|The Pakistan report card
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Several months ago, I was invited to speak at a seminar at the women’s campus of the International Islamic University (IIU). It was, to say at the least, a memorable experience. I came to the unfortunate realisation that I too was a prejudiced individual after I compared my expectations to what I saw there.
I expected a strict, stifling academic atmosphere that would be pervading the air in a sea of burqas. It was none of those things; the only cliché present was my pre-conceived notion, sadly with what could be called new neo-colonial mindset of the modernist Muslim despite his/her good intentions. The female students there were animated, gutsy and held intellectual discourse with vigour.
Most striking was the plurality of the female campus of the IIU; the girls there chose their own identities and wore what they liked (with even the occasional moderate western wear). The segregation hadn’t created an artificial environment; the students were free to be their own selves without the social mores that come into play when the genders mix.
When I heard of the bombing at both the male and female campuses of the IIU, I was deeply saddened. I continue to wonder how urban apologists for the Taliban will spin this one. In all likelihood they won’t, they will pretend it never happened. Rehman Malik is already at the blame game, claiming the problem was a lapse in university security. Since when have universities become experts in counter-terrorism is beyond me. He chose to ignore the obvious, which is that his ministry miscalculated when it thought schools were under threat and advised to shut them down instead of including universities on the list as well.
While the PPP maybe an abject failure in governing this nation, our only alternative is proving to be a duplicitous man preaching a hollow holier-than-thou tirade. Nawaz Sharif won’t answer questions about the Taliban, nor will he back the army into a war it has been slow to engage in.
After the IIU bombing, what else is it that the Taliban can do to prove to Nawaz Sharif that they are entirely Godless? The left will quote Chomsky, Pilger and others to explain the social conditions that lead to movements like the Taliban, in effect intellectually justifying their methods. There is no denying the areas that have spawned this collective deserved better. But then, frankly, what are the redeeming features of the Taliban, if any? Explaining their background cannot, and does not, mitigate their callousness or inhumanity.
Muted defenses of the Taliban always argue that one should not attempt to wipe them out because they are Muslims, ‘well intentioned’ but deviant. But what is odd that it seems the Taliban have no such qualms, having relegated everyone but themselves into the pit of infidels.
For a long time now, there has been no room left for understanding and compassion. It is time to demonise them. General discourse and the media need to paint them as the new infidels. The kid gloves need to come off; the right wing of this country has to treat them with the same disdain and suggestions of all-encompassing evil that they reserve for USA, India and Israel.
To be a member of the Taliban should be an unequivocal slur, it needs to have shame. In the battle for minds, maybe the same misdirected and spontaneous anger that creates mobs in streets against people (usually religious minorities) for alleged blasphemy should be aimed at people who collaborate with these murderers. It’s no less a grave blasphemy to kill and maim innocent girls in an overtly Islamic university in the name of the Prophet (PBUH).
But no, we have one standard for the Taliban and another for people who mark their heads with red dots and adorn their necks with crosses. This is the crux of our problem, not military might against the hordes of barbarians inside our gates.
Remaining silent is not an option. Avoiding questions the way Nawaz Sharif does cannot go on. And if we are to start on this right now, I propose a simple start. We legislate against allowing abstentions in both the upper and lower houses of parliament for both resolutions and pending legislation.
So whether it is the NRO, Kerry Lugar or action against the Taliban, the officials elected to represent the interests of the people cannot use the opt-out clause (abstentions) to gain false and damaging moral ground if they do not want to appear to support or be against certain issues when tabled.
Name the legislation after the students who lost their lives at the university, it is the people, army brass and politicians who remained silent for so long that the girls and others have been silenced violently in the prime of their lives. Surely, Nawaz Sharif must have an opinion on that. But maybe he believes the comical and sad statement that Qamar Zaman Kaira gave after the bombing: “their real faces are now exposed in front of the nation.” Really? Only now?
IIU, me and you — II
Thursday, October 29, 2009
In times of unimaginable tragedy, it is hard to judge outpourings of grief. The mind is freckled by floods of angry emotion. After having said this, I still feel disappointed that right after the International Islamic University (IIU) bombings one of the pictures I saw in the press was of a demonstration by the boys of the university upholding banners that were against the Kerry-Lugar bill. It seemed to me the significance of what had happened to these hapless students hadn’t yet dawned on them.
