Friday, February 18, 2011

Misplaced fury and odd expectations

In our traditional national egocentricity we wonder if Pakistan could catch the virus of the Egyptian revolution. Perhaps it is the enormity of our problems that has crushed our reason for clearly this is wishful thinking.

The essential ingredient in any revolution is deep anger. But the only anger that galvanizes Pakistanis, or so it seems, is any murmuring against the Blasphemy Law. Rabid mullahs spewing venom and distorted representations of the Quran and Hadith convince youth to rampage and kill. All to protect the name of that most magnificent of all men, Muhammad (PBUH) who would have been horrified to witness madness and mayhem in his name.

It is highly unfortunate that only the least promising student or the orphaned become mullahs. But Islam is premised on individual responsibility and there is no shunting of personal issues to the confession booth or consulting mullahs for the basics that a Muslim must know. The Quran summarily prohibits murder and likens the killing of one to killing the whole of mankind (Quran 5:32). Pakistan’s mullahs classify anyone that dare criticize the Blasphemy Law as a blasphemer themselves. The tarring of Islam at the hands of these fanatics is a travesty on two counts. First on the basis of “there is no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256) and similar verses, and second on the fact that no one was killed for alleged blasphemy in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad or the four caliphs. These death fatwas are actually the true blasphemy.

The heinous murder of Governor Salman Taseer will forever be another chapter in our treasure-trove of national injustices. For it was not the work of one crazed youth but an event orchestrated by a group of semi-literate extremists.

The latest in this series of mullah-inspired disconnectedness is the manhandling of police by protestors at a police station in Punjab where the protestors wished to file a case against Pope Benedict for criticizing the Blasphemy Law. They wish to stifle speech but Islam promotes freedom of speech for a woman questioned Hazrat Umar, the second caliph of Islam, about why he got two sheets and others got one. And she got a respectful reply, not an “off with her head” verdict.

In their blinkered state the mullahs have forgotten that Muhammad (PBUH) was a very gentle human being, who forgave repeatedly despite grievous insult and injury inflicted upon him. And we are exhorted to model our lives after his. And the refrain in the Quran on many issues is that it is always better to forgive than exact revenge.

Protecting their power and fearful of the Taseer fate the government has capitulated completely. Sherry Rehman has been persuaded to withdraw her bill to amend the Blasphemy Law. One wonders whether the fatwa hounding her will be withdrawn as well.

Pakistan’s problems are myriad; poverty, starvation, illiteracy, high unemployment, disease, flood ravages, target killings, honor killings, terrorism and an ever-increasing divide between rich and poor. Islam is not a religion alone but a way of life. Why then have the custodians of our faith taken the Blasphemy Law as the only issue that confronts Pakistan? Does it go back to the fact that the most promising become doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants and the failing, poor or orphaned become mullahs?

And if the situation were not dire with the custodians of our faith, the custodians of justice seem out to trump them. That lawyers would shower rose-petals on a brutal murderer and offer to defend him pro-bono is a part of our national conversation that we should be deeply ashamed of.

The Egyptian revolution is galvanized under a single flag and a sole cause. Egyptians were unified in wanting to make every sacrifice to topple Mubarak. But in Pakistan our causes are many and our divisions even more. The culture of corruption has permeated the fabric of Pakistani society wherein it is now second-nature.

Mohammad Malick’s aamri jamhooriat (dictatorial democracy) and jamhoori aamriyat (democratic dictatorship) are phenomenal representations of what has become of Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani was asked about the Egyptian revolution and its possibility in Pakistan and he summarily dismissed it saying that we had a “functioning democracy” and therefore the chance of a revolution here was nil.

One can only agree with the second part of his assessment. His reasoning is faulty; we actually have a democratic dictatorship soaked in corruption. And the ranks of our society are sick with venom and bigotry, intrigue and revenge and our national motto remains “each man for himself”. We are held hostage by a squeaky minority of rabid mullahs who will have our heads should they desire and a majority that nods assent in order that it may live. History, and I daresay the Day of Judgment, will indict us for copping out and handing our destiny to the bigoted on a platter.

