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    Three long, agonizing days have passed since the unspeakable events in Peshawar on December 16. As people everywhere grapple with a tragedy that is beyond comprehension, the one thing that unites all Pakistanis – indeed, all those who care for humanity – is the desire to do whatever it takes to fight back against the forces that unleashed this horror. Knowledgeable Pakistanis and others have written insightful analyses, offered moving pleas, expressed new hope, and made important suggestions. There has been a gratifying upsurge of revulsion against extremists that is already producing some concrete results. But this is now, while the tragedy is still fresh in our hearts. What of the longer term?

    As human beings, we all know that the solidarity that we see now will fade over time; the old differences will resurface; the grief will dissipate, except for the families that actually suffered the loss of loved ones. In this age of distraction, unity of purpose is ephemeral, and unity of action even more so. Thus, it is critical that this passing period of common rage and determination be used to set up concrete plans and policies that will outlive our rage and achieve our purposes.

    The immediate response to the tragedy will come from the military, the intelligence services, the police, and the political leadership of the country. The military response will be swift and brutal, as it should be. And even the politicians may be able to overcome their petty differences sufficiently to put better policies in place. But the problems epitomized by the Peshawar attack were not created in a few months or years, and will not be solved quickly. The question is whether the state of Pakistan will make long-term changes that begin moving us towards a solution.

    The cynic in me is skeptical, and this skepticism is sharedby otherswho have followed the history of Pakistan. However, it is also true that great calamities sometimes produce permanent changes that had appeared impossible before. Perhaps this massacre of innocents will be such a “hinge event” for Pakistan, but to make it so will require answering some hard questions and making some difficult decisions. So, first the questions:

    Question 1: Who is to be considered a “terrorist”?
    Will this term be applied narrowly to those who directly challenge state institutions such as the Army, or broadly to all those who attack innocent people in the name of anyideology or political purpose. This is not an issue peculiar to Pakistan – the post-9/11 West has faced and failed to solve this problem. But clarity on this issue is especially important in the context of Pakistan. This is because, unlike the situation in, say, Sri Lanka with the Tamil Tigers, terrorism in Pakistan is not rooted in a single concrete causebut in a state of mind. This state of mind can, and does, promote diverse causes: Enforcing strict religious laws; combating India; suppressing sectarian rivals; creating a new caliphate; and even hastening the Day of Judgment. With such a breadth of incommensurate and sometimes irrational purposes, one must define terrorism not by its goals or its targets, but by its underlying ideology. The thing that unites all those who kill innocents en masse in Pakistan (and indeed, all over the world) is their deviant view of the value of human lives – they love their cause more than they love their fellow humans. The term “human” is critical here – not “Muslim” lives, or “military” lives, or “Pakistani” lives, but “human” lives. Unless we use this greatest common denominator as our definition, we will continue to distinguish between “good” terrorists and “bad” terrorists– and perhaps also some “neutral” terrorists who kill people we just don’t care much about. Even the term “Taliban” is insufficient, since many terrorist groups don’t use that name. But once we recognize the primacy of protecting all human lives, it is easy to determine who is a terrorist, regardless of whether they fight for religious, sectarian, nationalist or metaphysical causes. It is abundantly clear that groups (such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)) that target military personnel are closely linked with groups that target their sectarian rivals and specific communities such as Shi’as, Ahmadis and Christians. Unless both types of groups are included in the definition of “terrorists”, pools of infection will survive in Pakistan and will continue to infect the population in the future.

    Question 2:  Where do the terrorists get their ideology?
    The painful answer here is that, in the case of Pakistan, they get their ideology from an exceptionally literalist, inhumane and narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. Like all great religions with a substantial history, Islam has had many forms and interpretations in different times and places. This plurality has largely been accepted by Muslim societies, with some notably bloody exceptions. The form of Islam that has dominated in the areas of Pakistan for many centuries is a relatively open-minded, even syncretic, version of the sufi tradition. However, much more austere and puritanical interpretations have sporadically infiltrated the region from both the east and the northwest. This infiltration became more sustained during the colonial and post-colonial periods – through the emergence of pan-Islamist ideas, the ideologically rooted movement for the creation of Pakistan, the rise of political Islam in the form of Jamaat-e-Islami, the influence of ultra-orthodox seminaries, the influx of more orthodox Muslims, and, most importantly, the importation of the Wahhabi ideology from Saudi Arabia during the years of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. Today, violence in the name of Islam is perpetrated by groups aligned with different Muslim sects, with targets varying accordingly, but all these groups ultimately derive their zeal from the same attitude: Regarding those with differing beliefs as inferior and worthy of elimination (waajib-ul qatl).

    Question 3: Why does religious extremism lead to terrorism?
    Traditionally, extreme religiosity has manifested itself in asceticism and piety, not violence. What is it about Muslim extremism in the 21stcentury that leads inevitably to violence? The answer lies in the way Muslims – not just extremists – have come to relate to their faith in recent times. Following its early expansion, Islam quickly shed any puritanical tendencies it had, becoming an instrument of politics at the collective level and a vehicle for piety at the personal level. Kings – even if they were called Caliphs – could not countenance a supra-royal orthodoxy and, contrary to popular belief, the history of Muslim societies is one of religious flux rather than rigid orthodoxy – punctuated occasionally by orthodox-minded kings such as Aurangzeb Alamgir. Extremists of the kind we see today have always existed, but they have been treated as rebellious outsiders (khawaarij) and suppressed strongly by the state. The celebration of such groups as heroic is a phenomenon rooted in more recent history – particularly in the revivalist vision with which many Muslim societies responded to colonial subjugation. This vision saw deviation from the “true” faith as the main cause of Muslim decline, and sought to purify Islam by returning it to its founding principles. This attitude of originalism (which is much broader than just the Salafism of Wahhabis) is a major source of violent fervor among Muslims today, enabled particularly by three core aspects: 1) Belief in a mythologized history; 2) A strongly bipolar view of the world in terms of believers and unbelievers; and 3) A literalist view of Islam and its practice. All three strains have acquired special power in modern Pakistan through the revivalist ideological narrative underlying the creation of the country. The vision of Pakistan was sold to many – both before Partition and after – as that of an ideal “fortress of Islam” that would revive the polity of the original “State of Madina” under the Prophet Muhammad. Politicians still use this trope to move their supporters. Of course, if Pakistan is to be the fortress of Islam, it must have ferocious enemies, which are conveniently available in the form of Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. And finally, if Pakistan is truly to revive the State of Madina, its people must follow the original laws and texts of that state, not just in spirit but in letter. From there, it is a short step to believing in the virtue of fighting unbelievers, oppressing minorities and accepting laws such as the blasphemy law, which prescribes irrevocable capital punishment for any disrespect of Islam. Unfortunately, these attitudes are not confined to a few fringe extremists, but are widely accepted by the Pakistani populace. They have been woven into the distorted curricula taught in schools, reinforced by the rhetoric of a religiously-defined nationalism, and promoted by the media through the amplification of bigoted voices. The government of Pakistan has systematically created an institutional framework to support this ideology through laws and courts. The extremists have not needed to create intolerant attitudes; government and society have already done that. The extremists just take the ideas to the extreme – some might say, to their logical conclusion – identifying suicide bombing with martyrdom, narrowing the circle of believers to only their sect, and enforcing the blasphemy laws through vigilante action. These extreme positions are possible only because less extreme versions of them are considered mainstream, making it almost impossible to denounce the extremism without risking a charge of blasphemy. This has to change if Pakistani society is to make any real progress against terrorism.

    Question 4: Why does the state allow these attitudes to persist in Pakistani Society?
    The single biggest factor that allows the attitudes described above to persist is the fractured state of the Pakistani state:  Every political party and religious group has its own exclusive center of power; the military is a state unto itself, with its own policies and purposes; and the intelligence services are widely believed to comprise an even “deeper” state that links up with extremist groups. Even the traditionally weak Pakistani judiciary has shown signs of “going rogue” in recent years, not always to the benefit of society at large. All these centers of power sponsor specific narratives to exploit patriotism, ideology and religion for their own purposes. In the prehistoric days of exclusive state control over the media, this made little impact on the public, but in today’s laudably open and cacophonous media environment, every narrative can find a voice, leaving people confused and seeking certainty. Too often, this certainty is provided – by the same agents through the same media – in the form of bizarre conspiracy theories that rapidly become part of the national psyche, going from rumor to fact to belief, and often connecting up with pre-existing ideological and religious dogma. Dwelling in this forest of whispers, it is hardly surprising that many people lose touch with the reality of the rest of the world and slip into a state of mind where a mythology of millennial wars, dark forces and the Hand of God guiding history begins to make sense. The romance of crusaders, fortresses, black banners and caliphates emerges from this, and is nurtured by the fictional history taught to the populace.

    Again, this is not a peculiarly Pakistani or Muslim phenomenon – most countries have their national mythologies, in some cases connecting with actual ancient mythologies (as with India and Israel) or seeing the Hand of God or Destiny in their affairs (as with the British Empire and the United States). The difference with Pakistan (and to some degree in Israel) is that the myths have become central to national identity and even policy-making.

    So how can all this be changed?

    It is tempting to embrace an ultra-authoritarian model like that of Ataturk in Turkey and now Sisi in Egypt, secularizing the country by force and squashing dissent. History suggests that this is unlikely to work and can be exceptionally dangerous. First, it is impossible to guarantee that dictators in an authoritarian state will always be enlightened – in fact, that is very unlikely (see Mugabe, Robert G.) Second, deep beliefs do not disappear in a few generations because they have been suppressed by force. The case of Muslim Central Asia is instructive: A population indoctrinated into strict communist ideology for decades has now become a fertile source of jihadists for extremist groups everywhere. And Turkey, which was the most successful example of top-down secularization in the Muslim world, is rapidly moving back to the old ways before our eyes. The Chinese experiment goes on, but there are too many differences for it to apply directly to Pakistan.

    It is also important to realize that, in today’s complex world, the state can only make a limited impact in trying to change society. Any change towards a moderate, enlightened Pakistan must come from the people. I believe that this is very possible, because most of the people who live in the country come from an open-minded tradition, and still celebrate it in many aspects of their culture. The role of the state should be to reconnect people to that tradition, and to remove, as far as possible, the factors that impede this reconnection. It is also futile to propose radical ideas such as declaring Pakistan a secular state or immediately normalizing all relations with India. Sensible as these ideas may be, they will take root only if they develop organically within the society rather than being imposed in Kemalist fashion. The key is that the trajectory of Pakistan must be changed – both by its people and by the state. What the people must do is a complex topic that I will leave for another time, but here is
    a (necessarily incomplete) to-do list:

    Implement fundamental reforms in the educational system
    Educational curricula at all levels should be changed to emphasize a modern, rational, inclusive world-view rather than the obscurantist, hyper-nationalist, mythologized and exclusivist narrative that exists today. This will require: a) Teaching real history rather than a fictional one; b) Focusing  broadly on world history rather than just on the history of Pakistan; c) Exposing students to the history of ideas, not just the history of events and personalities; d) Encouraging the habits of critical thinking and skeptical inquiry rather than a mindset of received certainties; and e) Emphasizing engagement with the world of human endeavor through the sciences, arts and humanities rather than immersing students in abstractions of religious dogma. Let young minds learn that what we make of this world depends on natural forces and human actions, and that morality comes from social responsibility rather than religious edicts.

