Browncast: Major Amin on Current Events

Major Amin – Brown Pundits

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode I chat with our regular guest, Military Historian Major Agha Humayun  Amin, but we dont touch on military history in this episode. Instead I asked his opinion on the Trump assassination attempt (he admires Trump), the war in Ukraine, Gaza, Pakistan, India, etc. Enjoy. Comments welcome.

Jewish Muslim Relations

From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain. He is doing a series on Jewish-Muslim relations and sent these two pieces about prayer and pilgrimage in the two related religions.

Jewish Muslim Relations – Shared Rituals – Prayer

 “Prayer is God’s backstage pass into a personal audience with Him”.    Tony Evans

 Judaism and Islam has a complex relationship over the centuries. On the one hand, there is mutual acceptance of basic tenet of monotheism and soundness of divinely inspired ethical standards to guide a believer’s life by both religions. On the other hand, Judaism’s critique of Islam as not an authentic divine message and Islam’s assertion that original message of Judaism was authentic but was later distorted or corrupted by the Rabbis therefore it is superseded by Islam. 

Continue reading Jewish Muslim Relations

Blasphemy in Pakistan; NOT a Colonial Era Problem

There is an old post about blasphemy laws from 2015 that i revised in 2021. It is on the site, but not well written and hard to search for, so i decided to repost it 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

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 (mostly promoted by LeLi Indians and Pakistanis desperate to find someone else to blame)

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.

Punishment was later upgraded to the death penalty.

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.

Every time this shit hits the fan, many liberal people start 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: Continue reading Blasphemy in Pakistan; NOT a Colonial Era Problem

Browncast: India Elections 2024; Ashvamedha Interrupted

 

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this podcast we gathered together a band of brownpundits (Mukunda Raghavan, Srikanth Krishnamachary, Maneesh Taneja, Gaurav Lele, KJ and myself) and talked about the Indian elections in details. As expected the BJP’s setbacks get a lot of play, but we discuss much more than that and hope to follow up with more focused episodes on some issues (such as the future of Hindu Nationalism).

How many fires are there, how many suns? How many dawns? How many waters? 

I ask this, O fathers, not to challenge. O Sages, I ask it to know

(RigVeda Book 10, hymn 88)

Pakistan; Myths and Consequences

This was an old article i wrote for the Indian magazine Pragati in 2013. That magazine has since disappeared, but some good Samaritan found this on the intertubes and I thought I would post it here for posterity. Some elements of my thinking have changed since then, and others have shifted in intensity, but i am posting this article as originally written;

Salman Rushdie famously said that Pakistan was “insufficiently imagined”. To say that a state is insufficiently imagined is to run into thorny questions regarding the appropriate quantum of imagination needed by any state; there is no single answer and at their edges (internal or external), all states and all imaginings are contested.  But while the mythology used to justify any state is elastic and details vary in every case, it is not infinitely elastic and all options are not equally workable. I will argue that Pakistan in particular was insufficiently imagined prior to birth; that once it came into being, the mythology favored by its establishment proved to be self-destructive;  and that it must be corrected (surreptitiously if need be, openly if possible) in order to permit the emergence of workable solutions to myriad common post-colonial problems.

In state sponsored textbooks it is claimed that Pakistan was established because two separate nations lived in India — one of the Muslims and the other of the Hindus (or Muslims and non-Muslims, to be more accurate) and the Muslims needed a separate state to develop individually and collectively. That the two “nations” lived mixed up with each other in a vast subcontinent and were highly heterogeneous were considered minor details. What was important was the fact that the Muslim elite of North India (primarily Turk and Afghan in origin) entered India as conquerors from ‘Islamic’ lands. And even though they then settled in India and intermarried with locals and evolved a new Indo-Muslim identity, they remained a separate nation from the locals. More surprisingly, those locals who converted to the faith of the conquerors also became a separate nation, even as they continued to live in their ancestral lands alongside their unconverted neighbours.  Accompanying this was the belief that the last millennium of Indian history was a period of Muslim rule followed by a period of British rule. Little mention was made of the fact that the relatively unified rule of the Delhi Sultanate and the Moghul empire (both of which can be fairly characterised as “Muslim rule”, Hindu generals, satraps and ministers notwithstanding) collapsed in the 18th century to be replaced in large sections of India by the Maratha empire, and then by the Sikh Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Continue reading Pakistan; Myths and Consequences

Browncast: Indic Modernity

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Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

This episode was recorded a month ago, but we had some delay in uploading it, our apologies to Vineet. Vineet is very active on social media and runs the Indic explorer channel on Youtube. Please do check it out for interesting stuff on India. In this episode Mukunda Raghavan and I talk to Vineet about Indic modernity. What is it? what is it likely to become? and so on..

