Today is the 47th Victory Day of my beloved country, Bangladesh. I could write a feel good, hyper patriotic and…
I thought this was an important post to share and reflect on.
I don’t see the point of highlighting India’s “relatively lower wage rate” (a snarky reference to poverty) and a comparison to HRH’s wedding. As though Brown people’s weddings cannot eclipse that of White Royals.
This is the subtle racism when a country leaps out of its stereotypes.
The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.
Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.
One of the most offensive things I have had to personally encounter in my life are people curious that a brown-skinned person would express an interest in China for purely intellectual interests (i.e., my wife is not Chinese, I have no business interests in China, etc.). As this century
— Zach Zavid (@ZacharyLatif) December 14, 2018
Brexit is such a contentious matter that I don’t know where to start.
My Arch-Tory tribal instincts have overridden my normal active Social Justice Ghazi mode and I don’t like to see Britain humiliated in such a manner.
Theresa needs to channel her Trump and signal a collective fuck off to the EU. The lecherous manner in which Juncker was handling her earlier today was simply shameful:
NEW – Two expert lipreaders tell 5 News that Theresa May accuses Jean-Claude Juncker of describing her as nebulous.
This is how the conversation went, according to the lipreaders: pic.twitter.com/IuP99fJiXG
— Channel 5 News (@5_News) December 14, 2018
By coincidence I saw this video right after noting that Parag Khanna has a new book out, The Future Is Asian. Here is the summary from Amazon: “In the 19th century, the world was Europeanized. In the 20th century, it was Americanized. Now, in the 21st century, the world is being Asianized.” It should be re-Asianized (we’re friends on LinkedIn).
Shahab Ahmed began the first chapter of his book ‘What is Islam?’ with these words,
” I am seeking to say the word “Islam” in a manner that expresses the historical and human phenomenon that is Islam in its plenitude and complexity of meaning. In conceptualizing Islam as a human and historical phenomenon, I am precisely not seeking to tell the reader what Islam is as a matter of Divine Command, and thus am not seeking to prescribe how Islam should be followed as the means to existential salvation. Rather, I seek to tell the reader what Islam has actually been as a matter of human fact in history, and thus am suggesting how Islam should be conceptualized as a means to a more meaningful understanding both of Islam in the human experience, and thus of the human experience at large.”
The difference between ‘literal’ Islam (something I had been taught all my life-till that point) and ‘human experience’ of Islam (as theorized by Shahab Ahmed in the lines above) became acutely aware to me in the days and months following ST’s assassination. Where did the theory end and practice start? Does believing in something and doing things contrary to those beliefs hypocrisy or just the way things work? Are the five ‘essentials’ (Tauhid, Namaz, Roza, Hajj, Zakat) of Islam necessary to be performed if you just gain brownie points with God by killing infidels/blasphemers? I was also growing up in an environment of Islamist terror. Militants who professed to be better Muslims than us mere mortals (who performed the aforementioned ‘essentials’) were killing innocent people in Lahore, in Karachi, in Swat, in KP. How does a practicing Muslim reconcile his faith with the Islam professed by the militants? How does an ordinary Pakistani Muslim view the history of Islam? (a pol sci-major friend of mine recently said something very interesting on this topic. According to him, “actual” history doesn’t really matter to people. History in the public imagination is whatever the elites/mil-establishment want it to be )
Following my basic introductions to political theory and rudimentary economics(at IPSS and beyond), I began to think about the intersection of religion and politics. I probed some fundamental concepts regarding political Islam and how accurate they were, like the concept of Muslim Ummah and the statement that ‘Islam is a complete code of life’. While I was pondering over these questions, I was still living in the same social milieu that had existed around me.
I remember debating some 9/11 ‘truthers’ among my medical school classmates. They refused to entertain the notion that it could have been an Al-Qaeda operation, done by fellow Muslims. One day, I got into an argument with a burly, 6 ft 4 in guy in m class about the ‘complete code of life’ theory. I had probably mentioned it on my Facebook wall or in some Facebook group that I didn’t believe in the veracity of this claim because it was a newer (19th/20th century) addition to Islamic teachings. That tall, muscular guy approached me in the lecture hall the next day and said that he didn’t like my comment and that he was offended by it. I tried to reason with him but he got agitated and asked me to shut it because I was questioning religion which made him angry. I switched gears and changed the topic to save my skinny ass. A few days later, I was talking to a classmate who was among the very few friends I had and she said, Please do not get killed for your ideals.
