Related post: In defence of Shia rituals on Ashura – by Fawad Manzoor
To a not-so-victim, from a real victim!
Mr. Saleem Ali,
I read your articles and followed your twitter timeline in an attempt to understand your argument in this whole episode of you first writing a childish article and then scurrying for clarifications after having been blasted by those who had taken affront to it. I tried to deal with the issue with a positive bias towards you in order to better understand your perspective and know where you actually come from, but trust me, you appear to be highly ill informed and insensitive at best, and a bigot at worst. I will nonetheless go with the former.
I will spare you a lecture on inappropriate, rather derogatory use of language, since you realized it and later corrected yourself after public admonition. I will also ignore your lame justification of it being inflammatory only according to ‘Pakistan’s religious sensibilities’. See, I did not miss it, I am ignoring it. Suffice it to say that your choice of words was not only inflammatory in Pakistan’s context, but highly offensive in any case. But let us move forward.
Mr. Ali, you kept wailing and wallowing after your article was thoroughly deconstructed and critiqued on Twitter. You have, ever since, defended your right to free speech and reaffirmed your commitment to what you call constructive confrontation. In the same breath, you have also castigated the Shia Muslims for holding a different view of history and criticizing certain individuals they consider usurpers. How can you claim for yourself the right to offend while asking the Shia not to even practice their religion fearing it might offend others?
By saying what you did, you disallowed Shia Muslims not only freedom of expression, but also freedom of religion. You are asking them to conform to the dominant (or majority) form of ‘acceptable’ Islam and forego their own ‘lunatic’ version of it. This is not possible because there is nothing such as ‘one Islam’, or at least, you cannot make people agree on any common ground. Not only the ritualistic, but even the doctrinal and historical fissures of sectarian divide within Islam are too deep and too vast to be reconciled by an American-Muslim with limited understanding of the complex historical and ideological distinctions.
Mr. Ali, you referred to the Zuljanah as ‘drunken horses’ and the mourners of Imam Hussain (a.s.) as ‘people high on testosterone (and God knows what else)’. Do you have any idea how hallowed the symbolic reference to Imam Hussain’s horse is considered among the Shia Muslims? They are not drunken horses, but are treated with utmost respect and care. Had it come as an example from the West, an apologist like you would have tirelessly sung praises of their concern for animal rights. But since it comes from the South Asian Shia, you treat the subject with utmost contempt and scorn. The mourners of Imam Hussain (a.s.), if high on anything, are high on pain and passion, high on the love and devotion to the Prophet Muhammad and his family (Ahl-e-Bayt). How can you refer to them in the most pejorative of ways?
Is it a coincidence that most of your arguments and criticism of Shias, impure Musilms, are also used by Saudi-Wahhabis and extremist Deobandis to stereotype, persecute and kill Shias? For example, your views on Zuljanah are not much different from what Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/Sipah-e-Sahaba people did to a Zuljanah on 4 February 2011 in Rawalpindi while chanting the Shia Kafir (Shias are infidels) slogans. These people, the foot-soldiers, conveniently translated your hate ideology into practice.
If the Shias are masochistic in their rituals, you were sadistic in your approach in dealing with them. You not only mocked their beliefs and ridiculed their rituals, but went further ahead calling them lunatics and declaring their gatherings as embarrassing. This is how you ask people for cultural change and reconciliation? Why should they listen to you anyway, when you are using the very arguments and language against them as is used by those killing them, i.e., LeJ terrorists? And if you have little understanding of and respect for Islamic history and heterogeneity, why do you assume to charge and right to offend whosoever you want to, especially, when you do not allow others the same right?
Mr. Ali, it is easy to follow, love, appreciate, and respect the glorious and cherished values of Western civilization. It is however different and difficult to respect, value, and more importantly, understand indigenous cultures, values, wisdoms, traditions and legacies. I too take pride in my Western education and espousal of liberal values much of which has come my way from the West for which I feel indebted to it, but it took me quite a while to respect my own people for what they are, and not stereotype them due to my prejudices, myopic so-called modern approach, lack of comprehension, and a distant and cold attitude towards them. This is possible, but only if confused and apologetic individuals like yourself, try being passionate rather than arrogant, understanding rather than contemptuous, and act like students of knowledge rather than ideologues.
I do not intend to present a postmodern apology for obscurantism, but it is certainly valid to ask of someone like you to remove their blinkers and try being proximate to the things they talk about. Your attitude towards Shia Muslims was similar to that of the colonizers towards the colonized – the White man’s burden, or in your case ‘a cultured man’s burden’ (not so). You cannot look at everything on the face of the earth through your modern, western prism, and issue categorical edicts like Saudi-Wahhabi-Deobandi religious bigots. Your intent might have been different, but your approach was the same as theirs. They declare Shias apostate, you declared them uncultured obscurantists and lunatics. What sets you apart from the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists who kill Shias?
Looking at postcolonial states from the lens of a very selective Western liberalism, or studying ‘host’ societies like Orientalists can always be self-defeating; it kills the very spirit of knowledge and ends up presenting a skewed picture of local people in a condescending manner. In that situation, do you still think you owe them any respect and recognition for your ‘efforts’? Why do you think you are the only person cultured and the rest are all base barbarians who need your shock therapy to realize their lowliness and climb up to your expectations? Why have you arrogated yourself the authority of determining what culture is and what it is not? You do not have this right. And more so, because you are under-educated in the discipline and have a simplistic cultural approach towards complex political issues. Without taking into consideration the actual reasons for the ongoing, systematic Shia massacres in Pakistan, you conveniently reduced the issue to a Sunni backlash due to offences by Shia rituals. How simplistic!
You are teacher Mr. Ali, you are an academic. Are you not supposed to approach issues in an educated manner? If you are not a student of a particular discipline, why do you put yourself at pains of writing on it at all? By asking the Shia to customize their religion according to the desires of the majority you are blaming the victim, instead of holding the culprit accountable.
I notice that after being questioned by Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi and non-Muslim readers on Twitter and elsewhere, and perhaps also in response to some advice from your university, you decided to retract some parts of your offensive article and offered an apology on your personal blog. Yet, you deemed it fit to present yourself as a victim of ban on free speech, and wrote yet another follow-up article which, though more refined than your initial candid stereotyping, is equally dishonest about Shia Muslims and their ongoing, systematic massacres in Pakistan.
Playing a victim (as you did) is easy, speaking up for real victims requires courage. Instead of telling the Shia that they are killed because they deserve it, you could have asked those who kill Shias to accept Shias as they are instead of killing them for what they are. Compromises and acceptability must come from the position of strength; the majority needs to embrace the minority, because the latter is always insecure, and in this case, for all the right reasons.
Your criticism of Shias, or Shia rituals as you put it, was uncalled for, unjustified and unfair. Your follow-up article on Foreign policy was a cry of despair and reaffirmed your aversion of Shias. It might have been either because of you religious inclinations, or your skewed and elitist worldview. Whatever the reason, the result is evident. You too need some introspection. Try to understand people by thinking like them for a moment, rather than sticking to your ossified modern stereotypes of all those who do not fit your definition of humanity and modernity.