New Age Islam Edit Bureau
January 2nd, 2016
• The anti-terror treatment
By Salman Tarik Kureshi
• Our wonder deficit
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
• American Muslims ‘Trumped’
• By Syed Mansoor Hussain
Welcoming the New Year
• By Dr Haider Shah
The rather confused lot
By D Asghar
The anti-terror treatment
Salman Tarik Kureshi
January 2nd, 2016
According to a news item, a Daesh (Islamic State or IS) cell has been discoveredin, of all places, the well-heeled, industrious city of Sialkot. Credit goes to our voluble interior minister’s men for having saved us from whatever terror plots this particular gang was in the process of hatching. It is inappropriate now to carp on about the forceful Chaudhry’s denials of Daesh’s presence in the land of the Indus. Those denials were made yesterday; this putrescent abscess has only now burst to the surface.The terror virus has mutated.
Has it been fully cleansed and cauterised? Only time will tell. My point in mentioning it here is to highlight the fact that, when a patient whose system is riddled with a malignant disease is finally undergoing treatment, there remains a likelihood of re-infection by the virus or mutations thereof, for the same reasons the disease was contracted in the first place.Strenuously safeguarding against such potential relapses is itself a part of the curative process. What I would like to emphasise in today’s piece is the process itself: the anti-terror prescription. The steps involved are the same as in any process of curing a systemic malignancy: diagnosis, emergency surgery, long-term treatment and restoration to normal life.
As writers like myself have been pointing out for a couple of decades, the perverted cells of this malignancy havelong been developing in the fabric of our society and the psyches of our citizens.Even inthe initial days of our national existence,our politico-bureaucratic establishmentteamed up with the avowed clerical enemies of our independence and contrived a narrative to plasterover Pakistan’s inherentregional, ethnic and class divisions. An early manifestation of this process was the Objectives Resolution of 1949. So,the infection is not recent,butthere are two periods of especially virulent escalation. The first of these is, of course, the dark age of the usurping tyrant ZiaulHaq, when thecarriers of this evil were consciously multiplied in hisblack laboratories and disseminated throughout the land. The second period is the age of hypocritical denial that followed.
At the climax of the denial, although death and destruction were manifest everywhere, we witnessed the extraordinary spectacle ofour interior minister virtually weeping over the death of a mass murdering terrorist. We also heard the minister’s fellowAitchisoniandharna(sit-in) leader declaiming that the Taliban are our “our brothers” and that, had he been in power, the Pakistani military would not have been “allowed” to enter FATA.
Strange times, indeed but the violent convulsions and massive haemorrhaging of the disease were so horrifically apparent that, finally, treatment had to be undertaken: emergency treatment through military surgery. The army’sCounter Insurgency (COIN) campaignis now in its final stages. That there are some shortcomings and errors of execution is inevitable but these are outside the scope of today’s piece. The key point is that this was an emergency surgical intervention and long-term treatment, and the rehabilitation measures beyond that have yet to be tackled. The latter are not military-related at all but fall squarely in the civilian domain. And this is where the concerns start multiplying
A prescription forthis long-term treatment (counter-terrorism or CT)wasproposed in the National Action Plan (NAP).The NAP lays great emphasis on the choking off of terrorist funding. We do know that, broadly speaking, the main sources of terrorist financing include funds flowing in from the Middle East, income from the narcotics trade, income from other large-scale criminal activities and collections by certain, so-called ‘charities’, in that order. Detecting and investigating such flows is complex and needs trained investigators, such as those in the FIA’s Terrorist Finance Investigation Unit (TFIU).But the position is thatthis unit has for some years now been headless and working with only a skeleton staff. In any case, even a properly manned and orientated TFIU would be insufficient. The need todevelop appropriate investigation outfits at the federal and provincial levels remains untouched. And the funds continue to flow to the terrorists.
Secondly, militant groups shouldhavebeen listed and banned, and members of banned militant groups denied arms licences, passports, travel abroad or financial facilities. It is highly doubtful that anything at all has been done to implement this. With Lal Masjid and JamaatudDawa (JuD) standing out as glaring examples, it is clear that even the list of what is or is not a terrorist group is not a settled issue. Ensuring valid lists of the members thereof and sharing these with all relevant stakeholders, so that their arms licences, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, etc.can be cancelled, is indeed a distant prospect.
