A PTI supporter I know on-line sent me the piece “An Ode to Fury” by Fahd Husain in the Nov 19 Express Tribune, with the implication that the fury discussed in this article justified the “revolution” being fomented by PTI and PAT. The following is an extended version of my response, which may also address critiques by others on my earlier piece, “The Tragedy of Imran Khan and the Insafian Revolution”.
The people of Pakistan have every right to be furious. They should be furious at those who have led them for 67 years and have brought them to their current state. But they should be even more furious at themselves for allowing this to happen: for electing incompetent leaders when given the chance, and for welcoming dictators with celebrations when they grew tired of those they had elected; for their worship of personalities and their ignoring of institutions; for buying into a toxic and bigoted ideology in the name of faith and patriotism ; for teaching their children mythology dressed as history; and for swallowing the propaganda of civilian and military governments without ever checking for its veracity. The deaths of children in Thar is indeed an incredible tragedy, but these children didn’t just start dying this year; they’ve been dying for decades – even centuries. It is a sad fact that the society at large in that part of the world has not cared much for the plight of the poor and the powerless. I’m glad that the people of Pakistan are now furious about it, but will they respond by repenting of their own ways, or will they again go looking for fantasy solutions peddled by snake oil salesmen with big words and no ideas? As the poet Iqbal Azeem said eloquently:
badalnaa hae to rindoN say kaho apnaa chalan badlayN
faqat saaqi badal dayne se maekhaana na badlay gaa
(For true change to happen, tell the drinkers to change their own ways; the tavern will not change just by replacing the one serving the wine)
What I see is that some people, furious at the country’s conditions, are looking to yet another savior running on the cult of personality. To the extent that Imran Khan is embodying the justifiable fury of the Pakistani people, he is serving a useful function. But history shows that those who embody such fury seldom, if ever, turn out to be actual saviors, or even good leaders. The extreme examples of this are Hitler and Mussolini, both of whom expressed the real anger of people overreal problems in their countries, but in the end, created even greater problems. I do not imply that Imran Khan is an extremist like these two, but his movement in its current manifestation does pose a real danger. A revolution driven by anger always leads first to incredible horrors, as was seen in France, Russia, China, and, to some extent, in Iran. Only in the long run do such revolutions move to their different outcomes – in most cases, disillusionment. Once people are brought to a frenzy, they cannot be controlled even by the leaders who led them there. The spark of fury that ignites revolution turns easily into fires of vengeance and hate. Is that what Pakistanis want? If so, Imran Khan is their man – though he should remember that the first people such revolutions consume are often their own leaders. And in almost all cases, the end result is not a democratic system, but a strongman dictator.
However, I am comforted by the fact that, while understandably furious, the people of Pakistan are not in a revolutionary mood. Imran Khan can gather a few tens of thousands – occasionally a few hundred thousand in large cities – for a one-night stand with music and entertainment, but there is no ocean of humans out in the streets of Pakistan day and night, as there was in Iran in 1978 or in Egypt in 2011, even though neither revolution produced a particularly desirable outcome in the short term. Most people still seem to understand that, all said and done, Imran Khan is yet another politician promising the moon. And they are strengthened in their opinion when they see the opportunists surrounding Imran Khan, and his own feckless behavior. Gravitas, though much ridiculed by those who lack it, is indeed an essential component of a true leader’s make-up. It is what gives them the dignity to command respect and expect loyalty. Washington and Lincoln had it, Ataturk had it, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah had it. Imran Khan, bless his heart, just doesn’t. It is worth noting that all the gentlemen I mentioned achieved far greater ends without once resorting to the kind of personal insults and empty threats that issue forth every night from the roof of the PTI container. Can anyone imagine Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Mahatama Gandhi speaking in the idiom that Imran Khan, Shah Mahmud Qureshi and Shaikh Rashid use? They were erudite, dignified and hyper-intelligent individuals with the self-control and depth necessary in true leaders. They spoke firmly and eloquently, but with civility; their ideas moved not only their followers but also their foes by the force of their logic and conviction, not by the use of locker-room trash-talk. Today, one can disagree with their ideas, but no one can deny their stature – and this was apparent even before they had succeeded in their causes.
I think that the passionate defenders of Imran Khan conflate two distinct things. The first is a justifiable feeling of frustration with the current order and the desire to change it. The second is the belief that, because they are giving voice to popular frustration, Imran Khan and PTI are going to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the latter does not follow automatically from the former. Just because your pain is real and someone gives voice to it does not imply that they can heal it, or even have the first idea of how to do so. Everything I have seen suggests to me that Imran Khan does not have the knowledge, character, judgment or temperament to do what it will take.