    Highlight the diversity of interpretations within Islam rather than supporting a single orthodoxy
    Contrary to popular myth, puritanical beliefs are not the only standard ones held by Muslims through the centuries. They often come from more recent interpretations by the clerical class to whom the public has ceded all religious interpretation. If there’s one thing that the state must do to combat extremism, it would be to change this religious narrative. At the present time, the amount of pure hate preached from pulpits and taught in seminaries all over the Muslim world is mind-boggling. Ordinary people who live immersed in this miasma are easily conditioned to accept such beliefs as part of their faith. The state must provide alternatives to this – not by creating some new “official version” of Islam, but simply by highlighting the many interpretations of Islam that have been held in Muslim societies throughout history. Extremism does not come naturally to human beings, and exposure to the truth will always bring moderation.

    Combat the cult of death by respect for life
    The terrorists thrive on the idea of embracing death in the hope of rewards in the hereafter. This allows them to devalue the lives of everyone who disagrees with them. The best way to combat this is to oppose it with a system that values all human lives- not just Muslim lives. There is vast justification for this within the Islamic tradition, but it needs to be codified into the law of the land. The political rhetoric must also change accordingly from exclusivist to inclusive –emphasizing equal respect for all communities within society. Most importantly, the state must not allow the use of hate speech to stoke violence against any group. A bright line must be drawn between personal free speech, which should be protected, and incitement, which must be curtailed. People should be free to express hateful views as individuals, but not from pulpits or in public forums. And under no circumstances must the institutions of the state be perceived as supporting or condoning such speech. Let the purveyors of hate live, but as social and official pariahs.

    Unify the structures of government around service to society
    No state can survive if it is at war with itself. The current situation where power groups within the government act to advance their own narrow agendas has to change, and all these groups have to align themselves towards a single purpose. In a modern state, this purpose can only be service to society at large. Each institution will play a different part in this, but all must agree on the same principles. Ideally, these must come from the elected civilian leadership, but if they must be negotiated with greater participation from the military and other institutions, so be it. The core element that must not be sacrificed is a system of mutual checks and balance between the institutions of power.

    Stop using militants as “strategic assets”
    There is a long and instructive history of societies using mercenary militant groups as weapons against their opponents. In almost all such cases, the militants turned against their patrons at catastrophic cost to the latter. The classic example of this in Muslim history is the invitation of the fundamentalist Berber group Al-Muraabitoon (Almoravids) by Muslim rulers in Spain to fight against their Christian foes. The group did fight Christians effectively, but also found their own Muslim sponsors insufficiently Islamic and proceeded to destroy them. A similar process has unfolded in Pakistan, where extremist groups have been nurtured as “strategic assets” by hyper-nationalist forces within the power structure, mainly for use against arch-foe India, to (unsuccessfully) create a zone of influence in Afghanistan and possibly to combat the influence of Shi’a Iran. Like wild beasts kept as pets, these groups are now devouring their keepers.  It should be easy to decide that this strategy has failed, and to stop feeding the beasts, but this will require giving up dreams of an Indian reconquista and a new caliphate. Recent reports (pre-Peshawar) suggest that this has not yet happened.

    Stop promoting conspiracy theories and blaming others
    It is tempting for any individual or group to ascribe their problems to circumstances beyond their control, but enough already with conspiracy theories! Even today, after the TTP have loudly accepted responsibility for Peshawar, “responsible” people are out in the media blaming the massacre on India.
    Pakistan does have real enemies, but most of what ails it has come from its own misguided policies. The Crusader-Zionist-Brahmin axis, the CIA-Mossad-RAW alliance, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the ubiquitous “foreign hand”, the impending arrival of “Dajjal” (the Antichrist), secret atmospheric weapons (HAARP) causing floods and earthquakes, 9/11 trutherism – these and many other outlandish conspiracy theories rife in Pakistan serve only to distract people from the real authors of their woes. Ultimately, these can only be combated by a better educational system, but to the extent that these theories are promoted by specific power groups for their own narrow agendas, they can be controlled at the source. The institutions themselves should develop cultures where propagating such conspiracy theories is cause for ridicule. In particular, the nexus between religious fantasies and conspiracy theories must be broken.

    Engage with the world
    The wonderful world we live in is the best teacher and moderator of humans. A big factor behind the profusion of outlandish ideas in Pakistani society is disengagement from the world. While the Internet and social media have brought people closer across traditional barriers, this is a distorted connection at best. More Pakistanis – especially young people – need to experience the diversity of the world first-hand. The best way to do that is for the government to support international travel and exchange programs for youth, which would allow students of high school and college age to spend significant time in other countries – notably those which are seen with the greatest suspicion, i.e., India and Western countries. Such exposure at an impressionable age will give Pakistani youth a real sense of the world and its pluralism, making it more difficult for obscuranist forces to infect their minds with thoughts of jihad and martyrdom.

    As I write this, the outrage is still pouring in, but it is too early to know if any of the changes suggested above will actually occur, or if the questions raised here will be answered honestly. The establishment has built the current structure with great effort, and there will be many who are still reluctant to let go. To these, the people of Pakistan must speak loud and clear: The time for vacillation is over. The cause is clear and the enemy obvious. Those who still obfuscate these issues must be consigned to the garbage-can of history. 

    The urgency of the hour notwithstanding, real change will take time – decades and generations, not months and years, and most of it will come from the people, not the state. Much will change during this time in ways that we cannot imagine today, and not always for the better. The war that is underway now is unlikely to be short, and though its details may still remain in flux, it is critical to acknowledge the nature of this war. It is not a war between believers and unbelievers, Shi’as and Sunnis, or the West and the Muslim world. It is a war between two visions of life and death;  not a clash of civilizations, but a war for civilization. On one side are nihilists who value their beliefs more than the lives of their fellow humans, see this world as ephemeral, and seek their rewards in the hereafter. On the other are those who do care for other human beings and, however imperfectly, want to understand and improve this world. No society interested in thriving can possibly choose the nihilist side over the long term, even if it is dressed up in the garb of faith. Therefore, I will go out on a limb and predict that the day will come when Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, China, Russia, the United States and many others will all fight as allies against an amorphous jihadist threat stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. It may take ten years, or twenty, to get there, but that’s where things are going whether we like it or not, and we will all need to decide which side we stand on.

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  • 12/20/14--13:57: Waiting in Bethlehem

  • Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
                                                                       W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming (1919)

    Yeats wrote his great poem almost a century ago in the aftermath of the most calamitous war Europe had ever seen, but it could have been written for today’s Pakistan. The blood-dimmed tide is indeed loose, the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity. But after the tragedy in Peshawar on December 16, there is a change in the atmosphere. Convictions – or at least expressions of conviction – are stronger, and the intensity more widespread. As if woken from a slumber of years, people all over the country, who had been waiting for God to change things, are rubbing their eyes and questioning their assumptions. It is the kind of moment where great changes can indeed happen. But we know that the moment will pass – is already passing – and the tide that needs to be taken at the flood will soon begin to recede. What Pakistan needs today is real leadership that can fundamentally alter the course of this society. Who can provide that leadership?

    The traditional – one could easily say “hereditary” – political class of the country is so devoid of vision and so complicit in the status quo that any expectation of radical change from it is futile. At best, it may offer incremental improvement if it can be induced to look up from its narrow interests. Realizing this, many people are now looking to the military to provide leadership, but it can only do so in certain areas. It is the ideal instrument for waging actual war on the terrorists who attack the state, and by all accounts, it is doing so with great energy. The current top military leadership – ultimately inscrutable as always – seems to be exceptionally focused, sensible and professional. But the real change that is needed in Pakistan is societal change – a change of mindset, attitudes and values – and militaries are incapable by their nature of leading such a change. Societies where social organization has been handed over to militaries have always become repressive, violent, misogynistic and paranoid. The culture of unquestioning obedience and hypervigilance that enables an army to fight successfully as a coherent force does not transfer to complex civilian society without squeezing out almost all that is valuable from it. Mercifully, the current military leadership in Pakistan seems to recognize its professional role, though the temptation to go beyond it must be great at this moment.

    Recently, a third force has arisen is Pakistan – the “New Pakistan” movement led by Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre, and given Imran Khan’s previous overtures towards the Taliban, this movement seems rather irrelevant now. Imran Khan implied as much when he called off his sit-in outside Parliament on December 17. However, this did not have to be the case. Societal change requires, above all, changing the attitudes of the young and the educated middle classes. Those are exactly the segments where Imran Khan had – still has – the greatest following. It also requires commitment, and his followers are committed. As such, of all the potential leaders in Pakistan, Imran Khan was in the best position to actually lead the change that this moment demands. But, tragically, he has yet to show that he has the vision and character to do this. Everything he has said so far in the aftermath of the tragedy has struck even his followers as self-serving and weak. If social media and anecdotal evidence are to be believed, his movement is deflating rapidly, which is a pity – and I say this as a staunch opponent of the movement. For all its vices, it was – is – a real movement driven by commitment rather than self-interest, which is a rare thing in Pakistan. Its problems came mainly from the top, but the movement itself could be a great vehicle of social transformation if its energies were diverted from such petty things as shouting down politicians and harassing opponents to the greater cause of changing hearts and minds. I believe that the foot-soldiers of the movement are ready for that, but unfortunately, the leadership is not. Contrary to popular belief, I think that the tragedy in Peshawar could have been an opportunity rather than a setback for Imran Khan, but only if he had the character to admit his mistakes and change direction. So far, there is no evidence of that.

    A friend recently responded to some cynical comments by saying “It’s too early to be pessimistic.” Perhaps, but I think it is equally true to say that it’s too early to be optimistic. What will happen in Pakistan over the coming days, weeks and months is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the military will decide that the times are too critical for it to indulge the vacillations of civilian leadership, and take over. Or perhaps the current crop of politicians – Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or others – will discover some hidden reserves of wisdom and resolve within themselves. Or – hope springing eternal – perhaps new young leaders will emerge from civil society to ignite the change. But perhaps none of these things will happen and Pakistan will continue on its current course after a time of mourning for all those young, heroic lives lost on December 16. If so, it may be a good idea to think upon the rest of Yeats’ poem:

        Surely some revelation is at hand;
        Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
        The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
        When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
        Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
        A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
        A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
        Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
        Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

        The darkness drops again but now I know
        That twenty centuries of stony sleep
        Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
        And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
        Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    How ready are we for that rough beast?

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    The following is a note from Ajmal Kamal (who edits the Urdu literary magazine Aaj, runs City Press in Karachi, and is an institution in his own right). Comments welcome. My own first thought (reflective of my current obsessions) is at the end of this note...

    If you have attended this year the two events that mark the pinnacle of Karachi’s book culture – the Karachi Literature Festival and the Karachi International Book Fair – you may have noticed that these two well-attended public events are not looking at each other at all. In fact, the situation may seem to mirror the split in our country’s social fabric that is becoming more brutally evident by the day.

