Friday, July 22, 2011

Grandiose paralysis

From individuals to institutions Pakistani credibility hangs near zero. One wonders whether the tall talk of its politicians, the disconnectedness of some media personalities and the false promises of its tailors have traveled to infect the parliament making it a democratic body in name, entirely paralyzed in action.

Karachi metamorphosed into a war-zone rapidly but Interior Minister Rahman Malik was all calm, smiles and praise for new Sind Home Minister Manzoor Hussain Wassan and former Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza. And insult to injury, went on to say that the authorities knew the identity of the criminals and would bring them to justice soon. When? Why the delay? Bob Dylan’s famous lines are searing: “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

Gen. Musharraf was a great fan of image management and had no qualms owning up to it. He was a proponent of a shiny fa├žade regardless of inner rot to the point that he wished for Mukhtaran Mai’s gang rape case to be hushed up as it cast Pakistan in a bad light!

A prominent television anchor says in a booming voice advertising his show: “Pakistan cannot collapse, because Pakistanis love education!” On the face of it, it sounds great that Pakistanis love education and may well be true. And yet the abysmal literacy rate and the declining allocation in the budget for education do not bolster that bombastic statement.

On May 14, 2011 the Pakistan parliament passed a unanimous resolution condemning US drones and demanding the attacks stop or else Pakistan would be forced to restrict the transit facility to NATO. The very next day a drone attack occurred and many have since. Recent in this series was on July 12 in which 37 militants were killed and another on July 21 when four casualties are reported. The Parliament remains blissfully ignorant of its own ire

In March 2011 a top Pakistan military commander Major-General Ghayyur Mahmood spoke to a group of Pakistani reporters on a rare trip to Miran Shah, the administrative center of North Waziristan. He said that in information gathered by the military, most of those killed by the drones were hard-core militants, and the number of innocents killed was relatively low. The damning Wikileaks disclosure that P President Zardari does not consider the drone deaths of innocents as even collateral damage and Prime Minister Gilani’s assurance to the Americans to proceed with impunity; he would do the necessary token protests, further shatters confidence in the government’s sincerity.

And yet the primary issue is not the legitimacy or otherwise of American drones violating Pakistani sovereignty. It is the conglomeration of clowns that the Pakistani parliament has made of itself and the great insult to democracy that it is. Before the entire chest-thumping and indignant mode that it went into and passed the unanimous resolution, why didn’t the Foreign Office urgently and definitively brief the legislators? Perhaps some of the fury could have been stemmed and a condemnation could have been issued and not a consequence that could and would never be carried out.

Dictators such as Musharraf ousted themselves with their reality disconnect, which is fine. But to a nation that has yearned and fought hard for democracy, the role of its foundation, the parliament, should be to strengthen itself and not make it the laughing stock of the world. Pakistan’s government officials and statements provide endless humor internationally; we did not need the parliament to have joined the jokesters.

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar was interviewed about the $800 million US aid suspension to Pakistan and said that if the aid was cut, Pakistan would have to pull back in the Pak-Afghan border and this would undermine efforts against the Al-Qaida and Taliban. The US Congress debates the suspension of aid little moved by Mukhtar’s threat.

Another one in the same interview is about Zawahiri being in the tribal areas to which he quickly says that he hoped America would not repeat the mistakes that it made with the Osama bin Laden raid. Mistakes? America thinks it did the most heroic thing ever getting Terrorist #1 out of Kakul Military Academy’s backyard. An encore would be in the realm of probability.