In the article, Fahd Husain says, “A state and a government that has lost the ability to care, has lost the mandate to rule.” Perhaps so, but by these standards has any government in Pakistan ever had a mandate to rule? And who can say that those who rule post-revolution will truly care? If history is any guide, the revolution will probably lead to an even less caring government by an even less accountable group. I could be wrong, of course … and indeed, would be happy to be wrong. But at this point, I can only modify Iqbal’s words to say:
na Qadri meN ne Imran mayN numood is kee
ye rooh apne badan kee talaash mayN hae abhee
(neither Qadri nor Imran provide what is needed; the spirit [of change] is still in search of a body it can inhabit)
Shama and Shahzad Masih were poor Christians who lived in the small village of Chak 59 in the Tehsil (subdivision) of Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore. It is not a remote area (though some orientalist in the BBC has managed to describe it as such), being a well developed center of the leather industry lcoated only 60 kilometers from the provincial capital of Lahore on a major national highway (and is the home of 2 former prime ministers of Pakistan!). Like many other poor people in their village, they worked as modern-day slaves in the local brick kiln. This, by the way, is not an exaggerated or poetic description of their employment status; bonded labor in brick kilns in India and Pakistan is internationally recognized as a type of modern slavery and involves many of the abuses known to us from books and movies about slaves in the days of yore.
The young couple had 4 children: Solomon (8) and Zeeshan (5) had been given to an uncle for adoption, probably due to the parent’s poverty. Sonia (4) and Poonam (18mths) lived with them and Shama was pregnant again with her fifth child. Her father-in-law had died recently and a few days later Shama cleaned out his room and disposed of his old papers by burning them. He had been an “amil” (a folk healer) who used various religious texts in his amulets and suchlike, and the burnt papers apparently included some with arabic writing on them. Shama, who was illiterate and so could not read them in any case, burnt the lot and threw the remains on a nearby garbage heap.What happened next is best described in this report from World Watch Monitor (corroborated to me by a friend in the police as the best description of the event):
“On Sunday, Shama burned them all and threw the ashes on a garbage heap outside their quarters. Shama never meant any disrespect to Islam as she was totally illiterate and had no idea what the amulets contained,” she said. “A few people recognized partially burned pages in the ash and raised a cry that Shama had burned the Qur’an.” Shahzad Masih and his five brothers worked for many years at the brick kiln, owned by Yousuf Gujjar. Parveen said Shahzad and his brothers went to Gujjar to resolve the matter after the situation got tense in the village. “Gujjar on the one hand assured us that nothing would happen, and on the other hand asked his accountant not to let Shahzad and Shama flee the village without paying back their bond money”, (taken from them as an ‘advance’ against their employment and wages). By Monday night, some Muslim neighbors had informed the police of the alleged desecration and warned of a possible attack on the Christian couple, Parveen said. “That night I had Shahzad and Shama sleep in my home so that if the police arrested them, at least we would know.”At about 6 a.m. when Shahzad and Shama went back to their own home in order to prepare for work, an angry mob began pouring into their quarters. Sensing the danger all the Christians fled except Shama’s sister Yasmeen (married to Shahzad’s brother Fiaz Masih).Yasmeen said they were still preparing breakfast when a few more people knocked at their door and enquired about Shama. “They entered the house and one of the men dragged Shama out. Shama had their youngest daughter Poonam in her arms. That man snatched Poonam and threw her on the floor…So brick kiln guard Muhammad Akram rescued Shama and took her to the kiln office (only a few yards away from their house) and locked her in there, to save her from the attackers.” “By then, the number of mobsters was very small, but we could hear announcements being made from mosque loudspeakers in nearby villages – that a Christian woman had desecrated the Qur’an”.Yasmeen said people from five surrounding villages – Chak 60, Rosey, Pailan, Nawan Pindi and Hatnian – were gathered together by the residents of Chak 59 and their brick kiln coworkers.“ Soon thousands of men armed with clubs, hatchets and axes loaded onto tractors and trolleys began pouring in.(The guard) Akram had locked the main kiln office door from the outside, but the angry protestors broke in anyway. But they failed to break the iron door of the office inside, and Shama and Shahzad must have locked it from inside.”The angry protestors then climbed on to the roof, and broke it in, “as if it was made of wood, straw and mud” said Yasmeen.She says these men then opened the door from inside and brought the couple into the open, where the highly-charged protestors were ready to attack. “They beat them with wooden clubs on their heads, and hatchets, before they were both tied to a tractor and pulled out onto a road which was under construction, covered with crushed stones.”