    The KLF enthusiastically promotes books and authors from Pakistan that link the national literary activity with the international book trade scene, a la the pioneering Jaipur Literature Festival on the other side of the border. Both the KLF and JLF are commonly criticized for the fact that they are rather unfairly tilted towards the desi literature produced in English at the cost of the literature of ‘local’ languages. To be fair, KLF, being sensitive to the accusation of being elitist, has strived to give a gradually increasing exposure to Urdu literature, even if the languages relegated to ‘regional’ status – Sindhi, Punjabi, Saraiki, Balochi and Pushto - still get only a token representation. However, the primary concern of such events remains the English language writing.

    Similar is the case, for example, of the weekly review magazine Books and Authors, brought out by the prime national English daily Dawn. Till some time ago, it reserved two pages exclusively for reviewing local language publications (including, mainly, Urdu books); now one of the two pages has been taken away as the weekly column by Intizar Husain has been shifted from the main newspaper to the B&A.

    The Book Fair, on the other hand – despite the prefix ‘international’ with its name – may be taken to present a more realistic picture of what is actually going on in the national market of reading material. Provided, of course, someone bothers to look and ponder.  The fair is an annual event organized by the country’s publishers and booksellers, driven by their legitimate commercial interest. Anyone visiting the fair at Expo Centre on the University Road can notice one basic fact: Urdu books promoting a delusional political ideology – flaunting an unmistakably religious-sectarian colour – dominate the printed material displayed, bought and sold here. As for the ‘regional’ languages, they are conspicuous by their near absence at the fair – they seem to have little market, maybe because they have failed to become efficient vehicles for the seemingly dominant ideology mentioned above. But that is just a guess.

    We, the common consumers of reading material, have little option except to make guesses. Because our infinitely creative writers represented and privileged in the events like the literature festivals  – using English, Urdu or any other language – appear to be as clueless as their readers about this intriguing phenomenon, aptly named ‘English-Urdu Bipolarity  Syndrome in Pakistan’ by C. M. Naim, Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago. (

    Incidentally, it was Prof. Naim who wrote an enlightening piece (‘Mothers of the Lashkar’, included in his book A Killing in Ferozewala: Essays/Polemics/Reviews; 2013, Karachi, City Press) about a book called Ham Ma’en Lashkar-e Taiba ki (We, the Mothers of the Lashkar-e Taiba). The three-volume Urdu book was brought out by Dar-ul Andulus, Lahore, presumably the publications wing of the jihadi outfit; many portions of this book also appeared in the Lashkar’s journal called Mujalla Al-Da’wa. Containing accounts of the young men (narrated by their mothers) who sacrificed their lives in the Qital fi sabeelillah, several editions of the three volumes (each printing consisting of 1100 copies) came out between 1998 and 2003 and reached their enthusiastic buyers.

    How many of the established and upcoming writers – custodians of literature in Pakistan – have cared to know about this and – trust me, countless – other such publications? How many have dared to make sense of what is going on outside their ivory towers for the benefit of their readers or listeners at the well-attended festivals? Hardly anyone. I think they prefer to ignore the whole damn thing.
    Ignorance, as they say, is a choice.

    Be that as it may, the fact is that, even before the true stories of the jihadi martyrs and their proud mothers came out and were read with interest, literature with this kind of worldview has been attracting a large number of writers ever since the printing press was introduced in the northern Subcontinent. It has consistently increased and influenced its readership among the literate adults and minors in our country. What seems entirely logical is that, hand in hand with the much talked about school and college textbooks, it has managed to define and shape the way an average Pakistani Urdu reader looks at the world around him.

    One can make a list of names by visiting any big bookshop in Karachi’s Urdu Bazar, or even a roadside newspaper stand in the Saddar area. Names made prominent by the numerous editions of their books picked up by their fans. Nasim Hijazi, Tariq Ismail Saagar, Inayatullah (of the BRB Behti Rahe Gi fame), Ishfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Mohammad Ilyas, Umaira Ahmed – the list cannot hope to be exhaustive. What do their books say to their readers? Let me make an awkward attempt at summarizing the worldview that they sincerely believe in, inculcate and promote. Here goes.

    Muslims came to the Subcontinent (from Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Andalusia, the Balkans, wherever) to spread Islam in this infidel region and rule here. They (we) ruled Hindustan for a glorious thousand years, after which – because we had become deficient in our religious piety and jihad – we were thrown out of power by the imperialist British. When it was time for the White colonialists to return the lost thrown to us, the wicked non-Muslims (comprising more than 75 percent in the subcontinent, mind it) tried to impose democratic politics to keep us Muslims – born to dominate the world in the name of Allah – deprived of our right to rule India permanently. We defeated them by dividing India and making Pakistan – the fortress of Islam – from where we’ll carry on the jihad to rule not only the entire South Asia but also Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond. Meanwhile, the foreign enemies (others) are conspiring – with connivance of the enemies inside us (internal others such as our religious and sectarian minorities and their misguided sympathizers) – to defeat our sacred struggle. But we’ll continue to make ourselves (and our women, especially) religiously purer, stronger in faith and sensitive to the conspiracies around us. Once we overcome our enemies, after killing them in large numbers and sacrificing many of our own, we will impose the will of Allah on our land and beyond.

    Mad dream? Maybe. But this is what is reflected in our national goals and policies, not to mention our textbooks, quite matter-of-factly. And our popular literature. Take Ishtiaq Ahmed, for example. He is the celebrated author of hundreds of novels for our Urdu-reading adolescents. This may be news to some that the last page of his typical novel is reserved for creating ‘awareness’ among its young readers about the existential threat the non-Muslim citizens of our country – Christians, Hindus, Shias and Ahmadis (‘Qadianis’) – pose to our religious-nationalist cause.

    Our creative writers have as much right as we, their readers, do to be surprised at the direction our country’s politics has taken, and to mourn the fact that their sincere voice of sanity has been reduced to look like a lunatic fringe in today’s Pakistan. This is precisely what they – and their readers – look like from the opposite angle. Our writers have, collectively, failed to challenge what has now developed into our national narrative, and in turn, have been reduced to an ineffective minority voice.

    What is even worse, we find echoes of support in our literature – especially Urdu literature – for parts of this dangerous narrative. After all, this mad dream was sold, in the first place, to popular writers – and our political and military leaders – by this very elite class that prides itself at being our intelligentsia. The idea that Muslims came to India from some foreign land, purposefully promoted by our cultural leaders, created an attitude of looking with contempt at everything that was local: literary forms and critical standards, cultural norms, festivals, modes of being, and, above all, languages.

    The drift of the established literary criticism, for instance, has been to advise the creative writer to avoid the local and the ordinary, and focus on the so-called universal and international, which would get him a place in the sun. Lately, the dastan fiction has received a lot of uncritical admiration – even glorification –despite the fact that the dastan narrative typically revolves around Muslim conquests of infidel lands, massacre and forced conversion of non-Muslims, and the deft use of the converted Muslims against the infidels as killers, spies and terrorists. Let’s not mention the sickening misogyny of the dastanshere. All this campaign to glorify dastans bypasses the fact that this kind of worldview has provided meat to, for example, Nasim Hijazi’s novels that have, in turn, been a great inspiration (besides Allama Iqbal) for characters like Zaid Hamid who can be seen promoting Ghazwa-e Hind and worse on Pakistani TV channels.

    Even in the Muslim journalism and politics in the Subcontinent, imported issues were actively promoted to suppress the real issues of real people here. I’d mention just one example: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) started to publish his weekly Al-Hilal from Calcutta in 1912, using the state-of-the-art printing technology of those days, to make people aware of the wars in the Balkans and North Africa that the dying Muslim imperial power – the Ottoman Empire – was fighting and losing. Let alone Calcutta and Bengal, even the entire colonized India found no mention in the celebrated magazine except as a bastion of support for the Muslim conquerors of European and African lands! (The weeklyZamindar of Lahore followed the same line.) This ‘media campaign’ later resulted in the huge Khilafat Movement (1919-1922) just before Turkey itself decided to formally end the Ottoman Empire. However, the energy generated among Muslims by the movement was duly channelized during the next two decades in favour of the Partition of the Subcontinent and the establishment of Pakistan – which, as you know, would one day re-conquer India, fly the green flag on Delhi’s Red Fort, and, God-willing, rule the world.

    As for languages, Persian was considered the symbol of Muslim culture in the Subcontinent until the British colonialists replaced it, during 1860s, with English at higher levels of education and administration and with local vernaculars at the lower levels. The Muslim elites did not hesitate before abandoning Persian and adopting English, within a space of merely two generations. Even Urdu was ‘created’ out of its local origin – Hindi – to look like an imported language with its Perso-Arabic script, a profusion of Persian and Arabic expressions, and an active campaign to ‘exclude’ – declaring matrook – a large number of local words and expressions. Then this specially crafted Urdu was handed over to the lower classes to keep alive and teach their children in, making them less employable in the process. Meanwhile, you can come across any number of people from this elite or even nouveau riche class who would gladly inform you that their children can neither speak nor read Urdu (let alone Punjabi, Sindhi and other local languages). So, the only language they can use now is English in which, no doubt, they can talk to their ilk, but it is equally certain that they can neither talk to those common people of Pakistan who have been made hostage to the mad dream, nor understand the starry-eyed lunatic fringe that has come to dominate the mainstream of our culture and politics.

    They can, however, express their shock – mostly in English – at the proliferation of madrassas and horrendous terrorist crimes against modern schools, their teachers and students, and citizens of this country. Nobody in his right mind expects our writers to come up with a ‘counter-narrative’ – since they have not only ignored the development of the dominant narrative but have been ambivalent about – even supportive to –parts of the mad dream that has come to obsess us.

    Comment (from Omar Ali): Outstanding! 
    I think it is worth noting that this "mainstream narrative" is not (or was not) mainstream in the sense of "common current thought of the majority". The majority of the population in Punjab, Sindh etc lives (or lived until very recently) in a very different universe. But a section of the relatively narrow Indian Muslim elite had a certain notion of themselves as the descendants of the Turko-Afghan ruling class. Within this (frequently illusory ) notion were embedded other ideas of intrinsic superiority and Islamic solidarity. These notions interacted with (or led to) events like the Khilafat movement and the rise of Allama Iqbal style delusions about the Muslim Ummah and it's historic role and destiny on the one hand, and the rise of Hindu identity politics on the other, to create the idea of Pakistan. This in turn got enmeshed in the political twists and turns of the Muslim League and it's supremely egotistical "great leader" and somehow we stumbled into Pakistan. 
    What that all means and where it should go is not fully settled even now, but in West Pakistan at least, the ruling elite promoted (or acquisced in) this "Delhi Sultanate as our charter state"narrative fairly early, and it is now the narrative that rules the textbooks and the official "Paknationalist" ideological current. At the same time, highly Westernized sections of this already narrow elite have also acquired new Western concepts (post-Marxist Western "Left", Postmodernism, Postcolonial theory, etc) that are completely disconnected from this whole shebang but sit on top of it in a weird (and often surreal) dysequilibrium. It is this Eurocentric section that mostly runs the book festivals. It is the larger (but also relatively recent) Paknationalist current that dominates the textbooks and the world of popular Urdu writing, and then there is the even larger majority of ordinary western Indian (as in people of the Western parts of India) peasants and tribal people who are only now assimilating this historical and cultural framework into their daily life and in whom it may be skin deep, but (thanks to modern factory education and media) is Pakistan-wide. 
    And let us not forget another VERY tiny but previously influential section: the "traditional" Urdu literati, some of whom created or nurtured the Delhi-Sultanate narrative while others enthusiastically adopted the last Western import to become popular among newly Western educated Afro-Asian elites (i.e. "classical" Marxism); but all of whom were also based within a Persian-literate (and Arabic literate for that matter) classical Hindustani elite culture whose intellectual world may have had some role in the creation of Pakistaniat but who are so far from it's current popular and/or military manifestations that the connection no longer evokes strong loyalty from either party. Their sad tale of decay and woe is a sub-genre all it's own. 
    Interesting times.  

