Posts Tagged ‘Muslims’

Revealing Histories Long Erased And Denigrated: Photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s Attempt To Find Old Truths

In Israel/Palestine, Photography, The Daily Discussion on January 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s project on Morocco’s Jewish heritage immediately caught my attention not because of the photographs, but because of words that underpin the ideas and ideals of the project. These words immediately suggested a photographer of considerable intelligence and courage, and willing to accept and understand histories that today lie buried under propaganda, lies and sheer hypocrisy.

From The Series 'Jewish Morocco' By Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Aaron reveals a mind that is sharp, and honest, something he underlines in his statement on the Burn Magazine site that recently featured his work:

Protected under the Islamic Principle of Tolerance since the 7th century, they flourished, holding high positions in trade and government.  The Star of David was a symbol shared by all Moroccans, appearing on currency and even the national flag. During the Holocaust, when asked for a list of Jews, King Mohammed V declared, “We have no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccan citizens.”  Jews and Muslims were united by culture and kingdom.

Following World War II, Zionists recruiters targeted Moroccan Jews to populate the new State of Israel. Israel’s expansion marked the beginning of a Moroccan Jewish exodus. 300,000 Jews inhabited Morocco as of 1940; it was the largest Jewish population in the Arab World. Today, less than 4000 remain.

There is no bigoted resort to claims of ‘ancient hatreds’ or Arab anti-Semitism, or falsified histories of Jewish persecution in Muslim lands. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post called Seeing Europe Everywhere, Even In The Unfolding Of Another People’s History, where I question the false histories that attempt to convince us that the Arabs are the new anti-Semites.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim knows his history, and he knows also the tightly entwined cultural, political, social, intellectual and economic environment of the Arab Jews and their deep and important contributions to Arab societies and polity. As a man of Jewish descent, his is a voice truly essential and truly beautiful to find.

But these are inconvenient facts, as demonstrated by the reviews and reception of the works of people like Ammiel Alcalay, whose After Jew And Arab: Remaking Levantine Culture was received with tremendous scepticism and in other instances outright hostility.

After Jews And Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture by Ammiel Alcalay

But works such as Professor Alcalay’s remind us all that is shared and embroiled, rather than the histories that the nationalists and fundamentalists prefer to manufacture. Professor Alcalay explains his intentions about such works in an interview with Al-Jadid magazine:

It always helps to have a dream beyond the constant and unspeakable horrors so many people are subjected to. My work opens new space to forge alliances, even on a small-scale, but with a cold eye cast at the appalling state of things in general. As a critic, activist, writer, translator, and teacher I do have an effect on the way people who encounter me think. It might not be as significant as people in various kinds of life saving professions, but I think it has had an incremental effect in the world.

Indeed, the incremental effects are the long-lasting ones. I can only hope the same for Aaron Vincent Elkaim. These are histories that offer correctives to the nationalist and sectarian fantasies that have been created to justify division, occupation and violence. Whether Arabs or Jews, it is imperative that we begin to take back our lived heritage, our living memories and our genuine histories.

At the very least it is imperative that we begin to develop that ‘…an acute sense not of how things are separated but of how they are connected, mixed, involved, embroiled, linked.’ (Said, Edward (2001) ‘Nationalism, Human Rights & Interpretation’ in Reflections on Exile Granta Books (Page 430)) Projects such as Elkaim’s remind us of this involvement and link.

I look forward to the development of Elkaim’s work and only hope that it acts as an inspiration to others.

Ask Not What The Country Can Do To You But What You Can Do To Yourself

In The Daily Discussion on November 19, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I’ve decided that if the government wants to monitor me that’s fine. But I could do a much better job monitoring myself than anyone else.

Hasan Elahi

Trackingtranscience is a brilliant response by Professor Hasan Elahi, a Bangladeshi-born American citizen, to his detention and interrogation at the hands of Home Land Security and FBI personnel. Professor Elahi was accused by his neighbors for being a 9/11 terrorist (description; dark, Muslim) and later taken off a flight returning from Europe for questioning. The FBI accused him of hoarding explosives in a Florida warehouse. He was subjected to months of interrogations, nine polygraph tests, and left on the ‘watch list’.

So he decided that he will just watch himself and effectively erase all pretence at ‘privacy’.

Now Elahi posts his day, every single mundane aspect of it, on the project website at Trackingtranscience.net A globe-trotting Professor of media, he posts all his activities, complete with GPS coordinates and the date/time stamps at the site, effectively monitoring his daily life. His meals, toilet breaks, airport waits and almost all the mundane acts that define 99% of what constitutes modern life. His server logs reveal that the Pentagon, and even the Executive Office of The President have clicked in while the FBI continue to monitor his activities through this site itself. Our tax payer’s money at work.

Tracking Transcience

Tracking Transcience

Hasan Elahi was featured in a Colbert Report interview, where Steven Colbert not-so-subtly reminds us that the only reason Professor Elahi was, and continues, to be taken as a ‘threat’ is because he is ‘foreign’ i.e. non-white, Muslim, from Asia.

Hasan Elahi on The Colbert Report (Click To Go To Video)

Hasan Elahi on The Colbert Report (Click To Go To Video)

There is something refreshingly subversive about this work, a trait I find missing in most uses of photography. There is also humour and criticism, another thing I find largely missing from photography. It is a subversion and a humour that is also a means of criticism of the ever smaller space we occupy as independent, private and autonomous human beings in our so-called modern, industrial societies. This may seem contradictory – the full surrender of privacy as a means to counter our loss of privacy. But the project is in fact a creative show of the middle-finger to authorities that claim technical and methodological sophistication but in fact rely on simplistic racial profiling to get their jobs done.

We seem to believe that our intelligence services rely on sophistication technical and research, when in fact the apparent methods of operations seem rather banal and simplistic. However, I have always prefered the honesty of the rabidly bigoted and ignorant. Like Tunku Varadarajan who argued:

We are a civilized society. One of our cardinal rules of coexistence is that we (try always to) judge people only by their actions and not by their identity, whether racial, religious or sexual. This is our great strength as a society, and also, in the present circumstances, our great weakness: How to address the threat posed by the fact that, of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our midst, there are a few (perhaps many more than a few) who are so radicalized that they would kill their fellow Americans? Must we continue to be neutral in handling all people from different groups even though we know that there are differential risks posed by people of one group? The problem here is a heightened version of the airport security problem, where we check all people–including Chinese grandmothers–regardless of risk profiles. But can we afford that on a grand, national scale? (And I mean that question not merely in a financial sense, but also in terms of the price we’d pay in failing to detect a threat in time.)

Indeed. Why beat about the bush when in fact we have, in complete ignorance of facts or reality, decided that it is the Muslims who have an exclusively penchant for violence and terrorism?

Professor Elahi is also revealing the fact that citizens of the West already surrender entire details of their lives, habits and preferences choosing to surrender their privacy for services and entertainment. With our greater reliance on electronic media and communications, the process of tracking and monitoring has become even easier. Even Facebook has become the target of ‘surveillance’, and tens of thousands of cameras and monitors litter our urban landscape, creating practically a 24×7 record of every citizen’s every movement and action. Our internet behavior is monitored and recorded, and available to any intelligence agency. I will say nothing about our cell phone usage, which we already know is carefully tracked.

Works such as this are a reminder of the reality of a state whose surveillance activities have grown far beyond any we would have tolerated in the pre-9/11 era, eroding our constitutional liberties and rights in the process. We seem to have forgotten that our liberties were hard-fought, and that they are always and constantly under threat. Elahi’s project reminds us that we choose the wrong answer to the questions that David Foster Wallace once put to us in the aftermath of 9/11 when, he asked:

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

Clearly, we have not considered these questions enough. And if we have, we chosen not to insist on our rights enough. There is no small irony in the fact that an entire conservative, venal, backward looking, revisionist, culturally revanchist, racist and retrograde segment of our nation is screaming against ‘big government’ when it comes to the provision of services that serve our society – healthcare, welfare, education, while simultaneously cheering greater government intrusion and control of everything that hinders of liberties and rights – more soldiers on our borders, greater surveillance and monitoring, larger military and budgets and the larger wars.

I became an American citizen in 1999. While preparing for my interview with the immigration authorities in New York City I spent considerable time studying the Constitution. However, when it came time for the interview, the bored and distracted official simply asked me inane questions about the day America celebrates its independence and other some such irrelevant matters. When I questioned him about whether he was going to ask me whether I understand the rights and responsibilities I had as a citizen of this nation – the rights defined in the Constitution, he simply said ‘No’. When I inquired why a new citizen was not expected to know his rights and liberties, the rights and liberties that were the very foundations of the nation he was in fact being asked to defend at all costs, the official simply looked annoyed and informed me that the interview has done. It seems that it is not important for an American citizen to know what it is that s/he is meant to defend. The evidence of this is quite apparent today.

We are this very moment confronting one of the largest, most concentrated assault on our civil liberties, and the main front of this assault are our legal rights. We should not forget that as we deny justice to those we claim are ‘our enemies’ we deny justice to ourselves. Confessions through torture, unlimited detentions, denial of access to counsel, illegally obtained evidence, renditions and other illegal and unconstitutional means make delivering justice impossible and weakens our system from within. The contortions and mockery of due process by which we try our prisoners and enemies will one day become the contortions and mockery that we will try ourselves. The ease with which we deny justice to ‘our enemies’, in complete violation of our own and of international law, will be the same ease with which it may be denied us. And our president, who once promised so much, continues to look away from the Guantanamo he promised to close, the suspects he promised to give civil trials and rights to, the torture evidence he promised to release and the adherence to our laws he promised to uphold.

