Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pakistani Musicians--the NY Times Video

There's a video from the New York Times website is going around. [Click on the graphic to view it on their website.]

This video is so hit-or-miss and done from one specific point of view!

Firstly, Pakistanis, including Pakistani musicians, can walk and chew gum at the same time. They see that Pakistan is stuck, as Ali Azmat's current ideological guru puts it, between the twin jaws of fanaticism and neo-imperialism. The same video clips could have been used to say that Pakistani musicians and artists are actually taking the issues on in a more nuanced way and talking about both sides of that equation rather than leaning on side or the other. Except Ali Azmat, but we'll come back to that.

To say that "Yeh Hum Naheen" (This is not us) is belittling the issue by not using the word "Taliban" is so ass-backwards! Pakistanis see that Taliban are only one face of terrorism and fanaticism. Take a closer look at the graphic on the left. That statement "Terrorism is murder. Murder is haram." expressed in those religious terms, using a word--haram--that every Western Muslim pounds into their children with respect to eating pork, and wine, and so on is something I am still waiting for any "American Muslim" or Muslim government official to utter, 8 years after 9/11.

I try not to make sweeping statements, but to say that only the entity (or three entities, if you really follow US establishment rhetoric) known as "The Taliban" are our fanaticism problem is to follow the same shortsighted attitude of solving one problem and ignoring if not creating another that the US establishment has done again, and again--not least during the jihad, yes, jihad, against the Soviets.

And coming back to Ali Azmat. To have a discussion about Ali Azmat without bringing into the discussion the gentleman--and I am personally not allergic to him as others--that he has been hosting a show with and seems to be re-presenting the thoughts of is to miss the point. If you are not following Zaid Hamid and his influence on large swathes of Pakistani society, you're not paying attention.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Would Iqbal Say?

A couple of days ago was the day celebrated in Pakistan as "Iqbal Day". Allama Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal is the thinker and poet that wrote a song that is de facto an alternative national anthem for India on the one hand, and who Pakistanis consider "the philosopher of Pakistan", the person who came up with the very idea that became Pakistan. [Please, I am just relating what the national story accpeted in Pakistan is; I know others--Indian lovers of the "Hakeem", or Doctor, in particular--disagree. I am not here to re-argue that one.]

So what would Iqbal say about today's Pakistan, a friend asked on Facebook? No need to ask the question. There's a famous poem by him in the form of a prayer "Lab pay aati hai dua bun kay tamanna meri" which Pakistanis love to quote--but don't much pay attention to the lines about what action to take:

Ho mera kaam garibon ki himaayat karna /
Dard-mandon se zaiifon se mohabbat karna
[May my work be to work in support of the poor
To love the afflicted and the weak]

And on Mullahs:

When in a vision I saw
A mullah ordered to paradise,
Unable to hold my tongue,
I said something in this wise:

‘Pardon me, O Lord,
For these bold words of mine,
But he will not be pleased
With the houris and the wine.

He loves to dispute and fight,
And furiously wrangle,
But paradise is no place
For this kind of jangle.

His task is to disunite
And leave people in the lurch,
But paradise has no temple,
No mosque and no church.’

See: http://www.masabih.org/showthread.php?t=3753 for one posting of the original and a translation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Different Kinds of Muslims

My position is that unless we learn to love other Muslims DESPITE and WITH all that we might disagree with them upon, we can't be united. The Saudi approach--and that of other neo-purists--is to say "No, no, no; there is only one thing here--we are all Muslims." and then only allowing what and how they understand things to be as what that "one thing" is. Too often it is these very people who will be quickest to say--maybe because they understand Islam in a very narrowly-defined unitary whole--that this or that practice is "not Islam" and therefore Sufis, say, or Shias are not Muslims. That's what's gotta change if we are to be united; we have to recognize that there will be those who are more in tune with the metaphysical side of the bigger picture (such as the Sufis), and others that will look at things rationally (such as those who follow Kutub or Maududi), yet others who revere the personal link to The Prophet (as the Shias do) and yet respect (and not even just tolerate) them all as different interpretations within Islam.

Forcing people to believe as one never works, and only creates harder divisions.

Sufi Bunnies

I always have a wry smile when someone says that all we have to do is switch to Sufism and we'll all be chanting Rumi, if not Kumbaya, before you can say "Jalaludin Rumi Balkhi".

Never mind that before the Salafis came around and made it all about neo-purist fanaticism, the struggles Muslims waged--often militarily--were led by Sufis. The Jihad, yes, Jihad, of resistance to the Russian Empire in the Caucasus has only for the last few decades been a Salafi project; before that, for centuries it was lead and manned by sufis like Imam Shamyl. The Sokoto "Caliphate" in West Africa was founded by someone who was a Qadiri-Tijani sufi.

And that's just the "just wars".

The point? The point is that it's not about finding muslims who are cute and fluffy like bunny rabbits—or Canadians. And I am not saying that the Sufis are not Allah's gift for a better, more spiritual, less fanatic world. What I am saying is that simplitudes get us nowhere if we're not ready to address real issues, such as intolerance, xenophobia, oppression, and the like.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Illiteracy causes Terrorism--Wishful Thinking?

Every once in a while someone I know—not to mention a million others, often highly educated Pakistani expats and not a few caucasians both in Western governments and even progressive circles, but also people in Pakistan—will express the thought that what is really causing all this extremism and fanaticism is that Pakistan, for example, has an abysmal literacy rate. And all we have to do is start 3 million schools, and we "wild and wooly gentlemen" of those crazy parts will hold hands and chant Rumi, if not sing kumbaya. One do-gooder just a couple of days ago was saying on NPR that you could run a whole school for a year in the money spent on maintaining one foreign soldier in Afghanistan.

I am not sure I agree.

These are two separate problems. Illiteracy might be fueling extremism, but the ideology behind it is very much the product of literate brains. The inflexible, extreme attitudes we see in a lot of Pakistan's Youth--on Facebook, for example--is the product of the tinkering with the EDUCATIONAL system and society by Gen. Ziaul Haque and his regime, not of illiteracy. Making people literate--rather than enlightened--only gives them the means to read and absorb things like Farhat Hashmi, "disturbing" emails, and so on. [Which is not limited to Pakistan or Muslims; for every Geo TV there is a Fox News; for every Mullah Rocketi, a Franklin Graham. But I digress.] Just consider a few points:
  • Who was it that was most enamoured of the Sufis that brought Islam to what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India? (At least one or two of them literally students and friends of Rumi.) The educated elite of the day, or the poor, illiterate working folk?
  • Who attends lectures by Farhat Hashmi and radical Western Muslim (like the Hizbut-Tahrir and some Americans I could mention) ? The taxi driver and the working class Muslim, or the professionals at some mosques in Silicon Valley and Toronto that I could mention?