    To see what this moronic narrative looks like, here is Pakistan's premier TV channel (GEO) , Mashallah, shameless morons 

    Once Again Invitation To Sectarian Violence ak472522

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  • 12/30/14--03:49: A hectic holiday season
  • I trust everyone had a good holiday season. December happens to be a particularly hectic month for me as the exact first half is my birthday, followed my parent's wedding anniversary then the Iranian Christmas of Yalda and then the traditional Holiday Season.

    It's interesting that Christmas has a remarkable effect in the UK of strengthening the national culture. It is almost mandatory catch-up with relatives time (I believe Thanksgiving has more of that role in the US). 

    Other than that my friend Rahul M has a new post up on his blog on David Beckham's latest drink Haig:

    A whisky brought to you by David Beckham and Simon Fuller working along side Diageo present Haig Club. Although I don’t quite know how that works since David Beckham doesn’t actually drink. Well putting that to one side for the moment, Haig Club is a sweet single grain Scotch whisky that comes from Camorenbridge Distillery the oldest grain distillery in Scotland. This whisky is certainly different, not only because of its unique taste but because of its main market.

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  • 10/20/14--23:40: "we are muslims"
  • ...“We have source besides the (Pakistan) army…people in Kashmir are fighting....just need to incite them....we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front and back....we are Muslims”.....

    This is true, there is a hot war going on right now in Kashmir and all the familiar arguments (pro-war, pro-peace) are being re-hashed. It is time to examine them anew.

    We have ex President/General Musharrafnoting that the path to freedom in Kashmir involves inciting Kashmiri Muslims to launch an intifada. He is confident that the inherent strength in the "we are muslims" argument will (finally) lead to the vanquishing of a half-million strong Indian army.

    Short response: Our opinion is that the only feasible way forward in Kashmir is to bring Indian civil society on-side by impressing on the moral arguments about self-rule. For that two things (at the minimum) need to happen. First, there has to be a popular consensus in India that meaningful peace is possible with Pakistan. As of now, only Pranay Sharma (see below) and a few committed leftists believe in this. Any Pak incitement will only lead to more Kashmiri deaths (and a rise in popularity of Modi).

    Second, moral arguments are not convincingly made by (or on behalf of) people who do not have any inherent faith in them. Large sections of Kashmiri muslims rejoiced when the Pandits left. The argument is simple: get rid of the people (minorities) and the land is yours to enjoy for all times. As originally battle-tested by the proponents of the two nation theory, this winner-takes-all argument has been a winning one all across South Asia. Today in Hindu majority Telangana, the man in charge compares himself favorably to Hitler (see link below) and wants to chase away all Andhra people (also Hindu majority and Telugu speaking).

    Thus to win the argument Kashmiri muslims (and their well-wishers such as Musharraf and a Hindu Brahmin like Vishal Bharadwaj) have to stipulate that suppression of the weak by the strong is wrong. But Musharraf is not making that argument. He is claiming that victory will come from Pak army fighting outside-in, even as the Intifada fights inside out. This "we are muslims" dream helped in the birth of Pakistan and (seemingly) helps hold Pakistan together even now. But it will not help liberate Kashmir.

    Next, Bruce Riedel worries about a cross-border nuclear war and Pranay Sharma frets about Modi using "Pakistan card" to consolidate his power.

    It is interesting (and typical) to see how differently the two analysts read the same situation, while "neocon" Riedel points out that not responding to Pakistan's misadventures will encourage them to attack even more, "aman ki asha" Sharma is worried that a robust response from India will invite backlash from Pak (we think both predictions are correct, an ideological response holds constant regardless of the counter-response).

    India has a no-first strike policy on nuclear weapons. Thus the only way a nuclear war happens is if Pakistan initiates a strike. Two things are for sure. First this will not happen without Chinese authorization and that seems unlikely. After all India CAN launch a nuclear missile on Beijing (it is a bit closer to home than MARS). Doomsday scenarios are fun to discuss but beyond the recycled concerns we doubt there is anything fresh to ponder upon.

    Second, if Pakistan does strike it will be also the end of Pakistan as a nation. We know that the Pak army has a long history of being irresponsible, but we doubt they are suicidal. 

    Former president General Pervez Musharraf on Thursday said Pakistan needs to incite those fighting in Kashmir, India Today reported.   
    “We have source (in Kashmir) besides the (Pakistan) army…People in Kashmir are fighting against (India). We just need to incite them,” Musharraf told a TV channel.
    Musharraf, who assumed power in 1999 soon after the Kargil conflict as hostilities erupted between Indian and Pakistani troops in the area, claimed that the Pakistan army is ready for war with India. But he cautioned India against any misadventure.
    “India should not be under the illusion that Pakistan will not hit back,” he warned.
    “In Kashmir, we can fight with the (Indian) army from both the front and back…We are Muslims. We will not show the other cheek when we are slapped. We can respond tit for tat,” he said, while commenting on the recent firing along the Line of Control and working boundary.
    At least 12 people have been killed since India resorted to ‘unprovoked’ firing on the border.
    “Modi is anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. He has not changed. The problem is with us… We are running to attend his (Modi) inauguration, we should keep our dignity.”

    Let us be absolutely clear on this: the only person who has no dignity left over Kashmir is Ex-P/G Musharraf. He has been exposed as a person who was betraying his allies in the West and (specifically looking at Kargil) betraying his own (Muslim) troops.

    The argument that democracy (even if imperfectly) should come to all corners of South Asia (and the near-abroad) is a powerful one.

    But then Pakistan as the worst case offender should repair the democracy deficit urgently and teach big brother a "peaceful lesson" in how democracy works, starting with (muslim) people in "Azad Kashmir". Unfortunately there is not a chance of that happening anytime soon, not in Pakistan, but also not in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Iran, Afghanistan, and China. And we will be very surprised if Ex-P/G Musharraf will ever come to a position where his opinion counts for anything, except as a measure of what his fellow citizens think (and dream).

    India and Pakistan have fought four wars since 1947 and had several crises that went to the brink of war. Both tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Now tensions are escalating between the two again.
    It began in May, when a heavily armed squad of Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar e Tayyiba (Army of the Pure) attacked India’s consulate in Herat, in western Afghanistan. They planned to massacre Indian diplomats on the eve of the inauguration of India’s new Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi. The consulate’s security forces killed the LeT terrorists first, preventing a crisis.
    Since LeT is a proxy of Pakistan's military intelligence service known as the ISI, Indian intelligence officials assume the Herat attack was coordinated with higher-ups in Pakistan.  They assume another LeT attack is only a matter of time.  They are probably right on both counts.

    This summer, clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops have escalated along the ceasefire line in Kashmir. Called “the Line of Control,” the Kashmiri front line this year has witnessed the worst exchanges of artillery and small arms fire in a decade, displacing hundreds of civilians on both sides. More than 20 have died in the crossfire already this month. Modi has ordered his army commanders to strike back hard at the Line of Control to demonstrate Indian resolve.
    Although Modi made a big gesture in May when he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration, since then Modi has canceled routine diplomatic talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and signaled a tough line toward terrorism. He also appointed a very experienced intelligence chief, Ajit Doval as his national security adviser. Doval is known as a hard-liner on terrorism—and on Pakistan.

    Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party strongly criticized his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, for what it saw as a weak response to LeT’s attack on Mumbai in 2008. No military action was taken after 10 LeT terrorists, armed and trained by the ISI, killed and wounded hundreds of innocents, including six American dead.
    In 2001, a previous BJP government mobilized the Indian military for months after a Pakistan-based terror attack on the Indian parliament. The two countries were eyeball to eyeball in a tense standoff for almost a year. Two years before that, the two countries fought a war in Kashmir around the town of Kargil.
    In the 1999 Kargil War, the Pakistani army crossed the LOC to seize mountain heights controlling a key highway in Kashmir. BJP Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee responded with airstrikes and ground forces. The Indian navy prepared to blockade Karachi, Pakistan’s major port and its critical choke point for importing oil. A blockade would have rapidly cut off Pakistan from oil supplies. The Indian navy was so eager to strike it had to be restrained by the high command.
    The Pakistanis began losing the fight at Kargil. Then they put their nuclear forces on high alert. President Bill Clinton pressured Nawaz Sharif (the prime minister then and now) into backing down at a crucial summit at Blair House on July 4, 1999. If Clinton had not persuaded Sharif to withdraw behind the LOC, the war would have escalated further, perhaps to a nuclear exchange.
    Kargil is a good paradigm for what a future crisis might look like. A BJP government is not likely to turn the other cheek. It cannot afford to let terror attacks go unpunished. That would encourage more.
    The difference between the Kargil War and today is that both India and Pakistan now have far more nuclear weapons and delivery systems than 15 years ago. Pakistan is developing tactical nuclear weapons and has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world. China provides Pakistan with its nuclear reactors. India has missiles that can reach all of Pakistan and even to Beijing. The escalatory ladder is far more terrifying than it was on the eve of the millennium.
    For retreating in 1999, Sharif was overthrown in a coup by the army commander, Pervez Musharraf, who had planned the Kargil War. Now Musharraf is calling for Sharif to stand up to Modi and not be pushed around by India. The main opposition party leader, Bilawal Bhutto, has called for a tough line defending Kashmiri Muslim rights, promising to take “every inch” of Kashmir for Pakistan if he is elected prime minister in the future. Sharif is under pressure from another party leader, Imran Khan, to resign. The politics on both sides in South Asia leave little room for compromise or dialogue.

    America is seen in South Asia as a power in decline, a perception fueled by the Afghan War. U.S. influence in New Delhi and Islamabad is low. A Clinton-like intervention to halt an escalation will be a tough act to follow. But the consequences of a nuclear exchange are almost too horrible to contemplate.


    The hype notwithstanding, Narendra Modi’s ‘tough’ line on Pakistan, as reflected in the fortnight-long firing across the Line of Control and the International Border by Indian and Pakistani soldiers, sets a dangerous precedent.
    A flag meeting that could have ended the firing between the rival troops earlier than it did was put off because of India. Officials in New Delhi justify the Indian stand to argue that it was to prevent Pakistan from embarking on similar ‘adventurism’ in the future. In the process, however, this also opens up space for India’s own ‘adventurism’ which it can adopt in dealing with other smaller neighbours as well.
    To his myriad supporters, Modi’s hard stand against Pakistan is something that was long needed. In Modi they see an Indian leader who has finally decided to set the parameters of engaging with Pakistan in a manner that is both effective and couched in terms that the neighbour can well understand.
    However, despite the prevailing mood of belligerence in the country, especially among the prime minister’s admirers, the Modi government’s policy of how to deal with Pakistan raises some serious concerns.
    There are clear indications that much of India’s tough response was fashioned by Modi to shore up his image domestically, especially before the crucial assembly elections in Maharastra and Haryana. According to a report in the Economic Times, during the entire period of firing at the border, Modi did not convene a single meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The decision to escalate the Indian response to the Pakistani firing was taken solely by the Indian prime minister and his national security advisor Ajit Doval, a former Intelligence Bureau chief.

