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Archive for March, 2011

Analysis: Pakistan unlikely to bend on blasphemy

Posted by :) on March 15, 2011

“The domestic pressure is weak. Nothing big will happen as civil society members will keep on speaking and denouncing the murder but it will all subside later,” Rasool Bakhsh Raess said. –Photo by AP




ISLAMABAD: The killing of a Pakistani minister opposed to an blasphemy law is unlikely to prompt reform in a country under international pressure but hemmed in by conservative Muslim opinion, analysts say.

Gunmen shot minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, in broad daylight after he came out of his mother’s home in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Another vocal opponent of the blasphemy law, Punjab governor Salman Taseer, was in January shot dead by one of his police bodyguards, who is said to be feted by his jailers and celebrated as a hero on the streets of Islamabad.

The government backtracked on amending the law, which provides for the death penalty, on December 30 after a number of popular protests despite criticism from rights groups who say the law is often abused to settle personal scores.

“Bhatti’s murder is the bitter fruit of appeasement of extremist and militant groups both prior to and after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer on January 4,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences,” the New York-based group said.

Islamabad, weakened by rampant corruption, an economic crisis and a wave of suicide bombings, has allowed imams and fundamentalist leaders to court public opinion with their calls for the slaying of supporters of an amendment to the law.

In advocating reform of the law, “Bhatti was only doing his job and reiterating the stated position of the ruling Pakistan Peoples’ Party until it reneged on the same on December 30, 2010,” Human Rights Watch said.

The international community has stepped up pressure on Islamabad for reform since the sentencing to death of Christian mother-of-five Aasia Bibi in November for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed and the assassination of Taseer, who publicly backed Bibi.

Pakistan, a key ally of Washington in its “war on terror”, is on the verge of bankruptcy and can ill afford to offend its international donors, but finds itself risking igniting fury among a disaffected public which is quick to take to the streets to voice its dissatisfaction.

Political analyst Hasan Askari said the government was in a “no-win situation”.

“It is weak in its performance, other political parties don’t support it and society is polarised.”

“There is an external pressure but internally the government does not have enough support to go against these extremist groups,” he added.

Rasool Bakhsh Raess, a professor of political sciences at the University of Lahore, said the government would find it difficult to amend the law, having “taken a back foot on the issue”.

“The domestic pressure is weak. Nothing big will happen as civil society members will keep on speaking and denouncing the murder but it will all subside later,” he added.

Mehdi Hassan, chief of the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, agreed that the killing was unlikely to bring about change.

“I don’t see there will be any big change in the wake of Bhatti’s killing. The government leaders will keep condemning the murder for a few days and then the people will forget.”

“Today’s assassination was continuation of Taseer’s killing as Bhatti was also following Aasia Bibi’s case.”

Political analyst Imtiaz Gul said the government was a “hostage to political expedience” and refrained from taking a firm position on the blasphemy law.

“Until there is a strong message from the top — and that includes both politicians and military — it will be very difficult to take on extremist elements in the society,” said Gul.

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PAKISTAN – A dangerous narrative

Posted by :) on March 15, 2011

PAKISTAN today is a nation tearing itself apart, idea by idea. Whatever one thinks of the `two-nation theory` it was this idea that made Pakistan a reality. Likewise, the slow dissolution of our national consensus has the ability to rend this nation asunder.

By Maajid Nawaz | From the Newspaper

Source : Dawn

But most people are not ideologues; they do not work for change based on some deep philosophical commitment. Rather, most people feel inspired by a `narrative`. Grand ideas of the type that build and destroy nations are supported by simplistic narratives that are easily digested by the masses. Narratives do not have to be true, they merely have to resonate.

The narrative behind the two-nation theory stressed the perils Muslims would face living as a minority in India. It is the narrative that provides glamour to an idea, making it attractive for young people to follow. And the narrative gaining most traction in Pakistan today is the very one suffocating this nation — the view that the end goal of Pakistan is the establishment of an Islamist state, and that the West is at war with Muslims over this very point. If progressive change is to come to Pakistan it can only come through the challenging of this narrative.

Islamism is not Islam. Islamism is the idea that seeks to implement one interpretation of Islam over the rest of society by law. Some Islamists seek to do this through politicking and others through violence. By violating a Muslim`s divine right to choose which ijtihad they wish to follow, Islamism`s primary victims are Muslims themselves. Born of Islamism and nourishing it regularly is the narrative that the West hates Islam and Muslims. Popularising such a narrative feeds the Islamists` power struggles by providing a war-like pretext for their autocratic designs and a justification for their witch-hunting and international isolationism.

