in the 1970s, the modern variation (tied to the Aligarh thought) started to erode. Though the popular variation remained very much the focus of the populist Z A. Bhutto regime, things started to change at state level when after the 1971 East Pakistan debacle, a move was seen afoot in the army towards conservative (and elitist) variations of Islam, especially those advocated by renowned Islamic scholar and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief, Abul Ala Maududi.

The JI was an early advocate of what became to be known as Political Islam – a modern political theory that forwards the ‘historical’ and theological arguments for an evolutionary instatement of an Islamic state (or a modern-day caliphate) run on the dictates of the Shariah as an alternative to the capitalist-democratic system and socialism/communism.

Political Islam first emerged as an opponent of secular/socialist Muslim nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s. After Egypt, Syria and Jordan’s defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967, secular Muslim nationalism started to give way to Political Islam.

Since the theological aspects of Political Islam were opposed to the more populist strains of the faith (such as Barlevi Islam), the JI in Pakistan was eventually successful in converting the urban middle-classes to its cause after these classes stopped resonating with the modern reformist variations of Islam in Pakistan. Thus, the urban bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie became the main players against the populist Bhutto regime during the 1976 PNA movement (led by the JI).

But it wasn’t until the arrival of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship and the anti-Soviet ‘Afghan Jihad’ that Political Islam managed to find state approval. Furthermore, as both the US and Saudi Arabia pumped in billions of dollars of aid so that Zia could construct an effective jihad against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, the more aggressive and puritanical strains of Islam (such as the Deobandi and Wahahbi) too began finding official sanction.

Conscious of the hold Barlevi Islam had in Pakistan, the Zia regime also attempted to penetrate and regulate Sindh and Punjab’s shrine culture, trying to align Barlevi thought with the clergy and jihad-heavy strains of conservative Islam that he was advocating.

The results were devastating. The corruption emerging from the large amounts of financial aid and state patronage Political Islam was able to enjoy in Pakistan during the Afghan jihad, steadily clipped away the intellectual aspects of the theory, and by 1989 (at the end of the Afghan war), Political Islam had become an empty shell in the hands of various Pakistani intelligence agencies who then filled this shell up with what would eventually surface as sheer fanaticism in the shape of sectarian organisations and phenomenon like the Taliban.

This fanaticism is now not only the militant mainstay of anti-intellectual and fanatic Islamist organisations, but, as a rude social discourse, it is being attracting a large number of the urban middle-classes as well who now seem completely detached from their early moorings towards the modern variations of Islam, and as well as from the faith’s more populist base.

Political Islam suffered from its overindulgence in an unpopular and puritanical theological feast that came attached with the patronage it got from conservative Muslim monarchies and dictatorships. By the early 1990s, it was as good as dead due to the many failures it faced to transform Muslim countries into living Islamic states.

However, it regenerated itself as a far more brutal, literalist and anti-intellectual fascist battle cry (in the shape of ‘Islamism’), which has not only been able to find support among the most desperate sections of the Pakistani society, but, unfortunately, also in the seemingly intellectually bankrupt edifice of urban middle-class Pakistan.

The return of Yazid

After enjoying a little more than two years of relative peace, Karachi was rudely dragged back on the mutilated map of terror today. A single suicide bomber managed to slip his dynamite strapped body inside a large procession of Shia mourners on Karachi’s M A Jinnah Road and blow himself up, killing and injuring dozens of innocent people, including some security men who were patrolling the fringes of the procession.

The attack has come as a rude shock to the citizens of Karachi and the Sindh province who had been witnessing horrific scenes of similar carnage perpetrated by extremists in the mosques and markets of Punjab and NWFP, and had, for the last couple of years, been somewhat spared from the madness that the terrorists have been displaying in the country, especially ever since 2003. Although the Taliban have yet to claim responsibility for the attack – and given Karachi’s history, the attacker may well hail from one of the banned sectarian outfits that have long been established in the city – many believe that there is no longer any point in making distinctions between different extremist groups. Citizens, meanwhile, are concerned that this attack marks the beginning of a wave of violence as witnessed in other parts of the country.

Karachi’s and Sindh’s case in this respect is a tad different where the government is being run by three of Pakistan’s leading ‘secular’ and openly anti-Taliban parties, the PPP, the MQM and the ANP.

Even though these three parties are also allies in the centre, the dynamics of this alliance in Sindh have been a lot more effective in building a consensus against the Taliban, something the federal government and the parliamentarian opposition parties have taken a lot more time and effort to do.

Karachi’s vastly diverse ethnic and sectarian make-up, and the Sufi shrine culture that dominates the rest of Sindh’s social polity have largely managed to repulse forces which, ever since General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship in the 1980s, have been trying to violently impose their brand of Islam in the country. There is however, still some disagreement between the allied parties as to what exactly constitutes ‘Talibanisation,’ especially in Karachi’s case.

So far, only the MQM has directly accused the Taliban for every major terrorist attack that has taken place in the country in the last five years, whereas their allied secular contemporaries, the PPP and the ANP, have largely been vague in their denunciations, usually coupling their condemnation of the Taliban with the now worn-out mantra of a ‘foreign hand.’

But with the unprecedented rise in terrorist attacks in the Frontier province, and with most of these attacks claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP), the ANP too has started to come down hard on directly blaming the Taliban.

And in spite of the fact that only a year ago both the PPP and the ANP in Sindh were downplaying MQM’s warnings of ‘Talibanisation’ taking place in Karachi, today right after the suicide attack in the city, senior ANP leader, Senator Haji Adeel, echoed MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s direct condemnation of the Taliban, also agreeing with Mr Hussain’s plea to boycott those political parties and personalities who are believed to be supporting the Taliban and their intransigent mentality.

To an outsider, and in fact, to many Karachittes as well, the whole idea of certain mainstream political parties and personnel actually mouthing both direct and indirect support for the Taliban is an intriguing phenomenon – especially in these hours of utter carnage and inhumanity being exhibited by the militant sections of extremist thought in the country.

Even though Gallup and other opinion polls on the issue of terrorism and the Taliban in Pakistan have shown a steady decline in support among Pakistanis for terrorist outfits such as the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, the bulk of this disapproval for terrorist organisations has come from Karachiites.

Meanwhile, it seems the people of the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and influential province, have somewhat struggled a bit to come out directly against the Taliban, despite, recently, the province being a constant target of Taliban suicide and bomb attacks. What’s more, this curious ambiguity regarding the Taliban found in the province is also reflected by the province’s government being led by Pakistan’s second largest political party, the PML-N.

The PML-N has been rather indistinct and dispassionate about directly confronting or condemning the Taliban who have proudly taken the ownership of a number of suicide attacks in the mosques and markets of the province.

Some analysts believe that the PML-N being (an albeit moderate) right-wing party many of whose supporters come from the religiously conservative petty-bourgeois sections of the Punjab, is still not quite sure exactly where the sympathies of this constituency lie regarding the Taliban.

It is true that ever since the Ziaul Haq dictatorship, Punjab’s urban petty-bourgeoisie played an important economic and supportive role in helping the reactionary general keep much of the Punjab on the side of his so-called ‘Islamisation’ policies. But with the way the Taliban have struck at the economic and social heart of the province, it can be deducted that much of the indirect support a number of extremist organisations were getting from Punjab’s petty-bourgeoisie, has started to erode.

