Back towards tolerance in Pakistani society – by Charles Ferndale and Kamila Hayat

Here are two articles highlighting the importance of re-discovering and re-inculcating the seeds of tolerance in Pakistani society and the region in general.

The path to freedom

Monday, February 22, 2010
Charles Ferndale

Kamila Hyat, in a typically lucid, well-reasoned article, published in The News on February 11, laments the present ubiquity of intolerance in Pakistan and asks what might be done about it.

The rise of extremist, religious intolerance over the last thirty years has not been restricted to Pakistan, nor even to the Muslim communities of the world. It has infested Christian communities (mainly in America) and Jewish communities (mainly in America) as well as others, like Shiv Sena, the Hindu fascists of India. We can say then that not all extremism is caused by poverty. Battles for scarce resources, coupled to human nature, are, however, probably key elements in all forms of intolerance, as they have always been the root causes of all human conflicts.

I first came to what I call the extended Middle East in 1972 and detected no religious intolerance of any kind. It was, perhaps, present, but was so rare as to be easily missed. It took me years to even notice that there were people called mullahs. At the time they were mentioned only in passing and with amusement. In those days, I spent most of my time shuttling between the Emirates and Pakistan; most of my business being in the Emirates and most of my friends, tribal and wildlife interests being in Pakistan. Almost every night, Arab friends from the Emirates, my Pakistani friends and I used to meet in the house of my Pakistani friends for gupshup in Abu Dhabi. The same people also gathered in Karachi where my Pakistani friends and I each had a house. We discussed everything under the sun, engaged in expansive fantasies, ignited exciting differences of opinion, and enjoyed much good humour. I had just come down from almost ten years at Oxford—which then, as now, was a glorious centre of free, generous, good humoured, well informed debate—and I felt no sudden change of culture; the topics were different, but the spirit was the same. I loved Pakistan, as I had loved Oxford. Then, in 1979, the Irani revolution came along and strange things started to happen. My Arab friends started to behave oddly towards me. They would not come to my house in the Emirates nor to the one in Karachi. They would leave the house of my Pakistani friends in Abu Dhabi as soon as I arrived, and would call in advance to check that I was absent before arriving there themselves. They were cold towards me. My Pakistani friends were sophisticated people, so I was able to ask them the cause of this odd behaviour—so untypical of Muslims (whose commitment to courtesy and hospitality is unparalleled, except perhaps by the Japanese). They explained gently that since the Ayatollah had come to power and had advertised to the Muslim world the superior sanctity of Shia Islam by vigorous opposition to America, all Muslim Arabs were ashamed to be left behind in the sanctity stakes and so, though not an American, I had suddenly become a ferengi, to be avoided; I was now thought to be, possibly, contaminated by alien philosophies, might have dirty ways and might harbour hostilities to Islam. News to me!

Traditionally,the region now called Pakistan, throughout most of its history, has been a much more culturally, religiously and ethnically diverse and tolerant place than the Arabian peninsular. But in 1979 the Americans had just had Bhutto judicially murdered and had foisted upon Pakistan one of the most accursed leaders its people have ever had to endure: notably, General Zia Ul-Haq. Under his religious tyranny, the exquisite diversity, complex spiritualities, and innumerable cultural traditions of Pakistan came under increasingly savage attack. Enlightened education, even civil society, was threatened. And, yet more damaging (but seldom mentioned), was the fact that Pakistan became a playground for incredibly destructive business enterprises (many financed by Gulf Arab money, US aid, IMF and World Bank money, and also by the proceeds of corruption and other crimes). Pakistan’s habitat was decimated. Corruption flourished. The poor got poorer; the rich got richer. The gap in wealth widened painfully. The majority of Pakistanis felt neglected. The population of Pakistan tripled. Once again, the attacks on the lives, welfare, cultures and traditions of Pakistanis were launched indifferently by locals financed and supported (in most cases), or just tolerated (in others), by successive American administrations and their proxies (the CIA, the IMF and World Bank, playing key, and singularly destructive roles).

In addition, the British and American policy of funding Islamic extremism, begun in 1928 as a weapon against Soviet communism and as an instrument of war in their geopolitical struggles, then found its ugliest manifestations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the mujahideen, financed by America and Saudi Arabia equally, forced the Russian invaders out of Afghanistan and then proceeded to destroy their own country in bloody conflicts over the spoils. They were stopped by the Taliban. The Taliban were then overthrown by America and its allies in 2001. The Taliban itself then fractured into disparate groups, with no central command (so became harder to discipline) and many turned to crime in order to survive and feed their families and friends. The ex-mujahideen were put straight back into power by the Americans. The Americans then set about making some of their least admirable characters (neocons, Zionists and others) fabulously rich at the expense of relatively poor US tax payers and of course at the more serious and tragic cost of the lives, welfare and cultures of Afghanis and Pakistanis, who had no desire for, nor any interest in, the foreigners’ military presence there. So what we see today is quite simply the outcome of Western foreign policies in this region over decades.