When popular unrest is rudderless and leaderless it is called anarchy. Pakistan now embodies it.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. Email: ###

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mighty dichotomy

Indecisiveness at a personal level can have serious consequences, but waffling on the world stage only serves to expose the dichotomy that the United States has consistently employed in its management of foreign affairs.

Stunned by Raymond Davis’ brazen killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore last week, the State Department spokesman expressed condolences and full cooperation with the Pakistan government in the investigation of the tragedy. And yet in the space of twenty-four hours repeated demands were made to hand over Davis to the US with the claim that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. And the bravado that Pakistan was violating the Vienna Convention detailing diplomatic immunity.

Raymond Davis it appears does not have a diplomatic passport; he is just a contractor employed with Hyperion a Florida company. The other individual that raced to his rescue and killed an innocent pedestrian has not been named or prosecuted. Even if Davis was an employee of the US consulate and enjoyed diplomatic immunity he must be prosecuted for murder under Pakistan’s law. The Vienna Convention assumes diplomats going to represent their nations not running Rambo style, armed and dangerous in other countries. It thus does not address murderous inclinations of supposed diplomats.

The hubris of the sole super-power of the world presents itself in what has now become a nauseating display of “we make the rules and break them at will”. The Vienna Convention specifically mentions diplomatic immunity from baggage and personal search. Indian ambassador Meera Shankar traveling in Mississippi in December 2010 did not even trip the metal detector but was singled out for a pat-down, probably due to her wearing a sari. She mentioned her diplomatic immunity and presented her passport to the airport employee who seemed amused at her claim of diplomatic immunity. This usurpation of immunity is not new for diplomats visiting the United States and the fig-leaf of the war on terror is used for this illegality.

The situation gets murkier when US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter telephones Nawaz Sharif about the Davis situation. Is the US dangling the proverbial carrot to him? What the Pakistan government does with the Davis situation will set the tone for the future. If he is handed over to the US, the message is loud and clear: do come and kill our people whenever and for whatever.

This same curious indecisiveness was on display in the early days of the Egyptian crisis. President Obama and his cabinet while watching the rapidly changing situation unfold sent out sitting-on-the-fence generic messages. Despite 9/11 the average American is still not conversant with global issues; they are more bogged down with the day to day, the foreclosures, high unemployment and the health care crisis with pressure to make both ends meet, ends that have become more and more inelastic.

White House spokesmen talked of being “on the right side of history”. One wonders where principle went. This “right side of history” in the early days of the crisis was uncertain, there were government spokesmen who spoke of “managed change” in Egypt and an “evolution rather than a revolution”. Mubarak they thought might still stay.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but America’s military might was unleashed on Iraq with the additional rationalization of exporting democracy to it. So why so circumspect now that Egypt’s people want democracy? Dictators are so easy to manipulate-no messy parliaments and representation of the people, just a single tart phone call and the question “are you with us or against us” and the job is done.

Sen. John Kerry was the only legislator that urged Hosni Mubarak to resign in the early days of the crisis. Even Sen. John McCain was surprising in wanting the US to back the will of the people rather than their puppet Mubarak. He was concerned that the revolt might acquire the tones of the Tiananmen massacre. All his murmurings seemed wonderful and committed, unlike the US government at that point, until the interviewer asked him his greatest concern. The regular person would be concerned with the loss of life and the hope that it be minimized, but McCain’s concern was of Islamists getting power in Egypt, even though it is very evident that this is a secular revolt and the Muslim Brotherhood though part of the conversation does not have a majority. He also used the absurd “we must be on the right side of history” statement.

Now that the situation has acquired a no-turning-back quality in Egypt with Mubarak’s resignation as the main demand has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton come out with more Egyptian-people oriented statements.

America’s posturing is evident in the Raymond Davis/Pakistan situation and the revolt in Egypt. Egyptians do not want any part of America interfering in their affairs and will arrange an interim government, rewrite the constitution and hold elections. We, on the other hand had no hesitation in joining the war on terror in one 3 a.m. phone call, opening our skies to let the drones rain down, allow foreigners to drive darkened SUVs and resist searches, and now let Americans terrorise and murder our people with impunity. The Egyptians will control their destiny. Pakistan’s was gifted to America ten years ago.

Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician, addictionist and columnist. Email: