Saturday, January 2, 2010

Alam Vs. Hoodbhoy: A Clash of Ideas in Islam

There is a lot of talk about the "clash of civilizations" in the Western media in the context of the US "war on terror", but little is reported about the fierce clash of ideas going on within the Islamic civilization. The polls continue to show distrust of the United States in the Islamic World, mostly based on the US policies that are perceived as unjust by the majority of the world's Muslims. The list of Muslim grievances against the United States is long, stretching from its support of the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine to its role in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition to the increasing drone attacks and rising suspicions about the role of the CIA, there are new and explosive revelations about the role and the strength of Blackwater contractors in the region. A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine have alleged that Blackwater chief Erik 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." The number of US contractors working for the US military and the CIA in the region exceeds the total strength of the US troops and CIA personnel, according to estimates by Jimmy Scahill who has researched and written extensively about Blackwater. The presence of over 80,000 US military and intelligence contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan makes the level of privatization of war unprecedented.

However, it would be wrong to conclude from such reports that any more than a tiny minority of the followers of the Islamic faith support the terrorists inspired by al Qaeda's ideology of hate. In a recent International Republican Institute (IRI) poll, eighty percent of Pakistanis oppose Pakistan's cooperation with the United States on the "war on terror," a figure that shot up 19 points since March. At the same time, 86 percent agreed that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants posed a problem for Pakistan and more than two-thirds supported a recent Pakistani army offensive on extremists.

To get a sense of the intensity of the debate raging among influential Muslim scholars and opinion makers, I think it is quite instructive to read the recent exchange between Dr. Shahid Alam and Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. Accusing Dr. Hoodbhoy and several others by name of being "native orientalists", Dr. Alam begins his recent Counterpunch article with a quote from Karl Marx, a strange choice giving Dr. Alam's well-established right-wing credentials. Here is the Karl Marx quote: "The more a ruling class is able to assimilate the foremost minds of the ruled class, the more stable and dangerous becomes its rule”.

Dr. Hoodbhoy of Islamabad University begins his response with the following quote from "The Confessions of a Pakistani Native Orientalist" written by Dr. Shahid Alam, a professor of Pakistani origin who teaches at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts:

"The victory of Native Orientalists - the ones which the late Edward Said had warned us about - is nearly complete in Pakistan. It has been led by "the minions of Western embassies and Western-financed NGOs and includes the likes of "Ahmad Rashid, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Najam Sethi, Khaled Ahmad, Irfan Hussain, Husain Haqqani, and P.J.Mir".

In his response to Alam, Hoodbhoy takes umbrage with the invocation by Dr. Alam of the name of Edward Said, who "was my mentor and hero, the man who wrote a highly positive blurb displayed prominently on the backside of my book on Islam and science". Hoodbhoy goes on to recount the unspeakable horrors and daily atrocities committed by the Taliban in Pakistan, and takes Alam to task for his adulation of the perpetrators of such inhuman acts as "the sons and daughters of the mountains, yet uncontaminated by western civilisation, firm in their faith, clear in their conviction, proud of their heritage, and ready to fight for their dignity".

Here is the full text of Dr. Hoodbhoy's response:

I ought to be thrilled. Now that I am a certified foreign-funded agent/orientalist/NGO-operator who "manages US-Zionist interests", a nice fat cheque must surely be in the mail. Thirty six years of teaching and social activism at a public university in Pakistan - where salaries are less than spectacular - means that additions to one's bank balance are always welcome.

But what did I do to deserve this kindness? My sole interaction with the good professor was in mid-2008, when we shared the speaker's podium at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Sadly, it was not terribly pleasant.

But then these are not pleasant times. There is carnage in the streets. Blood flows down the gutters and body parts are strewn in bazaars and markets. Suicide bombers have also targeted mosques, funerals, and hospitals. The internet is filled with videos of Pakistan army soldiers being decapitated, pictures of separated heaps of limbs and heads of Shiites, and women writhing under the blows of heavy whips and chains.

The Taliban, mostly from the mountains of Waziristan and other tribal areas of Pakistan, are not particularly shy to broadcast such achievements. For example, their decapitation movies - culminating in heads being stuck upon poles and paraded around town - are watched for free by kids. On 15 February 2009, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan announced a ban on all female education and, at last count, 362 schools have been blown up in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Curiously, these very people also happen to be the heroes of Professor Alam. This self-described "anti-imperialist" and "anti-Zionist" migrant to the heart of imperialism tends to become breathless in his celebration of the brave Taliban "resistance fighters". At the meeting I mentioned above, he received ecstatic approbation from a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Khurshid Ahmad, who chaired the meeting. This praise is also apparent in what the professor writes:

"Yet, in one corner of Pakistan, resistance comes from the sons and daughters of the mountains, yet uncontaminated by western civilisation, firm in their faith, clear in their conviction, proud of their heritage, and ready to fight for their dignity. They stood up against the Soviet marauders: and defeated them. Today, they are standing up again, now against the American marauders and their allies." [Pakistan's Mercenary Elites, by M. Shahid Alam]

Unless the professor is physically infirm, may I suggest that he head for the mountains of Waziristan to help the Pakistani Taliban movement? Or give a helping hand to Al-Qaida, an organization also known for its benevolence? To be sure, he may miss the free lunches the American taxpayer provides to him, but surely there must be satisfaction to be had in strapping a madrassa lad with explosives aimed at a Pakistani bazaar - especially one frequented by unveiled women and brides-to-be.