“I think they were unconscious, but still breathing, but the mob was still not willing to leave them alone,” said Yasmeen. “They took some petrol from a tractor and doused their bodies and threw them in the kiln. Then I lost hope and fled with my children from there.” Another relative, Parvaiz Shehzad, who also lives in Clarkabad, said that Muslims of neighboring villages “were very much jealous of Christians”. The village is named after Robert Clark (1825–1900), the first Anglican missionary to Pakistan. Parvaiz Shehzad said it was the first village in the district that had electricity, a bank, a post office and a high school.“Most educated people of surrounding villages had studied in in Clarkabad…Strife between the Christian villagers and Muslim villagers has been a common feature in recent years”.As Shehzad and Shama were of Clarkabad, he claims jealousy came into play. The dead woman’s sister Yasmeen says that during the entire violent attack, a police van was present, but because they were so few, the police did not take charge. “Some men asked them to fire into the air to quell the protestors, because the mob had no weapons to fire back…Shama and her husband might have survived if the police had taken timely action.” Heavy contingents of police did arrive at the scene after the crowd had killed the couple. A local media reports that the police have arrested at least 42 people in connection with the case.The police themselves filed the case and lodged the First Information Report (FIR), [no. 475/14], registered in Kot Radha Kishan Police Station. The FIR states that 500 to 600 men tortured the Christian couple. The FIR identifies 60 men by name and says that:“the incident took place after the above-nominated persons gathered a crowd of people and roused their passion though false announcements from the mosque (loudspeakers) of desecration of the Qur’an.”...
Another eyewitness reports that when the young couple, beaten to near death, were put into the fire, a large heavy iron sheet was put on top of them to hold them down; as if the crowd wanted to make sure that they would burn. As if there was ever any doubt. As if there could be a different ending after a mob had arrived to defend the honor of Allah and his prophet. As if this was not 2014 in Kot Radha Kishan (“stronghold of Radha and Krishna“). As if this was not Kalyug…
Several pictures of the couple have surfaced. We do not know if it was Shahzad or Shama who chose the backgrounds. (Note: I hv been told (and agree after looking again at the pictures) that it is not the same girl in all the pictures, some are with a cousin or niece of Shahzad, not with his wife Salma; this will no doubt become clearer with time; In any case, there seems to be no doubt about the picture of their last remains)
Yes, many thousands were killed in equally gruesome ways in 1947, in 1971, in 1984, in 2002; India, as Naipaul said, is a wounded civilization. But just look at these pictures…the contrast between the idyllic scenes depicted in the photographer’s backgrounds and the actual life of the poor couple was already harsh when they took went to the photographer in Clarkabad; the contrast between these beautiful, hopeful faces and their terrified, screaming last hour on earth is unbearable and unimaginable. Too painful for words. After such knowledge, what forgiveness?
Someone took a picture of the remains after the good people of Kot Radha Kishan had finished with the couple.
What more can one say?
The government of chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has acted with some speed and 40 or so people have been arrested for this atrocity. The Prime Minister has expressed shock, condemned the incident, and promised to bring the guilty to book. Multiple organizations within Pakistan have condemned this murder and I have no doubt that millions of Pakistanis are shocked to the core. I also believe that both the chief minister and the prime minister are entirely sincere in their concern. They are not inhuman bastards and they are not dumb. They see this is a terrible atrocity and they know how ugly it looks to the rest of the world. But their best intentions will not prevent the next incident and the fact that the blasphemy law itself has been openly questioned in Pakistan after this incident will not lead to any change in the law.
Why not? Because the law runs deep and has real support among the people and, perhaps more to the point, serves real purposes for sections of the ruling elite. (the follow is modified from an earlier article I wrote about the blasphemy law)
A blasphemy law was part of the 19th century Indian Penal code as section 295 (this fact has allowed many a postmarxist to begin any discussion of blasphemy laws with the phrase “colonial era law”, God be praised). 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.
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”). But the 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. 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 wanted to do the act and only stepped aside because they drew lots and Ilm Deen won thrice in a row.
And when he did do the deed 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 he 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 and was attended with pride by Allama Iqbal, who supposedly 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 was 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, 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 does 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..