We all recall that Senator RazaRabbani wept as he voted for a constitutional amendment setting up military courts to try cases of terrorism for a period of two years. One year has already elapsed but the government has not proposed any measures to enhance the capacity of civilian anti-terrorism courts to take up the task of dispensing justice in terrorism cases, as they must in another year’s time.And there are numerous other CT issues, including protection of prosecutors and witnesses (the refusal of the prosecutors of the Safoora Goth massacre to prosecute the case is an appalling example), absence of forensic labs and fingerprint databases, inability to disrupt terrorists’ use of the internet, failure to ensure proper safeguards against prison breaks and so on and so forth. Most importantly, the entity that has been given the role of monitoring implementation of the NAP is the National Counter Terrorism Authority(NACTA). But, as all concerned will confirm, this entity has still to take off. The government has not evencalled a single meeting of the NACTA board of governors in the last one year.
And the bombs continue to go off as in the MardanNational Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) office a few days ago.The point is that theCOINcampaign was undertaken by the army largely on its own initiative, support by political leaders being ex-post facto and far from universal. ButCT measures are not military in nature. They are a police matter,an issue of effective law enforcement. It is only the local police that can know who has moved into which mohallaor goth(neighbourhood) and what they are up to. But we know that our police force is undermanned, under-equipped, poorly trained and under-motivated. In his bookThe Idea of Pakistan, Stephen Cohen remarked that, while Pakistan was not yet a failed or failing state, the corruption and incompetence of its police apparatus could well drag the country down.
So, who then is going to take matters into their hands? Dare we hope for leadership from the prime ministerof both the COIN and CT campaigns? There is also the roadmap beyond, the recovery and reorientation stage, which includes reorienting education, reviving moral (as opposed to ritualistic) social values, revisiting national narratives and redesigning and rebuilding our tribal areas. I will leave these to another occasion to discuss.
Salman Tarik Kureshi is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet
Our wonder deficit
January 2nd, 2016
‘I WONDER’. These two words have incalculable power. It’s because of this innocuous phrase that humans stand at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Whereas animals look only for basic survival, you and I reflect, seek cause and comprehension, and speculate. Then, from wonder’s bosom springs expansive thinking. You theorise, explore depths, and perhaps have a Eureka moment. Without wonder there cannot be science or art.
Wonder lives inside children — ours too. Last week, it was a treat for me to spend an evening speaking at the Buraq Space Camp in Islamabad to 14-15 year-olds about recent scientific discoveries. Bombarded with questions about the Big Bang, atoms, and biological evolution, I had to retreat once my throat packed up. But it gladdened my day and I left reassured that wonder and curiosity are still alive in Pakistan. This, in spite of the fact that all were ‘O’-level children from elite private schools and that, sadly, not one came from a school that uses the official, government-prescribed, curriculum.
Bright, curious kids exist everywhere but here, among 200-plus million people, they are getting rather hard to find. Forget students, just look at teachers — those in our ordinary schools, colleges, and universities. Most are brain-dead duffers. I suggest you eavesdrop someday on their daily tea sessions. You will never hear them talking about the Pluto fly-by, the recent discovery of a three-million-year-old ape-human, or anything substantive. Instead there’ll be gossip, titbits about celebrities, or the prices of meats and vegetables.
Bright, curious kids exist everywhere but here they are getting rather hard to find.
Why so little curiosity about the larger world? Why no urge to know what lies in or beyond it? Some 120-plus TV channels have political talk shows, religious programmes, fashion, and cooking. But not one produces programmes on discovery, science, or world history.
This reduced collective appetite for wonder has two reasons. One is straightforwardly identifiable: the preponderance of closed, pre-modern thinking in society. The other, curiously enough, is a modern disease that is sure to get worse as technology improves. Each shapes attitudes in a distinctly different way.