Abhinav Prakash: How Savarkar and the RSS won

A previous discussion on this topic with Kushal Mehra of the Carvaka podcast:

Sacred Texts and Jewish-Muslim Relations

From Dr Hamid Hussain

This is part of a series of my work on Jewish-Muslim relations encompassing a wide canvas of similarities in scripture, rituals, Arabic & Hebrew language, mysticism, literature, coexistence in historical context and conflict in recent times. It has been a fascinating journey tracing the sibling rivalry of Isac and Ishmael.

Hamid

Jewish Muslim Relations – Sacred Texts – The Torah and the Quran

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

                                               Anne Lamott

The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Quran are two sacred texts considered revelation from God by Judaism and Islam respectively.  Both sacred texts are considered foundational stones of faith.  Tanakh is acronym for Torah (five books of Moses called Khumash in Hebrew), Navi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). The Torah is called sefer (book) and the Quran um al kitab (mother of books).  Both texts share several commonalities in terms of themes, narratives, and ethical teachings and are at the same time quite different.  One can pick any side depending on what one is trying to convey.  In the inter-faith interactions, participants stress commonalities sometimes exaggerating the similarities or trying to find common ground where none exists. On the other hand, polemics with aim of denouncing the other side can give a long list of differences between two texts. Continue reading Sacred Texts and Jewish-Muslim Relations

Capsule Review: How to Love in Sanskrit

A very nice collection of short Sanskrit poems (and a few short prose pieces) about love, longing, separation, etc. The originals are all in in the footnotes, so those who know sanskrit can comment on the translation. Translations are generally very contemporary (even cell phones make an appearance), but the originals are available if you want to see how they have captured (or failed to capture) the essence of the original. Since I do not know sanskrit, I cannot comment on that, but the collection is a lot of fun and worth a read. As india rises, so will the market for such works (which is a good thing).
Check it out.

available on Kindle. 

Original in devnagri is here

Random samples:

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An Electoral Earthquake in Pakistan

As everybody knows by now, Pakistan held a general election on February 8th and the results (such as they are, rigging is still going on as we write, so not all the results are here) are a shock for the army and the parties it had roped in to remove their own creation (Imran Khan).

Imran Khan was brought into power in 2018 as part of a longstanding army project to get rid of bothersome civilian politicians. To arrange that victory the army had used its various levers (pliant judges, ISI pressure, pliant media etc) to remove Mian Nawaz Sharif from power and when the numbers still seemed uncertain after the voting, they delayed results and arranged “positive results”. But Imran Khan proved a disaster at governance and by 2021 the army chief (Bajwa) had lost faith in Khan and in typical army fashion now “arranged” a vote of no confidence against Khan. Somewhat to their surprise, Khan refused to go gentle into that good night and launched a campaign of defiance. Since Bajwa himself was playing double games (probably in the hope of getting another extension as army chief) and was a rank incompetent in any case, the entire saga was shambolic even by Pak army standards. Khan was especially successful in turning the army’s own mildly jihadi paknationalist narrative against them. And he MUST get credit for having the guts to do so. It is not like it was not available to other parties, but outside of fringe leftist or Islamist groups, no major party ever dared to attack the pak army as traitors and american agents. Khan had no such hesitation, he made it the main plank of his resistance, and it worked, spectacularly. He also had the benefit of Bajwa’s rank incompetence and all round goofiness and the terrible economic performance of the coalition the army had put together to overthrow him was the icing on the cake.

When the army finally arrested Khan, his supporters tried to incite a coup against the new army chief (Hafiz Asim Munir) and may have had the sympathy of a couple of senior generals, but the attempt failed and when you go at the king, you best not miss.. once they missed, Hafiz was able to launch a massive crackdown against the PTI and it seemed like they had no future left. But continuing economic crisis meant the public remained unhappy and the caretaker regime’s blatant authoritarian and undemocratic maneuvers REALLY turned off the new educated youth, who were more idealistic than their elders; every unfair means used against Khan increased his support in that demographic.

I have never been a fan of Khan sahib but even I could see that PTI is more popular than anyone in the establishment camp. And being in the establishment camp really hurt the PMLN, who had themselves been victims of establishment shenanigans in the past but now sacrificed their anti-establishment narrative for a short chance to rule followed by establishment support in the election. That proved to be a game changer. Their lethargic campaign and mixed and confused messaging added to their woes. Still, many people (including yours truly) thought that all the pre-poll rigging by the army and the fact that PTI had been denied the chance to run as a single party would be enough to squeeze out a PMLN win (though I also thought the army prefers a hung parliament, so they wont let them win big either). But paradoxically the state’s oppression of PTI removed all the opportunists and charlatans the army itself had gifted to them in 2018 and the young idealists who were left proved up to the task. They managed to get a candidate on almost every seat (running as independents as the party was kept out of the running via undemocratic means) and they managed to use social media to let their voters know who the candidate is in every constituency. This is a major achievement and they deserve FULL credit for doing that. 