Condemning the Karachi attack, MQM chief Altaf Hussain, whose party has been triumphing in the electoral politics of the city ever since 1988, called the perpetrators of the devastating attack as ‘Yazids’ and once again advised Karachiites to boycott those parties whom he believes are sympathising with the Taliban cause. As mentioned above, ANP too has now criticised these parties, accusing them of encouraging the Talibans’ barbaric ways and agenda.

But who are these parties?

MQM has been highly critical of mainstream right-wing parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami whose leadership has been in the forefront of popularising the notion that the Taliban are actually ‘freedom fighters’ (against ‘US imperialism’ in the region), and those who are attacking the civilians of Pakistan through bomb and suicide attacks are not Taliban but the ‘paid agents of anti-Islam forces.’

The Jamaat was highly instrumental in helping shape Ziaul Haq’s ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan (in the 1980s). It was a jihad built from the billions of dollars worth of aid that the Zia dictatorship received from the US (and Saudi Arabia). There were also reported cases of Jamaat members attacking pro-Soviet student rallies in certain colleges during that war in which to protest against American intervention in Afghanistan, pro-left students were pounced upon by the Jamat’s student-wing, the IJT, for burning the American flag.

However, in the last ten years or so, the Jamat has become one of the loudest exponents of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, even though it has rapidly been losing its electoral influence across Pakistan ever since the mid-1980s, especially in Karachi and Sindh.

ANP too has been castigating the Jamaat for showing ‘double standards,’ with one senior ANP leader, Mian Iftikhar, explaining the Jamaat’s anti-Americanism as something that emerged after the Jamaat lost its central role in Afghanistan (after Zia’s death in 1988), and when American dollars were diverted from jihadi organisations that the Jamaat was patronising, towards the post-Cold War security agencies that are now fighting against Frankenstein monsters such as the Taliban.

Parties such as the PPP, MQM and the ANP who have been exhibiting concern over the issue of certain Pakistani political parties indulging in populist anti-US rhetoric, have found it hard to build a more cohesive consensus, especially in the Punjab, for the Pakistan Army’s war against the Taliban.

It is interesting to note, that though parties such as the Jamat-i-Islami and Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf have largely been ineffectual players in the bigger game of electoral politics, they have however managed to take their stance of the war and the Taliban on the mainstream platform through the electronic media.

Thus, the mainstream electronic media too has come under fire from the allied ruling parties for constantly giving vent to the ‘pro-Taliban’ and populist sentiments of unelected politicians and certain conservative journalists and columnists who – even after dozens of suicide attacks owned up by the Taliban recently – have continued to point the finger towards the US and India.

Even the large amount of proof now available to point towards the direct involvement of the local Taliban in the terrorist attacks in Pakistan it seems has not been able to make these politicians, and electronic and print journalists, change their populist and largely demagogic stand on the issue.

The Pakistan Army is locked in a deadly battle with the Taliban in the north-west of the country. But what makes the return of extremist terrorism significant in Karachi is the fact that it is in this bustling, dynamic and diverse metropolis that the social and cultural battle against fanatic thought in the country is likely to be fought.

It can be said that it is the vast ethnic and sectarian diversity of Karachi associated with the economics, sociology and politics of the city that has kept Karachi significantly more moderate and secular in outlook than the rest of the country, despite of the many puritanical madressas here that were constructed here by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship with Saudi help to recruit and indoctrinate young Pakistanis for the so-called anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.

Though it can also be suggested Karachi’s social polity has so far won the social and cultural battle against extremist thought, there is however every likelihood that if the Taliban and their clandestine sectarian partners now decide to make Karachi their next main target, the city’s response will be somewhat different than what it has been elsewhere in the country.

Karachi has had a volatile history of street battles and of living through near-civil-war conditions (between 1986 and 1999). All the major political parties in the city are heavily armed. But the difference this time is that the PPP, ANP and MQM who have all been involved in street battles fought with sophisticated arms in the past, have in the last two years exhibited a commendable show of co-ordination and mutual empathy in the face of the Taliban threat in the city.

If the going gets worse in Karachi as far as extremist attacks are concerned, this may as well see all three parties willing to pick up arms to fight a common enemy that is now seen hell-bent on destroying the economic and political interests of these parties’ respective constituencies in the city. These constituencies are the most vital pieces of economic and political real state for political parties operating in an economic hub like Karachi.

Waltz with the NRO

The Supreme Court’s verdict on the NRO was certainly an unprecedented event.

However, the night the verdict was announced, every famous TV anchor was jumping and hyperventilating; some almost foamed at the mouth as if struck by a strange, sudden bout of happiness.
What is this, I thought? Have we won Kashmir? Have we triumphed in the war against the Taliban? Or have we finally eradicated poverty, illiteracy and hatred from Pakistan?

I mean, I have never seen these anchors sound so excited. Not even during Musharraf’s resignation, and when the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry was reinstated. Indeed, the like TV anchors were grinning (and rightly so) during these two episodes, but I wondered, exactly why such a show of overwhelming exhilaration over this particular event?

But, then, of course, I thought. What better reason and time than now to put peddle to the metal against the electronic media’s favourite punching bags: Asif Ali Zardari and Altaf Hussain. Never mind what ever happened to the pending case that Asghar Khan had submitted in the courts against the ISI’s blatant misdoings while constructing a superficial front against the PPP in the rickety shape of the IJI. Just stick to Zardari. Because the individual in Pakistan is always bigger (and more venerable) than the whole. Easy to understand, castigated and got rid of.

As more and more former judges continued to burst the anchors’ euphoric bubbles that day by suggesting calm, and saying that the matters of the court were just too technical and complex to rush to any glorious conclusions, the anchors eventually went all upright. The ‘technical talk’ in this respect that the anchors were already somewhat struggling with, suddenly turned moralistic. After all, peachiness becomes the refuge of the politically biased, or of men unconvincingly trying to communicate an air of objectivity.

Within hours of the verdict when the former judges failed to say what the anchors were hoping them to, the word ‘akhlaq’ (morality) cropped up. In a brazen display of utter subjectivity, many of such anchors did not hesitate to float the idea that the president and those ministers whose names were on the NRO beneficiary list, should resign on ‘moral grounds.’

First of all, these anchors can easily find themselves in glasshouses when it comes to matters like aqhlaq. We have all seen how much of this aqhlaq is present in their talk shows on which folks have been known to start sounding like right-wing anarchists who are willing to mutilate and sacrifice the presidency, democracy and parliament at the altar of unsubstantiated accusations and assorted reactionary claptrap.

Secondly, such anchors were openly lamenting the constitutional clause that protects the president from facing the courts, and I am sure many of their equally disappointed viewers must also be lamenting the fact that there was no manly military dictator at the helm who could flick aside the constitution, like Ziaul Haq, who is on record as saying: ‘What is a constitution? Nothing but just a piece of paper.’