The more of ourselves we surrender to those we believe are ‘protecting’ us, the more we leave ourselves susceptible to abuse and injustice. The tentacles of the security and fear driven state are endless. There is always an argument for more security, more protections, more safety and more controls.There are always crisis that require extraordinary measures. The incredible stupidity of the Transport Safety Authority (TSA) and the back-scatter x-ray machines is evidence enough that the entire security bureaucracy has run amuck, with rules and regulations that are now completely devoid of meaning or necessity, and overtly driven by a corporate security sector that works from fear and towards excess.

On the other front we have a system of ‘infiltrating’ poor, Muslim communities in the USA with paid-for informants and entrapment experts who lure people into acts criminal and then parade them as powerful evidence of a working security system. Fear, insecurity and doubt are being spread in most all Muslim communities as entire people are singled out for observation, targeting and surveillance simply on the basis of their religion and ethnicity. Most all so-claimed ‘major’ terrorism plots foiled have been incidences of CIA informants helping entrap otherwise innocent and innocuous individuals through suggestion, coercion, greed and outright lies to become involved in plots whose outlines and intents were defined and prepared by the CIA informants in the first place. We are now trying to police ‘intent’ and ‘ideas’ by further eroding civil rights and legal procedures. Amitava Kumar’s A Foreigner  Carrying In The Crook Of His Arm A Tiny Bomb examines this question in greater detail is a highly recommended read.

Professor Elahi’s project is the first that I have seen that attempts to raise important questions about the meaning of the security state and its implications for the individual citizen. This is creative art as resistance and criticism. It can’t replace direct action, as that by the courageous and determined John Tyner who recently confronted the intrusive and ridiculously pointless back-scatter x-ray machines being used by the TSA, but it is crucial to making the argument.

The audience in the Colbert show may have laughed, but the vision that is outlined in Trackingtranscience.net is no laughing matter.

It may be our tomorrow.

Its time to remind ourselves of David Foster Wallace’s question again: … is [ours] a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?



They Set A Koran On Fire…And Nothing Happened

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on September 7, 2010 at 11:53 am

Ironically, tradition suggests that burning is one of the best ways of disposing pages of holy texts. As this video attempts to demonstrate an apparent act of ‘Christian’ faith, I can’t help but be amused by the sheer anti-climactic end of the video.

Nothing happens.

Much bluster, doom-and-gloom, the devil-is-amongst-us, talk ends with a guy desperately pouring petrol on a copy of the Koran and watching it burn with a rather lame flame. And yet nothing happens. The video ends. That is it. The world remains unchanged.

There are thousands preparing to demonstrate against the burning of the Koran on September 11th, 2010. I ask, why bother?

The faith, for those who truly believe, exists not merely in the printed pages, but as a divinely offered gift, in word and poetry that transcends its physical manifestation. It was for this reason the Koran was not even printed in the earliest years of the faith. It is why millions memorize it. It is meant to be spoken, sung and expressed. Like texts of all faiths, it lives in the heart and the soul, above the physical, and written into the existential.

Much as burning the flag does not dismantle the republic, burning a copy of a book will not affect the religion, nor the belief of those committed to it. So let them burn the Koran I say. These impotent acts of ignorance, these overt gestures of hate, these carefully crafted theatrics, have little or nothing to do with the religions they attack, the objects they desecrate or the faiths they in fact claim to be defending and acting on behalf of.

Watch the video again.

Notice that when the Koran is set on fire, nothing happens.

Nothing changes.

Nothing is lost.

Nothing is revealed.

Nothing is desecrated.

The world, the faiths, the believers, the committed, the message, the text remain unchanged.

We dishonor ourselves with these petty protests, while remaining silent in the face of genuine crimes. As the United States of America, my home and adopted nation, continues its brutalities  in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, retains its torture centers around the globe, hides behind false legalisms to maintain Guantanamo and a regime of torture, abducts and assassinates even its own citizens at will and at the behest of powerful individuals, surrounds itself with costumes of ‘christian charity’, we would do well to remember the things that we should be protesting against.

There are genuine crimes being committed in our names, and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives being torn apart. There are genuine issues we should march out against, raise our voices against, stand against. Cheap and impotent acts of desecration are unworthy of our attention for they mean nothing, and affect nothing.

The Spotlight Of Humanity Or How We Are Told To Look Only Where They Tell Us To Look

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, Photography on July 30, 2010 at 10:00 am

It is probably one of the most blatant uses of photography as propaganda that I have seen in a long time. And I am glad for it because it reveals explicitly how easily images can be put to the service of an agenda of power and entrenched interests. And how easily photographs can mislead if not ‘read’ carefully.

‘What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan’ the cover screams. The answer is made obvious. The shocking photograph closes the mind, numbs thought, distracts insight and silences protest.

If it were only so simple. If we were only so easily fooled.

(Just a few days ago I wrote a post complaining that the Afghani and Iraqi have been completely erased from our media and from the interests of photojournalists. So the irony of this cover is not lost on me!)

Jodi Bieber’s (a photographer whose work I love!) portraits of Afghani women victims of domestic/family violence have been mutilated into a self-righteous and frankly hypocritical call to support an American military occupation that is increasingly brutal, murderous and simply untenable. I have to believe given Bieber’s intelligence that she was not aware of how this work would finally be put to use.

The timing of this cover, its hysterically comical association of continued war and Afghan women’s rights are not coincidental. That people still employ this infantile and inane justification for our imperial dreams tells me more about the world of the editorial community running these magazines then it does about anything going on in Afghanistan or in the lives of these women they so seem to be concerned about. With no real reasons for our war there, with no rational arguments for our continued presence there, with no explanations for our continued killings and torture of the civilians there, with no real idea of the goals of our military and advisors there, we can always turn what is nothing more than a sordid and poorly managed military occupation of an increasingly restless and violently resistant population into a feminist exercise.

Yes, its American imperial power in the service of the woman!

That seemingly intelligent people (I am giving the Editors of the magazine the benefit of the doubt here!) will offer us these empty bromides, these false and frankly insulting arguments about their deep concern and love of the Afghan woman’s freedom, begs the question ‘How stupid do they think we are?’

In fact, so blatant was the propaganda aspect of this photo essay that the Managing Editor had to give a separate explanation in the same magazine to explain the editorial decision and the choice of the cover. To cover his tracks I suppose. And I quote:

I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of TIME. First, I wanted to make sure of Aisha’s safety and that she understood what it would mean to be on the cover. She knows that she will become a symbol of the price Afghan women have had to pay for the repressive ideology of the Taliban.

The compassion and humanity flow from the page. With that sweeping and entirely wrong summary, he goes on to drop the other shoe:

We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it. We do it to illuminate what is actually happening on the ground…What you see in these pictures and our story is something that you cannot find in those 91,000 documents: a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.

This statement is disingenuous and misleading. What is actually going on the ground is that a war effort has lost its course, that civilians are being killed, that torture is standard operating procedure, that corrupt and brutal warlords lord over an oppressed population, that an illegitimate government has been foisted onto the country, that heroin remains its largest export and the brother of the so-called ‘leader’ its largest beneficiary. What is also left unsaid is why Aisha’s picture on the cover, and not one of the many women (men and children) maimed, crippled and killed under US/NATO bombs and assaults?

What about this picture?

Fazel Muhamad Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Fazel Muhamad Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were amongst nearly a 100 people killed in a NATO airstrike aimed at a few alleged Taliban fighters. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Obviously the Taliban are not the only ones exploiting Afghani women and turning them into pawns in the service of larger political objectives. A circumcised humanity is no humanity at all. A carefully demarcated outrage, a walled-off moral indignation is nothing but hypocrisy. There are many injustices and acts of violence and brutality taking place in Afghanistan and being done so under our watch. Everyone knows this. Few will simply admit it. This magazine too knows it, but it chooses to offer us a selected outrage, an easily exploited and manufactured ‘injustice.

Its silence about people suffering under our presence, the injustices being committed by us and our allies, and the many dead that keep littering the already blood soaked soil of this blighted nation, is dismaying never more so when it decided to take this immature and inane stance on its covers.

Fortunately others have already caught on to this cheap game. Many have already voiced their outrage, including The Feminist Peace Network which released a statement in protest and concluded by saying:

Imagine instead of contributing to the violence in Afghanistan that further harms women, we were to provide humanitarian aid that improved the lives of Afghan women. Imagine if we had taken the billions of ‘reconstruction’ funds that are unaccounted for in Iraq and given that money to responsible organizations to actually rebuild and strengthen the social infrastructure of both countries. Oh wait, then we couldn’t use the women excuse to continue to fund the military industrial complex. Enough already, women are not an excuse for militarism and war.

Others have also spoken out including A Developing Story:Time, Photography, Propaganda?, and BagNewsNotes: Your Turn: What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan?Try…What’s Happening On This Cover? and Conscientious: Afghanistan, Women and War, and Jezebel: A Visual Introduction To An Afghan Woman’s Mutilation, and The Nation: What Also Happens If We Leave Afghanistan, and I am sure there will be others to come.