Post Script: It is likely that in the coming days some of the details of the murder will be revised (though the beating and burning are not in doubt and will not be wished away). About such revisions, it is important to keep in mind that a number of new stories are going to be circulated by interested parties to muddy the waters, spoil the prosecution, confuse the issue and so on. And the “best supported” new stories may not be the most authentic. As Goldhizer noted about hadith authentication, in many cases the best authenticated are the ones most likely to be untrue (the authentication chains being so good precisely because they were invented to look authentic). Local MPA’s will be activated to defend the kiln owners. Local villagers will find ways to play down their own barbarity and play up the “desecration”. Clerics will find NGO’s behind a new conspiracy to defame Islam. It has all happened before….
PPS: The All Pakistan Private Schools Association (which may or may not represent too many schools) has observed an “anti-malala day” to condemn her membership in the “Rushdie club”. Mashallah.
At about 6 pm on Sunday evening, a young suicide bomber (said to be 18 years old) blew himself up in a crowd returning from the testosterone-heavy flag lowering ceremony held every evening at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah, near Lahore.
Presumably this young man (a true believer, since a fake believer would find it hard to explode in such circumstances) had wanted to target the ceremony itself (usually watched by up to 5000 people every day, most of them visitors from out of town) but the military had received prior intelligence that something like this may happen and there were 6 checkpoints and he was unable to get to the ceremony, so he waited around the shops about 500 yards away from the parade site and exploded when he felt he had enough bodies around him to make it worth his while. About 60 innocent people died. Many of them women and children. Including 8 women from the same poor family from a village in central Punjab who were visiting relatives in Lahore and decided to go to the parade (whether as entertainment, or as patriotic theater, or both). The bombing was instantly claimed by more than one Jihadist organization but it is possible that Ehsanullah Ehsan’s claim will turn out to be true. He said it was a reaction against the military’s recent anti-terrorist operation (operation Zarb e Azb: “blow of the sword of the prophet”), that his group wants “an Islamic system of government” and that they would attack infidel regimes on both sides of the Indian-Pakistani border.
The Indian authorities decided to suspend their side of the parade for the next three days. But on Monday evening, the Pakistani side decided to hold their parade as usual and a crowd was on hand. Cynics have pointed out that most of the “crowd” looked like soldiers in civilian clothes, but that is not fair. The “show of resilience” meme is a very ancient and well-developed meme and has solid credentials and should not be easily dismissed. I personally wish both India and Pakistan end this ridiculous ceremony someday (soon), but on this particular occasion a show of resilience was the smart move. But then, the respected corps commander of the Pakistani army corps in Lahore, General Naveed Zaman (an outstanding officer, himself on the Taliban’s hit list for his role in various anti-terrorist operations) made a statement and beat his chest a bit about how we are a brave nation, we are back the next day and “look, on the Indian side it’s like a snake has sniffed them”, the implication being, they are cowards, they didn’t show up, but look at us, we are back and we are strong. This is par for the course for the Pakistani army (whose propaganda software was designed and built for only one enemy, and whose soldiers are motivated to attack Jihadi terrorists by being told that the Jihadists are all Indian agents, I am not kidding) but is still telling: the day after one of the biggest massacres of civilians by a Jihadist terrorist bomber (there being no other kinds in our area these days, though the Tamil Tigers showed that a Tamil Hindu version is indeed possible, and in fact preceded the adoption of this particular weapon by Islamist terrorists) the senior army officer in the region could only taunt the Indians across Eastern border. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the Boko Haram terrorists announced that most of the 276 girls they kidnapped have been “converted to Islam” and married off. So the matter is settled.