Innocent until proven guilty. What’s so complicated about that? And couple this with the obvious political nature of the many ‘corruption’ and ‘criminal’ cases against the PPP and MQM leaders, let the honourable courts decide who is guilty or not.

Who are we to point fingers? Who are we to cast the first stone? And all this rap about akhlaq; for heaven’s sake, forget about the high and the mighty, how many of us educated, middle-class folks can call ourselves spotless? Take a small example: How many of us are willing to show any decency to, say, a lowly paid traffic cop? How many of us do not have that instinctive thought of bribing our way out of a traffic violation, or out of any other crime (petty or otherwise)?

This most certainly is not a defence of corrupt politicians. It is a plea to look at the system. A system that each one of us — from the so-called feudal and upper-middle classes all the way to the middle-class — benefit from. We bribe, break the law, lie, cheat, all in the name of survival, and then when guilt strikes, we select our favourite punching bags in the shape of elected politicians and bash them, all the while remaining quiet for years when ruled by an unconstitutional military dictator; or even when men who blow themselves up in public live and plot in our neighbourhoods. There is little or no hue and cry then.

On the other end, sometimes this guilt leaves us suddenly rediscovering God and religion. Then it’s back to going on a rampage of punching venerable scapegoats, this time in the name of faith. Thus, I believe, in this country it is hypocrisy that is the major cause of corruption. So stop thinking that it’s democracy that is to be blamed.

Remember East Pakistan? No uniformed strong man or a mard-i-momin can save a country as diverse as ours. Stop getting lost in the middle-class fantasies of powerful men and glorious conquests. Vote, and then wait to vote out whom you do not like. Stop falling prey to fascist escapades dressed as patriotism, uprightness and worst of all, akhlaq.

Little monsters

There is nothing new anymore about the suggestion that over a span of about 30 odd years, the Pakistani military and its establishmentarian allies in the intelligence agencies, the politicised clergy, conservative political parties and the media have, in the name of Islam and patriotism, given birth to a number of unrestrained demons which have now become full-fledged monsters threatening the very core of the state and society in Pakistan.

A widespread consensus across various academic and intellectual circles (both within and outside Pakistan), now states that violent entities such as the Taliban and assorted Islamist organisations involved in scores of anti-state, sectarian and related violence in the country are the pitfalls of policies and propaganda undertaken by the Pakistani state and its various intelligence agencies to supposedly safeguard Pakistan’s ‘strategic interests’ in the region and more superficially, Pakistan’s own ideological interest.

This supposed ideology was convolutedly constructed by the state and the ‘establishment’ of Pakistan many years after the painful birth of the new country. It is, however, still being used by intelligence agencies, certain politico-religious politicians, and media men to actually justify the folly of the Pakistani state and military in the past for not only patronising, but actually forming brutal Islamist organisations.

But whose ideology is it, really? Even though the answer to the question of what Jinnah envisioned is not easily proffered, Pakistan seemed to have a simple answer till about 1956. But this answer it seems did not suit the political and economic interests of the early Pakistani ruling elite consisting of the bureaucracy, the feudal-dominated political circles and eventually the military, and of course, the religious parties.

Till about the late 1960s it was normal to suggest that Pakistan as an idea and then a reality was carved as a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent who were largely seen (by Jinnah and his comrades in the Muslim League), as a distinct ethnic and cultural set of Indians whose political, economic and cultural distinctiveness might have been compromised in a post-colonial ‘Hindu-dominated’ set-up.

As Jinnah went about explaining his unfolding vision of what Pakistan as a political and ideological entity was supposed to mean, there is no doubt whatsoever in the historical validity of the notion that he imagined the new country as a cultural haven for the Muslims of the subcontinent where the state and politics would remain firmly secular, driven by a form of modern western democracy that also incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality, unity and a healthy appreciation of intellectual pursuits.

Apart from the much quoted speeches of Jinnah in which he clearly outlines his desire to see Pakistan as a secular and progressive Muslim state, scholars have provided a number of other set of evidences as well capturing Jinnah’s mindset in this context.

For example, the Khilafat Movement that swung into being between 1919 and 1924 among the traditionalist Muslim activists of the subcontinent – as Mustapha Kamal went about dismantling the Ottoman Empire in Turkey labeling it as backwards and decadent – Jinnah is on record of being highly critical of the Khilafat Movement as well, describing it as a ‘false religious frenzy.’

According to Professor Aysha Jalal, Jinnah’s view of Islamic activism in the subcontinent was akin to him understanding it as a phenomenon that ‘derided the false and dangerous religious frenzy which had confused Indian politics, and the zealots who were harming the national cause.’

Jinnah’s death in 1949 and the internal infighting that his party, the Muslim League, suffered, reduced it from being a dynamic organisation of visionary action, into a rag-tag group of self-serving politicians who were in cahoots with a powerful bureaucracy and feudal interests. It became a pale and unimaginative reflection of its pre-independence past.

Gone too was the party’s ability to further define and, more so, bring into policy Jinnah’s secular-Muslim vision as the idea got increasingly muddled and out-voiced by the rising noise of the once anti-Pakistan Islamic forces who took the opportunity to start flexing their muscles in the face of a disintegrating Muslim League and the erosion of what its leader stood for.

The Jamat-i-Islami (JI) and the (now defunct) Islami Nizam Party went on a rampage in 1953 in Lahore, hungrily overseeing the country’s first major anti-Ahmadi riots.

Of course, by now the famous speech by Jinnah in which he underlined the idea of religious freedom in the new country was conveniently forgotten as the ruling elite grappled confusingly with the crises, first jailing and dishing out the death penalty to the main architect of the riots, JI’s founder, Abul Ala Maududdi, but then releasing him, and ultimately tamely capitulating to the demands of the handful of vocal Islamic leaders by officially declaring the country as an Islamic Republic in the 1956 Constitution.

It was classic ostrich behavior; the sort a number of Pakistani leaders continued to demonstrate whenever faced with the question of Pakistan and its relationship to Political Islam.

Misunderstanding Islamist activism as mere emotionalism that wont be able to sustain itself on a political level, and underestimating the Machiavellian traits of Islamic political organisations, the ruling elite gave the Islamists a hollow bone to play with, without bothering to explain to the rest of the people exactly what did an Islamic state or an Islamic Republic really meant in the Pakistani context.

Just when the military dictatorship of Field Martial Ayub Khan had begun its accent towards a peak, the Jamat-i-Islami brought back the question about Pakistan’s ideology in 1962.

By then the ruling establishment had been confident of burying the Islamist irritant with the 1956 proclamation, which, obviously meant nothing more than a change of name, as the matters of the state and the government continued to be handled in an overwhelmingly secular manner, especially by the pro-West Ayub Khan dictatorship.

But by now the military had also become overtly conscious about the supposed problems the diversified polity and milieu of Pakistan could create for the federation and homogenous institutions such as the Army.

Pakistan, quite like India, was not an ethnically and religiously homogenous entity, and it consisted of various distinct ethnicities, Islamic sects and sub-sects, apart from having its share of ‘minorities.’

The economic, cultural and political cleavages that began developing between various ethnicities – especially due to a lack of democratic representation of these varied peoples in the corridors of power – were attempted to be fixed and filled by the military and the state through the imposition of the ‘one unit’ system – an idea in which Pakistan was treated as a single unit of homogenous Muslims and a place where there was no room for provinces based on ethnic credentials.