So here is mine.

A close examination of the subjects of the photographs and the associated captions provides some interesting insights. If one was hoping to view the series of photographs and come away with a sense of the cruelties of the Taliban, then one is left deeply disappointed. Not a single victim portrayed in the photo essay is a victim of Taliban violence. She is a victim of domestic violence, or family abuse, or even cultural negligence and disregard. But none of the victims can specifically be suggested to have suffered from an act unique to the ideology of the Taliban. In this regard the photo essay is a careful sleight of hand because its title “Women Of Afghanistan: Living Under The Threat Of The Taliban” clearly suggests that we are seeing examples of Taliban cruelty and inhumanity.

But the captions betray and tell us otherwise.

What they reveal is that nine years after we occupied this country and took over either directly or indirectly control of its legal, police, and various social institutions, women continue to suffer and that brutal, dehumanizing social and familial practices continue unabated. Lets remember, the Taliban no longer rule there, but we do.

But lets take a closer look at the images and their captions to see the ‘atmosphere’ and ‘references’ offered to help make the case of Taliban brutality.

The first four of five set of images keep referring to ‘parliamentarians’ or ‘the parliament’, ignoring the fact that what is in place at the moment is a completely illegitimate government that sits on the seats of power on the basis of an election so corrupt that its UN administrators had to resign in protest. It is a ‘parliament’ of warlords and killers and the token woman, run by a man who has no credibility, and whose brother happens to be the largest drug baron in the country. It is a parliament that was ‘created’ on the basis of fraud, and is maintained on the basis of American/NATO soldiers. But you would not know this from the words on offer in the captions.

And ironically, the editors at the magazine failed to edit Fawzia Koofi’s (the woman in the first image) comment that she ‘…fears that new election rules may make it more difficult to succeed. She fears that outspoken women like her will be sidelined.” This fear is a fear of the American backed regime that is currently in power – of Karzai’s corruption and illegitimacy. Both the fraudulent parliament, and the constrained on democracy being created are not Taliban pathologies clearly, but of our own allies!

The next of set of images moves us towards women that we are expected to associated as abused and victims of violence of the Taliban. But in fact their details further say nothing of the sort! Sakina (image 6) is a victim of the practice of child marriage, and well known Afghani tribal practice that people (Afghani and others) have been trying to address for generations. Sakina is abused by her husband and is a clear victim of domestic abuse and violence. There is no Taliban connection here. Islam (image 7), is also clear victim of a hideous family abuse and domestic violence. A cruel mother-in-law (aren’t they all!), an abusive and deranged husband. The portrait of the two prisoners (image 8), Nasimgul and Gul Barar, tells us that they are prisoners, but does not tell us why. What is their crime? What were they convicted of? And they are prisoners under the Karzai regime, so where is the Taliban connection? Image 9 is of Shireen Gul, who was forced into crime by her husband and later jailed. Her husband and his relatives were hanged for their crimes! Once again, there is no suggestion here of a Taliban threat, merely of criminality and a legal system that seems to love capital punishment. The Texans must be happy. Image 10 takes us to Zohal Sagar, a young girl who lost her parents in ‘the war’. What war? Which conflict? Afghanistan has been at perpetual war for decades, even before the Soviet invasion? What is this caption talking about? The next image has the Abadini family, the woman photographed in a burqa. The burqa is not a Taliban innovation, though they perfected its consistent use and abuse. Its a dress used and worn in the region well before the Taliban. But we are again not revealing any specific issue related to the Taliban or a unique pathology that their ideology offers. The picture is of a conventional Afghan woman as millions would dress even before the Taliban. It a picture of a cultural issue.

And finally, the finale; the final image of a woman called ‘Aisha’ and the image the magazine’s editor chose – because shock always has the effect of stunting thought and numbing analysis. What does one say when confronted with such cruelty towards anyone, let alone a woman. Nothing. And that is precisely what this image is meant to do – silence us into submission. And since this is the most moving and disturbing of images, and the one most egregious and callously exploited by this magazine, let me say more about my point here.

Lets remember; it is the USA/NATO that is in power in Afghanistan, not the Taliban. The abuse that Aisha faced, abuse at the hands of her husband and her husband’s family that can be carried out with impunity after nine years of an American presence and an American/NATO foisted ‘government’ in the country. As the organization Women For Afghan Women In Afghanistan tell us that:

[Aisha]…was sold at the age of 10 by her father to a married man, a Talib. He kept her in the stable with the animals until she was 12 (when she got her first menstrual period). At the age of 12 he married her. From the day that she arrived in his house, she was beaten regularly by this man and his family. Sometimes she was beaten so badly that she couldn’t get up for days. Six months ago before she came to us, she was beaten so badly by her husband that she thought that she was going to die. She ran away and went to the neighbor’s house. The neighbor took to her to the police.

What happened to her is cruel and inhuman. But it is not unique to Afghanistan, nor to the Taliban. She is abused by ‘a Talib’ but is that his principal trait? Is that all that mattered about him that he was religiously conservative? Are we to believe that there is a direct link between his religious orthodoxy and his violent propensities? That would be what is being suggested here of course. And it can be suggested here because he is a Muslim. Not an individual with a history, with pathologies, with a history worthy of exploring in specifics. Her husband carried out these brutalities, and whereas he may have been delusional, violent, depraved, fundamentalist or whatever, he was not ‘the Taliban’. These remain individual, local acts of violence against women, and this is not news in Afghanistan nor in other countries in the region. This is not the pathology of a political creed, but the pathology of an individual, a family and possibly a broader society that tolerated this. It came first from within – the family, and then was sanctioned from without.

What we are confronting here is a socio-cultural pathology and one that has many manifestations that go beyond disfigurement. Aisha does not represents a consequence outcome unique a Taliban pathology, but is one of thousands of women who are confronted with violence and abuse and repression in the country and have for decades. By our modern standards of equality and universal justice, the condition of Afghani women is an issue of concern and it has been the focus of concern and action for activist both domestic and international for decades. But the causes are socio-economic and cultural to say nothing of the blatant use of an issue irrelevant to our reasons for being the country in the first place.

There is an attempt here to confuse us – all violence, pathologies, and decadence is ‘The Taliban’ and hence fundamentalist Islam. The fearsome bogeyman at the back of racist campaigns such as this one. And all things civilized and chivalrous are and can only be ‘Western/American’ and hence ‘modern’. A classical colonialist’s magic trick; we own all that is good, you are all that is backward and retrograde. But the issues surrounding the abuse and violence against women, as in any country, are far more complex than an imagined homogenous and well understood entity called ‘the Taliban’, a title that today has no more meaning than ‘the bad guys’. Simplifications of this sort are all the rage these days, so much so that Pankaj Mishra had to call them out in a recent article in The New Yorker called Islamismism by pointing out that:

The sad truth is that the problems [blamed] on Islam—fear of sexuality, oppression of women, militant millenarianism—are to be found wherever traditionalist peoples confront the transition to an individualistic urban culture of modernity. Many more young women are killed in India for failing to bring sufficient dowry than perish in “honor killings” across the Muslim world. Such social pathologies no more reveal the barbaric core of Hinduism or Islam than domestic violence in Europe and America defines the moral essence of Christianity or the Enlightenment.

The photo essay misleads us into believing that we are reading and witnessing victims of a uniquely pathological movement called the Taliban – who conveniently happen to be our chosen ‘enemy’ of the moment, while in fact it offers us individuals who have suffered egregiously at the hands of family and relatives. As do hundreds of thousands of women across the region, and millions more across the globe. It confuses the pathologies of patriarchy for a religion and for a religio-political movement. The magazine through a cruel sleight of hand, has exploited these women’s trauma and suffering for an ideological, imperialist and domestic policy agenda. And in the process exploited these women and their histories for propaganda purposes.

Violence against women remains a concern across the globe, but here, on this cover, it is transformed into something unique, specific and as a justification for war. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum in an article titled Veiled Threats pointed out that:

According to the U. S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, intimate partner violence made up 20 percentof all nonfatal violent crime experienced by women in 2001. The National Violence Against Women Survey, cited on the B.J.S. Web site,  reports that 52 percent of surveyed women said they were physically assaulted as a child by an adult caretaker and/or as an adult by any type of perpetrator.

Can we invade ourselves?

Now before I am misunderstood (and I realize that few will read this far!) Let me be clear on one point; the suffering of the Afghani woman under the Taliban regime was extreme and hideous. No organization documented and spoke out more against that period and the treatment of women under that regime than the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) which was led by Meena Keshwar Kamal. In 1979, Kamal began a campaign against Soviet forces and the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan. Her activities and views, as well as her work against the government and religious fundamentalists led to her assassination on February 4, 1987. But the organization lived on and carried on its work to reveal the horrors of the Taliban regime.

In fact, it was so popular in our propaganda war against the Soviet that RAWA that it was awarded over 16 awards and certificates from around the world for its work for human rights and democracy, some of the awards include The sixth Asian Human Rights Award – 2001, The French Republic’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Human Rights Prize, 2000, Emma Humphries Memorial Prize 2001, Glamour Women of the Year 2001, 2001 SAIS-Novartis International Journalism Award from Johns Hopkins University, Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. Congress, 2004, Honorary Doctorate from University of Antwerp (Belgium) for outstanding non-academic achievements, as well as many other awards.