The lesson we should draw from this history, is that if any real progress in Pakistan and Afghanistan is to be made, back towards the tolerance that used to characterise the people of this part of Islamic Asia, then the area must free itself of Western dominance, which means, at the very least, that all the foreign military forces must go (though this is not all that must be done!). The people of this region sense that strongly. But the last thirty years of the their rage-generating history, coupled with 1378 years of ill-understood Islamic history (misused by political Islamists), has led them to believe that the only way to free themselves from Western political dominance is to reject all aspects of Western liberal thought, and to retreat into every form of extremist conduct supposedly despised by many Western opinion makers. So the militant front-fighters — those Islamists who reject Western influence violently — egregiously hate democracy (which they see, correctly, as a phony device for putting US chosen ‘leaders’ in power, without appearing to violate America’s professed, but never practiced, admiration for people’s power); they reject all liberal education (especially for females); they decapitate heretics; despise, persecute and sometimes kill deviants; burn books, videos and music tapes; eschew clean shaven chins on male adults; are against cosmetics; beat people who use the toilet incorrectly; indulge in laughable superstitions, bully at will and celebrate cruelty; wear western dress usually only when wrapped in suicide bombs and seeking access to foreign victims; and generally discourage all forms of rationality and learning. Their behaviour has become almost indistinguishable from that of the (supposedly) Christian religious bigots who tormented the people of Europe for hundreds of years and retarded its cultural and scientific progress by about 2000 years. By this means, a people, whose fundamental instincts on one central issue are correct (yes, they must free themselves of Western political dominance), damage themselves doubly: they unwittingly do their enemies’ dirty work (against themselves) at the cost of their own lives and simultaneously deprive themselves of exactly that which they need in order to really free themselves of Western dominance (notably, the power of reason). What irony! The militants are fighting their way through all that has comprised real intellectual progress in human history, back to the Dark Ages of Europe, thus working against themselves on behalf of those few, though powerful, malign Westerners who wish to oppress them. The militants too are oppressing Muslims while the effects of their violence on their supposed enemies in the West amount to little more than inconveniences. Their actions make the invasion of their countries by Western powers seem virtuous. Even some well educated, but equally deluded, Muslim intellectuals fall into this self-destructive trap. And, of course, none of them allows rational discussion of the origins of these self-destructive delusions.

Muslims who rightly wish to be free of Western dominance will never accomplish that admirable goal by denying themselves all that is good and true from what emerged from the brave struggles of Europe’s intellectual heroes to free their cultures from 2000 years religious bigotry. Those people are Muslims’ spiritual friends not enemies.

The writer has degrees from the Royal College of Art, Oxford University, and the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. Email: charles

Source: The News

Invest in the people

Saturday, February 13, 2010
By Kamila Hyat
US vice president Joseph Biden has said he sees Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world, given the combination of its fragile democracy and deployable nuclear weapons, together with its radicalised extremist minority.

Mr Biden, in his interview with CNN, has also suggested that Pakistan needs to act on calls to step up the urgency with which it is combating terrorism.

The comments come on the heels of insinuations from other US officials that they believe the Pakistani establishment could still be maintaining links with the militants.

All this gives reason for careful thought.

There is, of course, an acute awareness within the country of the threat under which we constantly live. Pakistanis’ reluctance to visit public places is just one manifestation of this fear. But the explosive nature of Pakistan’s overall situation, quite beyond the issue of bomb blasts and other kinds of terrorist attacks, is one that needs to be thought about harder.

There is at least an element of truth in Mr Biden’s words. It would be hard even for the more optimistic among us to deny this. The question we then need to ask is: what is to be done to alter this reality, and to make our country a safer place, especially for those of us who actually live in Pakistan?

The issue of extremism quite evidently lies at the heart of the problems faced by the country. Therefore, the solutions to those problems also centre on it. It can be said without doubt that the militancy needs to be tackled with urgency.

The authorities that make decisions also need to explain to us citizens why they have been so reluctant to go after some categories of militants. Ranking among these are militants based in southern Punjab, as well as the Afghan Taliban.

It is also a fact that people remain sceptical about whether the militants have truly been vanquished as a result of the military operations, which continue in the northern parts of the country. Many people in Swat and elsewhere fear that the militants will make a return once the troops pull back.

The scenario painted by some American think-tanks, of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the extremists, remains an unlikely one. The arsenal is, after all, well secured. But it is not entirely inconceivable that this situation could one day change. Of course, the consequences of this cannot even be contemplated.

The priority for now must, therefore, be to make Pakistan a safer place. The most feasible way of doing so is by investing more in its people, and thus pulling them away from the influence and grasp of the militants.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamilahyat

Source: The News

2 responses to “Back towards tolerance in Pakistani society – by Charles Ferndale and Kamila Hayat”

  1. The priority as the article highlights should be to make Pakistan a safe place to live. This could only be achieved if the liberal and democratic forces are given a chance to come into action in full. We must get rid of any extremist ideology if are to achieve this dream.