The state seems to have naively undermined and underestimated the power and the hold the concept of ethnic identity had in the region – a hold, which in India, comparatively speaking, was more successfully addressed through democracy and democratic institutions that helped varied ethnicities have a stake in the affairs of the government and the state.

As the state cringed at the pro-democracy movement of the late 1960s that was searching for a Pakistan run on democratic lines and which, in turn, would give a vote and a voice to various ethnicities, the state suddenly turned towards its former nemesis, the Islamists.

The Yahya Khan dictatorship that replaced the fallen Ayub Khan regime, was the first in the country to start patronising leading Islamic parties in an attempt to thwart the largely left-leaning pro-democracy movement spearheaded by overtly secular leaders such as the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, National Awami Party’s Moullana Bhashani and Wali Khan, Awami League’s Mujibur Rheman,  politicians like Asghar Khan, and leftist student parties such as the National Students Federation (NSF).

As far as the military was concerned democracy meant the disintegration of Pakistan; and more so, they saw democracy as a danger that would neutralise American and capitalist support that the military enjoyed, marginalising the military in the matters of the government.

For the Islamists, democracy meant the emergence of ethnic and religious plurality that would encourage secular politics and policies and further undermine the notion of Islamcentric Pakistani nationhood.

On the eve of the 1970 elections, as the state (under the military) went about explaining to its American allies its sudden bend towards patronising forces peddling Political Islam as a way to frustrate ‘Soviet influence’ and the ‘spread of communism’ in Pakistan, the Islamic parties began their bit by decrying that (in the wake of the pro-democracy movement) ‘Islam was in danger.’

But the nation seemed to be in no mood to respond to the conservative alarmist messages coming from the military dictatorship and its new-found Islamic allies as the people voted with their feet for left-leaning secular parties such as the Awami League (in former East Pakistan), and the PPP and NAP in West Pakistan.

However, as the results of the elections stood out to prove the inherent distrust a diverse Pakistan had for what the military establishment and the Islamic parties were defining as ‘Pakistan’s ideology’ and the ‘one unit,’ the consequence of the damage the two convolutions had already caused emerged in the shape of Civil War and cries of independence in former East Pakistan. In December 1971, East Pakistan violently broke away from the rest of the country to become Bangladesh.

Conveniently, the humiliated military and Islamic parties and pro-establishment politicians who had all been squarely defeated in the 1970 elections, put the blame on the purveyors of democracy who had risen in revolt against military dictatorship and the one unit system in the late 1960s.

Ironically, though the incoming PPP government led by the popular Z. A. Bhutto remained populist and secular, Bhutto couldn’t escape the question about Pakistan’s ideology that now seemed to have gained a lot more urgency in the face of the breakup of the country.

Staring the new government in the face was a disenchanted population and a disgraced Army. But Bhutto was clever to use a vital scapegoat to turn things around. His populist and socialist rhetoric was now punctuated with verbal attacks on India which had supported the Bengali nationalist movement. The Bhutto regime then gathered a number of (otherwise anti-Bhutto) conservative scholars and historians to turn his anti-India rhetoric into a common historical narrative in which India became the enemy behind most, if not all, political and economic ills befalling Pakistan. This episode has in it the seeds of what would grow into the rampant culture of denial and conspiracy theories in Pakistan.

The flammable narrative then eschewed provincialism as well, as Bhutto went after Pushtun and Baloch nationalists, blaming India and the Soviet Union for what was simply the result of Bhutto’s own rising autocracy.

The narrative was adopted even by Bhutto’s staunchest opponents, especially the religious parties, who eventually galvanised a largely secular body of people into believing that the ills Pakistan was facing were due to ‘secularism,’ and the ‘betrayal of Pakistan’s ideology’ (Islam).

As General Ziaul Haq stumped the politicians by imposing Martial Law (1977) and bagged the Jamat-i-Islami to flaunt his rule as being ‘Islamic,’ the narrative spun out of the confines of text books and spontaneous speeches and took a whole new meaning with the emergence of Pakistan as a frontline state in America’s proxy war against the Soviet Union on the scorched grounds of Afghanistan. This was also the time that the state and its media literally turned the image of Jinnah on its head by making him spout unsubstantiated Islamist pearls!

The 1980s and the so-called anti-Soviet Afghan jihad is colored with deep nostalgic strokes by the Islamists and the military in Pakistan. Forgetting that the Afghans would have remained being nothing more than a defeated group of rag-tag militants without the millions of dollars worth of aid and weapons that the Americans provided, and Zia could not have survived even the first MRD movement in 1981 had it not been due to the unflinching support that he received from America and Saudi Arabia, Pakistani intelligence agencies and its Afghan and Arab militant allies were convinced that it was them alone who toppled the Soviet Union.

The above belief began looking more and more like a grave delusion by the time the Afghan mujahideen factions went to war against one another in the early 1990s and Pakistan was engulfed with serious sectarian and ethnic strife. But the post-1971 narrative that had now started to seep into the press and in many people’s minds, desperately attempted to drown out conflicting points of views about the Afghan war by once again blaming the usual suspects: democracy, secularism and India.

Many years and follies later, and in the midst of unprecedented violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam, Pakistanis today stand more confused and flabbergasted than ever before.

The seeds of the ideological schizophrenia that the 1956 proclamation of Pakistan being an ‘Islamic Republic’ sowed, have now grown into a chaotic and bloody tree that only bares delusions and denials as fruit.

As conservative parties, Islamic groups and reactionary journalists continue to use the flimsy and synthetic post-1971 historical narrative to consciously bury the harrowing truth behind the destruction and the chaos the so-called ‘ideology of Pakistan’ has managed to create within and outside Pakistan, a whole generation is growing up absorbing the narrative wholesale.

Whereas state-sanctioned history text books did the trick in this respect in the 1970s, and the state-owned media and the conservative press galvanised Pakistanis towards this narrative in the 1980s, today, just as the military and the state of Pakistan is searching for a suitable ground to tackle the ideological and physical monsters their own follies have unleashed, a whole new generation of post-90s young men and women and electronic media pundits have taken upon themselves to look for the answers. Unfortunately, the answers are being looked for in the old convoluted narrative of the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ which, ironically, is the source of the problem.

This schizophrenia is apparent in the military itself. On the one hand, as an institution, the Army seems to have come to terms with the importance of plurality and democracy as ways to harmoniously deal with the ethnic and sectarian diversity that is Pakistan; it has also realised the folly of turning a blind eye to Islamist organisations, believing they will be ‘helpful in Kashmir and Afghanistan.’

But since the Pakistan Army’s entire motivation revolves around a conflict with India (Islam vs. Hinduism), it has been tough for senior officers to justify to their men a war being fought with remorseless men who incidentally also call themselves Muslims.

Even though, General Pervez Kiyani has done well to finally make his men find a good reason to fight the monsters, but if one listens to the many characters who these days appear on private TV channels and conservative newspapers, one can at least partially understand what is the new narrative that is emerging to motivate the Pakistani state’s war with the Islamists.