And in Iraq, the “Islamic State” has been buying and selling captured Yezidi girls as slaves in the best medieval Arab tradition. In the video below, the young men of IS can be seen joking about the topic (the translation is by Jenan Moussa, an Arab journalist, not by MEMRI, so discerning viewers can view it without violating any of the standard guidelines):
Boko Haram has also gone ahead and blown up some Shias in Nigeria as they commemorated Moharram, while their fans have apparently shot a Shia in the face in, of all places, Sydney. My point is this: the Salafist-Jihadist meme, so carefully nurtured and brought together in the Afghan-Pakistan border region by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US in the 1980s, is now global and will soon come to your neighborhood if your neighborhood happens to be in the core Islamicate territories of the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Londonistan or Mississauga. Many different narratives about this phenomenon are in the market, ranging from Neocon propaganda and Fox News to Islamist apologetics and Marxist “class-based analysis”. For Western and Westernized liberals of a particular disposition, there are also “commentators” like Pankaj Mishra, who can be relied upon to press all the politically correct buttons without committing to anything resembling a coherent description, prediction or prescription. I would like to add some random thoughts to this mélange:
1. We are all human beings. And in the great Eurasian landmass, we have been mixing, biologically and culturally, for thousands of years. It is not possible that a relatively recent religious movement (Islam) has somehow significantly altered the biology of the people involved. This is a trivial observation, but some people on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide seem to have some misapprehensions about this, so it is worth reiterating. Going beyond that, I would add that even as a cultural phenomenon, Islam is not from some other planet. It evolved within pre-existing cultures, borrowing and altering already existing cultural memes. Much of “Islamic history” is the history of an initial (very successful and very extensive) Arab conquest, followed by some further conquests (primarily in Central Asia and India) by Islamicized Turkic invaders. Only in Indonesia and Malaysia did the initial wave arrive as traders and the subsequent conquests and conversions were almost entirely the work of local converts. This makes early South East Asian Islam a bit of an outlier, but that is another story. Only by disregarding most of history can we regard these conquests (and their associated missionary activities) as somehow completely unique. There are some peculiar features of Islamicate civilization, but not as many as its fans or its detractors would like to claim. 2. That being said, Islamicate civilization developed a remarkable degree of consensus on it’s core doctrines in the Islamic heartland. Even Shias and Sunnis converged on similarities in daily life and communal attitudes towards non-Muslims, towards women, towards apostasy, towards blasphemy, towards the notion of holy war. While agreeing with Razib Khan’s views about the relative unimportance of theology in general, I think modern life and the recent experience of colonization, decolonization and its associated psychopathologies have led to an unusual situation in the Islamicate world: while the pressures that cause religious revivalist movements or “fundamentalist” movements may be similar in non-Muslim communities (hence Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist identity-based semi-fascist fundamentalist movements), the material that is available to these movements and the historical background of the religions involved, makes it difficult to associate a detailed “shariah” with any of those movements. Sikhs can ban tobacco and kill blasphemers and traitors, Buddhist mobs can kill Muslims without compunction in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Hindu nationalists ban beef and carry out pogroms, but the notion of a Sikh state or a Hindu state or a Buddhist state is mostly the notion of a state where their co-religionists hold sway (or even hold exclusive title), but lacks consensus on any well developed legal code or even theology. This is not the case with Islam. 3. There is such a legal and theological framework in Islam and it has wide support in principle. In principle is, of course, not the same as in practice. Most Muslims know as much about Muslim theology as Christians know about Christian theology, which means they know very little. But because of widespread beliefs about blasphemy and apostasy, this “in principle” support translates into an inability to frontally challenge those who come armed with more detailed Islamic knowledge. For example, most Pakistanis may have no idea that classical Islamic law permits slave girls to be captured, used for sex (without marriage) and bought and sold as desired. If and when IS comes to Pakistan and wants to talk about buying and selling slave girls, most people will probably be shocked. It is possible that most people will initially even find some way to say this is wrong. But it is also my guess that when face to face with an IS ideologue, most people will be unable to argue for too long. Because he will have classical Islamic texts on his side and his opponent will have nothing beyond his human intuition of fairness and good behavior. Intuition will not stand against argument. And there will probably be no argument for too long because to argue too much would cross over into the zone of blasphemy. And most people (except maybe for the tiny sliver educated in Western or Western-style universities and out of touch with their own traditions almost completely) believe that blasphemers should be punished, and at least for the most extreme kinds of blasphemy, the punishment should be death. This, by the way, is just a simple empirical fact, easily checked if you step out among the people in that region. 4. Whenever the existing state order (in almost all cases, the product of recent Russian or West European colonization, so somewhat suspect in any case) falls apart, the next common denominator tends to be Islamist. And among those Islamists, the ways of the golden age are not some distant myth. Those books are still around, still honored, still relevant, still protected against criticism by blasphemy and apostasy memes. And those books include rules for holy war, for slave holding,for female legal inequality etc. that are no longer fashionable in the modern world. That is just how things happen to be. 5. The ruling elites in most Islamicate countries are not Islamist in practice and may not be so in principle either. But having taken the path of least resistance (or having received their Islam from Karen Armstrong or post-Marxist theorists) they have acquiesced in the glorification of medieval Islamicate norms, not as past history but as guides to present behavior. They will now be (literally in many cases) hoist on their own petard. 