For me, the public reaction to ST’s assassination was an eye-opening experience. There was a notion of a ‘silent majority’ in Pakistan, people who didn’t like mixing religion and politics (this theory was bogus and had no basis in fact). Fasi Zaka, a very intelligent commentator and writer on Pakistani society wrote, “After Salmaan Taseer’s death, Pakistan’s ‘silent majority’ finally spoke up. They liked it.”I heard someone in the ‘liberal’ (secular liberal or group B) circle say that ST’s death closed the door on critical discussion of blasphemy laws in the near future. It was a battle that we (secular-liberals) lost. We were grossly outnumbered and there was a very remote chance that we could incrementally chip at the edifice of blasphemy laws, for example by changing/improving the law of evidence or publicizing the historical consensus among Sunni Ulema that blasphemy is not punishable by death.
Instead, we have Khadim Rizvi and Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a ragtag group that can publicly mock the most powerful people in Pakistan and get away with it. ST’s death and Qadri’s hanging opened an avenue for these peddlers of hate to come out of their cubbyholes and wreak havoc on the “silent majority”(pun intended). Mohammad Hanif wrote about the aftermath of ST’s murder for The Guardian (full piece here), an excerpt of which is relevant to what I’m saying.
“So who are these people who lionize the cold-blooded murderer? Your regular kids, really. Some Pakistani bloggers have tried to get these fan pages banned for inciting hate. But as soon as one shuts down, another five crop up. Those who have trawled the profiles of these supporters have said that they have MBA degrees, they follow Premier League football, they love the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Miley Cyrus figures on lots of these pages.”
Qadri’s name became a brand (see here and here) that became synonymous with love for the prophet and the whole blasphemy debate. One could argue that in a country that was premised on the idea of a separate homeland for a particular religion, that religion would become the yardstick by which you proved your nationalism and patriotism. As for me, I moved out. It became apparent a few years after the ST murder that things weren’t getting any better in my homeland. I could either suck it up and keep living or leave and start afresh. It was very hard to choose one of the routes but I chose the way out.
What about the few liberal spaces left in Pakistan? They are constantly shrinking. IPSS blew out of steam (and funding), NGO-funded youth groups and ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ (CVE) forums ran out of money after the US decided to decrease its footprint in Af-Pak. I was on an exchange visit (a misnomer, really, since no one ever visited Pakistan in return) to the US in 2012 and everyone at the policy level was talking about a post-2014 withdrawal scenario. There are still some valiant people working on secular ideas in Pakistan. Social media has helped but only a little bit. It has gotten the proverbial 72 seculars in Pakistan together on Facebook but it has also fueled the rise of a neo-Islamist political class that takes part in TLP protests and roadblocks. There are also certain bubbles in which you can dare criticize the state narrative such as LitFests and English newspaper op-eds. I remember talking to a pharmacy student whom I knew from a former workplace at Lahore Literary Festival and asking him what he was doing there since most of the conversation on stage there is in English (by decree or by choice). He replied that he was there just as a spectator to see how the ‘1%’ live in Pakistan and had not understood anything that was being discussed. The most important pockets of secular space consist of indigenous movements and organizations that work with people in their own language. I worked with two such organizations that communicated with people in their languages (Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi etc).
Social media also helped tremendously in the information warfare raged by Milestablishment, turning former Musharraf-lovers into Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) followers. There is a lot of talk about a ‘youth bulge’ in Pakistan but policymakers and commentators rarely talk about the dangers of having a majority of poorly-educated young people who are taught actively and passively that they are victims of some unknown ‘agenda’ and that if they were given the right set of circumstances, they would conquer the world. I used to teach at private medical schools in two different cities of Punjab and I saw the moral and mental confusion that young people had about their lives and their futures. Youth and Naivete go hand in hand, however constant ideological propaganda about Islam’s greatness and Pakistan’s underdog status is a terrible fertilizer for young minds.