    Modi decided to refer to the developments at the border and the tough stand his government took several times during his campaigns in Maharashtra and Haryana. This clearly shows that irrespective of the death of several people, including hapless civilians living near the border areas, the prime minister continued with his tough line to raise his own stock and brighten the chances of his party’s victory in the two assembly elections.
    But the willingness to adopt such a stand and to use Pakistan to build his own image can have negative implications. One, its success may encourage him to play the Pakistan card every time he finds himself in a spot and needs to boost his image with his countrymen at home. Two, Pakistan can play this game of brinkmanship as well in future, with dangerous consequences. 

    Whether or not it results in a war between the two nuclear-armed countries, heightened tension between the hostile neighbors will surely scare off potential investors from India and derail India’s project of economic development.
    More importantly, a tough, confrontational line drastically reduces the diplo­matic space to resolve differences through peaceful negotiations between the two countries. The precedent Modi is setting can also send a negative signal to India’s smaller neighbors in South Asia. If they continue to feel nervous about India, they may end up moving closer to China—the other big power in the region. And surely the Indian leadership would not desire a possible scenario where India gets isolated in South Asia. For the sake of its own development and growth, India needs a peaceful neighborhood, particularly in South Asia.
    The Indian prime minister will therefore have to go back from where he started—by reaching out to India’s immediate neighbours. A policy that not only ensures a peaceful neighbourhood but also allows the space for others to grow and develop with India may turn out to be much more effective in dealing with neighbours. Modi may as well show his strength by taking the ‘tough’ political decision to reach out to Pakistan and resume his engagement with the recalcitrant neighbour.

    Suffice to say the Congress govt followed Sharma's prescription and lost respect on the international stage and politically at home. Sharma makes the economic point that investments in India will suffer in case of escalation in conflicts but then where were these investments in the peacetime of 2009-2014?

    Also, as is clear from the recent state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, Modi will keep winning due to a complete vacuum in the opposition ranks. Congress is finished, Mayawati also looks finished. Modi has been accepted as an OBC (Shudra) leader by Indians drawing from all sections of society. India is also an OBC nation by a large majority...thus we have a truly strange situation where powerful OBC communities like Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, Marathas in Maharashtra, and Jats in Haryana opposing Modi (and he will still win).

    As far as the muslims are concerned the in-fighting between the "secular" parties have left them without any sure source of political patronage. The understandable reaction has been to vote for "communal" parties like AIMIM headed by the odious Akbaruddin Owaisi. Unfortunately, this will lead to even more marginalization. Strategically, it would make much more sense for muslims to vote for the BJP and make it bend to minority demands (this is starting to happen in some strange Kerala and in West Bengal).

    It is early days yet but Modi is transforming into Indira Gandhi (it is a good thing that he has no sons to hand over the baton when the time comes). The weakness of Man Mohan Singh was that the public knew that he was a puppet. So yes, India will not turn the "other cheek" as the provocations keep coming...and Pakistan becomes more and more isolated as a nation with no friends.

    Finally, Pranay Sharma knows this well: small neighbors of India seem to be working much better with Modi than the small neighbors of China. Not to mention how the Iran-Pak border has become hot as well as Iranian soldiers violate borders and shoot down Sunni insurgents. It also seems that Afghanistan will not remain passive if ISI continues with the "incite muslims" strategy.

    So all in all, even the strongest opponents of Modi are only peddling weak arguments. We have to look harder for better leaders and better arguments (since we are pro-peace after all) but right now all we see is Modi all around us (even if with a broom and a dusting-pan).


    Link (1):

    Link (2):

    Link (3):

    Link (4):


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  • 01/05/15--05:00: Power of the Monarchy
  • If Baby Prince George has a daughter then potentially we could see British history repeating itself uniquely in one single family (the Windsors)

    Victoria - longest reigning monarch (Hanoverian)
    Edward VII - her son 10yr reign
    George V - his soon 20yr reign
    George VI - 15yr
    Elizabeth II - potentially longest reign monarch
    Charles III - say around 10yrs
    William IX - 15yr
    Baby George -
    First child of Baby George (either boy or girl will ascend to the throne regardless

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    RUSSELL: When I look back on my own career and the history of British and American diplomacy, one of our biggest mistakes has been to underestimate religion’s huge galvanizing power. We should not try to reduce religion to politics and economics and assume that people are doing things for reasons we immediately understand. We tend to think that fundamentalists will compromise, because they want more power. But some people don’t want power: They want to go to heaven! We underestimate the sincerity of their beliefs, and for that reason we underestimate the threat they can pose to the kinds of societies we might want to see.

    Inside the Middle East’s vanishing ancient religions (

    The interviewee has just had an article up in the FT (a long, harmonious history that Islamists deny), which I'm not able to link to at the moment. 

    However I'm also copying a snapshot, who knows maybe tolerance will one day flourish in the Ummah as it once did.

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  • 01/06/15--06:12: Good Nutrition Good Life
  • The beautiful Samantha Gilbert lectures us on why we need to replace processed food with natural ones. I'm truly surprised by how little concern people take to nutrition.

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  • 01/09/15--04:05: markets today. 09.01.15
  • Main news items for today being that Greek debt is set to rise in the wake of the expected election in late Jan. If oil breaches $40 per barrel than all bets are off. Also important to see the last oil crash in 07-08 where oil dipped a $100 in 6months and then recovered over the next 2years back to 70% of boom levels.

    Yesterday was a broad and strong rally throughout the markets we have retooled our portfolio to become coupon-heavy however we have taken very strong African risk (adding to our position) and at the same time taking advantage of the turnaround ongoing at Tescos (shares rallied 15%). Non-farm payrolls set to emerge today would provide the tone to the US recovery while the EU is currently weighing active stimulus programs in the form of bond purchase.

    Other news is the precipitous decline in EURUSD it may even reach parity. EURO against other assets has really held up but the eventuality is that with the Eurozone considering quantitative easing & the US talking about the tenor of the recovery, divergence is expected. Finally of interest is Santander's big announcement about slashing dividends, which is the right way to conserve cash even though it disclaimed any interest in Banca Montei Paschi (consolidation in Euro-financial sector ongoing).

    Bonus on OIL THOUGHTS:

    Are we going to see a similar type of pattern where the long-term structural trend is cheap energy (despite the plethora of oil suppliers, Saudi Arabia is home to 80% of proven oil reserves and as Oil Minister Naimi mentioned is more interested in keeping a sustainable market while weeding out unsustainable producers, conveniently those like Russo-Iran etc, goodbye Scottish independence?)

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  • 01/09/15--07:04: Whose fault is it?
  • This sentiment emerged in conversation with a fellow Pakistani where I said "it's not the fault of Pakistan, it's the fault of Pakistanis."

    I've moved on with my life and live a fairly acculturated integrated life in blighty (where I think about rocks and climbing a bit too much for my own good). Even so I'm more interested in the pink pages of the FT than the broadsheets of the Daily Telegraph. However I have to see that we are simply seeing a meltdown in the Ummah.

    Does it affect me personally? Not especially since I'm ensconced in the West and the only real connections I have to Islam are my surname, my descent from Hazrat Ali & the fact that the Baha'i Faith find it's ultimately origins in the Shakyh sect.

    However I feel pity and sad that the mental shackles of the people of the Ummah blind them to the message of unity and peace that the rest of the world has already embraced (to varying degrees). It is the responsibility of Muslims in the West (who like all Diasporas eventually have outsized roles of influences) to really lead the drive to modernize tradition.

    When children are being picked off in schools, when journalist offices are shot down with impunity and now the ongoing hostage crisis in Paris emerging it seems that things are only getting worse and worse. Maybe I am too idealistic, perhaps I should take off my rose-tinted glasses from time to time (but experience has taught me life has so much to do with perspective) and it is too late for the gradual ongoing cultural exercises I used to embark on a couple of years ago.

    The BritPak community needs to cultivate home-grown, authentic leaders who can bridge the gulf between civilisations. I don't know who this cadre is but someone has to issue the call and it has to be a broad-based ecumenical effort. I'm on the UKIP-Tory spectrum because I believe in Britain & British values are resilient & adaptable enough for a modern world. However I always take heed in John Major's mangled Orwellian quote:

    Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, 'Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist' and, if we get our way, Shakespeare will still be read even in school.

    Those who believe in the above are always welcome to join Britain and the British enterprise.

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    • 01/10/15--01:07: Is caste system a curse

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    • 01/12/15--06:12: Starting the week
    • Where do we see the markets go from here? Well I for one think that despite the plunging price of crude oil we are seeing an ongoing recovery. It's always puzzled me that just how quickly the world has forgotten the Credit Crunch of 07-09 and that any recovery (from what was at the time the end of the financial system) was going to be a decade long.

      We are living in a new Imperial Age when the most exciting electoral prospect are Bush vs. Clinton (which Obama was only barely able to budge by 8years). At the end of the day the Central Banks are still continuing with the stimulus plans (especially in the Eurozone and GBP area where the Euro continues to weaken against the USD maybe all the way to parity?)

      Other than that where do I actually see oil go? I think we may see it plunge down to $30 even before recovering to the $40-50 format. The commodity story isn't going to go anywhere and with the plunging price of solar power.

      The chart below shows the price of energy sources since the late 1940s. The extreme outlier, of course, is solar, which only recently became an expensive blip in the energy marketplace. It will soon undercut even the cheapest fossil fuels in many regions of the planet, including poorer nations where billion-dollar coal plants aren’t always practical.
      Source: EIA, CIA, World Bank, Bernstein analysis
      As he did with oil & gas reserve once again Allah smiles on the Ummah as making it among the sunniest places on earth (of course there are elaborate geopolitical explanations on why that is the case but let's stick with the religious one for now as Muslims needs all the manna they can get atm).

      It seems that the world is going to enter a new systemic bull cycle, low oil prices are going to compete with dropping solar energy prices to industrialise the Rest of the world.

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      I recently read that as few as 5% of marriages in India are inter-caste and PK's message of religious tolerance in South Asia couldn't come anytime sooner.

      I'm grateful that my Hindu father-in-law to be freely quotes Baha'u'llah. Touch wood mA.

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      It seems apart from the plunging price of oil the FT seems replete instead with warning about democracy. I intensely dislike and distrust nationalism (apathy/dislike for the "Other") while I condone patriotism (love of one's Own).

      However I don't think Europe is going to slip towards fascism anytime soon in the forseeable future. I don't even think it's viable or tenable to deport illegal immigrants however there has to be a control on future entries and manage the process.