Lethal to wonder and curiosity is Pakistan’s education system. Like every traditional system of thought, it is built around pre-modern and pre-scientific values. These allow for inquiry, but only a little. At its core is the belief that knowledge pre-exists in texts, whether holy or secular. The teacher’s job is to convey unchallengeable facts to the student, and the student’s job is to learn them. Religious knowledge and secular knowledge are taught in practically identical ways. Read, reproduce, and reap the reward — a good student is a good hafiz.
Wonder is tightly constrained in every strictly traditional system. Yes, man is allowed to discover. But he cannot be seen as inventing new knowledge lest he also seem a creator. Thus the path to true knowledge is to learn Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, or Arabic and become a good exegete. But this tight box sometimes doesn’t suit independent inquiry very well.
Example: suppose you wondered why Earth has water. The explanation from a rabbi, priest, or aalim would be teleological — water had to be there because the universe’s designer wanted life to exist. This surely damps curiosity although the persistent mind can still ask: why don’t other planets have water? Did water come from the steady bombardment of frozen meteorites or was it always there? Most importantly, how can we know what is true?
The conflict between modern and traditional values of education is creating hybrids that bewilder students. They’ve been told that acquiring knowledge is their holy duty. This is certainly true for religious knowledge. But what about other things?
For example, students play with batteries, wires, and magnets because it’s fun and it teaches them about electricity. They mix two colourless liquids to produce something brilliantly blue-green and so learn chemical facts. They learn Java because it makes smartphones or computers function in a certain way. What’s thoroughly confusing is that no holy edict demands this.
Paradoxically, at another level, a post-industrial age product — the Internet — is also creating a wonder deficit. True, instant access to the world of ideas and information helps titillate the imagination, and is directly responsible for the explosive growth of new knowledge. But Google and smartphones are turning many smart kids into dullards and dimwits.
The problem is that search engines have made things too easy. Before you’ve even finished typing in a question, it’s likely that the answer will be on your screen. Without your smartphone or I-Pad you might have engaged in a stimulating discussion with your friend, racked your brains, and reflected upon possibilities. Through spirited debate you could have tried to convince him he was wrong and you were right. Instead, one keystroke ends everything. Instant gratification stills your neurons even before they can fire.
More dangerously, oceans of disinformation are available to undisciplined and badly educated minds. Hence wacky ideas like Osama bin Laden having died a decade ago, 9/11 being a Jewish conspiracy, or that Mr Pathan’s famous ‘water car’ was killed by American pressure, thrive among today’s youth. Many absorb falsified facts about splitting of the moon (Photoshop be blessed!) or that the Apollo landing is a fakery.
Although wild conspiracy theories grow everywhere, they grow faster where education is loaded with pre-modern ideas and values. Minds formed in such social environments benefit little from instantaneous access to information. They stay incurious and undiscerning, concerned largely with the mundane.
The Internet was supposed to feed wonder. Yes, it certainly can — but only if good, modern education instals the mental structures needed for sifting and critically examining information. As with many technologies, we have here a double-edged sword. To use the right edge is important.
Correct use must first recognise that facts are just ingredients, not knowledge itself. Knowledge enhances wonder, it doesn’t kill it. In a well-disciplined mind with robust reasoning skills, wonder inspires science, art and poetry. These, in turn, feed the appetite that wonder excites in us and helps us escape the drab world of appearances, generating epicycles of boundless creativity and enduring inquiry.
Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics and mathematics in Lahore and Islamabad.
American Muslims ‘Trumped’
Syed Mansoor Hussain
January 2nd, 2016
Whatever might happen in the US’ politics this year, the year that just went by will be remembered as the year of Donald Trump. Almost every political pundit in the US is convinced that Trump will never be nominated by the Republican Party (GOP) to contest the general elections for the presidency of the US. But the same pundits were also convinced that by this time Trump would have faded away. That has not happened so it is difficult to predict how far Trump will go in the nomination’s process. Whether he ever becomes president is a different question but even if he does not, he has already made things pretty difficult for American Muslims. What Trump has against Muslims is an interesting question.