If these always combusting characters on the mini-screen are to be believed, then even though Pakistan is facing the scrooge of extremism and related terrorism, the extremists and terrorists are ‘being sponsored and funded by enemies of Pakistan (i.e. India and Israel).’

So is it true that the same old India (and ‘Zionists’) bogy is being built into the emerging narrative as well to infuse the right amount of motivation into the troops and the nation in the fight against extremism which in reality is very much an internal demon? Perhaps. But more alarming however is, that if state follies in this respect ended up creating big monsters in the shape of extremist organisations, then the new added-on narrative being peddled so enthusiastically by colourful chameleons on popular TV is bound to generate a generation of young Pakistanis which – ironically in the ‘age of information’ – may be the most conditioned and reactionary culmination of young people to grace the social landscape of the country, passionately divorced from any reality that may  compromise this generation’s new-found mirage and misconceptions about the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and Islam.

Little monsters are what we have in hand – a lucrative market for TV channels, and a weapon for the Islamists in their ongoing social and cultural war against ‘liberals.’

Democrats, beware!

Ever since Field Martial Ayub Khan toppled a blundering conglomerate of civil servants and politicians in a military coup in 1958, as a culture, Pakistan was moulded into a desperate group of people to whom democracy was akin to corruption and chaos.

But compared to the 1950s, corruption scaled unprecedented heights during the Ayub dictatorship, and it was this corruption that generated a fresh interest in democracy among a new generation of politicians and youth in the 1960s.

Between 1967 and 1970, a movement led by progressive students and fiery politicians opened a new window of opportunity for democracy.

However, with the tragic dismemberment of the country in 1971 that saw East Pakistan become Bangladesh, this gave various politico-religious parties and conservative ‘pro-establishment’ politicians and intellectuals the fodder they needed to at once term the 1971 debacle as a demonic consequence of democracy.

In the 1970s this meant two things: first, that in spite of the exploitative ways the establishment had treated its Eastern wing, Bengalis were termed as ‘traitors.’ Secondly, some rightwing journalists and parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami started to claim that it was Bhutto who was responsible for the East Pakistan debacle.

Though a much loved leader, as Prime Minister, Bhutto awkwardly bounced between populist democracy and autocracy, in a way preparing his own downfall at the hands of forces that had been rejected by the electorate in the 1970 elections

Some suggest that Bhutto’s erratic behaviour in this context was mostly due to a concerted smear campaign against his personality (by the ‘rightwing press’) and against democracy itself that was said to be ‘undermining Islam’s place in Pakistan.’

Not surprisingly, during the 1977 elections, the anti-Bhutto coalition, the Pakistan National Alliance’s slogan became, ‘Nizam-i-Mustafa’ (a system based on Shariah).

Though Bhutto blundered by doctoring an election he could have won on his own, this gave his opponents the chance to pounce upon him like never before. But some opposition leaders panicked when Bhutto rallies once again started attracting large numbers of people.

A number of respected historians have claimed that the Alliance’s leadership then ‘requested’ the military (under General Ziaul Haq), to intervene, and which it gladly did.

Thus, in the next eleven years, state-owned media, politico-religious parties, anti-Bhutto politicians and educationists were used by the Zia dictatorship to engrave in the people’s minds the supposed incompatibility between Pakistan and democracy.

In the chaotic midst of rampant corruption, ethnic and sectarian violence, and the imposition of brutal laws (in the name of Islam) by the dictatorship, it continued to accuse democracy as a system that produced ‘monsters’ like Bhutto and divorced Islam from the political and social fabric of Pakistan.

The anti-democracy mantra and mindset cultivated during the dictatorship was now so well entrenched that even the revival of democracy after Zia’s death in 1988 failed to exorcise it.

Despite Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s own obvious shortcomings, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that at every turn during the 1990s, those associated with various intelligence agencies and politico-religious parties used a large section of the popular press to continue portraying democracy and democrats as abominations ‘planted by anti-Pakistan forces’ to ‘compromise Pakistan’s strategic victory in Afghanistan,’ and ‘work against Pakistan’s Islamic credentials’.

Another thing that was clearly exaggerated was the way democracy bred corruption because during the 1990s politicians weren’t any more or less corrupt than what they had been — along with a number of military men, bankers and businessmen — during the Zia dictatorship.

Today, some two years after the dramatic revival of democracy after the PPP, PML(N) and the lawyers’ movement successfully dislodged the Musharraf dictatorship, we are once again hearing the same mantra of ‘corruption’ and ‘incompetence’ coming from sections of the popular press and the private electronic media.

The criticism against the PPP and PML (N) has very little to do with any constructive assessment, as such. On the contrary, quite like in the 1990s, some high profile newspaper reporters (and now also TV anchors) have yet again suddenly managed to get hold of ‘vital facts and figures on corruption,’ that have otherwise eluded even the most astute investigative reporters. Exactly where these facts and figures suddenly appear from, I’ll leave that to your own discretion. But the truth is these ‘reports’ read and sound more like anti-democracy indoctrination speeches than a crusading case of journalism, really.

Have some columnists and TV personalities gotten down to once again preparing the ground for democracy’s disgrace?

The alarming phenomenon is, that this time around these ‘forces’ (with their own tainted pasts) can now be seen on popular TV channels as well; meaning that this time the mantra against the ‘corrupt’ abomination called democracy is set to influence a much larger number of people.

No wonder then, according to a recent British Council survey, a very small percentage of young Pakistanis have any faith in democracy; but up to 60 per cent of these young men and women trust the Army and, more alarmingly, up to 50 per cent exhibit faith in the madressahs — the very institutions that have been behind some of the messiest political, economic and cultural blunders that have continued to haunt Pakistan till this day.

Nauseous mumblings

RECENTLY I was fortunate enough to be a part of an excellent ten-minute news video prepared by the New York Times’ reporter, Adam Ellick. Tastefully called ‘Tuning out the Taliban,’ the video has created the right buzz amongst young middle-class Pakistanis.

Adam treats his report as a way to understand why many educated, westernised and modern Pakistani pop/rock stars and their fans are all gung-ho about anti-Americanism in their songs and beliefs but at the same time keeping quiet about matters such as religious extremism, terrorism and the Taliban.

The funny thing is, this is happening even when there are disturbingly tangible and physical examples of the ubiquitous carnage and mayhem being caused by so-called jihadis; whereas conspiratorial notions such as the ever-present explanation of a ‘foreign hand’ — mainly the idea of an unholy alliance of America, India and Israel out to destroy Pakistan and Islam — remains to be a largely unsubstantiated and somewhat air-headed perception.

According to my own experience as a journalist covering the Pakistan music scene in the 1990s, it is never a good idea to encourage pop musicians to start making political statements. As an idea it can be exciting and relevant, but since much of the modern pop music scene in Pakistan originates from middle-class settings, one can thus expect nothing more than self-righteous droning and quasi-reactionary drawing-room demagoguery usually found in the urban bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois sections of society.

Surveys and studies of these two classes in Pakistan show them to be two of the most conservative, with a history of economically and politically backing assorted military dictators (especially Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf). Of course, there have been clear exceptions in this context, but it is also true that over the years the overall conservatism of these classes has seen certain sections from within become both supporters and financiers of the more extreme strains of Islamic thought.