ST was not the first victim of this madness. Sabeen Mehmood was killed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, Raza Rumi was attacked and his driver was killed, Mashal Khan was lynched to death. Each of these individuals tried to talk about secular values in society. What would become of the society? I don’t know. I don’t make predictions. Omar Ali asked me in November 2015 (in Lahore) about my thoughts on Pakistan’s future and I told him that things were doing downhill every passing day. I standby my pessimism.
Since there are some that insist that Hindu nationalists are as bad as Islamists, I want to share this tweet I stole from Omar:
— Samaa English (@SamaaEnglish) December 12, 2018
John Kerry and Hillary Clinton dancing to Bollywood music with Shah Rukh Khan in India
2018 is weird. pic.twitter.com/tVPcmkqKB2
— Sameera Khan (@SameeraKhan) December 12, 2018
The Ambani wedding has jumped the sharked.
No taste, no class and no intimacy..
The elements are all in place but it just feels everyone’s been *paid* to attend and seems more an obligation than anything else. The form of a grand wedding is there but not the essence.
It’s telling they got Hillary & Kerry but not the Obamas; actually President (Bill & Barrack) didn’t bother to attend..
From Dr Hamid Hussain. An old article (from 2003).
Forbidden Fruit – Military & Politics
Politics and profession of soldiering has nothing in common. They are totally different but essential elements of any society. Politicians and soldiers have an interesting relationship in all societies. In societies where civilians are in control, military officers act in accepted boundaries though ready to defend their turf against civilian encroachment. In societies where political institutions are weak and there is lack of consensus on legitimate course of succession, soldiers gradually expand their area of influence. They gradually restrict the role of civilians in various areas and sometimes directly take over the state replacing the civilians. This generally accepted model does not mean that military as an institution has no relevance to the important policy decisions. Even in countries where the tradition of civilian supremacy is well established, military has a political role relating to national security, albeit a different one. One commentator has correctly pointed that “the military’s political role is a question not of whether but of how much and what kind”. 
This article will evaluate soldier’s attitude towards political activity and how it develops. This will be followed by the details of Pakistani experience of politicization of officer’s corps and how repeated and prolonged military rules have militarized the politics. In the end, the complex relationship between soldiers and politicians will be summarized.
Soldiers & Politics
Soldier’s disdain for politics and politicians is universal. Soldiers by nature of their training and job requirement place high value on discipline, recognized chain of command and espirit de corps. These values are essential for any professional army. Soldiers generalize these values and attitudes to the whole society without appreciating the difficulties and various conflicting demands by interest groups in a modern nation state. In under-developed countries, the problems are compounded by host of other negative social and economic factors. Discussion, debate and arguments about different points of view are essential ingredients of politics in every society. The nature of political activity is more chaotic on surface. Soldier’s concept of political order is based on the model of discipline, which he has learned in his barracks and daily life. “Institutions that permit disorder are condemned. The men who purposefully encourage disorder, as well as those whose inactions inadvertently allow for disorder, are dangerous”. This is how soldier sees the political activity of his society. Political activity is seen as undermining of the discipline of society and politicians as opportunists and self-seeking demagogues. This thought process is at the root of how a military first withdraws respect and later support of any civilian government which is followed by kicking the quarrelling politicians out of the corridors of power. The chaos and instability caused by the weak civilian institutions is blamed for paving the way for military to take over the state. This is the universal justification used by all military rulers. Once the politicians are condemned as useless bunch, the question arises then who is competent to run the state? Now the self-righteous attitude of officer corps comes into play. In under-developed countries, military sees itself as the most modern institution of the society. In addition, being a member of a well organized and disciplined force and overdose of patriotic and nationalistic symbols reinforces the notion that soldiers are more competent than civilians. In countries where military is the dominant institution, the military leadership considers itself as ‘final arbiters of political process, final judges as to whether a particular turn of events is acceptable from their standpoint as the guardians of national integrity’.  Continue reading “Forbidden Fruit. Military in Politics in Pakistan”