The Friday Times: Published in November 4, 2011 edition under the title “Generation Next“
For valid and practical reasons, the youth is always the most vibrant, energetic and hopeful constituent of any society. It is the ripe fruit which is cultivated and nurtured by every nation year in year out. In today’s Pakistan, though one can feel old if not fatigued by the time they reach their twenties, the generations that follow do not shun the standards of innovation and understanding that our society must desperately adhere to in the times we live in. New, avant-garde platforms that are collectively labeled as ‘social media’ offer a necessary space for freedom of speech, of expression and of association – in both the personal and the formal spheres of life – and like physical space in the territory of Pakistan, it is receding vis-à-vis exhibition of tolerance; it is being ceded to extreme and radical mindsets because people choose silence and expediency over voice and responsibility. In this situation, social media provides a platform for dialogue beyond distances, and across structural barriers, free of cost. But indirect connectivity can only do so much.
The process of radicalization in Pakistan, and targeting of its youth by radical elements, has taken hold over a period of three decades. After political organizations began using religion as an implement of social power – by defining Muslims (and kafir’s, or murtad’s thereof) as stipulated in the 1973 Constitution – Islam ceased to be a faith among many practiced by the Pakistani people, and became a force potent enough to engulf the apparatus of the modern state, render it redundant, and eliminate its writ from within its very territorial jurisdiction. In essence, Islam was no longer a faith that bound a worshipper to the Almighty, and became a structural institution that could manifest in social, political, economic, and even military forms. Abuse of religion for political ends sowed the seeds of hatred that continue to bear fruit after decades.
Ugay na mout zameen par toh aur kya hoga / Kay beej zeher kay baantay gae kisaan’on mayn
Religion as a deliberate enterprise to seize the ultimate principle of value, and thereby to reintegrate the forces of one’s own personality, is a fact which cannot be denied.
– Sir Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal
I am not an Islamic scholar, but I am a Muslim. I believe, but my belief has run into lots of troubles recently. Some say that I am too much of a Muslim, that everything or the other has something to do with Islam or Allah; some say I am a heretic and apostate, who comes up with his own examples and facts and metaphors to suit a certain argument or discourse. Well, maybe both are right, or maybe both are wrong; I am least bothered, because the true value of this judgment – to me at least – can only be revealed once Allah Almighty makes this Judgment Himself. For the time being, I would let Pakistanis make the judgments that only Allah is supposed to make, because that is the kind of Islam that prevails in Pakistan. It is when people have a problem with me being Muslim – although my choice of identity is totally up to me – that I call myself a Pakistani, even though I am the same person and my religious and national identities are not exclusive to each other. I am a Pakistani Muslim, and I am a Muslim Pakistani; apparently that is too hard for a lot of people to understand.
Most of Pakistan’s problems today stem from the fact that Pakistanis – and the country’s legal structure in particular – find/s its legitimate roots in the notion of Pakistan being an “Islamic” state. But what does this mean? Today, this question haunts us as much as terrorism, deprivation, crises, inflation, marginalization, corruption, ineptitude, misgovernance, insensitivity and poverty does. Does an Islamic state mean that Pakistan was ordained by Almighty Allah Himself? Or is Pakistan an Islamic state because the majority of its population – at the time of independence and even today – are Muslims? And if it indeed is an Islamic state, then what does being an “Islamic state” entail? Does it imply that the Holy Qur’an is the national political constitution? Does it imply that prevention of vice and promotion of virtue should take place according to the transcribed Traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH? Does the state govern the people according to Islamic laws and administers these laws, or is the state itself subject to Islamic law? And in a modern circumstance, where does all this leave the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan? Are they equal citizens of the nation-state, or are they supposedly ‘second-class’ citizens in the form of protected “dhimmi”s?