Come election day, the establishment allowed mostly free and fair voting. Somehow their own assessment was that this will produce a fractured mandate with PMLN in the lead, but still dependent on them for arranging turncoats and supporters for them to make it to the magic number. They allowed PTI to run all their independents (probably feeling that too much in the hands of PMLN will not be good for them either) (I say “let them run” because considering the undemocratic means at their disposal, they COULD have done more to suppress these people, it was not beyond their abilities) and waited for the voting to end.

The voters then delivered their verdict. PTI having no “ground game” proved irrelevant. The common people of Pakistan (at least in the “Pakistani” zones of Punjab and KPK) came out in droves to “vote out the scoundrels” and there was a PTI  landslide in KPK and in many parts of Punjab. They may even have had a lot support in Karachi, but turnout was lower and (maybe with some rigging) they did not do as well there. They did not make a dent in rural Sindh (where sindhi identity is still strong and Sindhis know that PPP is the only Sindhi party in the game) and there has not been a real election in Balochistan for decades. STill, in most of Pakistan the “independent” candidates put up by the PTI won in large numbers. Having miscalculated and now with massive egg on their face, the establishment was forced to go back to its old shenanigans and they have delayed results on many constituencies, clearly trying to alter the result in close races (eg, i know for a fact that young lawyer Taimur Malik of the PTI upset ex-prime minister Yusuf Gilani in Multan, but that seat’s result was delayed and then announced in Gilani’s favor).

But even after this post-poll rigging, it is now clear that PTI has won KPK by a landslide and has won about half the seats in Punjab. That makes them the biggest single “party” but of course on paper they are not one party, they are 125 independent MNAs (members of the national assembly). That means there is still the possibility (really, probability) that the establishment will cobble together a coalition of some favored parties plus whatever independents they can buy or cajole. Ideally the army would like to make lemonade from the lemons they have gathered together, creating some kind of “national unity govt” that is run by GHQ from behind the scenes, but more likely they will end up with a useless and fractured govt and it will not last too long. Pakistan will have another election within two years (or less), or it will have a military coup. Same old, same old. And all other crises are still bubbling along. “Militancy”, separatist insurgency, economic crisis, poor governance. The show must go on.

Just to be clear, if you think like a democrat the obvious solution is to let PTI constitute its MNAs into one party and let them form governments where they can. But keep in mind that we are talking about Pakistan, where the army has ruled for decades, directly or indirectly, so this is more or less a pipe dream.  The country is run by the army and the apparatus of the Raj (now rusted and decayed, but still the machinery that actually runs the country) and ALL parties are badly compromised. PTI itself runs on vibes and has no serious economic or foreign policy plan (if Khan stays in prison they could conceivably find a competent leader to run the govt but they are a personality based party and will not be able to keep khan on the side.. if they are in power, they have to have Khan in power and khan is an incompetent goof at that job, though one must give him credit for taking a clear stand and fighting back. And of course, FULL CREDIT to the young guns of the PTI who mananged, under very adverse circumstances, to fight back and win. A job well done. Young people in Pakistan are sick of the terrible governance and all the unfair means used by the establishment. They have spoken out against it in this election. Unfortunately, this is pakistan, so Allah will not give us any unalloyed good. Young uns are idealistic and are rejecting the authoritarian and oppressive establishment, but ideologically they are all over the place, the default narrative is PMA-level paknationalist (which is why they are extra angry now, because they think big bad America has kicked out their hero, who was trying to do the Islamic Paknationalist thing and was stopped by anti-islam and anti-pakistan forces). They have done a great thing on February 8th, but all the other realities remain unchanged.
It is what it is. 

If you want to see my pre-election thoughts, i did a podcast:

 

My podcast when Imran Khan was arrested is here: https://www.brownpundits.com/2023/05/11/pakistan-crisis-the-arrest-of-imran-khan/

My article from 2011 about Imran Khan (I never liked him in politics).

Seat position per Dawn.com as I write this (a bit misleading because they are not showing many independents as PTI when they really are):

Browncast: Election Time in Pakistan

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

I talk to Maneesh Taneja about the upcoming elections and the general situation in Pakistan. It is really just a general gup shup, but we do touch on Imran Khan’s latest conviction (for marrying his new wife before the sharia required waiting period had expired) at the end of the interview 🙂

By the way, this is the section of the Indian Penal Code (Thank you Macaulay) that was used to punish Imran Khan:

Section 496 in The Indian Penal Code, 1860

496. Marriage ceremony fraudulently gone through without lawful marriage.—

Whoever, dishonestly or with a fraudulent intention, goes through the ceremony of being married, knowing that he is not thereby lawfully married, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

 

Imran Khan vs Gen Asim Munir: Who will checkmate the other? - THE NEW INDIAN

Brown Pundits