The International Islamic University has absolutely nothing to do with the bill, and in any case the Taliban didn’t bomb the university because they were convinced that the IIU had drafted it for John Kerry. Even at that time, in the aftermath of a senseless act it was difficult to acknowledge for people that the Taliban were utterly nihilistic in their aims.
It was a lost opportunity to honour the lives of the people lost, to say that Islam just doesn’t allow any semblance of what the Taliban are doing. One of the students who died was Sidra, a young topper of the Rawalpindi board in the arts group. Her best friend who saw her die chillingly spoke of being unable to sleep, to remember the cold touch of her cheek when she was about to be buried. How did the Kerry-Lugar bill fit into this? Valid criticisms of the bill aside, this was not the moment to do it because it was peripheral to the whole issue, because the Kerry-Lugar bill is also on the lower end of the Taliban agenda, revenge being their first. And the thirst for blood is so great, that the revenge is also taken from the absolutely innocent.
I wonder just how influential the Islami Jamiat Talba (IJT) is at the IIU. Recently one of their office-bearers gave a statement to the press that Blackwater is behind the wave of terror attacks in the country. This is purposeful and utterly extreme mischief. If Blackwater is in Pakistan, and I increasingly believe that one of its subsidiaries might, it should be sent packing. But not for the nonsense that the Jamiat is keen on having people believe.
Blackwater should be sent back, not because it may laughably be complicit in terror, but because the firm is trained in counter-insurgency in Iraq and has a trigger-happy reputation and is staffed reportedly by bigots, starting from the very top. What if a firm like Blackwater kills someone in Pakistan, how will the law apply? It’s an invitation to flout our laws because we know the Americans won’t allow a trial here, and it’s already happening with incidents of foreigners being stopped and caught with illegal unlicensed weapons.
But, for a moment, even in our anger acknowledge that whatever firm the Americans may be using, they do need security and are acting in accordance with the directive, or at least philosophy of Rehman Malik and Shahbaz Sharif. Our rulers would extol the people of Swat to fight the Taliban, rather than doing something about it themselves. They are saying that educational institutions must protect themselves rather than the government increasing general security. With this trend, all the Americans are doing is the same. If the government will not protect the people (only itself by buying more and more bullet-proof cars), then the Americans will have to use private contractors.
But every argument that concerns legitimate internal concerns, say Americans with automatic weapons in the country, the Taliban or literally anything else, is increasingly hijacked and overtaken into vapid and vacuous arguments that sidestep the real issues. Without realising it, or maybe they do, but these right-wingers are hurting our country by making everything into issues of national pride or patriotism.
And this patriotism is hurting us because it is made by disingenuous people. It doesn’t reflect what this country should stand for. If we believed all our citizens have a right to life, we would be more incensed by the IIU bombing than we really are.
Let me give an example of this confusion. In a recent letter to the editor a young man wrote about his educational institution in Faisalabad where a couple were sitting under a tree. Security came and shaved the heads of both the man and woman. The writer of the letter was honest to admit that he was fearful and couldn’t speak up for two innocent people. But one reason people stay quiet is that they somehow believe that the tyrants who were shaving the heads of the couple may have been morally right. That’s the confusion of the myth-making we are creating in this country. If we had a real sense of values we wouldn’t think twice about speaking up for that poor duo because we knew others would share the sentiment. What crime was committed between two people sitting and doing nothing wrong in an open space?
In LUMS a girl is making news for her campaign against public displays of affection. Let us grant her the right to do so for argument’s sake, but the manner in which she did so is nothing less than hypocritical and reflects a tyrant in the making. By taking pictures of people secretly and promising to more and distributing them on email lists, I wonder if she is convinced Allah appointed her as the guardian to invade people’s privacy by being holier than thou.
I wonder if she took a break from her voyeurism activism to lead a rally against the Taliban after the IIU bombing. Which is more important now?
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: email@example.com (The News)