      Immigration has to be revamped that the developed countries of the world (West + Japan) need to synchronize their borders. As an example how many Americans would really want to move to Japan and settle there, or vice versa. I once read an Israeli economies write in the International Herald Tribune (essentially the NY Times) that unless incomes were 3x greater most populations would not immigrate.

      As borders become more fluid it makes sense to plan for the eventuality of a more federated and united world. We are leaving the age of a Single Hegemon (with mixed results) towards a more equitable system. Transnational cultural groupings will take on much more significance than before however we must also begin to have a much fairer system.

      The West (& Japan) have aging populations and overloaded pensions as a upcoming crisis. The answer is not more immigrants (because they themselves will ultimately age) but for pensioners to start migrating Southward (to found their own OAP colonies so to speak). Desirable locations around the world can become huge hubs for aging baby boomers where they will also be able to take advantage of purchasing power parity. Tourism and other industries would be built on the back of that (as families come to visit etc) and it would create huge employment opportunities in the South (for carers, companions etc).

      Other than that it would also have an excellent environment impact as these compact colonies would essentially transfer from high emission producing regions to lower emission producing regions.

      This is the migration that needs to happen not the one that's currently occurring where the brain drain depletes the middle class in the Rest and squeezes the native middle class in the West. The first retirement colony will then start a wave (I know they are trying that in the Phillipines & Japan).

      In this manner the West & Japan can ease into smaller more amalgamated populations (probably followed by countries that are becoming wealthier and aging) while also becoming much more capital intensive (and preserving high wages, low employment). The Rest will benefit from the spin-off of compacting Prosperity Sphere.

      There is nothing wrong whatsoever with declining populations as long as cultural coherency remains in tact. The mistake right now in the West is that natives have a low fertility rate coupled with immigration creates a huge amount of societal imbalance. In a globalising world high wages can eventually be found everywhere (and even where wages are not high PPP can ensure that it's more lucrative staying back rather than immigrating).

      At that point support for the far-right will begin to precipitously decline as citizens and individuals begin to use globalisation to their advantage.

      By now, the Philippines should have retirement villages for Americans because English is widely spoken. Instead, Americans are going to Spanish-speaking Mexico.

      US Census 2010 estimates approximately 2.5 million citizens and legal permanent residents of Philippine ancestry.

      One nongovernment survey claims 200,000 Fil-Am senior citizens would really like to retire in the Philippines, but they won’t.

      Unlike Social Security, which you can take anywhere, Medicare stops at the border. Fil-Ams are afraid to return home without medical insurance. Another survey calculates that more than one million American seniors have homes in Mexico. The popularity of Mexico as a retirement destination is because you can simply cross the border back to the US for medical treatment.

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    • 01/14/15--00:02: Unreal Islam

    • The word “takfīr” (pronounced “tuck – feer”) is one of the most fearsome words in the Islamic lexicon. Deriving from the same root as “kāfir” – infidel – it refers to the act of declaring someone who is nominally a Muslim to be an infidel. And, of course, as the whole world knows by now, a Muslim who has become an infidel is worthy of being killed as an apostate under strict Islamic law. The institution of takfir is not new in Muslim societies, but it has generally been a marginal one. Today, it is at the core of the jihadi extremism that has set the world on fire from Nigeriato Indiaand from Peshawar to Paris. The extremists do not kill based only on takfir – the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were not Muslims to begin with – but this idea is central to their ideology, which specifically targets Muslims who, in their opinion, have lost the right to live because of their infidelity. Among these are numbered the 136 innocent children gunned down in Peshawar and the soldiers of the largest army of any Muslim majority country in the world. More broadly, its remit extends to entire sects, such as the Shi’as and the Ahmadis, who have been targeted repeatedly in Pakistan.

      However, another version of takfir is now afoot in the world. Call it “reverse takfir”. Unlike the militant version, it is well-intentioned and self-consciously humane, but it is also dangerous. This “benign” version of takfir is epitomized by the idea that the acts of violence being committed by self-proclaimed holier-than-thou Muslims are not the acts of “real Muslims” and do not represent “real Islam”. In effect, it declares the terrorists to be infidels! The idea is widespread, and is espoused in three different contexts: By well-meaning non-Muslims (such as Presidents Bush and Obama) seeking to avoid stereotyping and the implication of collective guilt; by ordinary Muslims wishing to dissociate themselves from the beheaders; by Muslim sectarians wishing to separate their brand of orthodoxy from that espoused by terrorists; and – most ironically – by Muslim governments and security forces seeking an “Islamic” justification for attacking extremist fellow Muslims, thus implicitly buying into the central jihadi argument of apostasy as a capital offense. The urge to do this reverse takfir is understandable and not without factual basis: Most Muslims are indeed not violent extremists who wish to kill infidels. And it does help protect innocent Muslims from backlash, which is rather important. The problem, however, is that it also feeds the narrative of denial and deniability that allows the militancy to thrive.

      As with most organized religions, the foundational texts and beliefs of Islam can support both peaceful versions and violent ones. Until people recognize and admit that all of these are, in fact, “real Islam”, the issues underlying the problem of jihadi militancy cannot be addressed. If the violence is “not real Islam”, the implication is that Islam – as practiced by most Muslims – needs no reform. But that is manifestly not the case. The scourge of violence in the name of Islam will be removed only when Muslims in general come to reject all instances of violence in the name of Islam, including those that are celebrated in scripture and history. When conquerors who killed “infidels” are regarded as heroes of the faith; when the world is seen as divided into the “house of Islam” and the “house of war”; when dying for God is considered better than living for the sake of fellow humans; when non-Muslims are regarded as morally inferior; when many standard prayers end by asking God for “victory against the infidels”; and when apostasy and blasphemy are regarded as capital crimes – how can jihadi violence be seen as anything but the logical conclusion of such ideas and practices? And yet, these are all part of “mainstream” Islam – some of them derived directly from holy texts. What the extremists are doing is merely taking these ideas more literally and acting on them. The main thing separating most ordinary believing Muslims from the extremists is not so much the narrowness of belief – which they both share – but the willingness to match that belief with action. Small wonder, then, that the militants see non-violent Muslims as hypocrites, which in many ways is worse than being an infidel.

       This raises a painful question: Can true Muslims only be either militants or hypocrites? Is there no other alternative? And that’s where the solution must begin. The only way to find an alternative – “third way”, so to speak – is to move away from literalism and absolute interpretations. Muslims must ask themselves why Jews don’t still stone adulterers or Christians still conduct witch burnings. They made these changes, not by rewriting holy texts, but by reinterpreting them for a different time and context. If Islam and its texts are indeed “guidance for all times” as Muslims believe, surely their interpretation must change with changing times, or they will become obsolete. What we see unfolding before us is the refusal of a whole faith to recognize the fact of such obsolescence and the need for reinterpretation, which has to be the first step on the path to reformation. And this cannot be done by outsiders preaching humanism at Muslims; it requires Muslims themselves to liberate their faith from the clutches of regressive clerics and begin viewing it more rationally. They can continue to be good Muslims and revere the unchanging words of scripture, but they cannot continue to be literalist reactionaries enforcing orthodoxy by force. That just isn’t compatible with the real world – especially the modern world. People will have to be allowed to make individual decisions with regard to their faith and live! In other words, religion will need to become a private matter, and certainly not something for the State to legislate or vigilantes to enforce.

      The interesting – and tragic – fact is that this dilemma is mainly a modern one. For the first few centuries of Islam, Muslims were far less inhibited about practical reinterpretation. Indeed, much of what is regarded today as Islamic law (the shari’ah) is derived from the interpretation of holy texts by early leaders, jurists and scholars. They were certainly not liberal humanists by today’s standards, but they were eminently practical people. Over time, this practicality gradually gave way to rigidity, until the so-called “door of interpretation” was officially declared shut. Even so, Muslim rulers were seldom willing to be bound by rigid religious edicts, and significant movement continued, albeit at royal whim. Some among the royalty, such as Akbar and Dara Shikoh in India, went further, trying actively to move towards more syncretic and humanistic interpretations of Islam.

      Prince Dara Shikoh with three sages (Ascribed to Dal Chand India, Mughal scool, c. 1650)

      The roots of the current fundamentalism lie not so much in the early history of Islam as in its recent history of disempowerment and revivalism. As Muslim societies lost power in the face of modernity, the role of ruling elites in reinterpreting religious edicts (mainly for selfish political reasons) diminished or disappeared, and the process of reform became intertwined with Westernization and modernization. This produced various responses, two of which are especially relevant today. First, during the colonial period and immediately after, a re-emerging class of Muslim thinkers such as Muhammad Iqbal, Jamaluddin Afghani, and later Sayyid Qutb and Mawdudi, sought a revival through variations on the same theme: Creating a semi-mythological and idealized version of a glorious Muslim past where near-perfect men acted as the instruments of God’s will. And, in their own ways, all of them converged on the notion of a single, ideal Islamic state – a “house of Islam” – ruled over by the righteous. One concrete result of these neo-revivalist ideas was the creation of Pakistan as an ideological Muslim homeland, though many ultra-orthodox Muslim scholars opposed it. Another was the emergence of trans-national ideological organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhoodand the Jamaat-e Islami. All this laid the theoretical framework for today’s trans-national militancy.

      The second response was the empowerment of more fundamentalist schools of Islamic thought that already existed but had generally been held in check by Muslim rulers and societies. A fateful moment occurred when one such movement – led by the originalist cleric Ibn Abdul-Wahhabin Western Arabia – made a political alliance with a regional ruling family: The future House of Saud. Over two centuries, a nexus of mutually-influencing ultra-orthodox ideologies developed from India to Morocco, but remained largely without political or economic power. All that changed with the rise of Saudi Arabia as a rich kingdom with an interest in exporting both oil and ideology. The ideal opportunity arose – less by planning than chance – in the form of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which led to the revival of global Islamic zealotry as fuel for the Afghan jihad, the empowering of seminaries preaching ultra-orthodox ideologies, and the inevitable seeping of these toxins into the body politic of Muslim societies. The rest is a history that is too well-known – and painful – to repeat.

      Today, the two threads generated in response to Muslim disempowerment and modernity have merged. The resulting movement has inherited the trans-national character, anti-humanist ethos and regressive ideology of its parent movements. It has also been strengthened by the strategic calculus of the Great Game that has been afoot in South and Central Asia for several decades. Some may consider it natural that the movement’s most vocal expression has occurred in Pakistan, given its founding vision. However, such an assumption would be incorrect. The areas that form Pakistan were, in fact, not veryamenable a priori to an exclusivist ideology, and were pervaded by a much more syncretic and humanistic version of Islam. It took several decades and great geopolitical events – such as the Afghan jihad – to bring Pakistan to the point it is at today. All appearances notwithstanding, it is not a natural home for a militant, ahistoric ideology. Obscurantism? yes; militancy? no.