There have been recorded cases against many petty-bourgeois shop-owners and traders of financing jihadi organisations; whereas many sections among the more ‘modern’ bourgeois class have largely exhibited their own version of extreme beliefs by passionately patronising (as supporters and clients), a number of Islamic televangelists and drawing-room preachers whose number has grown two-fold from 1990 onwards.

Consequently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young men and women from the middle-class now preferring to adorn beards and hijabs, and taking religious rituals a lot more seriously (compared to the situation till the late 1970s). But this class still constitutes a large number of westernised youth as well.

However, compared to their more socially conservative class contemporaries — who have been seen to follow right-wing groups from the Jamat-i-Islami, to defunct Sipah-i-Sehaba to Sunni Threek and the Tableeghi Jamaat and individuals such as Dr Israr Ahmed, Farhat Hashmi and Zakir Naik — the more ‘modern’ lot in this respect have not exactly fallen to the left as a reaction (like they did between the 1950s and the early 1970s). Instead, in spite of whole-heartedly embracing the economic, aesthetic and cultural fruits of secularism, they have retained their classes’ inherent political conservatism.

Adam Ellick’s interviews with former rock star and animated TV personality, Ali Azmat, and bubblegum-rock poster boy, Ali Noor, are the cases in point. Both hail from modern, middle-class settings and represent the more westernised sections of Pakistani bourgeoisie. In spite of mimicking the aesthetic, cultural and linguistic strains of western pop culture, both refused to see any contradiction whatsoever in conveniently attacking ‘western imperialism’ as the reason behind the terror attacks in Pakistan.

Azmat is seen in a T-Shirt and shorts, with an expensive Apple laptop by his side, sitting in a room decorated like an arty version of an American college dude’s bachelor pad, and the following is what he had to say: ‘It (suicide bombing) is the agenda of neocons to de-Islamise Pakistan…’

In his astute and recently acquired wisdom (mainly inspired by Azmat’s newfound guru, celebrated conspiracy theorist Zaid Hamid), the Taliban are not behind the bombings of girls’ schools, but ‘foreign forces (CIA, RAW and Mossad),’ are to be blamed! Where else but in Pakistan can one find a hip rock star with a lucrative history of being proudly sponsored by various western multinationals, also become a shameless apologist of men who in the name of faith not only blow themselves up in public, but are also known to have used three-to-six-year-old children for the same deed.

Then, in the same documentary, we see yet another scion of the increasingly warped Pakistani bourgeoisie, Ali Noor, the long-haired, guitar-slinging lead vocalist of Noorie. Amidst terrifying and tragic footage of blown up cars, shops and body limbs, he announces that ‘the Taliban only constitute a tiny problem.’ While spouting this profound insight, Noor gestures the ‘tiny’ part of his grand statement with his hand and you wonder, shouldn’t that gesture be explaining the size of his brain? Is this symptomatic of mere delusion, or of some unprecedented form of collective psychosis?

Extra! Extra!

Islamabad, November 18: Famous anti-India TV personality, Zion Hamid, was caught yesterday watching Shakuntali, a popular Indian TV soap opera. The discovery was made by one of his fans who Hamid thought was his milkman.

When Hamid opened his door, the fan heard and saw the TV in the background where episode No. 5, 904 of Shakuntali was running. Talking to this reporter, the fan said that he first thought it was a conspiracy, but after noticing the genuine red cap of Hamid, he was astonished.

Shaken, the fan, 23-year-old Abdul Karim, said: ‘I couldn’t believe it! What would Muhammad Bin Qasim think when he gets to hear about this?’

When told by this reporter that Qasim died hundreds of years ago, the fan accused him and his newspaper for working for Blackwater.

‘What you think you fool Mossad, CIA, Raw agent Qasim alive in our minds, hearts and lungs so oh you shut up!’ he added.

Talking to the media after the episode, Hamid accepted that he sometimes watches Indian soaps and that even though he is of the opinion that Hindus are paleed (dirty), there is no harm in watching them on TV because they can’t touch you and can’t cast their shadow over you.

He added that he also watches Indian soaps to decode the hidden plots of the Hindus to destroy Pakistan and Islam.

‘It was by decoding the dialogue of one such Indian TV soap that I was able to discover that the Mumbai attacks were actually planned and executed by Raw and Mossad,’ he explained.

He also said that he predicted the 9/11 attacks as a Zionist conspiracy back in 1996 by watching Dil Walay Dullaniya Lay Jain Gey on his VCD player over and over again.

‘It’s all there,’ he claimed. ‘And the songs aren’t all that bad either.’

Hamid was surrounded by a vocal group of fans at the press conference.

One Barkat Ali told the reporters: ‘What this happening? Attacking great man Zion, oh so brilliant genius zindabad, zindabad you kafir Western conspiracy US agent traitors fool, fool, fool!’

Another, Sharmeen Khan, a 25-year-old university student added: ‘What this nonsense of democracy because it only Hindu, American, Zionist, Papua New Guinnean plot to destroy beloved Pakistian zindabad, zindabad, zindabad!’

Kamran Ghani, a seven-month-old toddler also addressed the press conference. He said, ‘Goo goo gagagaga goo goo … burp!’

The fans then lifted Hamid on their shoulders and carried him to a nearby McDonald’s outlet where they all chanted slogans like ‘Amreeka ki ghulami namazoor’ over a couple of Big Macs, large Cokes and a romantic song sung by Wali Azmat called, ‘I hate Jews Yea, Yea, Yea,’ a song from Azmat’s forthcoming album, ‘Zionists ate my Homework.’

The album is dedicated to all the Taliban who died in American drone attacks. When asked why didn’t he also dedicate the album to all those who’ve died from Taliban’s suicide attacks, Azmat said, that there were no suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan and that all those people we see slaughtered and dismembered on our TV screens actually died from dengue fever. When asked how he can prove this, he said that one should watch the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

‘It’s all there,’ he claimed. ‘And the chicks aren’t all that bad either.’

Meanwhile in Lahore, Tehrik-e-Imran chief, Insaaf-e-Khan lauded Zion Hamid’s efforts for decoding vital truths about Hindu conspiracies from Indian soap operas.

Talking to a group of rabid rightwing columnists at his residence, the great Khan said that Pakistan was in great danger from all kinds of plots being hatched by its enemies, especially Asif Zardari Bhutto Zardari Bhutto, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto Zardari, and the ghost of late Benazir Bhutto.

‘This government is sucking the blood of poor Pakistanis,’ he told the rabid rightwing communists all of whom then started to sing the national anthem in unison.

‘This government has sold Pakistan’s strategic and political interests to America!’ Khan added, to which the rabid rightwing columnists started burning George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s effigies.

Praising the columnists’ bravery, Khan promised them to meet again after he returned from New York where he will undergo a cheekbone operation.

The columnists informed him that they too will be in New York for sightseeing, except for one, who got up and started burning Henry Truman’s effigy. He was the one who failed to secure an American visa.

Khan termed this to be racial discrimination and a CIA conspiracy.