On May 2, 2011, while it was still the night of May 1 in the U.S., the world was greeted by a surprising news story: President Obama confirmed that Osama bin Laden was killed in a CIA operation (dubbed Operation Neptune’s Spear according to some sources) in Abbottabad, Pakistan. President Obama acknowledged Pakistan’s help, but left Pakistan’s integrity to the dogs (after apparently violating its sovereignty) when international media revisited its reports about Osama hiding in Pakistan, about Pakistan being the epicentre of terrorism, and about Pakistan’s state being in collusion with rogue terrorist elements. Why should President Obama care? This is his victory, and whether or not May 1 was a great day for America, it was indeed a great day for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Why do Obama and Clinton praise Pakistan yet their media vilifies us? Some even went to the extent of saying that Obama had neutralized Petraeus’ possible Republican nomination for President in 2012, by denying him the accolades of killing Osama while he was US-ISAF chief in Afghanistan. On the other side of the same coin, this could be Petraeus’ signal about a new, militarized role for the CIA in projecting America’s strength and protecting America’s interests. Nobody notes that US Special Forces and Navy SEALs were not part of the US-ISAF force, but were stationed in Afghanistan on the request of the CIA and under the command of CIA officers who would use them for a calculated and surgical strike. However, Pakistan Today reports that the US refused to rule out Pakistan’s official backing for Osama.
Now, I don’t know who to listen to: John Brennan, or Barack Obama.
The media frenzy and political gimmickry after Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, and now Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal murder, fails to answer questions, and instead, posits more queries and conundrums which are completely uncalled for
On the morning of March 02, 2011, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was gunned down near his house in I/8-3 sector of Islamabad. He did not have his security protocol with him. The assassins sprayed his car with bullets, and after confirming the death of their target, littered the murder site with pamphlets that proclaimed the incident as having been commissioned by the hitherto-unknown Punjabi Taliban.
As soon as news of the assassination broke out, civil society demonstrators and protesters held rallies throughout major Pakistani cities, while the Pakistani Christian community was divided on whether to take to the streets over the murder of their biggest politician in broad daylight, or to stay silent and remain within the shelter of their homes.
We only think about what to do, what to say, and (thanks to the media) what to feel AFTER something tragic and unthinkable has happened. Yet, the tragic and unthinkable happens so often, that one would imagine we would be prepared for it by now, even if we are not desensitized to it.
Express Tribune, a mainstream newspaper, reflected the views of the protesters as follows: nobody is safe, not even the protesters.
Tomorrow if I say something that someone doesn’t agree with, I will also be killed. When people can kill with so much impunity in the capital, no one is safe.
Anyone who speaks the truth is unsafe.
This is another attempt by the extremists to silence the truth and those who dare to work for the rights of minorities, claimed the protesters.
Could Egypt happen to Pakistan?
Since January 25, 2011, the world has been captivated by developments in Egypt. One after the other, like the domino effect, major cities in Egypt erupted in protests, calling for the removal of the Mubarak regime. Reminiscent of the color revolutions that took place in Eastern Europe during the twilight of President Bush’s administration, the Egyptian situation has caused consternation for a lot of international actors, and analysts are on the edges of their seats trying to determine what this sociopolitical movement means for democracy in the middle east, and for political rights in the modern Muslim world at large.
There are a lot of causal factors that point to the current turmoil in Egypt. Most believe that it was Hosni Mubarak’s elongated rule that will come to 30 years in power if he continues till October 2011. Almost all of this administration has been under emergency rule, which says a lot about the democratic process in Egypt and the freedoms Egyptian citizens enjoy – despite being allied to the United States. Even though Egypt has seen two revolutions – one in 1919 and another in 1952 which brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power – the current regime is also descended from the ‘revolutionary’ legitimacy of the Nasser and Sadat eras. On January 21st, Ahmad Aggour wrote that Egyptians should learn a lesson from the Tunisians and send Mubarak packing, just like Zine el Abidine ben Ali.
It seems that the current revolution is designed to install a true democracy of the Egyptian people, thereby upturning the status quo established by the July 23 Revolution of 1952.
Larbi Sadiki has written an interesting opinion piece in Al Jazeera, where he labels the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions as ‘bread intifadas’. Arguing that the real terror facing Muslim societies is that of political, social and economic marginalisation, Sadiki claims that these bread riots come and go but regimes stay. Countries like Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia continue to be “the fodder of chaos in the absence of social justice, culturally sensitive sustainable development and democratic mediating networks and civic channels of socio-political bargaining and inclusion”. “Oppositions and dissidents have not yet learned how to infiltrate governments and build strong political identities and power bases. This is one reason why the protests that produced ‘Velvet revolutions’ elsewhere seem to be absent in the Arab world.”
Sadiki says that bread uprisings have positive and negative outcomes: “On the positive side, they act as elections, as plebiscites on performance, as an airing of public anger, they issue verdicts on failed policies and send stress messages to rulers”.