Politeness aside, I do take serious personal offence on just one matter in his outbursts against the opponents of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. This is when the good professor invokes the name and authority of Edward Said, author of "Orientalism", in condemning me and my colleagues in Pakistan.

Edward was my mentor and hero, the man who wrote a highly positive blurb displayed prominently on the backside of my book on Islam and science. He was also the closest friend of Eqbal Ahmad - my guru and dearest friend. With Eqbal, many were the pleasant evenings that we spent at Edward's apartment on Riverside Drive, New York. When Eqbal died, Edward and I were both lost in grief. When Edward died in 2003, I defended him against a poisonous article published the next day in the Wall Street Journal by a notorious Islamophobe, Ibn Warraq.

So cut it out, professor! Edward Said does not belong to the jihadists and their declared supporters - like you. He and Eqbal loathed their primitivism and utter ruthlessness, as well as their desecration of Islam. Please do not press him into your service.

On the contrary, Edward belongs to those of us on the Left who have worked for the Palestinians and their right to the lands on which they once lived, who keep fighting for justice and democracy in Pakistan, and who fervently opposed America's immoral invasion of Iraq in the streets of Islamabad and elsewhere. Edward was a supreme secular humanist who would have no truck with fanatics of any faith.

I do not know all the "native orientalists" and "brown sahibs" that the professor lists. Perhaps he secretly hopes that they shall receive appropriate attention from jihadist groups. But I do know some of these "traitors" - and they are among the finest people around. A couple, in their youth, had fought against the Pakistan Army in the mountains of Baluchistan. Others have stoutly defended religious minorities and worked to protect civil rights, democracy, and human values.

Professor Alam: be assured that once the expected cheque arrives, I shall be happy to send you a one-way ticket from Boston to Peshawar, from where you will easily find your way to Waziristan with help from your friends there. It shall be no less than business class, in appreciation of the services you render to your cause.


Here's a documentary on Islam narrated by Benazir Bhutto:



Related Links:

Is Pakistan Becoming Saudi Arabia?

Native Orientalists at the Daily Times by Dr. Shahid Alam

Pervez Hoodbhoy on Mumbai

The Prophet I Know!

Pakistanis See US as Biggest Threat

International Republican Institute Poll of Pakistanis

Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

America's Secret War in Pakistan

Pakistan's Mercenary Elite By Dr. Shahid Alam

Hoodbhoy Versus Atau-ur-Rahman on Higher Education Reform

Hoodbhoy on Kashmir

Is There an Islamic Problem? by Shahid Alam

Marching Toward Hell by Michael Scheuer

Hoodbhoy on India

23 comments:

Zen, Munich, Germany said...

@Riaz

So where is Muslim Martin Luther King? The lack of a Muslim Pope may mean that he will never appear. Tariq Ramadan, a person who has been touted as one is too weak or even dishonest in my opinion.
See http://dir.salon.com/story/people/feature/2002/02/15/ramadan/
As a matter of fact, Islam badly needs a reform when it comes to some things such as gender equality and non violent ways to resolve political problems(although Islam's deficiency in gender equality when compared to some other oriental cultures is grossly exaggerated by Western media because of inherent prejudices). What is deplorable is the spirit of introspection is grossly missing from contemperory Islamic popular thinking in subcontinent.

Riaz Haq said...

Zen: "So where is Muslim Martin Luther King? "

I think Martin Luther King was the product a unique set of conditions and history of the Black people in the United States. And he was seen by American white establishment as an acceptable alternative to what Malcom X and Elijah Mohammad/Louis Farrakhan preached. But let's not forget that he was a harsh critic of what he described as America's "militarism", "racism" and "imperialism", who also spoke of non-violent methods to gain basic civil rights for his people.

In spite of the concept of one Ummah, the reality is that Muslims in the world are much more diverse and their practice of Islam is heavily influenced by local history, cultures and conditions in each geography. So what we might get eventually may be several versions of Martin Luther King in different parts of the Islamic work...an Arab MLK, a South Asian MLK, an South East Asian MLK etc.

But I agree that we are in serious need of reform for a renaissance and revival within Islam that allows us to peacefully co-exist with the major non-Muslim nation-states in the world.

Zen: "As a matter of fact, Islam badly needs a reform when it comes to some things such as gender equality.."

In spite of the grim picture painted by many, the status of women in Pakistan, and the rest of South Asia, continues to vary considerably across different classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and urban social customs on women's lives. While some women are soaring in the skies as pilots of passenger jets and supersonic fighter planes, others are being buried or burned alive for defying traditions. Girls account for 53% of all college students in Pakistan, according to the 2005 Education Census.

I think more education and increasing urbanization in Pakistan will help cure of many of the gender gap issues in Pakistan and other parts of the world.

Zen, Munich, Germany said...

@Riaz

Correction: I meant Martin Luther, father of Protestentanism rather than MLK. Salon was also comparing Tariq R. to former.

Anonymous said...

Riaz,

Tiny minority support terrorism??

At one time Pakistani support for Osama Bin Laden was more than 50%.

http://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan/2008/09/19/us-bin-laden-losing-support-in-pakistan-pew-report/

http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=262

Riaz Haq said...

Zen: "I meant Martin Luther, father of Protestentanism rather than MLK. Salon was also comparing Tariq R. to former."