As a major international businessman, Trump has definitely dealt with Muslims, especiallyrich Arab sheikhs. In the past, he has not demonstrated any particular anti-Muslim animus but it was only after the Paris attacks and the more recent mass murders in California that Trump has become so vocal in his anti-Muslim attitude. However, before he went ballistic about Muslims it was another Republican contender,Dr Carson, who said that a Muslim should never become president of the US. Trump picked up that rhetoric and ran with it, and the more virulent he sounds the greater the support he gets from the GOP’s members. Trump, like all ‘good’ politicians, is doing his best to reflect the opinions of the ‘base’ of his party. Many Republican Party members harboured anti-Muslim sentiments even before the Paris and San Bernardino massacres. This sentiment coincidedin the past withpolls suggesting that a significant number of Republicans believe that President Barak Hussein Obama is really a Muslim. And it seems that these Republicans are transferringtheir ‘visceral’ hatred for Obama to all Muslims.
Based upon my suggestion above that much of the anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by Republicans is really the result of an Obama presidency it would seem that after Obama leaves office, American antipathy towards Muslims will subside. That might happen but we still have more than a year before the next president of the US takes over. And whatever else happens, in the upcoming presidential elections, Obama will be a factor even though he will not be contesting himself. Whoever it is, the Republican Party’s nominee will most likely continue with some level of anti-Muslim rhetoric. The worst-case scenario for Americans in general and American Muslims in particular is the possibility of another Islamic State (IS) inspired mass murder in the US. If that happens, it could push the Republican nominee even if it is Trump to the presidency. After all, the last Republican president rode to re-election on the basis of ‘security’.
What this means is that American Muslims are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. All that the few million American Muslims have to protect them is the law and the US Constitution. Fortunately for those who live in the US, these are pretty good protections. But what I consider equally important is not what is going to happen during the next year but rather over the next many years. After Obama leaves office and a new president is in place, the present political differences between the two major political parties will evolve and change. However, Muslims living in the US will have to try quite hard to refurbish their reputations as loyal American citizens especially if IS inspired attacks happen with any frequency and,more importantly,if the perpetrators happen to be Muslims born and brought up in the US.
In these difficult times, American Muslims must follow the lead of otherreligious and ethnic minorities that have found the US to be a hospitable place to live in. The most important necessity is not cultural or religious integration but rather political integration. Muslims should register to vote and participate actively in all elections starting from school boards all the way up to those for state and federal level officials,including that for the president. I still remember that some 30 years ago at a fundraising dinner for a state level politician I shared a table with a political operative. He said to me, “Doc, you donate $ 1,000as an election contribution to your local state representative and you have bought his total attention if he gets elected.” That is the rub. Our devout American Muslims would rather donate thousands of dollars to the local mosque (Islamic centre) to improve their chances for a better life hereafter, but are not willing to spend even a few dollars to improve their life herein.
One of the more problematic situations in the US is of who controls the ‘local’ mosque or Islamic centre and what sort of education they impart to Muslim children. I think it is reasonably well known that if any local group wants to build a mosque in the US, significant ‘foreign’ funding is available on the condition that the imam is of the funding country’s choice and receives ‘education’ in that country. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point. But most of these foreign trained imams bring with them a particular strain of Islam that is hostile to many basic American values. That poses a significant problem since devout Muslims, and especially their children, are subjected to ideas in these Islamic centres that in the name of Islam undermine respect for the laws of the country they live in.
What is happening is that many young Muslims are being brought up to believe that Islamic values are incompatible with American laws and that followers of other religions are somehow the enemy. That is the conundrum. If devout American Muslimsbring their children up to believe that sharia law is above man made laws, including the US Constitution,then they undermine the very concept of citizenship. And if that happens often enough, they will have proved Donald Trump right.
Syed Mansoor Hussain is a former editor of the Journal of Association of Pakistani descent Physicians of North America (APPNA)
Welcoming the New Year
Dr Haider Shah
January 2nd, 2016
“That is beautiful that reaches its end” philosophises Iqbal in his poem Haqeeqat-e-husn (reality of beauty). The year 2015 began with celebrations all over the world and today, when it is embracing its end, festivities are underway to welcome New Year 2016. The departing year has been significant for Pakistan in many ways.