Later in the day, the issue was discussed on a famous TV talk show on a local news channel.

Participating in the show were the incensed columnist, a rabid rightwing reporter, a PPP Minster, and a woman in a burqa.

‘This is an outrage!’ said the reporter. ‘Blackwater is behind this,’ he announced.

When asked how he knew, he picked up a Class One children’s nursery rhymes book and claimed: ‘It’s all here. And the rhymes aren’t all that bad either.’

The PPP Minister, Rehman Malika Zardari Bhutto Zardari, promised that his government will look into the issue, to which the reporter landed a swift punch on Malika’s face.

When Malika’s bodyguards tried to stop the reporter, the talk show’s host accused the government of curbing the freedom of the press.

‘This is an outrage!’ he said. ‘I implore the Army to intervene, overthrow this incompetent government and impose martial law!’

Mr. Malika apologised and started to land punches on his own face saying that the government too believed in the freedom of the press.

This made the reporter very happy who asked Malika to raid book stores and confiscate all secular literature because solutions to Pakistan’s problems lie in jihadi literature.

‘It’s all there!’ he claimed. ‘And the topics aren’t all that bad either.’

Turning to the woman in a burqa, the show’s host asked if she agreed.

‘The real problem lies in women wearing jeans,’ she said.

The host asked her to elaborate, to which she said: ‘The real problem is in women wearing jeans.’

‘Yes, but can you please elaborate?’ asked the host.

‘The real problem lies in women wearing jeans!’ she said again.

‘Please elaborate,’ the host insisted.

‘But that’s all I was asked to say,’ she said.

‘By whom?’ inquired the host.

‘By you!’ she said.

‘This is an outrage!’ said Mr. Malika, and in response, the host punched him and proceeded to burn an American flag. He burned half of it and announced that the other half will be burnt later because he had to catch a flight.

‘To where?’ asked Mr. Malika.

‘California,’ said the host. ‘I have to attend my son’s graduation ceremony.’

A nation of sleepwalkers

The day after the terrible terrorist attack at Islamabad’s Islamic University that took the lives of eight innocent students, certain TV news channels ran a footage of a dozen or so angered students of the university pelting stones. The first question that popped up in my mind after watching the spectacle was, what on earth were these understandably enraged young men throwing their stones at?

So I waited for the TV cameras to pan towards the direction where the stones were landing. But that did not happen. It seemed as if the students were pelting stones just for the heck of it.

So I called a fellow journalist friend who was covering the story for a local TV channel and asked him about the protest. He told me the students were pelting stones at a handful of cops. Now, why in God’s good name would one throw stones at cops after being attacked by demented men who call themselves the Taliban?

The very next day another protest took place outside the attacked University in which the students, both male and female, were holding banners that said: ‘Kerry-Lugar Bill namanzoor!’ (Kerry-Lugar Bill Not Acceptable).

I could barely stop myself from bursting into a short sharp fit of manic laughter. It was unbelievable. Or was it, really?

Here we have a university that was attacked by a psychotic suicide bomber who slaughtered and injured dozens of students so he could get his share of hooris in Paradise. The attack was then proudly owned by the Tekrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. And in its wake, we saw enraged students protesting against the Kerry-Lugar act? What a response!

What did the Kerry-Lugar act have to do with the suicide attack? Wasn’t this remarkably idiotic ‘protest rally’ by the students actually an insult to those who were so mercilessly slaughtered by holy barbarians?

But then, some would suggest that in a society like Pakistan, such idiosyncrasies should be swallowed as a norm. And I agree. What else can one expect from a society living in a curiously delusional state of denial, gleefully mistaking it as ‘patriotism’ and ‘concern.’ It seems no amount of proof will ever be enough to dent Pakistanis’ resolve to defend the unsubstantiated, wild theories that they so dearly hold in their rapidly shrinking heads.

Take for instance the recent case of a famous TV anchorman who visited a devastated area in Peshawar that was bombed by a remote-controlled car bomb. He talked to about 10 people at the scene. More than half of the folks interviewed spouted out those squarely unproven and thoroughly clichéd tirades about RAW/CIA/Mossad being the ‘real perpetrators’ and that ‘no Muslim is capable of inflicting such acts of barbarity.’

A friend of mine who was also watching this hapless exhibition of the usual top-of-mind nonsense suddenly announced that he wanted to jump in, hold these men by the arms, and shake them violently so they could be ‘awoken from their dreadful sleepwalking state.’

Pakistanis routinely continue to deny the fact that the monsters who are behind all the faithful barbarism that is cutting this country into bits are the mutant product of what our governments, military, intelligence agencies, and society as a whole have been up to in the past 30 years or so.

Well, this is exactly what happens to a society that responds so enthusiastically to all the major symptoms of fascist thought. Symptoms such as powerful and continuing nationalism; disdain for the recognition of human rights; identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause; supremacy of the military; obsession with national security; the intertwining of religion and government; disdain for intellectuals and the arts; an obsession with crime and punishment, etc.

Have not the bulk of Pakistanis willingly allowed themselves to be captured in all the macho and paranoid trappings of the above-mentioned symptoms of collective psychosis. It clearly smacks of a society that has been ripening and readying itself for an all-round fascist scenario.

This is the scenario some among us are really talking about when they speak of ‘imposing the system of the Khulfa Rashideen’ or shariah, or whatever profound buzzwords adopted to explain Pakistan’s march towards a wonderful society of equality and justice? Words that mean absolutely nothing, or systems and theories either based on ancient musings of tribal societies or on glorified myths of bravado.

I felt bad for the few bystanders at that Peshawar bombing site who kept contradicting their more gung-ho contemporaries by reminding them that for months the shopkeepers where receiving threatening letters from the Taliban warning them that they should stop selling products for women and ban the entry of women in the area.

One shop-owner who said he lost more than millions of rupees worth of goods in the blast was slightly taken aback when the anchor asked him who he thought was behind the bomb attack. For a few seconds he looked curiously at the anchor’s face, as if wondering why would a major TV news channel be asking a question whose answer was so obvious. ‘What do you mean, who was responsible?’ he asked. ‘The Taliban, of course!’

Fasi Zaka wrote a scathing piece on the floozy response of some students who chanted slogans against the Kerry-Lugar Bill outside the freshly bombed Islamic University. He was battered with hate mail, even from those who did agree with him that it were the Taliban who bombed the unfortunate university. But these folks turned out to be even worse than the deniers. They are apologists of all the mayhem that takes place in the name of Islam in this country.

Every time the barbarians set themselves off taking innocent men, women, and children with them, these apologists suddenly emerge to write letters to newspapers and try to dominate internet forums explaining the intricate ‘socio-economic problems’ that are turning men into terrorists. Or worse – as is expected from reactionary news reporters like Ansar Abbasi – they will start giving details about the infidel targets that the terrorists were really after at the place of the attack.

Zaka told me that he got letters suggesting that the Taliban attacked the canteen of the Islamic University because ‘women students were not behaving and dressing according to Islam.’ The state under Ziaul Haq had the Hudood Ordinance for such ‘loose women,’ but now the Taliban have bombs for them. And mind you, those who were trying to justify the bombing in this respect at the University were ‘educated’ young men and even women.