As you rightly pointed out earlier, the Sunni Islam, the predominant sect among Muslims, has no concept of anything like the pope or the imam. Sunni Islam can more easily lend itself to reform. But I think life under colonialism (and now neo-colonial powers) has rendered Muslims too bitter to overcome their deep-seated negative emotions that are consuming them.

Colonization of the East also coincided with the industrial revolution which was denied to the Muslim nations, hence ensuring their backwardness.

Indonesians and Malaysians have done relatively well in spite of their colonial past, probably because of their distance from the Middle East.

The Turks have also done better than other Muslim nations because they were never colonized. The Afghans, too, were never directly colonized, but they have never abandoned their tribal culture and roots.

Anonymous said...

here is another example of what is wrong with pakistan. Just ignore monumental failure which pak is and exaggerate India's failure as if that automatically proves pak as a success.
http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Opinions/Columns/05-Jan-2010/Not-so-Shining-India

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story about Helen Thomas' persistence in seeking answers on the core question as to "why do they want to harm us?"

After Obama briefly addressed L'Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote "must do better" on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about channeling "intelligence streams," fixing "no-fly" lists, deploying "behavior detection officers," and buying more body-imaging scanners.

Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.

Thomas: "Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why."

Brennan: "Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents... They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he's (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death."

Thomas: "And you're saying it's because of religion?"

Brennan: "I'm saying it's because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way."

Thomas: "Why?"

Brennan: "I think this is a - long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland."

Thomas: "But you haven't explained why."

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how evil al Qaeda continues to pervert a religion and entice and exploit impressionable young men.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

Yousuf said...

http://ziauddinsardar.com/articles.htm


THUMBNAIL BIO:

Ziauddin Sardar (born October 31, 1951 in northern Pakistan) is a London-based Muslim scholar, critic, futurist, journalist and a prolific writer. Considered a pioneering thinker on contemporary Islam, he has been described by the Independent newspaper as ‘Britain’s own polymath’ [1]. His intellectual output, published in some 45 books, ranges from the future of Islam to critiques of postmodernism, science policy, contemporary aspects of science in Muslim societies, colonialism, cultural relations, literary criticism, travel and autobiography. He was worked as a science correspondent for Nature and New Scientist and in the early 1980’s he became a television reporter for the London Weekend Television. He has made numerous television programmes, including Battle for Islam, a 90-minute documentary for BBC2 and Dispatches for Channel 4 on Pakistan. In 1999, he became the editor of Futures, the monthly journal of policy, planning and future studies. He co-edited edited Third Text, the critical journal of visual art and culture, from to 1999 to 2008. In 2006 he was appointed a Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission of Britain.

Currently he is a visiting Professor of Postcolonial Studies, Department of Arts Policy and Management at City University, London and a contributing editor of New Statesman. He received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of East London in 2005.

Citations:

"There is a two-word answer to the charge that Muslims who remain serious about faith have failed to engage with the science, culture and politics of the contemporary world. The words are Ziauddin Sardar."
-The Independent

"One of the finest intellectuals on the planet."
- The Herald

"A remarkable author."
- Nature

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an ABC News report about US military weapons in Iraq:

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the U.S. military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious "Crusade" in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.
Related

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as "the light of the world." John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions "have always been there" and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is "not Christian." The company has said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa who was killed in a 2003 plane crash.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from NY Times about sufi Islam celebration in Lahore:

LAHORE, Pakistan — For those who think Pakistan is all hard-liners, all the time, three activities at an annual festival here may come as a surprise.

Thousands of Muslim worshipers paid tribute to the patron saint of this eastern Pakistani city this month by dancing, drumming and smoking pot.

It is not an image one ordinarily associates with Pakistan, a country whose tormented western border region dominates the news. But it is an important part of how Islam is practiced here, a tradition that goes back a thousand years to Islam’s roots in South Asia.

It is Sufism, a mystical form of Islam brought into South Asia by wandering thinkers who spread the religion east from the Arabian Peninsula. They carried a message of equality that was deeply appealing to indigenous societies riven by caste and poverty. To this day, Sufi shrines stand out in Islam for allowing women free access.

In modern times, Pakistan’s Sufis have been challenged by a stricter form of Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia. That orthodox, often political Islam was encouraged in Pakistan in the 1980s by the American-supported dictator, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Since then, the fundamentalists’ aggressive stance has tended to eclipse that of their moderate kin, whose shrines and processions have become targets in the war here.

But if last week’s stomping, twirling, singing, drumming kaleidoscope of a crowd is any indication, Sufism still has a powerful appeal.

“There are bomb blasts all around, but people don’t stay away,” said a 36-year-old bank teller named Najibullah. “When the celebration comes, people have to dance.”

Worshipers had come from all over Pakistan to commemorate the death of the saint, Ali bin Usman al-Hajveri, an 11th-century mystic. Known here today as Data Ganj Baksh, or Giver of Treasures, the Persian-speaking mystic journeyed to Lahore with Central Asian invaders, according to Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani writer and expert on Sufism. He settled outside the city, a stopover on the trade route to Delhi, started a meditation center and wrote a manual on Sufi practices, Mr. Rumi said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is Tariq Ramadan writing about his travel ban and subsequent lifting of the ban by the US in Newsweek:

It was hardly a fight I had expected. Less than a year earlier, the State Department had invited me to speak in Washington, D.C., and introduced me as a "moderate" Muslim intellectual who denounced terrorism and attacks against civilians. Now it was banning me from U.S. soil under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows for "ideological exclusions." My offense, it seemed, had been to forcefully criticize America's support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. accused me of endorsing terrorism through my words and funding it through donations to a Swiss charity with alleged ties to Gaza. Civil-liberties groups challenged my case in court for almost six years until, in late January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the allegations against me, effectively ending my ban.