As an eternal optimist let me begin my analysis on a positive note. The year 2014 reddened the beginning of 2015 with the blood of the innocent victims of mayhem and murder in the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar. Ever since the country resolved to make a break with its legacy of confusion over the Taliban issue and vowed to eradicate extremist militants and their hideouts we have seen a significant fall in incidents of terrorism. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved one of its fundamental objectives i.e. zero tolerance for ungoverned spaces as militants and criminal gangs thrive in such weak spots of a country. By taking physical control of Swat and FATA the ability of militants to freely plan, train, staff, finance and execute their activities has been cut down to size. Gone are the days when the likes of Hakimullahand Baitullahwould hold press conferences like thenawabs (princes) of a princely state.
On the economic front, the government has been lucky as record low prices in the international oil market have helped ease the pressure on the national kitty and inflationary forces consequently have been less bullish. The economic managers also seem to be enjoying good relations with the International Monetary Fund(IMF) as is evident from the following excerpt in the press release issued by the IMF executive board after it completed its ninth review under the extended fund facility for Pakistan:“Economic growth remains robust and near-term vulnerabilities have receded. The Pakistani authorities have taken corrective measures to foster the achievement of programme objectives. Prudent macroeconomic policies and sustained implementation of the reform agenda are important to reinforce gains in economic stability and generate a strong and sustainable growth.”The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has emerged as a potential game changer in the long-term macroeconomic future of Pakistan. Despite some criticism and reservations over the slow pace of developing a western route by nationalist politicians and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government the consensus over the project is good for the country. Like any long-term project it is too soon to predict with certainty if all rosy claims associated with the mega project will actually become real or not. But at the perception level it gives the country something positive to look forward to in the future.
If rays of hope have lit up a part of the sky, there are some dark clouds hovering over the country as well. The National Action Plan (NAP) that promised a comprehensive strategic level tackling of the menace of extremism is conspicuous by its lack of any sensible direction. Neither have we seen the launch of a single authority on the pattern of homeland security dealing with national security issues nor has there been any uniform action against the drivers of extremism. We forget that many prominent planners of terrorist incidents in the recent past were educated in mainstream schools and colleges. No sense of urgency appears to be operational at the policy making level. The syllabi of schools and seminaries remain unattended. What narrative is promoted in the universities is not an area of attention as is evidenced by the fact that the incumbent vice vhancellor of Punjab University continually preaches conspiracy theories about 9/11 and Osama bin Laden in his public addresses. In any war, symbolism and iconisation are very important. Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid is promoting the discourse of militant extremism right under the nose of the interior ministry.
Extremists feel the pulse of glory by identifying themselves with those who, in their imagined world, cause maximum affront to their imagined enemies. If it was alQaeda in the past, now Islamic State (IS)rules the hearts of such brigands. One should not be surprised at how IS related identities are gradually emerging in the country. The state of denial in the ruling elite is a cause for great concern. The operation against criminals in Karachi was launched with the help of Rangers with clear strategic objectives. Of late, Rangers and the central government seem to be barking up the wrong tree. The Dr Asim case and related standoff between the Sindh government and Rangers are consuming time, energy and money, which could have been better spent on terrorism with an international nexus. No doubt, corruption is an important issue and must be dealt with an iron hand. However, mixing different issues would be detrimental to effective tackling of both terrorism and corruption. It is much better to leave institutional arrangements intact while we pursue important policy objectives.
The year 2015 saw a gradual decline in the power of civilian rule as not only foreign policy is being dictated by Rawalpindi butpolicing is also effectively in the hands of corps commanders. Perhaps now is the right time to ask the Prime Minister (PM) to be the PM. One good indication of this happening will be the use of his executive power in the appointment of a new army chief. We hope that the era of extensions is dead now and that the PM will strengthen the practice of institutionalism as we welcome the New Year.
Dr Haider Shah teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan.
The rather confused lot
January 2nd, 2016
First and foremost, please pardon my absence of the last few weeks due to work related assignments. A humble thanks to the editor, who diligently followed up with me and held my slot in this esteemed publication despite my unscheduled absence. I will share my views on something that may seem old to some folks but is still fresh in my mind as the incident was relatively close to home and fairly local.
