By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Unlike the American legal system that might have procedural flaws but which has substantially ensured equality regardless of religion, gender, caste or creed, the Pakistani legal system discriminates horizontally, vertically and three dimensionally.
Clive Stafford Smith, the highly celebrated defence attorney and opponent of the death penalty was in town last week to speak to Pakistani lawyers about techniques that can be utilised by lawyers when defending clients on death row.
Unfortunately, Mr Smith did what has now become the tactic of choice amongst western liberals when addressing people in Muslim countries. He tapped into rampant anti-Americanism palpable amongst the lawyers in attendance by declaring that many Americans would favour the death penalty for even innocent people or people with mental illnesses.
What Mr Smith did not realise and what most western liberals, bleeding hearts as they are, do not always realise is that this attempt to be too clever by half is likely to backfire. This is precisely what happened when the lawyers or that barely educated cabal that masquerades as lawyers these days in our country broke into song about American injustices, drone attacks and Aafia Siddiqui. In an attempt to ride the tiger, Mr Smith then asked his audience how many thought Americans were racist and the entire house unanimously raised their hands. To brand 280 million people as racists is as much a racist act as branding 170 million Pakistanis as terrorists. However, objectivity — which demanded that Mr Smith’s self-flagellation would have been met with an equal indignation by our lawyers about the terrible failings of our own country and legal system — was not the order of the day as one joker after another jumped up to speak on how Americans were the most evil thing under the sky, until of course one lawyer got up and stated the plain and simple truth, “Offer them US citizenship and see how fast they got on the plane to go live amongst the same racist Americans.”
Let me point out some glaring flaws of our legal system for those who are deluding themselves, as was the case with three lawyers I had to bear being seated next to. Unlike the American legal system that might have procedural flaws but which has substantially ensured equality regardless of religion, gender, caste or creed, the Pakistani legal system discriminates horizontally, vertically and three dimensionally. It is a legal system where all are equal but a large majority is slightly more equal, a smaller but substantial majority is considerably more equal, and a select few are absolutely and totally more equal than others. Our legal system discriminates on the basis of religion, gender, sect, caste and so on and so forth.
Then for Mr Smith to stand up and say with a straight face that Pakistani law is somehow more humane and civilised — to the thunderous applause of head-bobbing idiots — than the American law is to weaken those patriots of Pakistan who are engaged in an uphill battle to reclaim some sanity after three decades of a total mess of things. Had Mr Smith simply stated that Islam envisages a level of humanity and civilisation at par with any western concept, perhaps he would not have been too far off the mark. Had he chosen to praise the intent of the modernists in Pakistan to fully express the Islamic tradition of ijtihad in reforming Islamic law, he would have scored an important point. Instead, he chose form over substance and in the process managed to defeat his own point entirely. A number of geniuses leaving the conference were heard saying, “See even the goras admit our laws are better and more humane.”
Diplomacy is good. Populism is not. For the western liberal establishment, the rot starts at the very top. President Obama choosing speaking at Cairo as part of his engagement with the Muslim world and impliedly suggesting all Muslims are Arabs and Sunnis is part of this problem as is his move — unprecedented for an American president and in a sense violative of the principle of the separation of church and state in the US — to address Muslims at the beginning of every Ramzan. In the so-called Egyptian Revolution, when multitudes of Egyptians decided to use mass congregational prayer as a protest tactic, it should have given the American president and other American liberals occasion to pause and rethink the perilous course they are charting by supporting a directionless mass movement. All they managed to do was to replace an authoritarian government with a military government; a military government that is in an alliance with the Islamists of that country.
Building bridges with the Islamic world is a noble endeavour but the West ought to do it without compromising on its values. It means that the president of a proud anti-monarchist republic not having to bow down before the King of Saudi Arabia as if the latter was the pope of Islam. This is where President Sarkozy has proved himself a greater statesman than Obama can ever be. Those objecting to the face-veil ban in France citing religious freedom ought to also question the mandatory observance of the same in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia and whose track record in religious freedom is the worst in the world.
Engagement between the secular West and Islamic East has to be on just, equitable and fair terms for both sides. The common march of humanity will not succeed if the standard bearers of civilisation do an about turn to catch up with those heading in the opposite direction. This is what all western liberals need to understand.
The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at http://pakteahouse.net