The true measure of success for any idea is when its narrative is adopted by its enemies, as it thus gains independent validation and works to continuously nourish its parent ideology. After the recent spate of Islamist-inspired assassinations in this country, if we are left wondering how Pakistan got to where it is today we need look no further than our own culpability.

Through our misguided attempts at checking the rise of extremism in Pakistan, we have all been collectively yet inadvertently reinforcing the Islamist narrative for decades. And before anyone objects to my `self-righteousness`, let me first clarify that having helped set up an Islamist group in Pakistan during my 20s, I include myself first and foremost in this indictment.

We see many activists today locked in an unwinnable war on the assumption that they can take on extremism by challenging Islamic religious tradition head-on. Rather than focusing on Islamism as defined above, some liberals, humanists and leftists nebulously define extremism as religious practice itself. They then proceed to denounce conservative Muslims — who harm no one by merely choosing to wear a headscarf or grow a beard — as a sign of growing extremism in Pakistan.

The way in which the blasphemy debate has been framed is a case in point. This debate should not have been pitched as Islamic `law` versus human rights, but as one of medievalism and `closing the doors of ijtihad` on the one hand versus reform and keeping ijtihad open on the other.

What is often forgotten is that Europe`s Reformation against state Catholicism was sparked by none other than Martin Luther, a Protestant religious fundamentalist. By sympathising with the polarising French-model of secularism we play directly into the Islamist narrative. What better validation is there that `West-loving heretics` are conspiring to attack Islam as a faith than our own anti-religion posturing? No prizes for guessing who`s winning this debate then.

And as for governments, it`s no good insisting that the Islamist narrative is false while making one of the most monumental political blunders in recent memory. While those challenging extremism in Pakistan are out on the field daily debunking conspiracy theories that seek to blame everyone but ourselves for our faults, the Raymond Davis case is dealt to them like an oil spill over a neighbourhood litter-collection effort.

Through this one incredibly stupid incident enough fuel has been handed to the Islamist narrative to last it well into the next decade. Add to this continued drone attacks and a losing war in Afghanistan and the Islamist narrative is being nourished daily. Are we still expected to wade through oil spills in order to hand-pick street-litter?

Market-driven media empires fiercely competing for advertising revenue appear schizophrenic in their coverage. Among our bilingual media outlets we witness a `linguistic apartheid` that panders to moderation and reason for its English readership, while at the same time fuelling all sorts of misogyny and bigotry for an Urdu readership. This is sometimes done through the very same author.

Such a `linguistic apartheid` further alienates the intelligentsia from Pakistan`s conservative masses (though the masses being conservative is a fact that certain liberals feel uncomfortable acknowledging), thus reinforcing the vicious cycle of mutual dehumanisation taking place in Pakistan. That was until the Islamists began importing in English-speaking cadres in order to infiltrate the elite too.

By obsessing over madressahs, the vast majority of which pose more of a socio-economic problem than they do a political problem, we ignore the fact that almost all political Islamists are university educated and socially mobile. Punjab University is no madressah, and we all know what goes on there.

Even when considering violent factions, we refuse to see that their leaders are from well-established families. The notorious Pakistani accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad , is an engineer. The man accused of killing Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Omar Sheikh, studied at the prestigious London School of Economics.

The madressah students who do become violent extremists are used as cannon fodder to serve objectives set by people from our own class, not theirs. This denial culture again serves to reinforce Islamism by directing attention to the symptoms while under our own patronising gaze fashion icons, rock stars and former military associates thrive while spouting paranoid bigotry in the name of Islam and the caliphates of old.

All this is not to say that our policies should be held hostage to Islamist demands for fear of reinforcing their narratives. Rather, it is an appeal to all those who wish to see a truly stable and democratic Pakistan. Surely blunders and strategic approaches designed to challenge Islamism which only end up serving the Islamist cause are self-defeating?

It is time to see this struggle for what it truly is: a propaganda war. But those of us interested in winning against the Islamist narrative have been very late off the starting blocks. Is it any wonder then that while the Arab world heads towards democratic change, Pakistan stands alone in witnessing popular support for wresting away our democratic rights?

The writer is founder of Khudi, a counter-extremism social forum in Pakistan.


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