But when RAWA started to speak out against the American/NATO presence and the regime, it was sidelined. RAWA is a severe critic of the American/NATO alliance and its cronies in government. It has continued it struggle for Afghani women’s rights and protection and argued that:

The US “War on terrorism” removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The US government and Mr.Karzai mostly rely on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban.

But you would know this from the magazine, which has made a mockery of any pretense of independence and integrity. It tries to hide that it is the US/NATO that has sunk billions into the country, that controls its government and all civic institutions, and that these crimes against women are taking place under its watch.

But there are dozens of pictures the magazine chooses not to run or write about. Here is one below that you will not see on the covers of the magazine.

A victim of a US airstrike in bala baluk 2009 which possibly killed up to 150 people including women and children

A victim of a US airstrike in Bala Baluk in 2009 which possibly killed up to 150 people including women and children

To exploit the suffering of some Afghani women in order to justify our repression, torture, incarceration, and killings of other Afghani women (and children and men) is simply hideous to observe. And this war, and our presence in Afghanistan involves all these hideous things. We are being asked to sheds tears for one carefully selected set of suffering to later justify or simply look away from the infliction of another set of suffering. That is, we exploit these women’s stories to justify our military occupation of a land and a people increasingly determined to oust us from there!

The Managing Editor paints our presence there as purely noble:

…she is in a secret location protected by armed guards and sponsored by the NGO Women for Afghan Women. Aisha will head to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery sponsored by the Grossman Burn Foundation, a humanitarian organization in California. We are supporting that effort.

Ah, civilization here. Barbarism there. Its all too clear.

The fact is that the brutalities against Afghan women are not the exclusive purview of the so-called Taliban. They are a pathology that continues under our chosen allies in government, just as they had continued under various other regimes in the past. This is precisely what RAWA has been protesting (see here, and here, and here for example) and why their voices are today largely missing from our American media. Attempts at legal and other reforms have been attempted in the past, and resisted violently in the past. There have been many, including the former King, who attempted to confront the condition of the country’s women – his wives appeared in public forums unveiled which created great consternation amongst the conservative population. When the Russians tried to do it, we complained that they were undermining Afghani culture.

In the 1970s the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) – Afghanistan’s Communist part, made up of two factions the Khalq and the Parcham, attempted a series of reforms that later tipped the country into rebellion. It was the rebellion that initiated the Soviet invasion of the country. The focus of the reforms were economic, land and such. But a parts of the reform were laws that abolished bride price, set minimum ages for marriage and laid it down that freedom of choice must be allowed. The regime also tried to push towards universal literacy and education for both sexes (based on a Marxist curriculum). But as Martin Ewans points out in his book ‘Afghanistan:A New History

…these measures…took no account at all of the complexities of Afghan society and the interlocking economic and social relationships on which it depended…the practice of buying and selling wives, bride price was part of a traditional marriage contract, by which the bride was given compensating security, and, the reform struck at the heart of familial relationships.’.

(page 139 – 140).

We have reduced Afghanistan to a caricature of itself. Its people, their (horribly war devastated) society, their ways and norms, are completely unknown to us or simply ignored. By reducing the suffering of these women in the photo essay to ‘evils of the Taliban’ we do nothing but a further disservice to the women themselves, and to any genuine possibility of social and cultural reform. But to use these women to argue for an unjust, increasingly bloody and clearly disoriented military adventure is simply immoral and inhumane.

We are not in Afghanistan as protectors of their women. It was not the basis of our venture there, and it can’t be, despite this clod footed attempt by this magazine, the reasons for our staying there. The nation is in rebellion, the violence is increasing, hundreds are being killed, a corrupt and isolated leadership is maintained behind American/NATO protected barbed wire and guns, the drug trade is out of control, and the presidents brother and cronies are the wealthiest men in the country, while millions continue to suffer in penury and deprivation. To suggest that it is the women that have become our cause is to insult their loss and trauma, and to insult our intelligence and sense of history, justice and humanity.

When ever we are offered a choice between two options, we have to explore and question so that we can find others. There are never two options, nor a world lived in black or white. Aisha’s fate and suffering is as much our fault and the continuation of such pathologies a consequence of our presence. From the moment we stepped into that country, and began a military occupation there, we became contributors to its pathologies and to its possibilities. We Americans cannot pick and choose our influence, our impact. As principally and primarily a military force our consequences are overtly disruptive, destructive and dismantling. A nation that has suffered the trauma of decades of war has a culture, society, and values seriously contorted and maimed. And when we contribute to those decades of war and suffering with our own military might, we contribute to maintaining if not adding to the contortions and maiming.

The same magazine shedding tears over Aisha has remained silence over every other Afghani woman who has died under our bombs, drone missiles and M-16 fire. Are they not women? Were they not brutalized? How do you choose whose liberation you value? As our Afghan war falls to pieces, this attempt to foist a hysterical and ‘shock doctrine’ piece of propaganda suggests that the administration, along with its media hacks, is getting truly desperate and looking for ways to shut out minds if not our eyes, from its failure there.

The dehumanization and violence against the Afghan woman are genuine and serious. But it is not just a consequence of the Taliban, nor a clarion call for continued military occupation. It will not be resolved by military action, and it is not a concern or interest of our political and military leadership. These associations are desperate, infantile and insulting. That they are made after weeks of careful planning, execution of photographs, writing and editing tells us a lot about the limited intellects running our magazines.

And I will repeat; what irks me the most is the carefully selected sense of moral outrage for one set of victims and the complete silence and in fact justification for the sufferings of another. It is the hypocritical cleaving of our morality, our humanism, our sense of justice, outrage and anger that I find the most insidious act here. These photographs have become weapons of war, aimed at our minds to numb us into submission, to reduce us into towing the arguments of voices of violence and suffering. These photographs have been reduced from the possibility of a larger concern about the complete range of war crimes, crimes against humanity and criminal acts taking place in Afghanistan under our watch and frequently because of our watch, and instead carefully elided most all to turn a small spotlight towards a specific set of victims that we can carve into spokespeople for our political, strategic, military and imperial agendas. This is hypocritical concern at its best…or worst should I say. It reduces our sense of moral outrage and shared humanity to only where the magazine chooses to focus our attention. Its immoral and its unacceptable. Aisha is not the only victim, nor the most important one. So what about the rest? Organizations like RAWA have waged a consistent battle on this front, refusing to fall into the trap of convenient political calculations masquerading as a humanitarian and moral crusade. I wish our journalism could be even half as consistent and stop exploiting women to serve political interests.

Are You Happy To See Me Or Is That A Minaret In Your Lederhosen?

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on December 4, 2009 at 3:43 pm

The decision is stupid, disgraceful and racist. I have expressed my views on it in an earlier post called Welcome To The Islamic Republic of Switzerland Or Do You Want Your Burqa In Black Or Blue?

Today Jon Stewart of The Daily Show just calls it as it is:

more about “Single Prayer Option: The Daily Show …“, posted with vodpod

‘Going Muslim’ At Fort Hood Or How Rabid Simplicities Masquerading As Insight Just Sell More Magazines

In Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on December 2, 2009 at 8:55 am

It did not take long for overtly racist explanations to be offered. Before facts come fantasy, and before truth comes tabloid opinions masquerading as insight. And it arrived not in some radical, fringe magazine but in the pages of the international magazine Forbes by one of their regular contributors. (I of course ignore the determined Islamophobia of outlets like Fox News.)

Tunku Varadarajan wrote a piece for Forbes magazine on 11th November 2009, title Going Muslim where he argued that:

“Going postal” is a piquant American phrase that describes the phenomenon of violent rage in which a worker–archetypically a postal worker–“snaps” and guns down his colleagues.

As the enormity of the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sinks in, we must ask whether we are confronting a new phenomenon of violent rage, one we might dub–disconcertingly–“Going Muslim.” This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American–a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood–discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans. This would appear to be what happened in the case of Maj. Hasan.

Mr. Varadarajan is no clown – he is in fact a a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School and a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and an executive editor for opinions at Forbes. Clearly a man of some learning and yet able to offer us this fine insight:

This is part of a larger–and too-hot-to-touch–American problem, which is the privileging of religion, and its frequent exemption from rules of normal discourse. Muslims may be more extreme because their religion is founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes.

Moving on to ask us a crucial question of whether:

But can the American swagger persist if many Americans come genuinely to view Muslims as Fifth Columnists? The integration compact depends on a broad trust that the immigrant’s desire to be American can happily co-exist with his other forms of racial/cultural/religious identity. Once that trust doesn’t exist, America faces a problem in need of urgent resolution.

One doesn’t quite know where to begin to respond to what is without a doubt an overtly racist diatribe that takes the actions of an individual and paints it as that of a collectivity. That is after all the ideal description of racism: (noun) the belief that all members of a group posses characteristics or abilities (or pathologies) specific to that group. But then again, the learned professor is not alone in this and arrives as the inheritor of centuries of orientalist thought that can never quite reconcile itself to the individuality of the people it labels as Muslims. And he is not alone in America, or elsewhere.

But the learned professor raises specific points which I would like to examine perhaps a little more closely.