“No, this is a conspiracy. No mother, let alone a Muslim mother would leave her six-month-old baby and go out on an alleged killing spree. No practicing Muslim who grows a beard to clearly identify himself as a pious and God fearing Muslim would mow down his own coworkers.” These were the immediate reactions I was able to gather from social media. A mother named Tashfeen Malik and a father named Syed Rizwan Farooq allegedly killed 14 people and injured many in a bizarre situation here on December 2, which initially was described as work related violence and then upgraded to an act of terrorism, only because the suspects were Muslims.
Sadly, the US encounters gun related violence very often. Disgruntled employees unleash their pent up pressure on fellow workers.The people who disagree with abortion vent their unrepentant anger on the employees of abortion clinics for no valid reason. Amazingly, students bring firearms to campuses and play their horrific and violent fantasies on their fellow students by going on senseless killing sprees. Very amazingly, none of these people earn the title of terrorist because they do not carry a strange name that sounds Muslim.
Also, very sadly, we have contenders of the highest office of the land, who, in order to rally their hardcore base, make bigoted remarks and people cheer that on as a sign of their strong leadership. Such is the state of bigots. One can safely say that bigotry is the underlying malaise at both ends. The right wingnuts were busy making YouTube videos dismissing this act as a drama, staged to confiscate their firearms, which is in conflict with their constitutional rights. The so-called puritans on our end, who call themselves Muslims, have very shamelessly embarked on the path to purify this world by eliminating anyone who disagrees with their concept of God or a certain lifestyle. These, by the way, are big time bigots too.
If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, as our belief says, then the same all powerful and all-knowing God must and should have created the entire mankind as natural born Muslims. There would have been so much harmony and peace. But the all-powerful and all-knowing God has a much broader vision and perhaps a different plan. With each messenger of His, the message remained the same. The practice and procedures shifted a bit but the underlying foundation remained the same. As beautiful as a rose garden may look, one cannot view the same garden 365 days a yearwithout getting bored. The theological variations are there so we can separate ourselves from one another. God still remains unchanged. The paths to reaching God may be different. There is no historical reference that leads to Prophet Mohammad(PBUH) commanding anyone to forbid other religions or negatingtheir respective messengers before him. Yet so-called Muslims in this day and age have embarked on a deadly path. A religion that has a literal meaning of submission is now being led by certain people, who are unwilling to reflect on the basis of their own faith: humility in front of their own Creator with utmost sincerity, good will and intention towards His creation.
The Muslim world in general is in a state of confusion because of slick exploitation by the loonies of our faith.The so-called heads of Muslim states are joining their heads in a too little too late fashion, when the monster is totally out of control. The general public, after any such heinous incident, tends to go into its usual denial mode or ends up spinning weird and wild conspiracy theories because that is rather easy and requires the least amount of thinking. Creating fictional spins, on the other hand, helps sooth their dented egos.
The misuse of the Islamic faith to forcibly paste a political agenda on the rest of the world is quite an achievement for these loonies. It is not the loonies that one worries about so much;it is the saner ones, who supposedly seem to have everything going for them and become radicalized. Where are these places where people go through this transformation, where they are unable to decipher between basic right and wrong? Where are the radicalisation factories that hypnotise the educated and otherwise saner lot?
Inquiring minds have questions surrounding the horrific incident in San Bernardino, poking holes into the official narrative and some of those questions may be valid. The unfolding investigations may reveal some information and it might not, yet the denial crowd still thinks that it is all a set up to implicate and malign otherwise practicingMuslims.By the way, seemingly well-educated and otherwise reasonable folk are victims of such twisted thinking. It gives them some sense of significance in coming up with analternate narrative.
What bothers me as a Muslim American is that we have people like the deceased assailant, who walk, talk and act like any other Muslim American.Yet they are utterly disloyal to their country and, above all, totally against the basic tenets of their own faith.These are people who are a product of this great country that allows them to excel and thrive in every sphere of life, no matter what. On the flip side, equally troubling is the bigoted mindset that wants to demonise all Muslim Americans with one broad and mighty stroke.
To those who are still confused and want to become better Muslims here in the land of free: being a Muslim is not a political statement that is limited to wearing a skull cap, growing a beard or donning a hijab. It is the display of superior character, patience and values of honesty, loyalty and truthfulness, at all times, which truly signify ourreal faith.
D Asghar is a Pakistani-US mortgage banker.