This hollow grandiosity is part of our culture of corruption-a lackadaisical aap kal ajaiye-sub theek ho jaiye ga (please come tomorrow-everything will be alright) syndrome. Is it severe economic hardship and a jungle-mentality that reigns currently that has changed our cultural norm to self-preservation at all costs? Honesty, discipline and a work ethic are created and promoted in the family unit. Are our families starving or on the brink to the point that honesty is a luxury, hypocrisy a necessity and only the fittest survive? For clearly while people become increasingly desperate for food, gas, petrol, electricity, education and basic health care our rulers continue to state the stupid, commit the criminal and decimate the democracy that we desperately need to strengthen with processes and institution building.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Profiling and personal fatwas

We’re an opinionated lot that much is certain. But when criticism rolls onto censure and soon enough into the personal fatwa machine, it becomes yet another poor prognostic sign for Pakistan.

Muslim-Americans fume at being profiled and singled out for scrutiny at airports but happily join the melee of labeling people based on appearances. A hijabi is purity incarnate and only the morally weak wear shorts don’t you know?

Prejudices are transmitted and bolstered by parents and families and a good number of unfortunate people go through life not examining the outlandish, leave alone that they sound like their grandmothers. I grew up at a time when PIA chose air-hostesses based on height, weight and good looks. And since Pakistani actresses were frankly obese, my glamour ideal was a PIA air-hostess. The family was looking for a match for my uncle and someone suggested a pretty girl. My grandfather’s words hiss in my ears till today “absolutely not, she is an air-hostess!” And out went my nurtured dream of flying the skies.

I knew intuitively then and know definitely now that PIA air-hostesses endure sexual harassment because of my grandfather’s type of mindset and not for other salacious reasons. But I examined the bias that was fed me with chapatis every night. Many swallow it whole.

With welled-up tears a divorced friend asked me why it was that Pakistani men, most of them married, hit on her all the time. I wondered if it was her sleeveless outfits cut low to reveal a well-endowed cleavage. My hypothesis was Greek to her.

Not only do we presume and profile, we churn out fatwas at whim. Who would have thought that one needed intense schooling in the Quran, the sunnah, the hadith and fiqh to be able to be a mufti. Our informality knows no bounds; we brand people casually at parties, to their face, behind their back, on national television or else a session of parliament.

I have this terrible luck of running into the moral police at parties where I happen to be wearing a sari. Somehow that puts them in the frothing-at-the-mouth mode, made worse by the fact that their husbands are engaged in animated conversation with me. About nothing other than…….religion! The situation is made worse by a deferential introduction by husband to wife and as her eyes bore deep into my bone marrow she demands to know whether I have read the Quran. Surprise! I have read Maudoodi’s translation, I say, thinking that that would be an olive branch, better than Muhammad Asad or Yusuf Ali. But she’s underwhelmed and as another disapproving once-over burns my sari and ignites my hair she condescends into whether I had heard of amar bil maroof wa nahin anal munkar (promoting the good and forbidding evil). Furious at this and continued inane volleys I told them that the tragedy of Muslims was that they insisted on converting Muslims to Islam when in the Quran God says that those that believed in Him, the Day of Judgment and did good deeds, their reward was secure with God and they need not grieve (2:62). Indignantly she refuted the verse. I was trying to persuade her to be kind and take it in perspective; she had slotted me as wholly ignorant of religion. And what was she wearing: hijab, jilbab (long coat) and her daughter had a niqab on for good measure.

At this and another event I was told quite seriously that we must practice what we learn from Islam. I immediately felt a heathen in a sari. For a religion that means peace and promotes justice, these were angry, vicious people. A veiled fatwa was issued right then and there and I know behind my back if words could kill you wouldn’t be reading this.

Crowds are roused to riot on national television by pseudo-scholars like Amir Liaquat Husain and fanatics murder Ahmedis in grisly madness. Rana Sanaullah slanders Babar Awan in a parliamentary session for bribing judges for the clients he represents and goes on to call him “wajibul qatl” (one that deserves to be killed)

The intelligentsia makes up less than 2% of the population but holds Pakistan’s destiny in its hands. Blinded by bias, shuttered by ignorance and endangered by whimsical fatwas we catalyse Pakistan’s abysmal descent.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and free-lance columnist.