He says in this very article that ‘they’ [the Muslims] are more extreme because ‘their’ religion is …founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes.

Only sheer hubris combined with willful amnesia can allow this gentleman to offer us this explanation. Hubris as he sits as a citizen of a nation that is at this very moment in violent and repressive conquest of at least two once sovereign nations, and whose army has repeatedly insisted on a sheer contempt for the infidels it has found there and encouraged its soldiers to piety the likes of which can only make the foundations of our Republic weaker. The hundreds of thousands that have died since 2001 under the guns and arrogance of an overtly Christian/Evangelical administration that also led us to become instigators of war crimes, violators of international law and perpetrators of mass murder perhaps may not agree that it is Islam that is intrinsically programmed to encourage mass violence, conquest and/or piety.

(For those with short memories, see Micklethwait/Wooldridge’s The Right Nation, or Chris Hedges’ American Fascists or Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming or any number of others books on this issue)

I don’t think I have to elaborate on our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I will move to the next point – Islam’s unique contempt for infidels and its piety. Really? Is it that unique? Lets see.

In a fabulous piece written by the relentless Jeff Sharlet for Harpers Magazine title “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade For A Christian Military”, he points out that:

When Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office in January, he inherited a military not just drained by a two-front war overseas but fighting a third battle on the home front, a subtle civil war over its own soul. On one side are the majority of military personnel, professionals who regardless of their faith or lack thereof simply want to get their jobs done; on the other is a small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps.

What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.

This is perhaps one of the scariest pieces of journalism I have read, reminding us of the infiltration of Christian fundamentalist ideology infesting the armed forces and its consequences for our operations abroad. Perhaps the learned professor would do well to read his words, including:

Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases and an annual growth rate, in recent years, of 3 percent. Founded during World War II, OCF was for most of its history concerned mainly with the spiritual lives of those who sought it out, but since 9/11 it has moved in a more militant direction. According to the group’s current executive director, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Bruce L. Fister, the “global war on terror”—to which Obama has committed 17,000 new troops in Afghanistan—is “a spiritual battle of the highest magnitude.” As jihad has come to connote violence, so spiritual war has moved closer to actual conflict, “continually confronting an implacable, powerful foe who hates us and eagerly seeks to destroy us,” declares “The Source of Combat Readiness,” an OCF Scripture study prepared on the eve of the Iraq War.

As we look across to our Israeli allies, we ironically (or perhaps not) find in fact the same problem there! In a scathing piece written by Christopher Hitchens called An Army of Extremists for Slate Magazine, he pointed out that:

Recent reports of atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers in the course of the intervention in Gaza have described the incitement of conscripts and reservists by military rabbis who characterized the battle as a holy war for the expulsion of non-Jews from Jewish land. The secular Israeli academic Dany Zamir, who first brought the testimony of shocked Israeli soldiers to light, has been quoted as if the influence of such extremist clerical teachings was something new. This is not the case.

And should one have thought that this was simply a rare exception, he goes on to remind us that:

Possibly you remember Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the man who in February 1994 unslung his weapon and killed more than two dozen worshippers at the mosque in Hebron. He had been a physician in the Israeli army and had first attracted attention by saying that he would refuse to treat non-Jews on the Sabbath. …[I]n the March 22 New York Times about the preachments of the Israeli army’s latest chief rabbi, a West Bank settler named Avichai Rontzski who also holds the rank of brigadier general. He has “said that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath … is to avoid exposing Diaspora Jews to hatred.” Those of us who follow these things recognize that statement as one of the leading indicators of a truly determined racist and fundamentalist. Yet it comes not this time in the garb of a homicidal lone-wolf nut bag but in the full uniform and accoutrement of a general and a high priest.

And we can even look outside of the ‘immediate’ military structure, and find piety and a religious zeal for conquest raising its ugly head. In an article written by Jeremy Scahill titled Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder we learn that:

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia.The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

In fact, the allegations read as follows:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

Again, perhaps the learned professor would like to peruse this material if for no other reason than to understand that zealotry, piety, and a desire for conquest is never the exclusive purvey of any one spiritual delusion, but reflects the world views of practically all of them.

But in particular, at this moment in time and history, at this juncture of modernity, if there is a rapid, rapacious, powerful and in fact in execution spiritual movement of conquest and a drive for excessive piety, it is more so in the hands of some of the most powerful military nations in the world. And none of them can claim an Islamic collective mindset.

I will say something about the learned professor’s incredibly racist mistake in assuming that the shooter was an immigrant – as he says The integration compact depends on a broad trust that the immigrant’s desire to be American can happily co-exist with his other forms of racial/cultural/religious identity. But in fact Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is as pure an American as they come; born, raised, educated and trained in the United States of America. He wasn’t an immigrant professor, he was an American.

And he was an American inside a deeply Christianized, racist military structure that has become comfortable speaking about and of the Arab world and Muslims in the most derogatory, demeaning and racist terms. It has become so because its wars are against a people it sees as a mass, a mob, a group, a collective – A-rabs, Muslims, ragheads, hajjis. The latter term is used openly and gleerfully in even such mainstream Hollywood films such as Stop-Loss. (I am sure there are more, but Hollywood is not something I watch with interest or regularity.)

The army has has become so because it is the war that it is fighting and it is here that we refuse to ask the hard question; how much of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s rage was against his fellow soldiers and the atmosphere at the base itself that allowed for a constant and unchecked language of hate and ridicule against an entire religion, people, culture and way of life? Were there, perhaps, white supremacists on the loose? Well, we will never know of course.

But I am sure that the learned professor doesn’t know either. What is dismaying is that he does not have the awareness to ask, but has instead chosen to give public vent to what can only be a deeply personal hatred against all Muslims claiming that it is only political correctness that is forcing America, and her Army, from taking the necessary, collective/racial profiling, actions that it should. He is angry that America suffers from a …privileging of religion, and its frequent exemption from rules of normal discourse.

Lets be clear, the learned professor is not complaining about America’s privileging of all religions, for after all it is not the insanity of the Christian Evangelicals that has bought him to this realization, but that the country is not collectively targeting Muslims! We have to remember that the same learned professor has been an outspoken advocate of racial profiling of Muslims in America,

But dear professor, viewing a crime as the act of an individual and not because of a pathology indigenous to an entire collectivity is less about being politically correct and more about being just and not being a racist. In fact, the determination to not reduce this to yet another all-too-easy Islam bashing exercise is a testament to America’s determination to return to the ways of the law and legality, and to move its society back to a point where it speaks not with generic hatred of an imaginary collectivity but with genuine desire to offer both justice and rights for individuals who commit crimes. It is one of the very set of values we always speak about and insist are what we are killing in places around the world for!

And it is a battle that we as American citizens have had to fight hard – to move past the infantile and retrograde desire to hate ‘all of them’ for the actions of a few, to lynch them for their color for example, and move towards the point where we can see individuals and individual responsibility and make them not only the recipients of retribution, but also the motivation for our respect for fundamental liberties and rights.

I do not know what led Maj. Hasan to do what he did. I can’t even begin to understand his motivations, and certainly not his actions. I remain dismayed to learn that he chose to justify his murders on the basis of his spiritual beliefs. Just as I have been dismayed to learn about Jewish extremists gloating about their murders on the basis of their beliefs, or Christian fanatics e.g. those in the US military I speak about earlier explaining their bloody rampages because of their ‘loving god’. Maybe he was just a mentally disturbed and ill person, as a recent NPR piece claims to have uncovered. Maybe he lost his way. I don’t know. I don’t claim to have an answer here.

My interest here is to question our learned professor. And wonder how we have arrived at a moment in time when such blatantly racist statements can make it to the pages of one of our most respected magazines, and then find hundreds who rush to defend his bigotry? Our continued insistence on seeing Muslims as a collective whole, tied at the psychological and moral level into one large blob, is quite flabbergasting and ultimately confusing.

Like a taint, a disease, a scar or a deformation, anyone, man, woman or child, even vaguely or deeply implicated by having been born, raised, educated, traveled to, interested in, curious about things Muslim has his entire identity and all its various other facets subsumed and erased by the label of being Muslim. And once that is established, the individual is safely dropped back into a mob, where only mob acts that are predictable and programmatic based on an formalized, systematized, idealized and perfectly synchronized response to instructions in text books or from the mouths of religious leaders can occur. LIke robots in a massive spiritual assembly line, anything that reeks of Islam can be expected to behave like a swarm, mindlessly following the dictates of their religious books, devoid of individuality, individual morality, judgment, discernment and comprehension.

I am diseased.

There have been calls to sanction the learned professor. I don’t support these calls. I think it would be better to debate him. He has a right to speak, and we would be right to dissuade him off his delusions rather than sanction him to where he would simply continue his nonsense.

UPDATE: A recent article in The Boston Review, titled God, The Army & PTSD by Tara McKelvey raises a number of important questions about the increasing use of Christian religious/spiritual material at military institutions, including the pop-psych mumbo-jumbo of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren, to treat soldiers suffering from PTSD and other psychiatric problems. For example, it points out that:

When a 2006 Government Accountability Office report raised questions about whether soldiers were getting the psychiatric help they needed, an assistant secretary of defense disputed the report’s findings, pointing to the fact that soldiers were being referred to chaplains. During this time contracts for veterans’ services were increasingly parceled out to leaders of faith-based organizations rather than to secular ones, even though veterans’ advocates opposed any bias toward faith-based treatment and argued that replacing empirically proven, nonsectarian programs with faith-based ones was a mistake.