Recently, we also heard about a hijab-clad female student at the prestigious and ‘liberal’ Lahore University of Management Sciences, who bagged her 15 minutes of fame by capturing images through her mobile phone of students indulging in ‘immoral activities’ on campus. Of course, the same lady’s ‘concern’ and righteousness ends at becoming a self-appointed paparazzi for the reactionaries, whereas it was young women (in hijabs) and men with beards who died so senselessly at the Islamabad Islamic University campus.

Pathetic, indeed.

Uneasy rider

While driving to my office the other day, I almost crashed head-on into a motorcycle. The burly man riding the bike was coming in from the wrong way on a one-way street. After braking, I gestured to him as to what on earth was he up to.

The motorcyclist gestured back and then shouted: ‘Are you blind?’
With half a smile and a full frown I told him he was the one coming from the wrong side.

‘So?’ he asked. 
‘So, my friend, you are the one who has broken the law,’ I explained.
‘Whose law?’ he said. ‘It’s not God’s law, is it?’

Shaking my head, I said: ‘God doesn’t make traffic laws. He leaves that to the intellectual discretion of human beings. Surely, he has given us the wisdom to make a few laws of our own.’

After hearing this, the gentleman dismounted from his bike and started walking purposefully towards my car.
‘Listen,’ he said, shaking a finger. ‘I can ride my bike any which way I want to. Why should I care about traffic laws made by corrupt people?’

Politely nudging his finger away from my face, I asked him how did he know the traffic laws were made by corrupt people.

He started laughing: ‘What are all these tullahs (traffic cops)? Aren’t they all corrupt?’
‘Perhaps,’ I said. ‘But their corruption is as wrong as anyone breaking the law.’
‘Accha? So now you think I am corrupt?’ He said, still laughing.

‘Don’t know,’ I said. ‘But you most certainly were wrong by coming from the wrong side on a one-way street.’
‘I don’t care about man-made rules!’ He announced, and started strolling back towards his motorbike.

‘Bhai saheb,’ I said, taking my head out of the car’s window. ‘Had you hit me, you would have ended up in jail, not me. So try using your brains while riding your bike.’

That stopped him in his retreating tracks: ‘Only God decides who lives or dies, or who goes to jail or not. Who are you?’

‘Someone who is willing to use the mind God gave him,’ I replied.
‘Yeh dil ki baat hoti hai (Religion is a matter of the heart),’ he said. ‘Otherwise, even kafirs have a mind!’

Now it was me who started laughing. Taken aback, he began plodding a few meaningful steps towards the car: ‘What’s so funny?’ He asked.

‘Bhai,’ I said, smiling. ‘If it was only a matter of the heart, most of the Muslim population would have died of a heart attack by now.’
He wasn’t impressed by my quip: ‘You people think that by reading a few books you are an authority on religion?’ He asked, sarcastically.

‘No,’ I said. ‘But how many books have you read to be an authority?’
‘I just know, because my heart says so,’ he announced.

‘And did your heart tell you to break the traffic rules and laws as well?’ I asked.
‘I only follow God’s laws!’ he said, proudly.

‘How can you follow God’s laws when you can’t even follow simple man-made laws?’ I asked.
‘Man-made laws don’t mean anything,’ he replied, while walking back to his bike.

‘That’s a very well maintained bike you have,’ I half shouted, taking my head out of the car’s window again.
He didn’t answer and kick-started his shining bike.

‘Man-made laws may not mean much to you,’ I said. ‘But man-made machines sure do!’

The great caving in

Only a few days ago, while channel surfing on a slow-moving evening, I came across a show where an ‘alim’ and his ‘scholar’ guest were discussing the Islamic edicts on the issue of wife-beating.
As the ‘scholar’ insisted that the husband could use whatever degree of violence on a ‘disrespectful wife,’ the host, who usually applauds the most reactionary notions about religion, was, this time, left gulping; perhaps conscious that his own wife might be watching this circus. He tried to soften the scholar’s blow by suggesting that ‘there’s a whole procedure to this,’ but the guest just kept at it.
It was a classic example of modern-day religious programming which claims to use scholarly insights to close the gap between religion and modernity, but usually ends up opening various Pandora’s boxes whose awkward and medieval contents make religion seem anything but compatible with contemporary society.
The question is, why discuss such topics? We know that many a divine revelation has passages that modernist Islamic scholars have been grappling with for years, arguing that these need to be understood allegorically and in the historical context in which they appeared instead of discussing them as if the dynamics of society were still ruled by medieval impulses.
These TV shows claim to be making faith and its edicts ‘easy to live by in the modern world,’ but the fact is they only manage to add another suffocating layer of social cumbersomeness that is found in societies (like Pakistan) that always seem busy shakily trying to balance religious literalism with modern materialism.
The results of such a balancing act are not exactly an enlightening synthesis, but rather, an intellectual exhaustion that leaves society collapsing inwards. Its habitants then emerge sounding either suspicious (giving vent to conspiracy theories about imagined attacks on their beliefs), or somewhat deluded (they start flaunting grandiose, even xenophobic, ideas about the perceived superiority of their faith.
Maybe the most obvious reason behind such an existentialist collapse is that in societies where religion is dragged in as an ever-present social, political and personal facet, the weight of such an act (especially in a modern setting) is that people simply cave in. In their lethargy, they are thus left thinking more about afterlife, rather than energetically engaging with what they have as life here and now.

 

Mine is an objective enquiry that gets even more urgent when I see TV programming also trying to insist that whatever major scientific discoveries took place in the 20th century were already present in the holy book. My friend Fasi Zaka is right to wish that people would stop saying this because, for example, no one has been able to find a cure for malaria or chickenpox so far even though, as an article of faith, many Muslims may believe that it is there.
As well-known Islamic scholars like Professor Ziauddin Sardar, Muhammad Arkoun and scientists such as Professor Pervez Hoodboy suggest, it requires considerable mental gymnastics and distortions to find ‘scientific facts’ in religious text.
Yet such tendencies have become a lucrative fad. Bookshops overflow with such literature; television preachers talk endlessly about how many different scientific theories can be found in the holy book, only after they have been touted by scientists! Numerous websites are devoted to explaining the phenomenon. Prof Sardar laments: ‘The underlying message of these theories is that all the science you need is in the holy text — no need to get your hands dirty in a lab or work within mainstream theories.’
The emergence of such fads and theories, too, is maybe a fallout of the existentialist caving in of Muslim societies. In their introversion, they have also become intellectually lazy, on the one hand, refusing to contextualise medieval laws based on 8th and 9th century man-made traditions, and on the other, using convoluted pseudo-sciences (based on imaginative whims rather than hard scientific facts) to match the West’s claim to modern scientific dominance.
What most cranks in this respect never tell their gullible audiences however is that long before Muslims started claiming ‘scientific truths in the holy book’, Hindus and Christians had already covered this tricky territory. For example, Hindu fundamentalists claimed that what progress science had achieved was already reflected in Hindu sacred texts. They were quoting examples like ‘Pushpakavimana’ mentioned in Ramayana, when Harun Yayah was most probably in his shorts.

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