Omar patched through to me via his Asian mailing list an article about the Baha’i Lotus temple in Delhi. To be honest I found it rather odd and did did not appreciate the latest hostility the author demonstrates against the Baha’is, who are hardly elitist . In fact from personal experience the most astounding thing about Baha’i religious gatherings is the sheer diversity of ethnicity, class & even creed one encounters, which strengthens the coherency of the religion.
I must say the author seems rather intent on portraying the Baha’i faith as a “foreign elitist” religion which runs counter to everything the faith stands for; for instance in India Baha’u'llah was known as Baha Bhagwan. Also the “foreign accents” probably is due to the fact that Baha’is world-wide are constantly in touch with each other and congregate at international gatherings therefore making them fairly cosmopolitan.
There is a very touching story when Abdul Baha visited London in 1911 (a centenary of his visit) he was asked by a member of the audience (tens of thousands had flocked to visit him) to describe the Baha’i faith in a single word. As always everyone expected “Love” or “Peace” or “Unity” instead he replied “Encouragement”; “the point of being a Baha’i is to be encouraging”. I find that to be very testing at times particularly but its something I try to live upto (where would we be without our ideals).
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In my opinion, he has no coherent message and no coherent ideology (both terms obviously depend on my definition of “coherent”). He is getting support in the middle class because the middle class in every developing country seems to pass through a phase of disappointment in actually existing democracy (and the “ignorant masses” who keep electing bums the middle class does not like). Witness the middle class excitement around Anna Hazare in India. And in Pakistan in particular, he gets even more support (some of it now outside the internet burger-jihadi class too…I dont mean to imply that ONLY the middle class likes him, or Anna Hazare for that matter) because the existing parties and leaders are so bad;, but even though he has genuine popularity in some sections of the population, he has insufficient grass-roots organization. I still think he cannot come to power without ISI support, and will not last long unless he is a completely pliant puppet in their hands. If he does act as their pliant puppet, he may last longer in office, but people will get tired of him rather quickly because many fundamental problems will not change one bit and some will get worse.
IF he actually tries to make his “policies” work, then we are in ever more serious trouble since he has no workable policy prescription for many serious issues. For example, his solution to the Pakistani Taliban is “stop military operations, stop supporting the US, stop drone attacks, and our brothers will come to the table in peace and brotherhood”. Apart from the obvious problem of how he expects NATO to leave this safe haven alone, what does this tell you about his understanding of the Pakistani Jihadis and their agenda? (not talking about the burger-jihadis who dream of 72 virgins and a job in microsoft in the course of the same lonely night). What happens when they want to enforce their will in the Islamic emirate? and what happens when they want to expand the emirate to Islamabad?
In a smoothly working western-style democracy, he might even do good work because he is relatively honest and well-intentioned and the system and its basis is already set, so his shallow understanding of history and political evolution is of no consequence. In Pakistan, where fundamental problems of identity and political direction are not yet settled, this 6th grade “Pak studies” version of history, sociology and political science is not going to get far. In short, he is a confused man, with very superficial and shallow notions about politics and religion. Many of his everyday opinions are relatively liberal, but he has no idea where those liberal notions came from and how they are (or are not) compatible with other 6th grade Islamiat and Pakistan Studies BS he also holds dear.
ALL politicians repeat simplistic 6th grade bullshit in speeches because of practical exigencies of modern mass politics, but he repeats them because he doesnt know any better, THAT is a problem
I am posting this because I really don’t get what Pankaj Mishra is trying to say here? and why did FT publish this? I dont mean they shouldnt have published it…they can publish what they want. But still….
In Pakistan, this sort of thing varies rather short-term depending on what message the deep state wants to send to what person. So I dont want to imply that this is a permanent state of affairs in the Red Zone.