As one commentator points out in the responses to this piece:

Major Hasan would have been familiar with the conditions described in this essay. As psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the last five years he would have both treated patients for PTSD and have been familiar with the preference for faith based treatments described in this article.

We hear from Major Hasan’s family that he complained about religious harassment during his tenure at Walter Reed but we do not know specifics. It is reasonable to believe that his patients suffering from PTSD might not have liked being treated by a Muslim and almost certainly heard specific opinions about Islam and Muslims from those patients. The inevitable investigation into Major Hasan’s career will reveal the dynamic of those patient interactions.

This is, again, about asking human questions about a human, criminal act so that we may know meaningful and actionable facts and truths about such heinous acts. I raised this point in the main essay (see below) some weeks ago. Searching for the psychology of ‘Muslims’, as the learned Tunku Varadarajan wants to do, or exploring the pages of a religious text, while erasing daily and ordinary social, political and lived reality of an individual is a false, and frankly, racist approach. It seems to be particularly reserved for anyone who can be labeled ‘Muslim’. That word – ‘Muslim’ has now come to take on the meaning of a special species – devoid of individuality and history and to be seen only as a mob, mass, collectivity, blob and spiritually programmed pathology.

Welcome To The Islamic Republic Of Switzerland – Do You Want Your Burqa In Black Or Blue?

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on November 30, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Update: 30th November 2009

The vote to ban the minaret was passed. Switzerland, long pretending to be a liberal, democratic nation that respected the rights to the free practice of all faiths, has revealed its ugly underbelly. Amnesty International has already declared the country in violation of the right to the free practice of religion. Their statement was unequivocal:

“Contrary to the claims of the initiators of the referendum, a general prohibition of the construction of minarets would violate the right of Muslims in Switzerland to manifest their religion,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“A ban on the construction of minarets while, for example, allowing those of church spires would constitute discrimination on the basis of religion.”

And even if it wasn’t, it entire campaign reflects a loving immersion in the joys of bigotry, and ahistorical idiocy.

The campaign to ban the minaret fed off irrational and hideous fears of the bogeyman of Islam, and a deep-seated and seriously bigoted depiction of the faith, its history, its community and its ideals. Suffice it to remind the idiots in Switzerland, that their own Christian steeple traces its own history to the Islamic minaret. Our friends at Chapati Mystery kindly posted a piece written by the historian Richard J. H. Gottheil. called “The Origin and History of the Minaret” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Mar., 1910): 152-4. where he points out that:

It seems to me, therefore, that a possible explanation of the sudden appearance of the campanile in Italy during the eighth and ninth centuries, would be that they are due to Mohammedan influence. Whether this influence came from Egypt, or from Syria and Mesopotamia, or even from the Maghreb, is a point upon which I should not like to insist. But this much does seem to follow from a study of history of the monuments, that the old idea of the Ziggurat or tower in some way connected with worship at a shrine has filtered down to us through the Mohammedan minaret and finds its expression to-day in our church steeple.

To say nothing to these illiterates that Islam and the Muslims have been an integral part and influence on Europe, and have had a presence there, since nearly 700 years. Europe’s ability to extricate itself from the horrors of the dark ages, and to pull itself onto the path of the enlightenment, could only have happened because of the deep-seated Islamic presence and influence on her culture, knowledge, society, intelligentsia, and politics. To say nothing about the introduction of decent hygiene!

Juan Cole penned an angry piece, title Bigotry Wins in Switzerland, in response to the Swiss-cheese-like thinking that led to this dark moment in European history. He reminds us that:

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

For those of you looking for a more thorough examination of Europe’s real history, and the impact of Islamic heritage on her modernity and present, I would recommend Maria Rosa Menocal’s book  Ornament Of The World, and/or David Levering Lewis’ God’s Crucible: Islam & The Making Of Europe 570-1250 or even Jack Goody’s remarkable insights in works like Islam In Europe.

Switzerland is merely the beginning of this sordid episode. Europe’s hideous shift to the right will continue to make matters difficult for the region’s Muslim populations. Hence it becomes even more imperative that we know how to speak back – with history on our side and with the truths that can cut past the bigoted simplicities, delusions and paranoia being used to defend imagined and ahistorical ideas about Europe, her heritage and her culture. The false claims to a purely Judeo-Christian heritage are as meaningless as the claims to a purely Greco-Roman intellectual inheritance. I have written about this delusion in a previous post titled What A Tangled Web We Weave.

May the battle go to the most intelligent, cogent and coherent.

The poster above has become the source of embarrassment and debate within Switzerland. Printed by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) it is part of their campaign to put a stop to the construction of mosques in the country, and raise their voices against the presence of ‘the other’. The poster depicts minarets in the shape of missiles, and of course, the ubiquitous burqa-clad woman who apparently represents Islam. As explained in a recent piece in Spiegel magazine called Why The Swiss Are Afraid Of Minarets the poster and campaign was the idea of …

…a German man who is behind the successful anti-minaret campaign. The 46-year-old from Hamburg moved to Switzerland after completing his university studies. He worked as a journalist for the conservative Schweizerzeit newspaper and later for the anti-Islam newspaper Bürger und Christ, or “Citizens and Christ,” in which he wrote tirades against a liberal society. “I’ve been able to be active with the SVP on referendum and election campaigns for years,”

Many cities in Switzerland have banned the poster.

But once again, I disagree with this decision. I think that all cities should allow this poster to be shown and distributed. It is the only way that we can reveal the hatred and racism that informs this campaign and confront it head on. But unless we bring these paranoia and delusions into the open, unless we create an environment where these hate-mongers and racists can be directly confronted and challenged, we will not eliminate this scourge from amongst us.

Banning it will only force it to where we cannot confront it, and remove it, and will empower the instigators of this campaign to continue to spread their hateful message but in more insidious and covert ways.

It is clearly obvious that the Swiss are intelligent enough to see the dangers of this campaign, and the racism that informs it. As the Spiegel piece points out:

The minaret initiative is so radical for a Western country that even some die-hard members of the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) are uncomfortable about it. The former party president and current defense minister Ueli Maurer said he was “not totally happy” about it. It probably breaches the consitutional right to religious freedom and could do further damage to Switzerland’s international reputation which has already suffered in recent months from the UBS debacle in the US and accusations that Switzerland is a haven for tax evaders. The case could even provoke the same kind of violent reaction in Muslim countries as the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers did four years ago.

There is in fact no point in a ‘violent’ reaction. This is a stupid campaign, by stupid men, and based on stupid assumptions and prejudices. They can be easily, and rather casually, challenged, undermined and eliminated.

There will always be extremists – the ones who are scared, and confused in the face of a changing world and a modernity that seems to be leaving them behind. Rewarding them with public censure only encourages their behavior because it offers them the victory of ‘victimhood’ and ‘martyrdom’. We should not do so.

Print the posters!

I suggest we all print them and hang them up in our homes if for no other reason than to remind us that our silence or our attempts to silence them will in fact be the reason for the ideas that inform this poster to become reality.

Print the posters.

SVP, please send me a copy!

You may also want to read Pankaj Mishra’s piece A Paranoid, Abhorrent Obsession and I quote the paragraph that obviously is an influence and an inspiration for my stand here:

It is a depressing spectacle – talented writers nibbling on cliches picked to the bone by tabloid hacks. But, as Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, the “men of culture”, with their developed faculty of reasoning, tend to “give the hysterias of war and the imbecilities of national politics more plausible excuses than the average man is capable of inventing”. The “public conversation” about Islam…should not be avoided. Its terms have already been set low, and the bigger danger is that it will be dominated by an isolated and vain chattering class that, rattled by a changing world, seeks to reassure us by digging an unbridgeable trench around our minds and hearts.

An Entity Conceived In Hatred, Survives On Hatred Or How Abul Kalam Azad’s Fears Became Pakistan

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on November 29, 2009 at 11:06 am

Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed (11 November 1888 – 22 February 1958) was a Muslim scholar and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. He was a vociferous advocate for the unity of India, opposing the partition of India on communal lines. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government.

A learned Islamic scholar, Maulana Azad opposed Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his march to create a separate homeland for India’s Muslims. I came across a fascinating interview that he gave in 1946 to a Lahore magazine that reveals his clarity of thought and prescience of mind.

Confronted with the partition of India, something that he vehemently opposed, he warned with great prescience and foresight that:

We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred will last only as long as that hatred lasts. This hatred will overwhelm the relations between India and Pakistan. In this situation it will not be possible for India and Pakistan to become friends and live amicably unless some catastrophic event takes place. The politics of partition itself will act as a barrier between the two countries. It will not be possible for Pakistan to accommodate all the Muslims of India, a task beyond her territorial capability. On the other hand, it will not be possible for the Hindus to stay especially in West Pakistan. They will be thrown out or leave on their own.

The prominent Muslims who are supporters of Muslim League will leave for Pakistan. The wealthy Muslims will take over the industry and business and monopolise the economy of Pakistan. But more than 30 million Muslims will be left behind in India. What promise Pakistan holds for them? The situation that will arise after the expulsion of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan will be still more dangerous for them. Pakistan itself will be afflicted by many serious problems. The greatest danger will come from international powers who will seek to control the new country, and with the passage of time this control will become tight. India will have no problem with this outside interference as it will sense danger and hostility from Pakistan.