6. Elements of the ruling elite (especially in South Asia, where penetration of Western postcolonialist/postmodern/post-Marxist garbage has been most extensive within the elite) are vigorously opposed to many of these medieval norms, but have disappeared into an alternate universe where only White people have agency and therefore only White people are responsible for all events. This has effectively taken them out of the equation for now. They remain mostly harmless, but the opportunity cost of their withdrawal into la la land is not insignificant. 7. As the Bill Maher-Ben Affleck affair has shown, Western Liberals are generally clueless about Islamic history and the status of (most of) the Islamicate world with regard to issues like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, feminism and suchlike. This is NOT to endorse a particular Whiggish vision of history as the only valid path, with every community situated somewhere along the timeline from barbarian to Western liberal democracy. But it is to emphasize that opting out of this linear timeline is one thing, pretending that everyone is already at point X on the timeline while paying lip-service to multiculturalism is another. If Ben Affleck thinks that Western standards of “liberal democracy” (however defined and whether regarded as an endpoint or not) are not to be applied to everyone on the globe and that these standards are being used to demonize and colonize those who hold to different values and models, then he has a leg to stand on. But he (or others like him) seem to lose this admirable level of “nuance” when they get to specifics. Instead of saying that Pakistani Muslims do not permit free speech when it comes to X, Y and Z and who are we to comment or interfere(especially when we are just using this commentary to justify our invasion of this or that country), they are saying “there is no real difference in free speech norms between X and the US”, which is patently absurd. Other liberals (too numerous to list) will look at history as if European powers have real histories (with colonization, oppression, invasions, decimations etc, also with progress, emancipation, democracy, etc.) and everyone else lived on some other static planet with no history, no past and no future. I don’t have to go into detail, Wikipedia can solve this issue for anyone these days, but it is still surprising how few people will bother to even read Wikipedia before brandishing absurdities in this matter. The opportunity cost for this (loss of some Western liberals) is perhaps insignificant in real life, but since I tend to interact with some of these (very nice) people, I obsessively comment about them. Hence this comment. 8. More after I get some feedback; many or most of these comments are very likely to be misinterpreted by many people. This is partly because I am not a good enough writer, but partly because all of us use various heuristics to slot every commentator into pre-existing boxes. To see a little of where I am coming from, some of the following articles may be helpful. Thank you. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/the-roots-of-the-islamic-states-appeal/382175/
Looking back at Pakistan’s history over the last forty years, he represented the country’s best opportunity to transform itself from a third-world kleptocracy to a modern democracy, which is why the failure of Imran Khan and his revolution is such a tragedy. I do not mean to imply that he has failed in narrow political terms: It is much too early to say that, and I would not be surprised to see him as Prime Minister of Pakistan in the near future. What has failed, rather, is the vision that he had once promised. It has been tainted irredeemably by his alliances with obscurantist forces like the Jamaat-e-Islami, his rationalization of Taliban extremism, his willingness to act as the instrument of anti-democratic forces, his poor judgment of character, his limited grasp of history, his opportunistic embrace of bigotry, and his inability to organize his movement into a meaningful force rather than a rabble of unthinking acolytes. Ultimately, Imran Khan’s revolution has been limited by its leader’s inability to transcend the limitations of his own character. At one level, this is just a tragedy, but at another, it is an unforgivable betrayal because, by promising gold and delivering dirt, Imran Khan has set back the cause of true reform and strengthened the very forces he had originally wished to counteract. Many of his supporters are delighted that he has weakened the current government, which they see as corrupt and illegitimate, and indeed he has. But this government represents only one aspect of the rot in Pakistani society – and not even the most salient one. What Imran Khan’s actions have really weakened is the institution of democracy in Pakistan.
Among the factors that have brought Pakistan to where it is today, corrupt politicians may be the most visible, but are certainly not the most significant. They are the scavengers picking at the corpse, not the original killers. The true source of Pakistan’s problems are the forces that, over the country’s entire history, have not allowed the institutions of governance and socioeconomic organization to establish themselves, and have precluded the emergence of a stable social contract between the state and its citizens. These forces are given many names – “the Establishment”, “the Deep State”, “farishtay” (angels), “secret agencies”, etc. – but the only thing certain about them is that they pervade all aspects of the state. Corrupt politicians are, at best, servants and enablers of these forces – a symptom, not the cause, so to speak. And this is reflected in the fact that, while the political system in Pakistan has been extremely unstable since the country’s inception, the ideological orientation of the country has been remarkably stable, and has moved only in one direction. This is evident in the policies towards India and Afghanistan, the Kashmir issue, the nurturing of extremism as a geopolitical weapon, the untouchability of the military-industrial complex, the use of the educational system as an instrument of ideology, the suppression of civil society and civil rights, the dehumanization of minorities, and – above all – in the periodic disruption of the democratic system.