In early April I will make my first public appearance in the U.S., at New York City's Cooper Union, participating in a panel discussion about Muslims. While it's a victory of sorts, the fight is not over. Numerous foreign scholars remain banned from U.S. soil. Until the section of the Patriot Act that kept me out of the country is lifted, more people will suffer the same fate. Although the exclusions are carried out in the name of security and stability, they actually threaten both by closing off the open, critical, and constructive dialogue that once defined this country.

In my case, criticizing America's Middle East policies cast doubt on my loyalty to Western values and cost me a job. But prejudice may ultimately cost the U.S. more. By creating divisions and disregarding its values, even in the name of security, America tells the world that it is frightened and unstable—above all, vulnerable. In the long term, it also reinforces the religious, cultural, and social isolation of minority groups, encouraging the very kind of disloyalty that these ideological exclusions are meant to prevent.

It's not the first time America has tried to shield itself from dissenting opinions. During the Cold War, dozens of overseas artists, activists, and intellectuals—including British novelist Doris Lessing, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez—were denied visas because of their left-leaning ideas. Today, though, the American concept of the "other" has taken on a relatively new and specific form: the Muslim. America must face the reality that, in the West, many adherents to Islam demonstrate loyalty to democratic values through criticism. While violence must always be condemned, such debate must be encouraged if those values are to last.

Riaz Haq said...

There is no question that disunity exists among Muslims and it is exploited by non-Muslims, as well as some opportunistic Muslims such as the puppet rulers in the Islamic world.

It's true for now and has been true throughout history.

But if the current tragic disunity, which is claiming more lives than ever, leads us to reform from within, it will not be a wasted opportunity. As they say, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Today, I see some signs of serious intellectual discourse among Muslims in Pakistan.

Like Hassan Al Banna and Syed Qutb before him, Maulana Maudoodi was a foremost intellect, an influential thought leader, and a great scholar of Islam in the 20th century. He has influenced a lot of the contemporary thought among Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia. Two of his disciples, Javed Ghamidi and Israr Ahmed, each an intellectual in his own right, have evolved in very different directions.

A faction within Maulana Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami broke away under the leadership of Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi whose school of thought was then carried forward by Khalid Masud and Javed Ahmed Ghamidi. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi today is probably the most liberal and progressive scholar in the entire Islamic world. This Islamic scholar has come a full circle by claiming that Islamic state is not an objective of a Muslim but rather the objective of a Muslim is individual reform. Contrast this to another breakaway Jamaat faction - Dr. Israr Ahmed- whose Tanzeem-e-Islami is a religious movement working towards “Non-violent attainment of Khilafah”.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Economist report on the battle for control of IslamOnline website:

IslamOnline’s mostly Egyptian staff has been wrestling for control of the website with its Qatari owner, the al-Balagh Cultural Society, which is based in Doha, Qatar’s capital, and wants to cut jobs in Cairo and move some of its editorial offices back home. The Cairo staff claim that this is a ploy to take the website in a more conservative direction. The managers in Doha counter that IslamOnline has become too parochially Egyptian and has been straying from its mission to reach out to all Muslims.

But this labour dispute also reflects an Arab cold war that pits Egypt against more radical states. Qatari-owned media such as al-Jazeera and IslamOnline have relentlessly criticised Egypt in recent years, notably for its complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Some suspect that toning down IslamOnline’s news coverage by reining in its staff, some of whom are close to the Muslim Brothers, who in turn are close to the Islamist Hamas movement that controls Gaza, is a Qatari gesture to Egypt’s government. Others point to longstanding rivalry between Saudis and Qataris, who, it is mooted, may be eager to reduce the influence of a Saudi company that has been helping to run the Cairo website.

IslamOnline began in 1997 as a student project at the University of Qatar with cash from Sheikha Mozah, an enterprising wife of Qatar’s emir, and with an endorsement from the prominent and sometimes controversial Egyptian-born scholar, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. At IslamOnline’s launch, speaking on his extremely popular al-Jazeera religious talk-show, “Sharia and Life”, Mr Qaradawi said its mission to guide Muslims is “the jihad of our era.”

On the whole, this jihad has been a soft one. IslamOnline has to some extent been a lifestyle publication, focusing on how to mix modern life and religion. It offers religious advice without fire and brimstone, tackling sensitive topics such as sexuality conservatively but straightforwardly. Bettina Graf, who writes about the media in the Muslim world, calls it “moralist-conservative and missionary, though not dogmatic.” But it was also, in the words of Khaled Hamza, a reform-minded Muslim Brother, a place were “great intellectual battles” were waged over the future of Islamism, mostly influenced by Mr Qaradawi’s wasatiyyah (centrist) current.

Mr Qaradawi, 84, is sometimes said to be the most influential living Sunni Muslim scholar. He has stirred controversy in the West for endorsing suicide bombings in certain circumstances and for his homophobic views, and has been banned from Britain and the United States. For siding with his Egyptian compatriots against the Qatari management, he has lost his chairmanship of al-Balagh. Some see this as a fall from grace, and wonder if Qatar, which has hosted him for most of his adult life, will now freeze him out. His ideas, notably for tackling Sunni angst over the erosion of traditional religious authority and his attempt to counter millennial strands of Islamism with a conservative reformism, may have lost a resounding voice if he is now kept off IslamOnline.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excepts from Sherbano Taseer (Salman Taseer's daughter) interview with Pakistani Islamic scholar Javaid Ahmed Ghamidi as published in Newsweek Pakistan:

Are Islam and democracy compatible?