      Which brings us back to the issue of “real Islam”. As someone in love with the cultural traditions of Islam and as a diligent student of its history, I agree that the acts of the jihadis do not represent the vast majority of Muslims today or in history. Humans are a violent species and Muslims have contributed their share, but it is completely asinine to think that Muslims have been, historically, any more violent than other groups. However, it is equally absurd to deny that the ideology underlying jihadism draws upon mainstream Islamic beliefs and is, therefore, undeniably a form of “real Islam” – albeit of a very extreme form. It is more accurate to say that this extremism is “not the only Islam”, and, by historical standards, it is a version very different from what the vast majority of Muslims have practiced. That’s why groups espousing such puritanical and rigid attitudes were traditionally called “khawarij”– the alienated ones. At the same time, Muslims should acknowledge that they have not constructed the logical and theoretical framework within which extremism can be rejected formally. If anything, the opposite has happened in the last century, with increasingly literalist attitudes gaining strength for political reasons. And that is the core problem: A literal reading of even moderate Muslim beliefs can, and does, lead to behaviors incompatible with modern society. Like Christians, Jews, Hindus and others, Muslims have to turn towards a less literal, more inspirational and humanistic reading of their sacred traditions, drawing from them principles that can stand the test of time rather than literal, ahistorical prescriptions. This does not require the invention of a “new Islam”, or the imposition of an “official Islam” by states. Nor does it require a rewriting of Muslim sacred texts any more than the Enlightenment needed a rewriting of the Old Testament – Thomas Jefferson notwithstanding. What is needed is a change of attitude, of how people relate to the texts and traditions. Strong strands of humanism, compassion, diversity of ideas and acceptance of differences already exist within the Islamic tradition – among Sufis, among poets, and even among scholars. The trick is to rediscover, re-emphasize and reinterpret them for our times. And even as we wring our hands in despair, brave individuals within Muslim societies are trying to ignitejust such a change at great risk to their lives. The least we can do is to add our voices to theirs.

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      After her comments, Rosie O'Donnell proceeded to call upon a stunned African-American woman in the audience, who insisted she is a "frequent showerer" before Rivera defended her remarks. 
      "My mom is half black, half Puerto Rican. She showers every day, so I can say this. But I'm now married to a white man," she said, referring to husband Ryan Dorsey, whom she secretly wed in July 2014. "And he showers a lot, like two, three times a day.

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    • 01/16/15--09:43: Who reads BP anymore?
    • Leave a comment if you do; I'm not expecting many to be honest even if we do have robust viewing figures.

      The first couple years of the blog had an excellent comments section especially when we were WordPress.

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    • 01/16/15--09:45: The power of blasphemy
    • There is never a point to deliberately offend; in fact BP is a perennial victim of that.

      There was a time in our first year when we were hitting a tipping point and then we became a target, which led to several website issues. Ever since we moved from WordPress to Blogger our user engagement is a fraction of what it was.

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    • 01/17/15--03:04: Slaughter of blonde Muslims
    • "So, in Bosnia, the case was there were white, blond-haired, blue-eyed Muslims who were being slaughtered and identified as Muslims. That really touched me."

      The great brown hope for every British Pakistan, local Essex lad Maajid Nawaz, talks about how Animal Farm turned him away from extremism (he needs to join a post-apocalyptic book club).

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      I just picked this out of a past post about the cruel blasphemy execution (by being burned alive) of a Christian couple in Pakistan. I am posting this here because blasphemy is in the news again and I cannot count the number of times someone has managed to say "colonial era blasphemy laws in Pakistan" in a misleading manner. I wanted to have a post handy where I could direct them, so here it is, a quick overview of the blasphemy issue in Pakistan (some thoughts about the Hebdo events are at the end of this post, you can jump to that if all this familiar to you):

      A blasphemy law was part of the 19th century Indian Penal code as section 295.. It was not a bad law at all and the lazy habit of blaming it for later blasphemy law crap in the Indian subcontinent is just that: a lazy habit. 
      Here is section 295 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860: 
       Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.—Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defile­ment as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

      The aim of the law was to prevent/punish things like someone throwing a dead pig into a mosque or a cow's head into a temple. An actual physical desecration is to be punished. 
      This seems like an eminently sensible law  and cannot really be blamed for all the evils that came later. But in the 1920s there was a famous case in Lahore where a Hindu publisher was arrested by the colonial authorities after Muslims agitated against him for having published a book called Rangila Rasul ("merry prophet"). The British colonial authorities tried to prosecute him for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, but the high court in Lahore (quite properly) found him innocent because there was no law on the books against just publishing a book, no matter how offensive it may be to some religious group. Fearing future communal discord from such provocations, the British then had the legislative assembly add section 295A to the law in order to criminalize deliberate attempts to "outrage the religious feelings of any community". This section states: 

      Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with fine, or with both. 

      But even with this new and expanded article 295A in place, prosecutions for blasphemy were few and far between until, in the 1980s, General Zia added two new sections to the law in Pakistan and really set the ball rolling.  These infamous sections are labelled 295B and 295C.

      295-B:  Defiling the copy of Holy Qur’an. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

      295-C: use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – who ever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine.

      Note that the law no longer requires that the offense be malicious in intent. Intent is no longer an issue. Insulting the Quran or the prophet, even unintentionally, is now punishable by death. To seal the deal, in 1991 the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan struck down the option of life imprisonment and made the death penalty obligatory. 
      And of course, the new amendments only apply to blasphemy against Islam, not against all religions (in this sense, the new laws are more "rational" and internally coherent, since all religions blaspheme against all other religions as a matter of course, so the original law was not coherent in principle, though still workable in practice). 

      Between 1984 to 2004, 5,000 cases of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan and 964 people were charged and accused of blasphemy; 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy were killed extra-judicially during that time. More have died since. Eighty-six percent of all the cases were reported in Punjab.

      In the wake of this latest horrendous outrage, many liberal people are hoping that this blasphemy law can be changed to finally stop or slow down this torrent of prosecutions and killings. Others have noted that the law is not the problem, free-lance enforcement of a broader blasphemy meme in the Muslim community is the problem and will likely persist even if the law is repealed. In my view the law is not the only problem, but it IS a very potent symbol of the surrender of state and society in front of the blasphemy meme. Repeal of the law will not kill that meme, but repeal of the law will be an equally powerful signal that things have changed and that state and society no longer approve of the killing of blasphemers. It will not end the problem, but it will be the beginning of the end. Repeal of the law is not a sufficient condition for this nightmare to end, but it is a very important necessary condition. 

      Unfortunately, I don't think such repeal or amendment is actually likely in the foreseeable future. My predictions: 

      1. The law will not be repealed. Some minor amendments may be made someday (and even these will excite significant Islamist resistance and are not likely) but their effectiveness will be limited. Blasphemy accusations will continue, as will the spineless convictions issuing from the courts. In fact, new blasphemy accusations will almost certainly be made with the express intention of testing any new amendment or procedural change (thus, ironically, any amendment is likely to lead to at least one more innocent Christian or Ahmedi victim as Islamists hunt around for a test case). 

      2. Aasia bibi, the law's most prominent current victim, will not get a reprieve from anyone but she will not be hanged. Instead, she will be held in prison till she dies or is killed by a vigilante in prison.  Her immediate family will have to leave the country at some point. The local Christian community will have to clearly show their humble submission in order to be allowed to get on with their lives. 

       3. Blasphemy will continue to be a potent weapon in the hands of the deep state, the Islamists and sundry local gangsters and land grabbers. 

      These predictions may appear pessimistic and discouraging, but I would submit that they are not meant to be discouraging; they are meant to be realistic. The law will not be repealed because the law is not just an invention imposed by General Zia on an unwilling populace. Rather, this law is the updated expression of a pre-existing social and religious order. Blasphemy and apostasy laws were meant to protect the orthodox Islamic theological consensus of the 12th century AD and they have done so with remarkable effectiveness. Unlike their Christian counterparts (and prosecutions for heresy and blasphemy were seen throughout the middle ages in Europe) these laws retain their societal sanction and have been enforced by free-lancers and volunteers where the state has hesitated. The most famous, and in many ways, the most telling example of the wide societal sanction for killing blasphemers is the case of the carpenters apprentice Ghazi Ilm Deen Shaheed, who executed the Hindu publisher of Rangila Rasul after legal prosecution had failed. The demand to kill Rajpal was being made openly in public meetings and two other Muslims had already attempted to kill Rajpal prior to Ilm Deen's successful attempt. In fact Ilm Deen's best friend had supposedly wanted to do the act and only stepped aside because they drew lots and Ilm Deen won thrice in a row. 

      And when Ilm Deen did kill Rajpal in his shop, the Muslim community mobilized to defend him and in the high court his appeal was handled by two lawyers, one of whom was none other than Quaid E Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was asked to take up the case by that illustrious modernist and "moderate Muslim hope", Allama Mohammed Iqbal. After the appeal failed and Ilm Deen was hanged by the British, Allama Iqbal was one of the leaders of a campaign to have his body brought to Lahore for reburial (he had been quietly buried in a remote prison by the British authorities). When this demand was conceded in the face of massive public protests, his funeral drew thousands of spectators and was attended with pride by Allama Iqbal, who reputedly said that “this carpenter has left us, educated people, far behind”. 
      In an ironic twist the charpoy (rope bed) on which Ilm Deen was borne to his grave is said to have been donated by another literary luminary, Mr MD Taseer, whose own son would later become governor of Punjab and would be killed for "blasphemy" by a new Ilm Deen. Ilm Deen's grave is now a popular shrine and a movie has been made about his exploit, complete with a dance sequence featuring the blasphemer enjoying himself before he meets his fate.

      When Salman Rushdie’s book was declared blasphemous and rallies demanding his head were held all over the world and books were burned, General Zia was not the agent of those protests.
      Rushdie went underground and has managed to survive, though some of his translators were not so lucky. But Theo Van Gogh was killed in broad daylight in Amsterdam and Ayan Hirsi Ali was driven underground for producing a supposedly blasphemous movie in liberal Holland. Another blasphemy execution was attempted by textile engineering student Aamir Cheema in Germany. And as expected, Aamir Cheema too has achieved sainthood in Pakistan after he took his own life in a German prison, with his funeral attracting thousands and his grave becoming a popular shrine. 
       A minister in Musharraf's enlightened cabinet wrote more than one op-ed commending such acts and fantasizing about the day Salman Rushdie's skin will be torn from his body with sharp hooks. A fantastically surreal movie has even been made about the execution of Rushdie by Muslim Guerillas who penetrate his secret Zionist hideout and attack him with flying Korans. 
      I am not kidding. 


      In 2002 a convicted murderer named Tariq decided to atone for his sins by killing a man accused of blasphemy who happened to be in the same prison in Lahore. Director Syed Noor (known for countless song and dance Lollywood films) produced and directed a movie called aik aur ghazi (one more holy warrior) about this young man and his glorious exploit. It is worth noting that Syed Noor is a "moderate Muslim", but this has not prevented him from glorifying the actions of a vigilante who killed another prisoner because he believed him guilty of blasphemy. 

      When a poor christian boy was accused of blasphemy in Lahore, the entire colony he lived in was burned to the ground. When a poor Christian woman named Aasia bibi acted "uppity" in front of some Muslim ladies (see details in the video below), she was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death. These episodes highlights another important aspect of the blasphemy meme: it functions to bully and oppress minorities by threatening them with legalized lynching in exactly the same way as the "uppity nigger" meme was used to bully and oppress black people in the pre-civil-rights South in the United States. The fear of being accused of blasphemy, enforced by periodic horrific lynchings, ensures that Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis never forget their place and act uppity in front of good Muslims, since any indiscretion could lead to a blasphemy accusation and once accused, your goose is cooked. 