Democracy is a fragile thing and does not come naturally to humans. Its success in the West and the East has depended on being given the space and time to establish itself. Good democracy – if it arises at all – requires many generations to take root, and is often preceded by decades of poor, imperfect, corrupt and just plain bad democracy. Those decades of bad democracy are absolutely necessary for the ultimate emergence of good democracy, which explains why the latter has never occurred in Pakistan. Every time the democratic experiment begins and takes its natural imperfect course, a possibly well-meaning “reformer” upends it in the name of bringing order, thus resetting everything to square one, which is where the process starts again after a period of political stasis. There is no time for democracy to establish itself, and for true reformers to emerge from within the system, which is the only way the system can ever be reformed. And this brings us back to the tragedy and betrayal in Imran Khan’s revolution. His diagnosis of what ails Pakistan, while partial, was (and remains) correct: The democracy that exists now is terrible. As the leader of the second most powerful party in the Parliament, and the party in power in one of the four provinces, Imran Khan the reformer had a golden opportunity to begin exactly the kind of “reform from within” that Pakistani democracy needs. However, such a process would take time – years and decades of bad but slowly improving democracy, if the reformers could persevere. It is quite likely that, while he would begin it, Imran Khan would not be the one to complete the process. And this is where his character was tested and found wanting. Like many would-be reformers, Imran Khan obviously believes that he, and only he, can accomplish what is needed. It is a delusion common in the leadership business, but is seldom warranted. In this case, realizing that he was already nearing “retirement age”, Imran Khan chose to short-cut the process and to attack the system from the outside. The claim is often made (by his supporters) that he first spent a year – a whole year! – demanding reforms within the system, as if a process that requires decades can be judged on the results of a few months of half-hearted noise-making! I have no insider knowledge of who – if anyone – pushed him towards adopting this course, but it is obvious who benefited from it: The forces that do not wish to see the institutions of democratic government stabilize. Whether he has weakened the PML-N government or not, he has done incalculable damage to these institutions, which represent whatever future Pakistan might have. That is his greatest betrayal … but it isn’t all.
Imran Khan emerged upon the political scene as a widely admired sportsman, a determined fighter, a dedicated philanthropist and, above all, an honest man. He is still all these things, though the last attribute must perhaps be qualified now to apply only to financial matters. Those who followed him enthusiastically and those, like myself, who wished him well with some caution, all hoped that he would transform the social and political landscape of Pakistan with a thoughtful, well-organized and systematic movement. What has emerged instead is empty sloganeering, shallow thinking and dangerous impatience. One would expect the leader of a true reform movement to surround himself with thinkers, intellectuals, technocrats and organizers – people who know, understand, think and act with judgment. Instead, Imran Khan is surrounded by rank opportunists of little expertise but grandiose ambitions, the refuse of the same system that he seeks to overthrow. One common theme that unites them is their reluctance to criticize their leader and their willingness to rationalize his most absurd actions. And there have been plenty of these. One may recall the exhortation to transfer money from abroad using a “hawala” scheme that violated international law, or the ridiculous (and counterproductive) edict to stop paying tax and utility bills, or forcing all his party’s members to resign from Parliament (much to their chagrin). No prominent leader in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – with the exception of the now departed Javed Hashmi – has dared to criticize these ideas as impossible, counter-productive or both, though many of them must surely know this. However, they also know the boundless narcissism of their leader who cannot abide criticism any more now than he could when he was captain of the cricket team. A little autocracy was not bad for Pakistan cricket, but it is poison for national governance!