Yes, of course. Islam favors democratic societies. In the West, they have created democracies, which may have their shortcomings, but where people listen to one another, tolerate each other's opinions, and engage in dialogue. The majority opinion is made into law, and these laws can be criticized, debated freely, and amended based on people's beliefs.

There is furor in Pakistan over the blasphemy laws. What does the Quran say about punishing those who are proven to have committed blasphemy?

There is no punishment prescribed for blasphemy in the Quran or in the sayings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Some clerics cite the case of Ibn Akhtar, but they misinterpret that incident and make it about blasphemy. Man can make laws, and these should not be misused to unfairly target or victimize anyone. Islam specifically says that taking the life of an individual is tantamount to taking the life of all humanity. It is a crime. It is wrong. Allah says true Muslims are those in whose hands others are safe.
---
Do you feel Pakistan can contain the extremist threat?

Let's start by not losing hope. We can contain it if we unite. There needs to be a new movement, by educated people, who can put pressure on the government so that, for one, education returns to being the responsibility of the state. Otherwise, this cancer of extremism will continue to spread. Pakistan has over 12,000 madrassahs with more than 2 million students. The countless clerics at these schools have immense sway, they have formed communities around themselves and they have weapons. And when power comes into the hands of such people—when we give them that power—you get what we have happening right now. There is nothing in the Quran or the Prophet's (peace be upon him) sayings to justify what the extremists are doing. We need to enter the playing field and correct this, and turn their arguments on their head. I have challenged them on every occasion for the past five years or so, and told them what they are saying is incorrect. They can only stay silent in return. Even in the matter of blasphemy they could not refute me, but I feel I am alone in this.
--------
So how do we change things?

People need to understand Islam themselves, there is no other way. We need to understand the religion and launch a movement to reform society. In the West, there was a reformation movement which needs to be replicated in the East. There is strength in our arguments. You can reason with these people if you reason strongly and with facts. Islam was initially spread by a handful of people. This is how you will get success and nobody will be able to refute it. The media has a lot of power and must use this power positively, spreading the message from house to house. But the reality is that we are not ready to take up this cause. The secularists and the elite are not ready to take this up, they are not ready to talk and engage especially about beliefs.

What role do you see religious scholars playing to improve our society?

They, like doctors and engineers, are experts in their field. Their role is not to pick up guns, but to argue with facts and to present their arguments logically and calmly. Their role is not to threaten or to preach in a hostile or forceful manner in the streets, but to inform and show people the right Islam. The unfortunate reality here is that those who claim to be adherents of Allah's word are actually quite unfamiliar with the faith.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from an interesting post by Prof Juan Cole of Univ of Michigan on what he calls "hand-wringing about religious extremism in Pakistan".

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about religious extremism in Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. On Sunday the fundamentalist religious parties held a rally some 40,000 strong in the southern port city of Karachi against repealing Pakistan’s blasphemy law, as the Pakistan People’s Party MP Sherry Rahman proposes.

It would be foolish to deny that Pakistan has a problem with religious extremism. But outsiders do not actually understand the country very well and have no sense of scale, so it is hard for them to judge the significance of these events. Here I want to offer five ironies of religious extremism in that country, in an attempt to signal that the story is more complicated and requires more nuance than you find at typical American anti-Muslim hate blogs. Let me just signal the important difference between religious traditionalism and religious fundamentalism. Many Pakistanis are traditionalists– they attend at saints’ shrines, pray, sing religious songs (qawali), etc. Fundamentalists reject the idea of saints, of shrines, and of spiritual music. So on to the ironies:

1. The Pakistani parliament never passed a blasphemy law. It was promulgated in the 1980s by fiat by military dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq. Gen. Zia made a coup in 1977 against the populist and left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party, and received the warm support of the United States, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Gen. Zia was a fundamentalist who sought support in civil society for his illegitimate regime among small fundamentalist parties such as the Jama’at al-Islami. The US raised no objections.

2. The murderer of Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, is not a fundamentalist. He had a long affair with a lover in Karachi before marrying about a year ago. He is no puritan. He sometimes trimmed back his beard, something Pakistani religious conservatives usually avoid. He sometimes went to saints’ shrines, which fundamentalists would denounce. He has no connection to any known terrorist group, and says he acted alone. He belongs to a moderate school of Islam. Many press reports have said that Taseer’s murder points to the rise of Pakistani fundamentalism, but you could not prove it by Qadri’s profile. He seems to represent no one but himself.

3. The rally of 40,000 in favor of the blasphemy law just isn’t that big in Karachi, a city of over 15 million people. The 9/11 Commission estimated that there are some 200,000 students in the religious academies or madrasahs in Karachi, so the rally did not even attract very many of them, much less a significant number of the religiously committed persons in the megalopolis.

4. The people of Karachi vote for the militantly secular if rather thuggish MQM (Muttahidah Qaumi Movement) party, which runs their municipal government and represents them in the national parliament. The MQM vehemently denounced the killing of Taseer. Fundamentalists are not important in Karachi politics, except insofar as they are violent infiltrators....

Riaz Haq said...

Arab protesters demand democracy, but not secularism, says Michael Scheuer, former Bin Laden hunter at the CIA:

The Arab world’s unrest has brought forth gushing, rather adolescent analysis about what the region will look like a year or more hence. Americans have decided that these upheavals have everything to do with the advent of liberalism, secularism, and Westernization in the region and that Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda have been sidelined by the historically inevitable triumph of democracy—a belief that sounds a bit like the old Marxist-Leninist claptrap about iron laws of history and communism’s inexorable triumph.

How has this judgment been reached? Primarily by disregarding facts, logic, and history, and instead relying on (a) the thin veneer of young, educated, pro-democracy, and English-speaking Muslims who can be found on Facebook and Twitter and (b) the employees of the BBC, CNN, and most other media networks, who have suspended genuine journalism in favor of cheerleading for secularism and democracy on the basis of a non-representative sample of English-speaking street demonstrators and users of social-networking sites. The West’s assessment of Arab unrest so far has been—to paraphrase Sam Spade’s comment about the Maltese Falcon—the stuff that dreams, not reality, are made of.

A year from now, we will find that most Arab Muslims have neither embraced nor installed what they have long regarded as an irreligious and even pagan ideology—secular democracy. They will have instead adhered even more closely to the faith that has graced, ordered, and regulated their lives for more than 1400 years, and which helped them endure the oppressive rule of Western-supported tyrants and kleptocrats.

This does not mean that fanatically religious regimes will dominate the region, but a seven-year Gallup survey of the Muslim world published in 2007 shows that a greater degree of Sharia law in governance is favored by young and old, moderates and militants, men and even women in most Muslim countries. While a façade of democracy may well appear in new regimes in places like Egypt and Tunisia, their governments will be heavily influenced by the military and by Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. If for no other reason, the Islamist groups will have a powerful pull because they have strong organizational capabilities; wide allegiance among the highly educated in the military, hard sciences, engineering, religious faculties, and medicine; and a reservoir of patience for a two-steps-forward, one-step-back strategy that is beyond Western comprehension. We in the West too often forget, for example, that the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda draw from Muslim society’s best and brightest, not its dregs; that al-Qaeda has been waging its struggle for 25 years, the Muslim Brotherhood for nearly 85 years; and that Islam has been in the process of globalizing since the 7th century.

As new Arab regimes develop, Westerners also are likely to find that their own deep sense of superiority over devout Muslims—which is especially strong among the secular left, Christian evangelicals, and neoconservatives—is unwarranted. The nearly universal assumption in the West is that Islamic governance could not possibly satisfy the aspirations of Muslims for greater freedom and increased economic opportunity—this even though Iran has a more representative political system than that of any state in the region presided over by a Western-backed dictator. No regime run by the Muslim Brotherhood would look like Canada, but it would be significantly less oppressive than those run by the al-Sauds and Mubarak. This is not to say it would be similar to or more friendly toward the West—neither will be the case—but in terms of respecting and addressing basic human concerns they will be less monstrous.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting Op Ed by Leonard Pitts published in the Miami Herald:

OK, put your books away. We’re having a pop quiz.

Below are four quotes. Each is from one of two sources: the Bible or the Koran, although, just to make things interesting, there’s also a chance all four are from one book. Two were edited for length and one of those was also edited to remove a religion-specific reference. Your job: identify the holy book of origin. Ready? Go:

1) “. . . Wherever you encounter [non-believers], kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post . . .”

2) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

3) “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ . . . do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death.”

4) “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

All right, pens down. How did you do?

If you identified the first quote as being from the Koran (9:5) and the other three as originating in the Bible (Matthew 10:34, Deuteronomy 13:6-9, Numbers 31:17-18), I congratulate you on that degree in theology. If I have guessed correctly, most people will not have found it easy to place the quotes in their proper books. If I have guessed correctly, most people will have found a certain thematic similarity in them.

Yes, there is a point here: I wish people would stop cherry-picking warlike quotes from the Koran to “prove” the evil of Islam. You see this stuff all over the web. Just a few days ago, some anonymous person, angry with me for defending “Fascist/Nazi Islam” the writer says is trying to kill us all, sent me an e-mail quoting Koranic exhortations to violence to prove that Islam is a “religion of hate and murder.”

As rhetorical devices go, it is a cheap parlor trick, a con job to fool the foolish and gull the gullible and for anyone who has spent quality time with the Bible, its shortcomings should be obvious.

If not, see the pop quiz again. The Koran is hardly unique in its admonitions to take up the sword.

It is not my intention here to parse any of those troubling quotes. Let us leave it to religious scholars to contextualize them, to explain how they square with the contention that Islam and Christianity are religions of peace. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that, while both Christian and Muslim scholars will offer that context and explanation, only Christians can be assured of being taken at their word when they do.

Christians get the benefit of the doubt. Muslims get Glenn Beck asking a Muslim Congressman to “prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

Because Christianity is regarded as a known — and a norm. Muslims, meantime, have been drafted since Sept. 11, 2001, to fulfill the nation’s obsessive, historic, paranoiac and ongoing need to rally against an enemy within. We lost the Commies, but along came the Islamo-fascists. The names change. The endless capacity for irrational panic remains the same.

As in people who send out e-mails insisting upon the rightness of holding over a billion people — that bears repeating: over a billion people — responsible for the actions of, what . . .? A few hundred? A few thousand?