Could he have been proven more correct? These are the insights of a brilliant mind, one that refused to be cowed by the populist rhetoric of the age and instead choose to courageously speak to the dangers that lay in the future. He was constantly castigated by the more fundamentalist and extremist interpreters of Islamic philosophy and thought. He however remained aware of the actual history of Islam in India:

Muslim history is an important part of Indian history. Do you think the Muslim kings were serving the cause of Islam? They had a nominal relationship with Islam; they were not Islamic preachers. Muslims of India owe their gratitude to Sufis, and many of these divines were treated by the kings very cruelly. Most of the kings created a large band of Ulema who were an obstacle in the path of the propagation of Islamic ethos and values. Islam, in its pristine form, had a tremendous appeal and in the first century won the hearts and minds of a large number of people living in and around Hejaz. But the Islam that came to India was different, the carriers were non-Arabs and the real spirit was missing. Still, the imprint of the Muslim period is writ large on the culture, music, art, architecture and languages of India. What do the cultural centres of India, like Delhi and Lucknow, represent? The underlying Muslim spirit is all too obvious.

I highly recommend reading the entire interview, if for no other reason than to remember that there were dissenting voices to the journey to partition, and that the creation of a Muslim homeland was a project that required political and social planning. It was not a natural outcome of the reality of India and his society – the Hindus and Muslims do not belong to two separate world views or irreconcilable social spheres. In fact, India’s reality was quite the contrary.

Our future – that of Pakistan and India, is dependent on an honest and clear-sighted reading of the political, economic, social and even personal factors that led to the partition. Dreamy and misleading fantasies about irreconcilable religious worldviews will only continue to divide us and confuse it. It will make reconciliation and collaboration impossible.

Maulana Azad’s words remind us that it could all have been a different possibility. And that the different possibility always remains within our grasp. This is not some naive call for ‘reunification’ mind you. It is a reminder simply that our antagonisms, suspicions and fears are manufactured and maintained by powerful social, political and historical forces. They were made by man, and can be unmade by man. And they will require courage and honesty to dismantle. For dismantle they must be if we are to find normalcy – peace, trust, collaboration and calm across that infamous, blood stained border that divides India from Pakistan.

The Hindus Live In Small And Dark Homes Or Educating Our Child Soldiers

In Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on October 4, 2009 at 9:21 am

The minds of children are usually shut inside prison houses, so that they become incapable of understanding people who have different languages and customs. This causes us to grope after each other in darkness, to hurt each other in ignorance, to suffer from the worst form of blindness. Religious missionaries themselves have contributed to this evil; in the name of brotherhood and in the arrogance of sectarian pride they have created misunderstanding. They make this permanent in their textbooks, and poison the minds of children.

Rabindranath Tagore “To Teachers”,

from Chakravarty, A (ed) The Tagore Reader (Page 216)

JuD Grafitti Pan


Our wars, our massacres, our suspicions and fears, our prejudices and hatred, begin in the pages our of children’s textbooks.

No where is this more apparent than on the pages of Pakistan’s Social Studies and Pakistan Studies textbooks, most of which were being taught in her schools up till at least 2002 if not later. In a study commissioned by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, titled The Subtle Subversion:The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan, the authors identified a long list of what can only be called hate material taught to high school children in Pakistan.

It makes for sobering reading that I share with you here.

  • Hindus worship in temples which are very narrow and dark places, where they worship idols. Only one person can enter the temple at a time. In our mosques, on the other hand, all Muslims can say their prayers together. - Muasherati Ulum for Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, 1996, p 109
  • This division of men [among Aryans] into different castes is the worst example of tyranny in the history of the world. In course of time the Aryans began to be called the Hindus. - Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 59
  • The Hindus lived in small and dark houses. Child marriage was common in those days. Women were assigned a low position in society. In case the husband of a woman died, she was burnt alive with his dead body. This was called ‘sati’. … The killing of shudras was not punished, but the murder of a Brahman was a serious crime. … However, the people of low caste were not allowed to learn this language. The caste system had made their life miserable.” - Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 67
  • Muslim children of India wear shalwar kameez or shirt and pajama and Hindu children wear Dhoti also. - Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p 79
  • Hindus thought that there was no country other than India, nor any people other than the Indians, nor did anyone else possess any knowledge. - Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 82.
  • …but Hindus very cunningly succeeded in making the British believe that the Muslims were solely responsible for the [1857] rebellion. - Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 90
  • Nehru report exposed the Hindu mentality. - Social Studies, Class VIII – Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. March 2002, p 102
  • The Quaid saw through the machinations of the Hindus. - Social Studies Class-VII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, ?, p 51
  • The religion of the Hindus did not teach them good things — Hindus did not respect women. - Muasherati Ulum for Class IV, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, 1995, p 81
  • The Hindus always desired to crush the Muslims as a nation. Several attempts were made by the Hindus to erase the Muslim culture and civilisation. Hindi-Urdu controversy, shudhi and sanghtan movements are the most glaring examples of the ignoble Hindu mentality. - M. Ikram Rabbani and Monawar Ali Sayyid, An Introduction to Pakistan studies, The Caravan Book House, Lahore, 1995, p 12
  • Hindu pundits were jealous of Al Beruni. Since they could not compete against Al Beruni in knowledge, they started calling him a magician. - Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 82
  • The Sultans of Delhi were tolerant in religious matters. They never forced the non-Muslims to convert to Islam. The Hindus embraced Islam due to the kind treatment of the Muslims. The caste system of the Hindus had made the life of the common people miserable. They were treated like animals. Nobody could claim equality with Brahmins. - Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 109
  • The Hindus who have always been opportunists cooperated with the English. - Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 141
  • The Hindus praised the British rule and its blessings in their speeches. The Hindus had the upper hand in the Congress and they established good relations with the British. This party tried its best to safeguard the interests of the Hindus. Gradually it became purely a Hindu organization. Most of the Hindu leaders of the Congress were not prepared to tolerate the presence of the Muslims in the sub-continent. They demanded that the Muslims should either embrace Hinduism or leave the country. The party was so close to the Government that it would not let the Government do any work as would be of benefit to the Muslims. The partition of Bengal can be quoted as an example. - Social Studies Class VI, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002: p 143
  • …but Hindus very cunningly succeeded in making the British believe that the Muslims were solely responsible for the [1857] rebellion. – Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 90
  • The British confiscated all lands [from the Muslims] and gave them to Hindus. - Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 91 [This is stated despite the fact that all the large feudal lords in the part that later formed Pakistan were Muslims]
  • Therefore in order to appease the Hindus and the Congress, the British announced political reforms. Muslims were not eligible to vote. Hindus voter never voted for a Muslim, therefore, … - Social Studies Class VIII, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 94-95
  • Hindus declared the Congress rule as the Hindu rule, and started to unleash terror on Muslims – Social Studies, Class VIII – Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. March 2002, p 104
  • At the behest of the government [during the Congress rule], Hindu “goondas” started killing Muslims and burning their property. – Social Studies, Class VIII – Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. March 2002, p 104-105
  • The British, with the assistance of the Hindus, adopted a cruel policy of mass exodus against the Muslims to erase them as a nation. The British adopted a policy of large scale massacre (mass extermination) against the Muslims The Muslim population of the Muslim minority provinces faced atrocities of the Hindu majority. [The Muslims] were not allowed to profess their religion freely. Hindu nationalism was being imposed upon Muslims and their culture. All India Congress turned into a pure Hindu organisation. The Congress was striving very hard to project the image of united India, which was actually aimed at the extermination of the Muslims from the Indian society. The two Hindu organisations [Congress and Mahasabha] were determined to destroy the national character of the Muslims to dominate and subjugate them perpetually. - National Curriculum English (Compulsory) for Class XI-XII, March 2002, pp 6, 13, 31, 45, 7, 25, 8, 46, 48, 50
  • While the Muslims provided all type of help to those wishing to leave Pakistan, the people of India committed cruelties against the Muslims (refugees). They would attack the buses, trucks, and trains carrying the Muslim refugees and they were murdered and looted. – National Early Childhood Education Curriculum (NECEC), Ministry of Education, Government of Pakistan, March 2002, p 85
  • The Hindus in Pakistan were treated very nicely when they were migrating as opposed to the inhuman treatment meted out to the Muslim migrants from India. - Social Studies Class- IV, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p. 85
  • After 1965 war India conspired with the Hindus of Bengal and succeeded in spreading hate among the Bengalis about West Pakistan and finally attacked on East Pakistan in December 71, thus causing the breakup of East and West Pakistan. - Social Studies (in Urdu) Class- V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, p 112
  • Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam - Urdu Class V, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, March 2002, p 108

The dismaying simplicities and inanities are too many to list here. Suffice it to say that since the 1970s the children of Pakistan have been subjected to a systemic and comprehensive ‘poisoning’ of their minds when it comes to matters Indian, Hindu and the country’s Islamic heritage. The same report outlines in great detail the encouragement of religious violence, the denigration of women, the foisting of an Islamic ideology of Pakistan and other ahistorical perspectives with which the country’s children have been scared.