      Aasia Bibi's death sentence was so flagrantly unjust that Salman Taseer (whose own father had provided a funeral bier for Ilm Deen), the then governor of Punjab, was moved to say she should be let go and the blasphemy law should be amended to prevent such misuse. He was killed by his own guard for saying so. His guard was garlanded and showered with rose petals by Pakistani lawyers when he appeared in court and now has at least one mosque named in his honor.

      HE has not been hanged. In fact, he is a hero to many and has been handing out new death sentences of his own while in prison; he convinced one of his guards to go and shoot a 70 year old mentally unstable British man who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges but not yet exectuted (probably not yet executed because he is British). MNA Sherry Rahman introduced a “private member bill” to amend the law and was herself charged with blasphemy for her pains (though being a member of the ruling elite, she has not yet been brought to trial). Rashed Rahman, a well known human rights lawyer was shot dead because he dared to take up the case of a young university lecturer who is being tried for blasphemy on insanely ridiculous grounds in Multan. Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, a liberal cleric who has tried to present religious arguments against this law (a law that clearly goes well beyond anything written even in most of the medieval compilations of shariah law) has had his assistant killed and is now living in exile in Malaysia. "Respected" Pakistani religious scholars have declared him to be an apostate and an agent of the enemies of Islam. The law is no closer to repeal or even modification.

      And just a few weeks ago, the spineless Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence on Aasia Bibi. She may be hanged before the Governor's killer. 

      In fact. the law is now moving on to fresh pastures. There is a sustained push by anti-Shia groups to use the law against Shias just as it is being used against Ahmedis, Christians and other minorities. The law does not specifically mention the issue of blasphemy against the companions of the prophet (the sahaba), but why not? if you insult any of the companions of the prophet, do you not insult the prophet? Never mind that the companions themselves were frequently at each other's throats, but today the issue is the wedge that will open the way to legal persecution of Shias and help push them into the same position now occupied in daily fear by Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis. Several Shias have already been charged under the law and there is more to come. In fact, on the same day when Shahzad and Shama met their gruesome fate in Kot Radha Kishan, a Shia Zakir was killed in custody in Gujrat. He may have been mentally unstable and had been arrested for brawling in the bazar. In custody, he continues to harangue the police about the calumnies suffered by the Banu Hashim (the family of the prophet) at the hands of some of the companions (the sahaba). This so upset one of the police officers present that he got an axe and decapitated the prisoner inside the police station. The police officer concerned has been arrested and desperate attempts are being made to play down the sectarian dimension of this killing, but all will become clear once the policeman is put on trial. The ASWJ (the main umbrella anti-Shia organization) will protest that he was only defending the honor of the prophet. Punishment will not be easy. "Sweep under the rug" is likely to be the compromise. 

      In short, 
      killing blasphemers is considered a highly admirable deed by a very large number of people in Pakistan (and probably in several other Islamicate nations). While it is indeed true that misuse of the law has become common after General Zia’s time (an intended consequence, as one aim of such laws is to harass and browbeat all potential opposition), the law has deeper roots and liberals who believe that it is possible to make a distinction between true blasphemy and misuse of the law, may find that this line is not easy to draw. The second, and perhaps more potent reason the law will not be repealed is because the law was consciously meant to promote the Islamist project that the deep state (or a powerful section of the deep state) continues to desire in Pakistan. The blasphemy law is a ready-made weapon against all secular opposition to the military-mullah alliance (though some sections of the military now seem to have abandoned that alliance, hence the qualification “section of the deep state”). Secular parties are suspected of being soft on India and are considered a danger to the Kashmir Jihad and other projects dear to the heart of the deep state. At the same time, Islamist parties provide ideological support and manpower for those beloved causes. In this way, the officers of the deep state, even when they are not personally religious, recognize the need for an alliance with religious parties and against secular political forces (Musharraf was a good example). They may have been forced into an uneasy (temporary?) compromise with secular parties by circumstances beyond their control (aka America) but with American withdrawal coming soon, the deep state may not wish to alienate its mullah constituency too much. They will be needed again once the Yankees are gone. Hence too, no repeal at this time. 

      Of course blasphemy accusations and their use to suppress speech are not limited to Muslim countries; e.g. Sikhs have resorted to violence to protest blasphemy and Hindu mobs have rioted to enforce the sanctity of Shivaji's memory in Mumbai. But Islamist consensus on blasphemy is wider and deeper and has an edge that other fanatics can only envy. In the long run (decades, not centuries) Islamists will be forced to compromise with modernity one way or the other (with one way being less painful than the other). But that time is not yet here...For many years, perhaps decades, we are going to see terrible violence in the Islamicate core and some of it is going to be about blasphemy. That is just where we happen to be..

      The above was written BEFORE the Hebdo killings. The reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Western countries (and especially in France) has been so visceral and immediate that many Muslim countries felt the need to send officials to express solidarity with France (those marching for freedom of expression have included the representatives of such bastions of free speech as Turkey and Egypt and even Hamas, Iran and Saudi Arabia were moved to condemn the killings. And within the Western world, even the postMarxist apologists who generally support restrictions on free speech in the name of "sensitivity" have been split vertically by the Hebdo murders. Some like Zizek have taken (for their ilk) an unusually harsh stance against the killers and their ideology, multiculturalism be damned.. But the Hebdo moment does not extend into the Islamicate core. In fact, Islamists in Pakistan are recovering their balance as we speak and are likely to launch some more protests this Friday to remind people that they are still around (though if the deep state does not wish to promote their cause at this time then the affair may not reach the level of past protests). 
      Prophet Mohammed cartoons, Charlie Hebdo protest, Charlie hebdo, Charlie hebdo cartoon, Charlie hebdo coverIn Niger, crowds have already burned several churches and several people have been killed (it seems they were not impressed by Pope Francis' attempt to use this moment to ask for insult-protection for all faiths). More such stuff may happen in the days and weeks to come. In any case the Islamists do not have to respond soon. Patience is one of their virtues. Revenge attacks will come some day even if nothing happens soon. They have long memories. They are not done yet. 

      Longer term, the outcome in Western countries is likely to be more blasphemy, not less (things will be more confused in the world's largest democracy). And it will not all be some principled defense of free speech. In terms of abstract principle, the French (and many other European countries) are not without their own hypocrisies. Many European countries have laws against "hate speech" , holocaust denial and even blasphemy that are a mockery of free speech (and that do not really promote the peace and harmony they are supposed to be promoting; see a must read article by Sam Schulman on this issue) They frequently do not apply these laws, or fail to convict when they do apply them (and punishments are very very mild), so the actual situation on the ground is not as bad as it is in many Islamicate or Marxicate countries, but it is certainly not ideal. The United States is, in terms of abstract principles, probably the best country in the world for freedom of expression. As in all human endeavors, there is some distance between the ideal and the practice even in these United States, but legal restrictions on freedom of expression are lower in the US than in any country I can think of (past or present). Thank Allah for the first amendment. 
      But while discussions of abstract principle have their place, they can also distract from far more obvious and simpler points. In this case, here is the situation: there are people of many religions in Europe, in Japan, in China, in the Americas (North AND South) and in all these religions (except Islam) it is now the norm to argue about the foundational myths and to make fun of them. Some people take them literally (in ALL religions), many people deeply respect them, but some find them totally unbelievable and others just make jokes about them. In this atmosphere, you have a Muslim population that is asking for very special treatment for their particular myths. They are saying (in effect) that not only will WE live under rules XYZ, we want EVERYONE to live under rules XYZ. But they (and their intellectually more sophisticated defenders in the Western liberal elite) also insist they are not different in principle from anyone else. They also have ongoing and historic disputes with many groups (including, for example, right wing anti-immigrant politicians, Zionists, Jews in general, Christian religious nutjobs, Serbs, etc etc). In this setting, how likely is it that everyone in Western societies will accept MUSLIM rules that even some Muslims find unbearably oppressive? ...I think it is not very likely.

      btw, Charlie Hebdo itself has come out of this tragedy with flying colors. The accusation that they are some kind of racist right wing publication was a canard in any case, and their current issue proves it. You can read more about it here

      Anyway, here are my predictions:
      1. More blasphemy in the West. Things will go back and forth, but the overall trend is that Islamicate taboos on satirizing Islam will gradually fall, as will taboos on discussing early Islamic history any differently from the histories of other religions or other ideologies. There will be more attacks, more Islamophobia (both real as well as imagined-SOAS-type Islamophobia) and more unpleasantness all around, but the overall trend will be towards more criticism and more satire and ever fewer taboos.  
      2. In the Islamicate core, blasphemy will remain a huge big deal and many more people may yet share the fate of Raif Badawi (or worse), but the internet will ensure that the discussions that will become common in the West will slowly make their way into the Islamicate core as well. But they will invite a backlash and in places (like Pakistan) things will get worse before they get better. 

      3. PostMarxist thinkers will split further, with some joining the critics of Islamicate taboos and other defending them in the cause of fighting Islamophobia. Many of them will continue to insist (not always without justification) that the "real issues" are economic or political, not religious, and that Islamophobia is real and the people on Fox News really do have more power than the Islamists still living in Western Muslim communities, but the circle within which religion is ALWAYS "not the real issue" will shrink, not expand. This is not of much interest to many people (since Post-Marxists don't actually run the world, in the "West" or the "East"), but is always of interest to some of us because of the friends and family we hang out with. It will not be a happy few years in this circle as things in the Islamicate core get worse, Islamophobia (the actual cases) gets worse and neither Zionists nor Palestinians get to win cleanly. I feel a bit sad about this. 
      4. "Reform Islam" (consciously or unconsciously modeled on Reform Judaism) as promoted by people like Reza Aslan or Karen Armstrong may eventually become a real thing, with some sort of coherent theological framework and it's own network of mosques and religous teachers, but we are nowhere close to it being a reality already. The notion that there is already some kind of "moderate Islam" that lies hidden under a recent Wahabi overlay and can be recovered by promoting Sufiism and the poetry of Maulana Rumi is highly exaggerated. Blasphemy and apostasy, for example, are capital crimes in ALL major sects of Islam and a few superficial books from Reza Aslan or Armstrong are not enough to change that. On the other hand, where there is damand, someone will eventually provide supply. These books are not completely useless. In the years to come, other, more subtle, more knowledgeable and more sophisticated thinkers will no doubt create such Islams (plural) in the Western world and in China. But not so easily in the Islamicate core. Things there will get worse before they get better. Dr Ali Minai has an excellent piece about some of the work that will have to be done. 

      The full-frontal Islamist memes meanwhile can be seen in this excellent video. Our Imam in school used to say a lot of these things in 1974 and we thought it was more funny than threatening. But they were serious and here we are today. 

      Post by Jürgen Todenhöfer.

      Postscript: Excellent nuanced piece from Indian journalist Praveen Sami

      btw, as an illustration of things to come: several people (and more important, the magazine Newsweek) have posted respectful portraits of the prophet Mohammed painted by Islamic artists in Iran, Turkic and Mughal lands in the pre-colonial era. See for example

      Btw, Hafiz Saeed is on it..

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