Some of us use lies, exaggerations and rhetorical gobbledygook to instill in the rest of us that irrational panic they breathe like air. Yes, it is only sensible to fear the threat we face from terrorism. But panicked, irrational people are capable of anything.

Might be wise if we chose to fear that, too.

Riaz Haq said...

It appears that the Norwegian white supremacist terrorist Breivik shared the thinking of Nazi-loving Hindu Nationalists like Golwalkar and his Sangh Parivar buddies. Here's an excerpt from a Express Tribune story:

"While Breivik’s rhetoric against Muslim immigration into Europe is not unusual, he cites many names that might be familiar to Pakistanis, including Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, as well as prominent human rights activist Hina Jilani and Dawn columnist Irfan Hussain.
He seems to believe that Iqbal, in particular, was sympathetic to communism and views multiculturalism as a Marxist concept. He quotes Iqbal as saying “Islam equals communism plus Allah.”
Breivik also claims that Pakistan is systematically annihilating all non-Muslim communities. He claimed that Hindu girls are being forced to convert to Islam in Sindh. In this context he even quotes Hina Jilani as saying: “Have you ever heard of an Indian Muslim girl being forced to embrace Hinduism? It’s Muslims winning by intimidation.”
He goes on to describe the situation for Christians in Pakistan as being no better, citing Father Emmanuel Asi of the Theological Institute for Laity in Lahore as saying in 2007 that Pakistani Christians are frequently denied equal rights.
Jamaat-e-Islami founder Abul Ala Maududi is also quoted in the manifesto, though in a manner that would imply that the stated objective of an Islamic state is to kill or subdue all non-Muslims around the world.
Breivik seems to be a fan of Daily Times columnist Razi Azmi, whom he calls “one of the more sensible columnists of Pakistan”. He mentions one of Azmi’s pieces where the columnist asks whether it was possible to imagine a Muslim converting to Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism in a Muslim country, using it to support his view of Islam as an intolerant religion.
He also cites Dawn’s Irfan Hussain’s column criticising Hizb u-Tahrir’s vision of a caliphate.
His ire against Pakistanis and Muslims seems to have at least partial origin in personal experience. He speaks at length about his childhood best friend, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant to Norway who, despite having lived several years in Europe still appeared to resent Norway and Norwegian society. “Not because he was jealous… but because it represented the exact opposite of Islamic ways,” Breivik conjectures.
The inability of Muslim immigrants to assimilate into European society seems to bother him, which he blames on Muslim parents not allowing their children to adopt European ways. He also asks why Muslim girls are considered ‘off-limits’ to everyone, including Muslim boys, and why Muslim men view ethnic Norwegian women as ‘whores’.
He also seems to believe that the Muslims in Europe who collect government benefits view it as a form of jizya, a medieval Islamic tax charged on non-Muslim minorities."


http://tribune.com.pk/story/216830/oslo-attacker-feared-pakistanisation-of-europe/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an article by Mehreen Farooq and Waleed Ziad in Foreign Policy Mag detailing campaign against radicalization in Pakistan:

In a pristine, remote valley in Kashmir, far from the theaters of war, some families are abandoning their religious and cultural traditions in favor of extremist ideologies. The trend began after the 2005 earthquake, when several Islamist organizations - notably Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD) - came to the forefront, providing food, shelter and health supplies to devastated communities. A village elder lamented, "Many of us were impressed by their sophisticated ambulance services, and families willingly joined in their relief efforts." Most of these families had no idea that JuD was in fact a front for the banned militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistanis, particularly in such remote areas, require tools to recognize extremist ideologies and terrorist organizations so that they can create counter-movements within their own communities. We travelled throughout Northern Punjab and the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to learn how certain grassroots organizations have designed effective awareness campaigns within a religious paradigm that are palatable even to the at-risk population.

We began with the leaders of Pakistan's moderate religious networks. Since 9/11, dozens of religious scholars have issued public statements and fatwas against terrorism. Dr. Raghib Naeemi -- son of Dr. Sarfraz Naeemi who was killed in 2009 after he publically denounced terrorist activities as un-Islamic -- appears regularly on TV to promote peace and social cohesion.
---------
150 miles south, in a village near Bhera, a father learned that his son was being brainwashed by a fundamentalist community member to believe that he would enter paradise if he became a suicide bomber. The father, supported by the Dar ul-Uloom community, rescued the children by publically exposing the radical mullah. He challenged the mullah: "After sending my child to paradise, why don't you send your own son to join him so that mine won't be lonely?"

Even some segments of the population that had been involved in militancy are now condemning extremism. Irfan, a former "toll collector" for a militant outfit along the Pakistan-Afghanistan Durand Line explained, "After the Taliban bombed the shrine of the Rahman Baba, the great Pashtun poet-saint, I realized that militants are destroying our country." Now as a taxi driver, Irfan makes it a point to lambast the Taliban in conversations with all of his passengers.


http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/10/21/pakistans_most_powerful_weapon

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of an Op Ed in The Atlantic titled "The White Savior Industrial Complex"
By Teju Cole:

What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony's indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice.
--------------
1- From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.

Teju Cole @tejucole

2- The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.

Teju Cole @tejucole

3- The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.

Teju Cole @tejucole

4- This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah.

5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

Teju Cole @tejucole

6- Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that.

Teju Cole @tejucole

7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.