Professor Pervaiz Hoodbhoy has been documenting the deterioration in the educational culture of the country, in particular, the celebration of religious violence and the projection of a homogenous Islamic heritage of Pakistan, the latter at times going to levels of stupidity that defy commonsense. For example, history textbooks in Pakistan actually attempt to directly associate the ‘idea of Pakistan’ and the ‘creation of Pakistan’ to the earliest presence and arrival of Arab forces on the shores of Sindh! This inane association, in fact violent castration of the history of the region, to all that is perceived to by only ‘Islamic‘ is perhaps the underlying pathology that has scared education in the country for decades. (Please email me directly if you wish to see a copy of this report.)

The quest for peace and reconciliation often begins in the gilded corridors of diplomacy, or the cynical bed chambers of the politicians. It would seem that we would do well to instead begin in the moldy, dank, dark classrooms of the nation’s ignored and underfunded education institutions where the foundations of suspicion, fear, loathing and anger are laid.

In her book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum argued that:

The ability to accept difference – difference of religion, of ethnicity, of race, of sexuality – requires, first, the ability to accept something about oneself; that one is not lord of the world, that one is both adult and child, that no all-embracing collectivity will keep one safe from the vicissitudes of life., that others outside oneself have a reality. This ability requires, in turn, the cultivation of a moral imagination that sees reality in other human beings, that does not see other human beings as mere instruments of one’s own power or threats to that power.

Martha Nussbaum, The Clash Within, (Page 336)

Pakistani society, from its citizens to its military, is imbued with a suspicion and fear of ‘the other’ defined as ‘the Hindu‘, the nation of whom is India. It is cultivated in their minds at an age when they are hardly able to think, and more susceptible to the perspectives and dogmatism of their adults.

It is a dogmatism, bigotry and hate that is of course mirrored across the border in India, particularly during the hideous eight years the Indian democracy was under the guidance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In a series of terse and critical essays, India’s Outlook magazine featured a series of articles by writers taking to task the BJP government’s attempts to re-write Indian history with a distinctly communal/sectarian bent.See for example the piece Communalisation of Education by Mridula Mukherjee and Aditya Mukherjee, or a piece by the eminent historian Irfan Habib called The Rewriting of History…

I found this last essay particularly interesting because of its focus on the treatment of the heritage and presence of Islam and Muslims in India in the National Curriculum Framework of School Education (NCERT) text books. NCERT is a technically a private body, but has close links to the Ministry of Education (MoE), with NCERT’s head being chosen by the MoE. The Supreme Court has in fact defined the NCERT back into the government and given broad authority.

I quote Habib himself:

Given its view of Muslims as utter barbarians, the Sangh Parivar is naturally uncomfortable with Muslim scientific thinkers. Alberuni, whose description of Indian sciences in the earlier part of the eleventh century was described by K.M. Panikkar as “a moment in history”, attracts the ire of the Sangh propagandists who hasten to picture him as anti-Indian, because of his remarks about Bahmagupta’s mythological explanation of the eclipses and about the Indian tendency not to accept external discoveries. As for Akbar the Mughal emperor, who occupies a particularly high place in Indian history, for his policy of tolerance, humanism and patronage of the arts, he is totally unacceptable not only as a “foreigner,” but also as the grandson of Babur, made notorious owing to the Babari Masjid. When the Indian Council of Historical Research, during its pre-RSS past, decided to observe the 450th birth anniversary of Akbar in 1992, the BJP MPs raised the matter in Parliament, one of them even describing Akbar as a “Pakistani” having been born in Umarkot (Sind).(They naturally forgot the birthplaces of L.K. Advani and the like).

Martha Nussbaum provides a detailed examination of the assault on India’s textbooks that took place under the ‘wise’ guidance of the BJP’s historians. A large number of Indian organizations and individuals challenged the distortions, bigotry and outright lies that tainted the new textbooks being made available to Indian students once the BJP had come to power. The attempts to ‘saffronize’ education in India i.e. to infuse it with the ideology of Hindutva, became a fundamental goal, with education minister Murli Manoha Joshi, a BJP politician with known links to the RSS and VHP, given the leadership of this effort.

And with an indictment that could not cut more deeply, Irfan Habib warns the Indians that:

If the BJP is to have its way, we would soon be competing with Pakistan in framing the utmost possible parochial view of the past.

And indeed, given the state of books in Pakistan today, a situation that many in its civil society are fighting to reform, there could be no worse insult or fear. Pakistan and India eye each other with fear, loathing and suspicion. The idea of the other as the singular enemy, distorted in its hatred of ‘us’ and determined to do anything in its power to destroy ‘us’ is ingrained into our minds from an early age. At ages when children are still grasping to understand the fundamentals of Newtonian physics, they are subjected to historical, sectarian, and political indoctrination that they can neither comprehend nor question. In fact, they are encouraged not to question at all. And perhaps that is why this indoctrination must take place at so early an age – an age where critical thought could develop but instead unquestioning obedience and obeisance is encouraged.

Our child soldiers are being prepared as we speak. They, with their distortions and prejudices, will eventually man the corridors of diplomacy, politics, military and the citizenry. They will, except for a handful few able to break the pattern, carry within them the lessons of their youth, the unexamined prejudices and hatred of their adolescence. To imagine that their distorted world views, developed under the authority of a state and its adult voices, will not color their engagement with ‘the other’ is to be naive at best, irresponsible at worse. It is a world view apparent in the language of our military and our politicians today – bent as they are on working with caricatures and generalizations that convince them that only barbarians and killers live on the other side of the borders.

Its time to read new books.

Our Songs Carry Our Soul: Khwaja Ghulam Farid’s Husn e Haqiqi

In Poetry, The Daily Discussion on September 26, 2009 at 9:51 am

more about “Our Songs Carry Our Soul: Husn e Haqi…“, posted with vodpod

Khawaja Ghulam Farid was a Sufi poet, and this is the Pakistani singer Areib Azhar singing one of his poems Husn-e-Haqiqi (The Beauty of Truth). This performance is nothing short of stunning, one of the more beautiful renditions of this poem I have ever heard. And Azhar’s voice is simply magnificent – controlled and guided to provoke the heart and emotions in a way that only South Asia’s Sufi folk music can.

Below is a translation, by Areib Azhar himself, of this beautiful poem:

O’ Beauty of Truth, the Eternal Light!

Do I call you necessity and possibility,

Do I call you the ancient divinity,

The One, creation and the world,

Do I call you free and pure Being,

Or the apparent lord of all,

Do I call you the souls, the egos and the intellects,

The imbued manifest, and the imbued hidden,

The actual reality, the substance,

The word, the attribute and dignity,

Do I call you the variety, and the circumstance,

The demeanor, and the measure,

Do I call you the throne and the firmament,

And the demurring delights of Paradise,

Do I call you mineral and vegetable,

Animal and human,

Do I call you the mosque, the temple, the monastery,

The scriptures, the Quran,

The rosary, the girdle,

Godlessness, and faith,

Do I call you the clouds, the flash, the thunder,

Lightning and the downpour,

Water and earth,

The gust and the inferno,

Do I call you Lakshmi, and Ram and lovely Sita,

Baldev, Shiv, Nand, and Krishna,

Brahma, Vishnu and Ganesh,

Mahadev and Bhagvaan,

Do I call you the Gita, the Granth, and the Ved,

Knowledge and the unknowable,

Do I call you Abraham, Eve and Seth,

Noah and the deluge,

Abraham the friend, and Moses son of Amran,

And Ahmad the glorious, darling of every heart,

Do I call you the witness, the Lord, or Hejaz,

The awakener, existence, or the point,

Do I call you admiration or prognosis,

Nymph, fairy, and the young lad,

The tip and the nip,

And the redness of betel leaves,

The Tabla and Tanpura,

The drum, the notes and the improvisation,

Do I call you beauty and the fragrant flower,

Coyness and that amorous glance,

Do I call you Love and knowledge,

Superstition, belief, and conjecture,

The beauty of power, and conception,

Aptitude and ecstasy,

Do I call you intoxication and the drunk,

Amazement and the amazed,

Submission and the connection,

Compliance and Gnosticism,

Do I call you the Hyacinth, the Lilly, and the Cypress,

And the rebellious Narcissus,

The bereaved Tulip, the Rose garden, and the orchard,

Do I call you the dagger, the lance, and the rifle,

The hail, the bullet, the spear,

The arrows made of white poplar, and the bow,

The arrow-notch, and the arrowhead,

Do I call you colorless, and unparalleled,

Formless in every instant,

Glory and holiness,

Most glorious and most compassionate,

Repent now Farid forever!

For whatever I may say is less,

Do I call you the pure and the humane,

The Truth without trace or name.

(Translation by Areib Azhar)

You may also want to check out some of the other performances on the Coke Studio website.  This performance by the masterful Saeen Zahoor of Bulleh Shah’s, another Sufi folk poet, is truly stunning.

The entire Coke Studio sessions can be seen and heard here: Coke Studio. It is a remarkable collection of music and talent, a truly beautiful reflection of Pakistan and her deep connections to her Indian heritage. This is not just Pakistani music – this is the voice of South Asia, tracing its heritage and traditions to hundreds of years of development and evolution. These songs, these poems, their voices and their passion transcend boundaries, and reflect the continuities of traditions and cultures that Edward Said was so determined to remind us of.