The party created by Imran Khan – the PTI – should have been a haven for rational, thoughtful Pakistanis who could change the country through the force of their ideas and their exemplary behavior. That has always been the key to reform: Ideas and character. Instead, he has created a party characterized by paranoia, demagoguery, defensiveness and abusiveness. Every untoward event is quickly attributed by the party faithful to vast international and domestic conspiracies, variously involving the US, India, Israel, internal traitors, former judges and generals, government functionaries, and Fakhroo Bhai’s lack of spine. Whatever befalls the PTI is always someone else’s fault – the Dear Leader never makes a mistake. When – in spite of many irregularities – the 2013 elections were deemed to be generally fair, and the results turned out to be almost exactly what all serious pollsters – as opposed to PTI kool-aid drinkers – had predicted, the response was to serially blame officials and politicians at every level. Every journalist who criticizes PTI policies is immediately deemed a “dollar-khor” “lifafa journalist” traitor on the take from nefarious entities. Anyone who dares to challenge Imran Khan’s “ideas” is labeled a bully, traitor, pervert, and worse. The picturesque language that issues forth from the social media accounts of PTI youth is just an amplified reflection of the attitudes implicit in their leader’s rhetoric – the same lack of decorum, the same inability to accept criticism, the same alacrity in blaming everything on others, and the same lack of prior thought. The river of incoherence, factual errors, empty threats and false predictions that has issued forth from the roof of the PTI container on D-Chowk would long ago have drowned any rational political movement, but froth floats even in a flood.
Then leaving aside style, let us turn to substance. Through 2012 and 2013, as Pakistan was engulfed in violence perpetrated by jihadi Taliban, Imran Khan and his party kept up a steady drumbeat of apologetics for the extremists, calling them “our alienated brothers” and suggesting they open offices in Pakistani cities. To be sure, the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif was no better on this, though the two differed slightly in their choice of preferred extremist outfits. However, this was a much more problematic position for a party supposedly championing reform. When it came time to form a government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, PTI forged an alliance with the mother-ship of religious obscurantism and political thuggery in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami. They were given only two ministeries, but one of them was education – an area fraught with ideological conflict. Predictably, the need to mollify Islamist coalition partners has resulted in devastating changes to the educational curriculum in KP. PTI still does not dare to criticize Islamist militants as terrorists. Even as I write this, PTI mouthpieces are out on social media and TV news shows trying to deflect the blame for yesterday’s deadly blast at Wahgah away from the Taliban (who have already claimed responsibility) and towards India. One has to ask: Whom is this benefiting? And once we have an answer to this question, many things will become magically clearer.
I am often asked why I am so adamantly opposed to Imran Khan’s leadership if I think he is not corrupt and means well (I do). Why not give him a chance as opposed to the corrupt lot currently in power? My answer is that, given the stakes, I prefer corrupt, incompetent opportunists to committed, single-minded ideologues. The former are not harmless, but are incapable of being truly dangerous, because the success of their “business” depends on the system’s survival. The latter scare me because they are the type who would gladly burn a village to save it. I fear that Imran Khan today is unleashing forces within Pakistani politics that even he will not be able to control in the future, and sadly, they are mainly destructive ones.
In the hard-fought and bitter American presidential election of 1960, more than 68 million votes were cast nationwide, and John F. Kennedy won by only 112,827 votes – 0.165% of all the votes cast – and winning only 23 states to Nixon’s 26. It was well-known that Mayor Richard Daley’s “machine” in Chicago had conjured up thousands of questionable votes, including votes from dead people. The state of Texas was delivered by JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, by means still shrouded in mystery. Yet, that most greedy of politicians, Richard Nixon, accepted defeat with grace and left the field to his opponent, living to fight another day. Then in the election of 2000, the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, actually won half a million more votes than his opponent, George W. Bush, and clearly should have won the state of Florida – and thus the Presidency – had all votes been counted properly. However, the US Supreme Court, with a majority of Republican judges – including three appointed by Candidate Bush’s father or President Reagan (when Bush Sr. was Vice-President) – arbitrarily stopped the recount and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Many urged Gore to challenge this, but he stepped aside gracefully to show respect for the system. This is how mature leaders behave. In both cases, the losers’ supporters (myself included, in the case of Al Gore) gnashed their teeth and stamped their feet in frustration, but no one talked of overthrowing the government. Contrast this with the behavior of the Republican ideologues after 1994, who ended up impeaching Bill Clinton, or the even more reckless ideologues of today’s Tea Party, who have repeatedly brought the US government to the brink of disaster because of their personal hatred for President Obama. In this, and in too many other things, the party created by Imran Khan resembles the Tea Party of today and the ideologues of 1994: The same unwillingness to listen to contrary facts, the same paranoid conspiracy theories, the same indiscriminately abusive language towards critics, and – most sadly – the same preference for ideology over Reason. The PTI has become the party of “you’re with us or against us”, the party that trusts its gut feelings more than objective facts, and the party that seeks to “reform” the system by demolishing it. For all his claims of being an honest reformer, Imran Khan has turned out to be yet another well-meaning authoritarian wannabe – albeit in civilian clothes for a change.