These tweets were retweeted, forwarded, and widely shared by readers. They migrated beyond Twitter to blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, and other sites; I'm told they generated fierce arguments. As the days went by, the tweets were reproduced in their entirety on the websites of the Atlantic and the New York Times, and they showed up on German, Spanish, and Portuguese sites. A friend emailed to tell me that the fourth tweet, which cheekily name-checks Oprah, was mentioned on Fox television.

These sentences of mine, written without much premeditation, had touched a nerve. I heard back from many people who were grateful to have read them. I heard back from many others who were disappointed or furious. Many people, too many to count, called me a racist. One person likened me to the Mau Mau. The Atlantic writer who'd reproduced them, while agreeing with my broader points, described the language in which they were expressed as "resentment."

This weekend, I listened to a radio interview given by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof is best known for his regular column in the New York Times in which he often gives accounts of his activism or that of other Westerners. When I saw the Kony 2012 video, I found it tonally similar to Kristof's approach, and that was why I mentioned him in the first of my seven tweets.

Those tweets, though unpremeditated, were intentional in their irony and seriousness. I did not write them to score cheap points, much less to hurt anyone's feelings. I believed that a certain kind of language is too infrequently seen in our public discourse. I am a novelist. I traffic in subtleties, and my goal in writing a novel is to leave the reader not knowing what to think. A good novel shouldn't have a point. ....


http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some verses from a Holy Book:

1. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

2. “If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ . . . do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death.”

3. “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

Q. Are these from the Quran or the Bible?

A. From the Bible. Matthew 10:34, Deuteronomy 13:6-9, Numbers 31:17-18

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of Pervez Hoodbhoy's Op Ed on popes and caliphs as published in Express Tribune:

A consensus at electing popes hasn’t always been that easy. History: Pope Gregory X established the Papal Conclave in 1274 after it took the cardinals nearly three years to choose him as the successor to Pope Clement IV. Locking the cardinals in a meeting and gradually decreasing their food rations was seen as good way to expedite agreement on a new pope. Three voting cardinals died during the process. Such is life.

What enables the quick consensus on electing popes in modern times? Simple: the pope’s role has become largely ceremonial since 1536. No head of state need obey his orders. For Catholics, he is an icon of piety and chastity standing above the sordid politics of the world. While they are expected to live and breed according to the dictates of the Church, they do not consider them to be infallible any more. Today, increasing numbers of Catholics are moving away from the Church because of its stand on birth control and divorce. Nevertheless, though with much lessened powers, the new pope speaks for 1.2 billion Catholics.

Who should speak for the 1.5 billion Muslims today? This question is difficult because the Islamic world has been without a caliph ever since Kemal Ataturk eliminated the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. Earlier, a caliphate had been the norm. Today, several Muslim groups are marketing the idea that restoring ancient glories is contingent upon reviving the caliphate. But this is a prescription for fratricidal conflict.

The problem is that the caliph is generally understood to be both the spiritual as well as temporal leader. The Egyptian scholar, Taha Hussein, was unusual in suggesting that Islam permits the two aspects to be separated. This strongly conflicts with the views of Maulana Abul Ala Maududi or Sayyid Qutb and those who have been influenced by them. In 2001, Osama bin Laden called upon Muslims to “establish the righteous caliphate of our ummah”, a man who would lead and organise the ummah. A Sunni, he would enforce a single Sharia. The bewilderingly many extant sects and schools of thought would have to vanish, either by persuasion or by coercion. Since Shias obviously cannot be persuaded, they (and others) would have to be subdued.

More significantly, the caliph would be the commander-in-chief of all Muslim forces belonging to an Islamic superstate that would supercede the authority of Muslim national states. He would authorise jihad, both defensive and offensive, in forms ranging from actual combat to space wars, cyber jihad, economic sanctions, oil boycotts, making treaties, and dealing with the World Bank and the IMF. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be at the caliph’s command. So would oil from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf. If any Muslim country defied his orders, waging war would be an option.
-----------
Today, a global caliphate can only be created through violence. The Hizbut Tahrir, which seeks this goal, sees mutinies and insurrections as the solution. Its website calls upon Pakistan’s armed forces to rise against its leadership. Brigadier Ali Khan and his colleagues will surely not be the last officers convicted of sedition.

It is a hard enough question, answerable only by God, to judge who is truly a pious Christian or Muslim. But when the power to make war also depends on the answer, it becomes impossibly difficult. So, the 13th century cardinals locked up by Pope Gregory X would have starved to death rather than arrive at an agreement! Attempting to elect a caliph today would pit Muslim against Muslim in bloody conflict. Although there is zero chance of the caliphate’s revival, this goal nevertheless looms large in the consciousness of those committed to seizing state power and to fundamentally transforming the societies they take over.


http://tribune.com.pk/story/524854/on-choosing-popes-and-caliphs/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of WSJ review of "Islam Without Extremes" by Turkish author Mustafa Akyol:

Mr. Akyol, a pious Muslim and a classical liberal, begins his case by proposing a serious rereading of the Quran. "The idea of freedom—in the theological, political, or economic sense—was not unknown in classical Islamdom, as some have claimed," Mr. Akyol writes. He notes that the Quran, compiled in the seventh century, broke with the traditions of its time and place—by mandating protections for property, appealing to the judgment of reason and promoting the idea of a rule of law (as opposed to rule by the whim of despots). Taking inspiration from the separation of church and state in the American constitution, Mr. Akyol suggests that a liberal democracy can be built on Muslim soil as long as neither Islamists nor secular strongmen are allowed to mix religion with politics.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424053111903554904576458563543798724